Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Inaugural Power Rankings

In lieu of the traditional format of our 1st of the month look at MLB predictions, we will take an at-a-glance look at each team with our first annual July 1 power rankings.

We will count them down...  There are 30 teams, right?  So, number 30....

#30 Washington Nationals
I was high on the Nats during Spring Training.  The main culprits who have disappointed me are Elijah Dukes and the recently traded Lastings Milledge.

Facebook friend, Bill Chuck, has a running piece on his blog comparing the 2009 Nationals with the 1962 New York Mets, who famously lost 120 games.

I still like the Nationals.  Nick Johnson, Ryan Zimmerman, and Adam Dunn are very tough outs and an impressive 3-4-5 for any lineup.  Apparently, it takes much more than a solid 3-4-5 to win games.  Did you know that Ryan Zimmerman ranks 7th among all National League hitters in Wins Above Replacement?  Me neither.

They traded Milledge (and Joel Hanrahan) for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett.  Morgan is the best defensive player in all of Major League Baseball this season, according to Fielding Runs Above Average based on UZR.

#29 Cleveland Indians
The Nationals are all alone at the very bottom of the power rankings.  Cleveland, on the other hand, is the first in a motley of muddled teams that will eventually admit and become "sellers" in the market.  The Indians were placed here because of their abysmal wining % (.392), but more importantly for being the first obvious "seller" of the young season.

Over the weekend, they traded Mark DeRosa to the Cardinals for Chris Perez and an allegedly valuable player to be named later.

Perez (pictured) made, possibly, the worst first impression on the Indians in my lifetime.  You should read the linked article for the amazing details, but basically Perez's debut included two hit batsmen, a walk, failure to cover first base on a critical play, two RBI hits, and a run-scoring wild pitch.

From Paul Hoynes's memorable piece...

Perez, who joined the team Monday from St. Louis in exchange for Mark DeRosa, took the mound in the ninth with the Indians trailing, 2-0. In rapid fashion, he hit Alexei Ramirez in the head, Jermaine Dye in the hand and walked Jim Thome to load the bases.

Paul Konerko popped out to second, and A.J. Pierzynski sent a grounder between first and second that Ryan Garko stopped with a dive. Garko, from his knees, threw to second to force Thome, but Perez was late getting off the mound, and shortstop Luis Valbuena had to hold the ball at second because first base was uncovered as pinch runner Jayson Nix scored.

Chris Getz followed with a run-scoring double to bring in Dye. Then Perez threw a wild pitch to score Pierzynski and send Getz to third. Finally, Gordon Beckham singled home Getz as Perez was removed.

In two-thirds of an inning, Perez allowed four runs, two hits, hit two batters, threw a wild pitch and made a mental mistake.

"Not the first impression I wanted to make," Perez said.

#28 Arizona Diamondbacks
Losing Brandon Webb evidently means a lot.  In Spring Training, we thought Felipe Lopez's performance was critical to their success.  Meanwhile, he has been productive (15.8 Runs Above Replacement), but the team has struggled mightily.  Mark Reynolds has also produced (career high 22.2 RAR), in spite of his mammoth strikeout numbers.  However, the struggles of Chris Young, Stephen Drew, Eric Byrnes, Chris Snyder, and even Augie Ojeda's inexplicable 160 plate appearances have the D'Backs ranked below...

#27 San Diego Padres
My preseason pick to finish the season ranked 30th on all power rankings has probably inspired an inkling of hope in the handful of Padres fans who actually know more guys than just Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez AND aren't surprised that Khalil Greene isn't on the team.

On the bright side, Bud Black and Heath Bell have solidified the bullpen.

#26 Pittsburgh Pirates
For some reason, I don't see trading Nate McLouth to the Braves as a blatant "seller" move.  I mean the Pirates are perennial sellers,  but this was a sound move because McLouth was blocking rookie sensation Andrew McCutcheon and McLouth's value was at an all-time high.

Perhaps, they didn't get as much in return from the Braves as fans would expect for a Gold Glove center fielder & team leader, but most GM's probably knew that his defense was wildly overrated because last year, he was actually a below average center fielder.  McLouth's Fielding Runs Above Average based on UZR was -13.8 runs. (minus!

#25 Kansas City Royals
I'm not really embarrassed to say that I'm kind of a Royals fans.  My two favorite baseball writers right now, Joe Posnanski and Rob Neyer, have allegiances to the KC Royals.

Joe Posnanski has really given us cherished moments from following the Kansas Royals on a day-to-day basis.  Among them...

I saw the Royals lose once when a pitcher, attempting to start an inning-ending double play, slipped on the resin bag and threw the ball into centerfield. … I saw the Royals begin a game batting out of order. I mean, batting out of order is one thing, but the FIRST BATTER was out of order? … I saw a Royals baserunner literally fall off of first base on a pickoff attempt. He got back to the bag safely and then, almost in slow motion, he just fell off the base and was tagged out. … I saw the Royals lose a game when, with the bases loaded, a batter hit a ball back to Mike MacDougal. He threw home — literally. The ball had to be at least 5 feet over the catcher’s head. I remember it being 10 feet high. … I saw the Royals release a pitcher IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GAME … I saw a Royals prospect, with two runners in scoring position, look so frightened that, even though the opposing pitcher threw three batting practice fastballs right over the heart of the plate, he never even thought about swinging. … I saw the Royals try out a professional softball pitcher … I saw a Royals pitcher get hurt during spring training SLIDING practice (you might recall, the Royals are an American League club) … I saw Esteban German get hit in the face with a fly ball because (1) he was playing centerfield, (2) he’s not a centerfielder, (3) the sun was out and (4) he was not wearing his sunglasses. Fortunately, Esty was wearing his sunglasses on the flight home after the game so no one could see his shiner … I saw Tony Pena lose a ball in the sun because he wasn’t wearing sunglasses. After the game, Pena explained that he had ordered his sunglasses but “they had not come in yet.” … I saw Royals pitcher Miguel Asencio throw 16 consecutive balls to start off his major league career. … I saw the Royals draft the first high school pitcher who ever officially threw 100 mph. Apparently, nobody noticed that he did not throw strikes.

Of course, there’s the Ken Harvey oeuvre. Once, he lost a battle with a tarp. Once, as the cut-off man, he turned his back on an outfield throw and got hit in the back. Once he threw a baseball into his own pitcher’s face.*

*Harvey, you will note, was the Royals All-Star in 2004. He then played in 12 games for the Royals in 2005 and he hasn’t played a big league game since. A little while ago, he was released by the Kansas City T-Bones Independent league team.

There was the time a Royals pitcher complained because he could not get any no-decisions. … There was the time the Royals decided to call up a pitcher named Eduardo Villacis to pitch at Yankee Stadium because … well, no one knew. No one on the team had ever even heard of him. Villacis gave up 5 runs in 3 1/3 innings, walked four, struck out none, and the Royals sent him back down and then released him. He never again pitched in the big leagues.

I should have probably included less from his post, but these memories are pretty fun to reread.

#24 Oakland A's
Losing Josh Outman to Tommy John surgery is not the reason the Athletics are ranked this low.  I don't even think I had ever heard of Josh Outman when I foolishly picked the A's to win the division on Opening Day.  I shouldn't, but let me at least try to guess why they've failed to win more games...

1.) The pitching staff is too young and inexperienced.
2.) Off-season acquisitions Orlando Cabrera, Jason Giambi, and Nomar Garciaparra have been unequivocal busts.
3.) Jack Cust's OBP should be upwards of .380 and currently resides at .316

At this point in the rankings, we start discussing teams, besides the Orioles & Blue Jays, with at least a slim chance at the post-season.

The Orioles and Blue Jays, don't really have a chance at the playoffs because they're in the AL East, but the have more competitive rosters than the previously mentioned franchises.

#23 Houston Astros
At least Tim Purpura is not in charge anymore.

We received an email a couple of weeks ago from brilliant reader, Osh.  He asked: "Will you please write a blog that discusses how bad of a deal the Astros  got in the Aubrey Huff for Ben Zobrist swap."

Okay, brilliant reader Osh.  Done and done.

On July 26, 2006, Tim Purpura traded Ben Zobrist and Mitch Talbot to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Aubrey Huff and cash.

The Astros had Huff just for the remainder of the 2006 season, in what amounted to 68 games and 261 plate appearances.  Ben Zobrist and Mitch Talbot have remained with the Rays since the trade.

We can measure performance or value a number of ways.

Using Bill James' Win Shares, Aubrey Huff's performance in an Astros uniform was worth 5 Win Shares.

Up until this season, combined Win Shares for Ben Zobrist and Mitch Talbot equal 7.

That would make it appear to be a relatively balanced deal, until you consider Zobrist's breakout campaign this season.  I don't believe Win Shares can be calculated midseason, so we can look at WAR (Wins Above Replacement) again.

In Mitch Talbot's only three Major League appearances, all in 2008, he amassed a WAR of -0.3,   Ben Zobrist, including this season has a career WAR of 3.6.   So, the Rays have received a combined WAR of 3.3, and the number is growing as Zobrist continues to shine in the #5 spot of the Rays' lineup.  In fact, as I type, he's on first base in the Top of the 5th, having so far gone 2 for 2 with a double and a single.

What did Aubrey Huff deliver in WAR for the '06 Astros?  As Dean Wormer could have easily said, 0.1, yes that's Zero point One.

We should keep in mind that Aubrey Huff left as a free agent, and the Astros received draft pick compensation after he signed with the Orioles.  Aha!  I achecekd the history, and Tim Purpura really botched this one because he failed to offer Huff arbitration, so they didn't get any compensation picks.  Tim Purpura.  What a boob.

#22 Atlanta Braves
Today (July 1st) PECOTA gives the Braves about a 30% chance to make the playoffs... much higher than the 12% chance it gives the Mets.  I suddenly feel a little foolish for having the Braves this low on my list and the Mets where they are.  Regardless of what the the computer says, I will blindly choose to believe that the Braves will not score enough runs to finish ahead of 3rd place.

On the brightest of bright notes for the Braves, how about that Tommy Hanson?  In his first five Major League starts, he's gone 4-0 with a 2.48 ERA.  He is also currently riding a 20-inning scoreles streak.

We are only five appearances into the Tommy Hanson Era, and it looks for certain that this 22-year old will never have to carry his bags again.

#21 Baltimore Orioles
The aforementioned Orioles are certainly in a building mode.  They have an exciting amount of youth in the lineup, headlined by Markakis, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold and Matt Wieters.  Their pitching prospects are not as ready as the young hitters, but the reports from minor league camps about guys like Chris Tillman are more than encouraging.  I think the Orioles have a very good chance to contend in 2011 and 2012.

#20 Seattle Mariners
The Mariners have what appears to be one of the sharpest new front office brain trusts in the league.  From what I've been reading mostly by Neyer and USS Mariner, General Manager Jack Zduriencik has assembled a talented team that refreshingly and throughly weighs sabermetrics with scouting reports.

It's a far too simplistic way for me to summarize this, but the two most pressing questions that are staring the Mariners in the face are "Is this a winnable division?" and "Can we extend Felix Hernandez's contract right away?"

#19 Cincinnati Reds
As a Cubs' fan, I still don't view the Reds as much of a threat.  (Perhaps, I should also forget about the Cubs being a threat to anyone.)  The Reds have too many unreliable arms in the pitching staff and are too dependant on guys like Wily Taveras and Jerry Hairston.

We know Dusty doesn't want anyone "clogging up the bases", but the OBP's of Paul Janish, Lance Nix, Alex Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, and those other two guys are embarrassingly low.

#18 Chicago White Sox
The White Sox tried to be big buyers earlier this year, in the failed trade for Jake Peavy.  Since Peavy's on the DL, and Aaron Poreda is shining in the Sox bullpen, I'm sure they are more than thrilled that Peavy doesn't want to pitch for the cruddy White Sox.

Perhaps, my biases have the White Sox, Cubs, & Cardinals ranked inappropriately.  I do believe the White Sox have a good chance to win the AL Central.  Ken Williams has shown the ability to get the right pieces in place to make the playoffs.

#17 Chicago Cubs
Speaking of the Cubs, I probably would have had them ranked 3rd, 4th, or 5th, if I'd done one of these at the beginning of the season.  They have been so horrendous that I should probably have them right next to Houston.  At least the Astros have Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman.

The Cubs' best hitter of late has been Jake Fox, who doesn't even have an everyday spot etched out for him on the field.

Carlos Zambrano has been so bad, that a recent poll on the Chicago Tribune's website showed over 55% of Cub fans wanted Big Z placed on waivers.

#16 Florida Marlins
The Marlins are underrated anywhere outside of the presence of South Florida's most passionate fans.  We are probably doing the same.  I'm just unsure about how I feel about them.  There is a lot I like about them, and some things that don't appeal to my senses.

I like the entire starting rotation, Cody Ross against lefties, of course Hanley Ramirez, Jorge Cantu, Chris Coghlan, Leo Nunez, Dan Meyer, Kiko Calero, and Renyel Pinto.  I even like Cameron Maybin, who's shining in Triple-A.

I do not like Matt Lindstrom, Emilio Bonifacio, Ross Gload, or Alfredo Amezaga.

That should clear everything up.

#15 Texas Rangers
The greatest achievements, to date, of Nolan Ryan's career in my opinion have been...

1.) The seven no-hitters
2.) Five thousand something strikeouts
3.) Humiliating Robin Ventura by pummeling his cranium with viscous uppercuts, during a headlock.

As amazing as it may seem, I think Nolan Ryan can surpass those Hall of Fame achievements if he rebuilds this Rangers franchise.

His influence has improved the culture of the clubhouse and instituted his own training and throwing program for all of the pitchers in the Rangers' system.  The Rangers were a non-competitive mess when Nolan Ryan became team president.

With quality performances from young pitchers like Scott Feldman & Matt Harrison, plus young fireballers like Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz, and hopefully Matt Purke could get the Rangers near the top of the AL West year after year.

#14 Colorado Rockies
Here's a team that I didn't count on hearing much from.  They, of course, became the hottest team in June and are five games above .500.  They were in the World Series just two years ago, so anything truly is possible.  I just don't feel confident ranking a team that is so prone to extended cold streaks anywhere higher than this.

#13 San Francisco Giants
This may be the most surprising team to many people around baseball because very few people expected them to be eight games over .500 on July 1st. That being said, most procrastinators were correct that this team would have solid starting pitching and very little hitting.  I guess the surprise is that this combination of effective and reliable starters, with little to no offensive thunder have combines for such a good won-loss record.

We'll see if Lincecum continues to dominate, Cain shines all year, and the Big Unit's back can hold up for another 12 to 15 starts at least.  It'll be very interesting if the trade rumors we are hearing about them acquiring a big bat come to fruition.

#12 Milwaukee Brewers
Most of the teams ranked between fifth and nineteenth could rise or fall quite a bit in the rankings based on how injured players return from the DL as well as how the trade market unfolds in the next thirty days.  The Brewers have done more than just hang in there this season, as they are currently in first place of the NL Central.

They won't be trading for CC Sabathia this season, and they have their eyes on recently released Brandon Backe, which does not bode well for the future.  If they can trade for someone more valuable than that to start every five days, they could be very tough to surpass for the Cardinals, Braves, Cubs, Reds, or Astros.

Live update: Tom Hardricourt quotes Brewers GM, Doug Melvin: "We talked about it and decided to pass."

#11 Detroit Tigers
Jim Leyland's team is in first place, but they have some issues at the back end of the rotation and very little production from their corner outfield positions.  Their bullpen is not where Leyland wants it to be, either.  I don't know if they can keep grinding out wins at this pace, to make the post-season.

Given our affinity for Jim Leyland, I'd expect to have more faith in their chances.  Something is telling me that the Twins will be at the top of the AL Central in the end, but I can't really express what the something is.

#10 Los Angeles Angels
The window of opportunity for this current nucleus of Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter, John Lackey & Company is closing.  The question is if the Angels have enough young contributors among the likes of Kendry Morales, Jered Weaver to win the unbelievable weak AL West.

their ranking in the Top 10 is a little bit of a speculative position because I truly believe they will drastically improve their team with a trade.  Just this morning, I was reading that they had even been exploring a trade for Dan Haren.  He probably won't end up in Anaheim this summer, but the fact that they checked in on him means that they are not shy of looking for players with high price tags.

#9 Toronto Blue Jays
Sure, the Blue Jays are in 4th place of the toughest division in baseball, but they are one of the reasons the division is as such.  Time after time, the Blue Jays have been able to summon quality pitchers from their farm system, as they lost every pitcher in their initial 5-man rotation at one time or another.

Maybe this team will finish 4th and not even be better than Baltimore the next few years, but I would be doing our friends from Canada a disservice to have them ranked much lower than this.  We'll see what happens, but if they finish ahead of the Rays, we may see some Cito Gaston for AL Manager of the Year campaigning out there

#8 St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals pulled off a big splash in the trade market last weekend, getting Mark DeRosa from the Indians.  If not, they would not be ranked this high.  Again, at least a dozen teams are in tenuous situations where acquisitions and injuries have substantial implications.

Speaking of which, Mark DeRosa was removed from last night's game after experiencing pain in his wrist.  Results of today's x-rays will determine if the Cardinals will slide down a few pegs in the rankings.

The Cardinals have a solid manager and the best player in the game.  Given Albert Pujols' consistency, the most important uncertainty for the Cardinals' season probably rests on the shoulders of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainright.  If these three guys stay healthy, I think they'll win the NL Central.

#7 Minnesota Twins
PECOTA gives the Tigers a 60% chance of making the playoffs and the Twins a 22% chance, yet I'm going with the underdog.

Call me crazy, but the Tigers concerns are clear and present dangers to their first place standing in the division.

I believe, without any evidence to support any of these claims, that Mauer and Morneau are the best 3/4 hitting punch in the league... at least when Jason Kubel isn't hitting between them.  In my eyes, they took the crown from Manny/Big Papi last summer.

I also think that Joe Nathan is the best closer in the game right now.  Who knows?  The argument is splitting hairs between him, Papelbon, Rivera, whomever.  The point is he's outstanding, and is a primary reason why the Twins have been competitive in recent history.

If they could get someone to take away Nick Punto's at bats, I think more people would agree that the Twins are the AL Central's team to beat.

#6 Philadelphia Phillies
The defending World Champions are aggressively searching for pitching.  They will be within striking distance in the end, to defend their title, so there's not really much to say about them.  They are not separating themselves from the competition of the Mets, Braves, and Marlins, but they are the Champs.  I'm giving Ruben Amaro, Jr a chance to get a very good arm on the market before I rank them ahead of the...

#5 New York Mets
This is an extremely frustrating time to be a Mets' fan.  We've documented here before how much injuries to three of their four best hitters, two starting pitchers, and their 8th inning reliever have debilitated their competitiveness.  It is maddening to watch a team that cannot hit.

Currently, Mike Pelfrey is battling against Yovani Gallardo with a 1-0 lead in the 7th inning.  The Mets have struck out 12 times against Gallardo today.

At least the Mets are winning, but it's impossible to get excited when your team strikes out that much.  It's demoralizing.

Just as bad as a team's psyche can be when they lose a leading player to injury, a true leader can inspire tremendous hope and confidence upon a healthy return.  No, this isn't me waxing prophetically about the Mets for no reason.  Again, in a month we will know so much more.

For now, we know the Mets will at least be getting Beltran, Reyes, Maine, and Putz back.  Oliver Perez will probably get a chance to earn his massive contract.  Carlos Delgado could probably come back with a noticeable limp for the end of the season.

Those are some very meaningful additions without trading any prospects.  Even if they decide to save their top prospects for better trade chips next season, like the Indians' Victor Martinez, we have to figure the Mets will do something at least as significant as the Yankees addition of Eric Hinkse.

#4 Tampa Bay Rays
Last season's Cinderella fell on some discouraging times early this season but has recently steadied the ship in the thick of the AL East/Wildcard race.

We value to process in which they achieved success last season and believe they maybe desrve to be ranked #3 in this poll.

The brightest spots for Rays fans to consider, in my opinion are...

1.) Pat Burrell, Dioner Navarro, and David Price should play better than they have.
2.) Ben Zobrist is not a fluke, but rather a good & dependable player.
3.) Carl Crawford & BJ Upton have been stupendous on the field and in the box scores.

Concerns for the defending AL champions include doubts that something is wrong with Burrell, Navarro, Price, and also Scott Kazmir, whom I do not expect great success the rest of the way.

#3 Los Angeles Dodgers
In a few days, the Dodgers get Manny Ramirez back.  They have been coasting to a division championship all season, and I think that cushion will do them well as they should have no qualms about resting regular players constantly.

I think the Dodgers also have the best balance in the National League between a flexible, veteran, dependable offense and very strong pitching staff headed by Chad Billingsley and another "arguably" best closer in the game: Jonathan Broxton.

Joe Torre knows what he's doing, so I feel as comfortable categorizing them as the class of the NL now as I have since the Cubs sputtered immediately out of the gate.

#2 New York Yankees
To hear Yankee fans talk about it, this team has dozens of problems and most of those are of the pitching & defense variety.  I think it is easy to forget the difference between a team in the Summer versus that same team in October.  Pitching rotations shrink, so Joba Chamberlain can take back the eighth inning.

Perhaps, I'm making too much of that posssibility.  But, the only way I can see the Yankees triumph over their nemesis in the ALCS is if they have a bullpen that rivals Boston's.

The Yankees are most likely not done shopping after acquiring Hinske.  I think they will at least do something to solidify the bullpen.  Whether they acquire Heath Bell, Kerry Wood, or Nuke LaLouche is beyond the horizons of my crystal ball.

#1 Boston Red Sox
My preseason, May 1, and June 1 pick to win the championship remains as the favorite to win it all this season.  I think there team is good enough right now to win the World Series.

I guess it's defensible to think that Theo Epstein should acquire someone to fill-in for the re-injured Mike Lowell.

All in all, I see a team that, last night's game notwithstanding, has as strong an offensive attack as anyone in either league and an artillery of power arms in the rotation, bullpen, disabled list, and on the Triple-A Pawtucket roster.

We've talked about Buchholz, Bowden, & Bard here before.  We haven't given Josh Beckett enough credit for his spectacular performance since a trying April.  Adding the Pawtucket roster to the foursome of Beckett, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia would probably be enough to win the AL Wild Card.

Postseason & Awards...
*Please note: we will always honor our preseason predictions for record keeping.  The forecast below simply shows how we are "feeling" on July 1, 2009.
Dodgers over Cardinals
Mets over Cubs (ugh)
Mets over Dodgers

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, Giants
NL R.O.Y.: Tommy Hanson, Braves
NL Manager: Jerry Manuel, Mets

Red Sox over Twins
Yankees over Angels
Red Sox over Yankees

AL MVP: Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
AL R.O.Y.: Elvis Andrus, Rangers
AL Manager: Cito Gaston, Blue Jays

2009 World Series
Red Sox over Mets

If you've hung in this long, congratulations and thank you.  That was a rather circuitous route to get back to where we've been on the 1st day of every month this season.  As a Cubs' fan who thinks there's still hope, I wish that I'm wrong and the Red Sox won't win it all.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the shout out, brilliant writer Bobby. Speaking of Nolan, I watched the replay of 1986 NLCS Game 5 last weekend on MLB Classic. The guy was unreal. That entire series was unreal. Check out his line:

    ps - #4 on your list should be the number of times the guy threw a 1-hitter. It had to be like 10-20 times in his career. Unreal

    pss - good trivia question - what Hall of Famer did Nolan hit his first HR on (hint, it was in 1980 in I believe his first game pitched for the Stros)