25 March 2008

Canseco's Juice is Running Out...

Rob Neyer's got a blog entry today about Jose Canseco's new book. Apparently someone named Joe Lavin got a copy from a bookstore a little sooner than anticipated, though it would surprise me if some of the usual book-reviewing types had not already been given a copy.

Of course, River Avenue Blues thinks that the original is a satire anyway, a fake. Looking at the original column, I don't see how it can be anything but a fake. Lavin says that Canseco includes a profane, personal attack/insult to Alex Rodriguez at the end of one chapter, which is something I can't imagine a publisher allowing, or even a ghost writer, as Jose had last time with Steve Kettmann. I doubt he's so refined his writing skills in the last three years that he no longer needs a ghost writer, and I can't imagine that even the most ineperienced one would let something like that through.

Lavin says that Canseco was upset that he didn't get mentioned more in the Mitchell Report, quoting him as saying "I was Mitch-slapped!" There is no way on God's green Earth that Jose Canseco is clever enough to have thought of that on his own. And if his ghost writer suggested it, he would have just looked at him quizically, like your dog looks at you when he can't figure out what you've done with the rest of the coookie you were eating, the one that's now "hidden" in your other hand.

Lavin says that Canseco attests to having taken two lie detector tests, and that the results are in the book. This is ridiculous. I've seen the movies. I know how these things work. The results of a polygraph test would take pages and pages of space in a book. You get readings of heart rate, pulse, body temperature, stuff like that, and it all comes out on a running chart on which there are lots of jagged lines, none of which are meaningful unless you know

A) What questions were being asked when those particular readings were taken

2) What the readings looked like when he was asked innocuous questions with either true or false answers, and

iii) How much of a difference in those readings is significant.

He could have published the results of a seismograph machine from somewhere under the San Francisco Bay and 99% of us would never know the difference. In other words, you have to be a trained polygraph reader, and even then, the experts can disagree. Which is one of the reasons these things are not admissible in court. (The other being that all judges are psychic and can tell when you're lying, anyway!)

Toward the end, Lavin says that Canseco describes a lengthy conversation with CBS's octogenarian news anchor Mike Wallace about he potential benefits of HGH, and Levin ends his column as follows:

Yes, apparently, Mike Wallace could be juiced. It makes sense. How else to explain how Wallace has stayed on top of his game well into his eighties? No word yet on whether Andy Rooney is juiced too.

This is tongue-in-cheek, here, folks. Wallace took a lot of flak last year for his interview with Roger Clemens, in which he clearly was NOT at the top of his game. He's a big name, certainly, but he's a soft touch these days, and a personal friend of Clemens, which was exactly why Roger chose him for the interview. He violated two of the three classic journalism blunders, the most famous of which is 'never get involved in a land war in Asia', but only slightly less well known are 'ask tough questions' and 'make sure you can remain objective'.

And besides, even if Mike Wallace did want to learn about HGH, do you think he would actually risk talking to Jose Canseco about it? He may be old and crotchety and not much of an interviewer anymore, but the man is not stupid. Jose Canseco wrote a book three years ago, and is publishing another one in which he supposedly divulges confidential information form personal conversations with people who trusted him at the time...why would Wallace confide in this guy?

Getting back to Canseco, I read and reviewed his book Juiced as well, and found it mostly pretty interesting, but that was because it was chocked full of what were (at the time) mostly new revelations.

This new one, whether Lavin actually read it or not, appears to be just an effort by Canseco to make a few bucks by jumping on the bandwagon. Though it should be noted that he started this whole thing by pushing that bandwagon down the hill three years ago. At the time, many of his accusations were based on first hand experience of injecting or supplying other players, though now it just sounds like he's accusing anyone who's a big name and might make a splash for his book to get some press.

I've already got a couple of other books to review, both of which seem like they'll be more interesting and better written than Canseco's new offering, and I won't even get to them until I've gotten through Baseball Prospectus 2008 and drafted my fantasy team. I expect that Canseco's sequel to Juiced will be a lot like The Matrix: Revolutions and everything Erik Hinske's done since he won the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year - a lot less interesting, and only still there because there's a lot of money involved.

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19 March 2008

2008 Cincinnati Reds Preview

It's been a long time since the Cincinnati Reds were any good. The team has not finished a season with a winning record since Y2K, but even that team was not exactly "competitive", finishing 10 games back in the NL Central, and nine back in the Wild Card race. They did win 96 games for a Wild-Card tie with the Mets the year before that, which they lost, but the team has not been in the playoffs since 1995, when they won their division handily.

The Cincinnatis were once the proudest franchise in baseball. Of course, that was 1868, and there were no other professional baseball teams. Once the rest of the country caught on, the Cincinnati club, well, them, not so much...but lets not be picky.

They had some pretty good moments in the 20th century, too, but in this one? They've won more games than only six of the 30 MLB teams (and only 2 of 16 NL teams): the Brewers, Orioles, Tigers, Pirates, Royals and Rays, in that order. And the Tigers have actually turned themselves around recently. But the Reds, despite a great fan base, a new ballpark, and as rich a history as any team in baseball this side of the Bronx, haven't done diddly-squat in this milennium.

But that could all change in 2008.

Not so much because the Reds are any smarter or better than they have been. Just because the NL Central division is, by all accounts, up for grabs. With apologies to the 2006 World Champion Cardinals, no team in the division has won more than 85 games in either of the last two seasons, and the teams that have competed did not do much to upgrade themselves over the winter.
Not that the Reds did. But their young talent may be at a point where it can help them in the ways that free agency and trades, due to their exhorbitant prices, cannot.

Starting Rotation:

The pitching staff is headed up by Aaron Harang, who has been, believe it or not, one of the best starters in the major leagues for the last three seasons. I know, it's hard to fathom that a guy who has averaged fewer than 15 wins and a 3.77 ERA in that span should be allowed to lay claim to such a title.

However, when you consider that he's been on lousy teams and has had to pitch half his games in the Great American Phonebooth, it starts to make sense. Only eight pitchers in MLB have totaled at least 650 innings and an adjusted ERA of 120 or better, and among them, Harang is 3rd in Innings, 2nd in complete games and strikeouts.

With that said, his 120 ERA+ is the worst of that small bunch, and it's not likely he'll ever be any better than this, but he's a solid workhorse, and nobody should be surprised if he racks up another 225 innings with an ERA around 3.75 or so. And if the Reds hit like their projections suggest they will? He could win 20 games.

The #2 man in the rotation is Bronson Arroyo, who is also an unspectacular workhorse, though one who's much better than his 9-15 record in 2007 would suggest. If he can give the Reds another 200+ innings with a slightly better than average ERA, they'll have no reason to complain.

Free agent signee Josh Fogg, despite a lackluster resume, has pitched well this spring and should easily make the rotation in the #3 hole. After that, it's anybody's guess. The incumbent rotation members, Matt Belisle, and Homer Bailey, have done nothing this spring to secure themselves jobs. Bailey had racked up an 8.44 spring ERA that got him sent back to the minors, and Belisle has been even worse.

In their place, most likely, will be young hot-shots Edinson Volquez (5 runs and 3 walks in 13 innings, with 19 strikeouts so far this spring) and Johnny Cueto (3 runs in 13 innings, with 12 K's and 4 walks). Young pitchers are a volatile commodity, and it would be foolish to expect these two to go Fernando on the league, but it would be even more foolish to send them back to the minors to start the season. If they can meet projections for this year, i.e. a roughly league average ERA and pitch 25-30 games, the Reds' potent offense could get them some wins.
It's dangerous to read too much into spring stats, but 19 strikeouts and three walks is impressive no matter the context. And really, these guys have got to produce this year if the Reds are to contend. If they don't, Cincinnati cannot reasonably expect Jeremy Affeldt or (if he ever comes off the DL) Eric Milton to carry them to the playoffs.

And the minor league well is pretty shallow. The pitchers who got the bulk of last years starts for the AAA Louisville team are mostly either gone (Mike Gosling, Elizardo Ramirez, Phil Dumatrait, Victor Santos), injured (Bobby Livingston) or ineffective this spring (Bailey, Tom Shearn, Richie Gardner). There's not much left.

One (small) ray of hope, however, comes in the form of Matt Maloney. (Predicted Bermanism: The Maloney Ranger, which would be much better if he actually pitched for Texas, but what can you do?) Maloney came to the Reds from the Phillies in the Kyle Lohse trade last year. Maloney nearly won the pitching "triple Crown" in the Sally League in 2006, finishing 16-9 for Lakewood with a 2.03 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 168 innings. He was doing well in Reading in 2007 when he was traded, and then got a couple of starts for the Reds' AA team before he was promoted to Louisville and did well there too. He finished 2007 with a combined record of 13-10 with a 3.64 ERA and 177 strikeouts in 170 innings.

Most important, perhaps, he dropped his walk rate from 3.90/9IP to just 2.85/9IP, a huge improvement in control. Unfortunately, he's been awful this spring, so he'll likely have to re-prove himself in AAA before they give him a shot in the majors. Bullpen: Newly-signed Closer Francisco Cordero brings the sexiest name Cincinnati has had in that role since Rob Dibble, not to mention a much sexier face than David Weathers.

Of course, even Amy Winehouse could meet that requirement, even with that weird fungus consuming her face. I mean, I know my momma told me if I can't say anything nice I shouldn't say anything at all (or was that Thumper?) but seriously, this guy is not attractive.

Anyway, Cordero has had success, averaging more than a strikeout per inning since 2003, when he took over closer duties in Texas. He's not exactly automatic, as his ERA has been well over 3.00 two of the last three years, and close to three in two more years since 2003, but then you don't need perfection to be a closer. Just ask Joe Borowski.

Cordero strengthens the Reds' bullpen if only because he adds another quality arm to it, and therefore decreases the number of important innings that have to be assigned to pitchers like Jeremy Affelt. That's not worth $46 million dollars, of course, but it's worth something.
Weathers becomes the main righty setup man, and though Mike Stanton is penciled in as the main lefty right now, he's going to be 41 on June 2nd, and he had a 5.93 ERA last year. It would be nice to see him pass Jesse Orosco to be first all time in relief appearances, but he'll need about two more seasons for that, and I don't see him lasting out this season, much less two.

More likely, the main lefty out of the pen will eventually be Affeldt (if he can keep his 2007 successes going), or some combination of youngsters Bill Bray and the vaguely-dirty sounding Jon Coutlangus. Righties vying for time in the pen should include 25-year old Jared Burton, who went 4-1 with a 1.84 ERA after the All-Star break last year, Todd Coffey, who's been excellent this spring despite a 5.82 ERA in 2007, and anyone who doesn't make the rotation.

Additionally, it seems that Gary Majewski is working his way back after a year in which he was either injured, or filming a movie about The Three Musketeers, I'm not sure which.

The Reds' bullpen should be greatly improved over 2007, in which the team's 5.10 ERA in relief was no relief at all, worst in the NL by over a quarter of a run and 4th worst in the majors.

Simple regression to the mean by the likes of Majewski and Coffey should help, as will the departures of Kirk Saarloos, Eddie Guardado, Rheal Cormier, Victor Santos and Mike Gosling, who all posted very high ERAs. Mike Stanton will be gone if he's not any better than last year, as this is the last of his contract, which should also help. The pitchers taking their places should help to keep the likes of Bill Bray and Marcus MacBeth in the minors if they're not ready for the Show, as it seemed last year.

Starting Lineup:

The expected lineup on Opening Day is:

1) Corey Patterson, CF
2) Brandon Phillips, 2B
3) Ken Griffey Jr., RF
4) Adam Dunn, 1B
5) Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
6) Scott Hatteberg, 1B
7) David Ross, C
8) Jeff Keppinger, SS
9) Aaron Harang, Pitcher

The Reds do not have a bonafide leadoff hitter, but Patterson is the closest thing, at least in the mind of new field manager Dusty Baker. He frequently employed Patterson in this manner when they were both Cubs, and he's planning on doing it again. Unfortunately, if Patterson falters, Ryan Freel is seen as the next best option. Both players posted an adjusted OPS just slightly above 100 in 2003, and neither has done it since. This is, as they say in France, not good.
Of course, batting order does not matter nearly as much as batting quality, and the Reds are flush in quality hitting prospects, with both OF Jay Bruce (Baseball America's #1 overall prospect in 2008) and 1B Joey Votto. If Baker can be convinced to give these guys a chance, and thereby displace their veteran competition (Patterson and Scott Hatteberg, respectively), he might find that his team is the better for it.

If Baker understood OBP as he ought to, he'd probably try Edwin Encarnacion (.359 and .356 each of the last two seasons) in the leadoff spot instead. Griffey and Dunn are both much better at getting on base, but both hit for consistent power as well, and are therefore more valuable hitting 3rd and 4th. Brandon Phillips won't hit 30 homers again, but 15 or even 20 probably are not out of reach. PECOTA's got him hitting .274/.325/.444 with 20 homers, which sounds about right.

Ken Griffey's not the superstar he used to be. Heck, "Junior" is 38 now, and has not played a full, healthy season since 1999. When he plays, however, he can still hit, patiently and with power, even if he's not likely to ever crest .290 again. PECOTA suggests that he'll hit about .268 with 20 homers in 417 plate appearances, but also warns that he's got a better than 1-in-4 chance of losing a bunch of playing time due to injury.

When that happens, Jay Bruce should get to play, and may impress. He's hit for average and power in the minors (over .300 with 26 homers at three levels in 2007) and will take a walk, but is young and raw and will strike out a lot in the majors, as most young players do. Only 21, he's got some time to develop, but again, if the Reds are to compete this year, they need him to come into his own pretty quickly, and to supplant the at-bats that Patterson or Freel would have gotten, not to take Griffey's playing time when he sustains his annual injury.

Behind Griffey in the lineup is seamhead favorite Adam Dunn, who walks a ton, homers a ton and strikes out a ton and a half. He's hit exactly 40 homers each of the last 3 seasons, so I'm going to go out on a limb here and say he hits...oh, let's say 39 this year.

I suggested that Encarnacion could be a good leadoff option, which is based moistly on the fact that the Reds don't really have a good leadoff option, but he's the closest thing, this side of Keppinger. PECOTA has him projected to hit 23 homers this year, though, and I doubt that Baker would want power like that leading off. However, Encarnacion never hit more than 17 homers in the minors, and that was in the Midwest league, where power is cheap, so I'll believe that when I see it. In any case, he's developed into a solid major league thirdbaseman, and at only 24 year sold, should only get better.

Hopefully, Baker has enough sense to let Joey Votto play every day instead of Scott Hatteberg, whose time as a useful starter, if indeed there ever was such a time, has clearly come and gone. Granted, he hit .310 last year with his typical patience (and his typical lack of power), which could fool Baker into thinking he'd be a good option to start, but he's 38, and that was the first time he'd really been "good" since, well, ever.

He posted a 116 OPS+ in 2002, but had not been over 109 since, until he posted a 120 mark last year. He set single season career highs in batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS and OPS+, all at the age of 37, though he did not get enough plate appearances for the season to qualify. Is it really likely that he's going to be anywhere near that good again? I don't think so, and neither do the guys at Baseball Prospectus, who have him slated to hit .278 with 7 homers.

Votto, meanwhile, should hit about .280 with 25 homers if he gets to play daily. Unfortunately, Votto's hitting only .158 this spring while Hatteberg is clipping away at .382, so it very unlikely that Baker has seen enough from his young prospect (ranked #4 in the Reds' system and #44 in all of MLB) to give him the first base job at this point.

Catcher Dave Ross barely cracked the Mendoza Line last year, hitting just .203 after he surprised the hell out of everyone by hitting .255 with 21 homers in 2006. He'll share catching duties with seasoned (read: OLD) veteran catcher Javier Valentin, making something of a Hitting/Catching platoon instead of the classic Righty/Lefty thing. Except that Valentin isn't much of a hitter anymore either. He's just better than Ross.

If one of them gets injured, minor league veteran Ryan Hannigan can step in, but he's no long-term solution, as he doesn't have enough power to light one of those new-fangled LEDs, much less to keep an opposing pitcher honest. This will be a trouble spot for the Reds all year.

Phillips' double play partner is currently slated to be Alex "No 'S'" Gonzalez, who hit .272 with 16 homers for them last year, but is more likely to hit something like .255 with 10 homers this year, assuming he's healthy enough to play. The Reds might be well served to let Jeff Keppinger get a shot this year at short, as PECOTA thinks he'll hit .305/.364/.418, which would also make him their best option for a leadoff man.

Keppinger's done nothing but hit everywhere he's played: .325 in Lynchburg, .337 in Altoona, .362 in Binghamton, .337 in Norwich, .300 in another stint in Norwich, .354 in Omaha, .368 in Louisville, and then .332 with the Reds last year, and always walking more than he strikes out. So why is he listed second to a proven mediocrity like "No 'S'" on the ESPN.com's Reds Depth Chart? Perhaps because he doesn't do much else. He's not a great defensive player, doesn't steal, doesn't hit for power...but if you can hit .300 in the majors, even without much in the way of secondary skills, there's a job for you somewhere. Between second, third and short in Cincinnati this year, he should get every opportunity to prove himself.


Almost everyone on the bench has already been mentioned, given that there are so many position battles in the Reds' camp this spring. The ones who lose out (hopefully Hatteberg, Patterson, Freel, Valentin, and Gonzalez, if he's healthy) could be joined by the likes of Norris Hopper, Andy Phillips, or Paul Bako, but none of those is likely to get much, if any, playing time. The Reds' bench should be pretty strong, but that's only because they have a lot of question marks in the starting lineup and seem to have stocked up on guys who could be good fall-back options.


There are too many question marks on this team right now for me to have much confidence about it going into 2008. They've got a lot of talent, but there are so many things that obviously have to break just the right way for them. Mostly they need their old players to not get hurt and their young prospects to all pan out at once, neither of which is likely to actually happen.
My best guess: we get a chance to see flashes of brilliance from each of the youngsters, but only Votto and probably one of the young pitchers, let's say Volquez, really does anything significant. Griffey gets hurt, Bruce isn't ready yet, Patterson and Freel combine for 550 at-bats (and 400 outs), and the Reds finish 82-80. A big jump from their 4th place finish in 2007, but not ready for the bigtime yet.

Look for them to take the NL Central by storm in 2009.

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13 March 2008

2008 Los Angeles Dodgers Preview

I don't intend to do a preview of every team in MLB -because, really, who has the time? - but it seems to me that it is worthwhile to look at some of the teams on the edge, teams that could go either way. Anyone can predict that the Giants or Royals will lose 100 games or that the Red Sox will win 95 or more. It takes real talent to predict that the Phillies will win 84 games. Or at least that's what I'm telling myself.

So, in this vein, I'm now going to analyze the chances of the 2008 Dodgers, a team about which I know almost nothing, and in which I have absolutely no rooting interest.


The 2007 Dodgers finished 10th in the 16-team Senior Circuit with 735 Runs scored, despite the fact that they were 2nd in batting average and 4th in OBP. This is because they showed so little power, ranking 13th in slugging and 15th in home runs. They were basically a singles hitting, slash-and-dash team, 3rd in the NL with 137 steals. Nobody hit more than Jeff Kent's 20 home runs. Dodger Stadium is a pitchers' park, so that's not a total surprise, but they actually hit a little worse on the road than they did at home, so the park factor doesn't explain it. They just weren't that good. That explains it.

The Dodgers had a lot of old veterans last year, but many of those are gone: Mike Lieberthal, Luis Gonzalez, Mike Sweeney, Marlon Anderson, Brady Clark, Shea Hillenbrand - all overpaid, underproductive and on the wrong side of 30, some on the wrong side of 35. Of those that are left, basically Kent and Nomar Garciaparra, at least they can still hit, if not field. Well, Kent can hit. Nomar can pinch-hit, but that's about all he's good for these days.

Kent just turned 40, and is unlikely to play more than the 136 games he played last season, but they need all they can get out of him, because the remaining 30 or so games will mostly go to 22-year old Tony Abreu. Baseball Prospectus thinks Abreu will hit .276/.323/.401, well below the production levels of even Jeff Kent's quatragenarian bat. Abreu hit for average in the minors, but with little patience and no power, so it's unlikely that the team can withstand any sustained absence by Kent. (Delwyn Young is strictly outfield material, not a secondbaseman, despite what ESPN.com's depth chart says.)

Most of Nomar's at-bats last year should get taken by Andy LaRoche, who's projected to hit .278/.362/.481 by BP, but could easily out-pace that. (He averaged about .310/.400/.570 the last two seasons in AAA, which, even accounting for how much the PCL inflates offense, is still pretty impressive. Unfortunately, LaRoche has a thumb injury that will likely keep him out of commission until mid-May at the earliest. Now, whether new manager Joe Torre will actually let the young, unknown LaRoche play in lieu of a "proven commodity" like Nomar will depend on how well Garciaparra does for the first 6 weeks of the season. If he's hitting .260 with no power and demonstrating his usual lack of defensive prowess at third base, LaRoche will get a shot. Torre may not trust youngsters, but even should be able to tell the difference between Andy LaRoche and Andy Phillips.

The rest of the infield consists of shortstop Rafael Furcaland first baseman James Loney. Furcal, now 30 and not the superstar some expected him to be, is still a decent lead-off man and an excellent fielder. Loney hit like crazy in a truncated 2007 season, mostly because he hit .400 whenever he put the ball in play, which he won't do again. Still, a .290/.350/.450 line or better, as Baseball Prospectus predicts, would be fine if they can get a whole season out of him. The trouble is that Loney's got a history of wrist injuries, and may get hurt again. Worse yet, he may not get hurt enough to be placed on the DL, but just enough to rob him of the power he seemed to regain last year.

Catcher Russel Martin became a fan favorite last year with his quick bat (.293, 19 homers) and hustling style of play (21 steals and a Gold Glove). Given the fact that Dodger Stadium is still a pitchers' park, Martin's performance was even better than it looked on paper, a near-MVP caliber season from a 24-year old catcher, a truly rare commodity.

His career minor league slugging percentage was only .419, and that was bolstered by spending the whole 2004 season at Vero Beach, a power hitter's paradise, so those 19 homers he hit last year may prove to be a career high. In any case, he's got a solid bat, hitting both for average and a little power, with decent patience as well. He might want to be a little more selective with base-stealing, however, both because of the injury risk associated with it and because his 9 times getting caught essentially negated any benefit from the 21 times he was successful.

The Dodger outfield, with the recent addition of Andruw Jones, now has impressive depth, if not a bonafide superstar. Jones is probably expected to become a great Dodger centerfielder, in the mould of Duke Snider, but of course he hit only .222 last year, so if he can just make the fans forget about Milton Bradley, he'll be a success. Expect him to bounce back to his more typical .260/.350/.500 type of production, maybe just a tick below that because of the pitchers' park thing.

Jones is flanked by Matt Kemp and (hopefully) Andre Ethier. Kemp is still quite young, having just turned 23 in September, has hit for average everywhere he's played, and has power to burn, though he's never really walked much. Like Loney, Kemp hit over .400 when he put the ball in play last year, so don't expect him to hit .342 again, but if he hits the .293/.346/.497 that BP predicts, nobody will much care that he only walks about once a week. Especially if he goes back to stealing 15-20 bases per year, as he did in the minors.

Ethier, by contrast, does not steal bases, but he can hit a little, and since he's entering his prime (he'll be 26 in about a month) he could easily outpace the .281/.349/.444 that PECOTA suggests. Ethier, however, is not so obviously talented that he can rest on his laurels. Incumbent centerfielder Juan Pierre, pressed out of a job by the acquisition of Jones, will be vying for playing time in Left.

Pierre, nowhere near as productive a talent as Ethier, is nevertheless a Proven Veteran, except that Joe Torre doesn't realize that what he's proven is that he shouldn't be playing every day on a championship team. His defense, which was terrible in CF, won't be so bad in Left, but his bat will be that much worse. He's got plenty of speed, but little pateince and no power, so the apparently decent batting averages he puts up tend to be hollow. He's been in the top 3 in the NL in Outs made each of the last 5 years, leading it twice, with his only real competition coming form Jimmy Rollins, who at least hits for some power and plays better defense.


Still, having Pierre on the bench to spot start, pinch-run, or try to slap a key single in the late innings can be helpful. Just not worth the $55 million contract he signed. Pierre and Delwyn Young give the Dodger bench a range of useful skills and the ability to suffer some injuries to the starters, if they should happen.

The rest of the bench consists of run-of-the-mill backup catcher Gary Bennett, standard-issue 5th outfielder Jason Repko and back-up shortstop Chin-lung Hu. Hu has a career minor league stat line of .299/.346/.425, and has hit for average, taken walks and stolen bases during his minor league career. Unfortunately, he's really never done more than two of those at once, and usually only one. His real asset is his defense, for which he's gotten raves everywhere he's played. Someone who hits Hu's 50th percentile BP projection (.274/.318/.403) and plays Gold Glove defense would be a starter on most teams, but this one's committed to Furcal for two more seasons at about $13 million each, so that won't happen any time soon.

With all the injuries ot Dodger infielders, he might get a little playing time at third base, but his bat won't carry that position for any length of time. For now, Hu's greatest contribution to the team may be as the start of a "Hu's on First" type of gag, like this one:

Starting Pitchers:

The rotation consists of Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, and Esteban Loaiza, all righties.

Penny, who was 10-1 with a 2.39 ERA at the All-Star Break, looked poised to win the NL Cy Young Award for most of last year, but went only 6-3 with a 4.25 ERA after June, so Jake Peavy won it instead. Still, Penny was one of the 5 best pitchers in the NL last year, and there's no reason he should be much different this year.

Lowe, whose performance was wildly erratic his last few years in Boston, has been the very picture of consistency in the three years he's spent in LA. He's pitched between 199 and 222 innings, with 12 to 16 wins and an ERA between 3.61 and 3.88 each of those three years. The big differences have come in the Loss column, due to bad luck and/or poor run support. He's 34 now, and therefore probably due for a slight drop-off, but not anything severe.

Chad Billingsley has got the size (6'1", 245) and the stuff (95 mph fastball, slider and curve) ot be a stud in the majors. His MLB record right now is 19-9, 3.47 in 237 innings over two seasons. He walks a lot of batters, but can get a strikeout or a groundball when he needs one, so that's less of a concern than it would be if he were a pure fly-ball guy.

The key for him will be staying healthy. He's a big, stocky guy, with a high, almost El Duque-style leg kick, and his list of comparables on Baseball Prospectus includes Jaret Wright, Kelvim Escobar, Wilson Alvarez, Tony Armas Jr., and several other big, stocky guys who got injured at a young age and never met their potential. On the other hand, he could do worse than to turn out like Tom Seaver or John Smoltz, or even Dan Petry and Mark Gubicza, who are also on his list of comps.

PECOTA's projections for him are modest, probably because of his youth/inexperience and all those walks, but don't be surprised if he wins 18 games next year either. He could turn out to be the best pitcher on the staff.

The nominal 4th starter is a 33-year old Japanese veteran named Hiroki Kuroda, who went 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA last year for the Hiroshima Carp. Baseball Prospectus has what seems to me an overly optimistic 10-8, 3.94 projection for him. For comparison, last year they predicted 12-9, 3.99 for Daisuke Matsuzaka, who actually went 15-12, 4.40. Still solid, but hardly dominant, with higher walk- and homer-rates than they expected, hence the higher ERA. And you don't even want to know what they projected for Kei Igawa. If those two are any indication, Kuroda may be in for a rough season.

Rounding out the top five is Esteban Loaiza, who's trying to get healthy and pitch a full season for the first time since 2005. He made two starts for Oakland last year and pitched well enough to sucker the Dodgers into picking him up off waivers and assuming his $8 million in remaining contract dollars. While in LA, he pitched only 22 innings and racked up an 8.34 ERA, which, on a scale of one to ten, is 8.34.

Loaiza's doing well enough this spring (3 ER in 7 innings, 7 strikeouts and 2 walks) to make it seem that he may be healthy, but at 36 years old and following two years of injury trouble, he may be near the end. If Jason Schmidt can get healthy later in the year, perhaps in June, they could get a nice boost, but that's unlikely at best. Another option is Hong-Chih Kuo, who was a strikeout machine in the minors but is yet to have much success in the majors. If not him, then Joe Torre has Yankee cast-off (and inexplicable favorite) Tanyon Sturtze on whom to fall back. In any case, the front four should be good enough that the #5 man doesn't matter too much.


Closer Takashi Saito has been nothing short of brilliant since he crossed the Pacific two winters ago: 63 saves in 69 chances, 185 strikeouts in 142 innings, and a Mariano-esque 1.77 ERA. He also has a Mariano-esque age of 38 years, so he may miss a few games due to the sorts of nagging injuries that older pitchers sustain, but it appears that he is as good as any reliever in baseball when he's on the mound.

The bullpen workhorses are young Jonathan Broxton (32 Holds and a 2.85 ERA in 83 innings last year) and Scott Proctor (3.65 ERA in 86 innings), both of whom were equally solid in 2006. Proctor earned Joe Torre's trust in new York, and should see a significant share of the middle relief work as long as he continues to perform.

The main lefty is 30-year old Joe Beimel, who held lefties to a .188 BA against last year. Righties hit .294 off him, albeit with no power. He's totaled 137 innings the last two years, with ERAs of 2.96 and 3.88, and should continue to do well in that role in 2008. Rudy Seanez, now 39 years old, is also in the mix.

The mop-up duty will likely be handled by youngster Jonathan Meloan and minor league veteran Eric Hull. The former has been great everywhere he's pitched, but has only 27 innings of experience above AA ball, and therefore probably will get osme more seasoning before the Dodgers call him up for good. Hull was quite good in Las Vegas last year, after a couple of seasons of growing pains. His minor league numbers do not suggest future stardom, but he should be an effective mop-up man. Re-tread Yhency Brazoban may get some work, if he can get his weight under control, and Mike Myers is trying to eek out one more year as a resident wacky, laredo LOOGy. He's probably better off trying to make more Austin Powers movies.


In total, the Dodgers look really, really good on paper. They've got a starting rotation that is the equal of almost any in the national League, and a bullpen that is both very good and quite deep. The offense is not likely to be anything special, but is probably good enough, and with a full season from Ethier and Kemp, and Juan Pierre's out-making at-bats mostly replaced by Andruw Jones, who has a good shot at bouncing back from an off year, they could improve significantly from their 2006 numbers. Whatever they can get from Andt laRoche, once he's healthy, should be an improvement on the terrible numbers they got from the Hot Corner last year as well. Those improvements, if Torre can bring himself to make them, should more than offset any age-related decline from Jeff Kent and/or a return to earth by Russel Martin.

The Dodgers will be a force to be reckoned with, and have as good a shot as anyone in the NL West to win 95 games and take the division. In a division full of contenders, Los Angeles has the best chance to come out the champion.

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03 March 2008

2008 Philadelphia Phillies Preview

But first, a recap of 2007...

What went right?


They won the NL East and therefore got into the playoffs for the first time since 1993!

Jimmy Rollins won the NL MVP Award that should have gone to Hanley Ramirez or David Wright. Ryan Howard followed up his 2006 MVP award nicely, and might have netted another one if he'd been healthy all year. Chase Utley finished 8th in the voting, and was better than either of them, though he missed 30 games with an injury.

Pat Burrell heald (almost perfectly) steady from his solid 2006 campaign. Aaron Rowand set career personal highs in Games, At-Bats, Runs, Hits, Doubles, Homers, Walks RBIs, OBP, Total Bases (and strikeouts). The bench was mostly solid, with Greg Dobbs, Jayson Werth and Tadahito Iguchi, who were all picked up for nothing or something very close to that, being particularly good.

Youngsters Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick combined to go 25-9.

What went wrong?

Pretty much everything to do with the pitching, and anyone who had anything to do with third base.

Brett Myers adapted well to closing after struggling through a few rough starts in April, but his work in that role was forced when Tom Gordon got injured and everyone else in the bullpen forgot how to get guys out. Taking the guy who should have been your best starter and turning him into a reliever cannot be considered a victory in any sense.

Jamie Moyer won 14 games, but he also lost 12 and had an ERA of 5.01. Adam Eaton "won" 10 games, but his 6.29 ERA and 30 homers allowed in 161 innings are much more telling of his season. By the end of June, both Freddy Garcia and Jon Leiber were gone for good, and by the end of July, so was Ryan Madson.

Third base was a revolving door, through which Charlie Manuel deperately sent various players to their doom. Abraham Nunez was almost comically bad (.234/.318/.282 with zero homers in 252 at-bats) and Wes Helms was not much better (.246/.297/.368 in 280 at-bats). Dobbs was decent, but didn't get enough playing time.

Ryan Howard, though he adapted well to Jan's old job, set a new MLB record by striking out 199 times.

The team, as a whole, spent it's whole stash trying to get into the playoffs and then had nothing left, and got swept out by the red-hot Rockies.

Looking ahead...

There have been some significant turnovers for the Phillies in the 2007-08 offseason.

The Offense:
...will be hampered both by its losses and its acquisitions, but the Phils probably will still be one of the top 5 hitting teams in all of MLB.

Rowand's big year netted him a 5-year, $60 million contract from the Giants, which was WAY more than Philly (or anyone else) was willing to pay. Rowand's departure, however, doesn't hurt nearly as much as the arrival of thirdbaseman Pedro Feliz. Feliz got a 2-year, $8.5M contract and, it is hoped he will provide "stability" to the third base situation. "Stability" being a euphemism for "mediocrity" in this case. He offers no more quality than incumbent Greg Dobbs did, but he comes with ten times the pricetag.

Another new acquisition, Geoff Jenkins, has a little power but not much else to offer. He can be decent as the lefty-hitting half of a platoon with Werth in RF, but probably isn't worth the $13 million they've promised him for 2008-09.

Carlos Ruiz, after a solid 2/3 of a season in 2007, should have a stranglehold on the starting catcher's job, and while he's not likely to be confused with Mike Piazza or even Joe Mauer, he should do well enough. Baseball prospectus has him projected to hit .270/.341/.413 in 389 at-bats, and that sounds about right, though I would give him a little more playing time, now that Rod barajas is out of the picture.

The rest of the offese, assuming everyone's healthy, should be great. Howard and Utley and Rollins are all MVP-type players, and more than make up for OM/3B Feliz. Burrell is as solid a left fielder as any in baseball, and Shane Victorino's proved that he can play every day. His modest offensive skills and exceptional speed will play better in CF than they did in right anyway.

The bench, while not spectacular on offense, has some worth (and one Werth!). Chris Coste can hit a little as he backs up Ruiz. Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs can play either corner once in a while, though hopefully neither will start in Howard's place unless they need a DH. Werth showed that he's healthy for once, and So Taguchi can be a useful pinch hitter or defensive replacement for any of the corner outfielders.


The Phillies will do well to let Brett Myers start and only start this year. The rotation is thin enough without turning a 200-inning pitcher into a 59-inning pitcher. Hopefully he bounces back and wins 15 games with a 3.85-ish ERA. Cole Hamels did exactly that last year but still needs to prove he's able to stay healthy if he wants the team to give him the kind of respect (read: money) he thinks he deserves.

Kyle Kendrick impressed a lot of people last year, but he'll need to prove his performance wasn't a fluke. Last year was the first of his 5-year pro career higher than A-Ball. he was doing well enough in AA that the desperate Phils gave him a shot in the majors, and he managed to stick, but the smart guys over at Baseball Prosectus have him projected for a 9-11 record and a 5.35 ERA this year.

The rest of the rotation should be just that: rotating. The nominal 4th and 5th starters are 45-year old Jamie Moyer and (God help them) Adam Eaton. Moyer was at least durable, if not "good" last year, and the Phillies could do worse than to have a guy like him as their #5 starter, someone who can keep the team in games and let the mashers win it against the soft underbelly of the opposition's rotation.

But Eaton? He was dreadful last season, and the Phillies are stuck with him for two more. I can't see him pitching like he did last year and staying employed for the whole year. They'd be better served giving someone from their AAA team a long look, someone like John Ennis or J.A. Happ. Even the Dust-Bin Durbins (J.D. and Chad, no relation) might be better than Eaton, who keeps trying to prove he can't pitch, but nobody wants to believe him. In any case, the Phillies have no shot at repeating as the Wild Card if they don't do something to shore up the pitching rotation.

The Bullpen should be better than the rotation, but until they get Brad Lidge back healthy, the whole group is weakened. Lidge's knee surgery makes Tom Gordon the closer again, temporarily, which makes Ryan Madson the primary right-handed setup man instead of the long-man. That, in turn, forces them to use the likes of Clay Condrey, Scott Matthieson, and the Dust-Bin Durbins more often. At least they've got J.C. Romero, one of the more consistent lefty relievers in the majors.


I have a hard time imagining that the Phillies offense can compensate for their lack of pitching. If the chances of Cole Hamels staying healthy enough to pitch 200+ innings and win 15+ games are slim, then the chances of Brett Myers rebounding to again be one of the 10 or 15 best starters in the NL are all but nonexistent. A dozen wins and an ERA around 4.25 might be more realistic, and that just won't be enough. Kendrick's future is anybody's guess, and the rest of the rotation is likely to be a revolving door of guys with ERAs on the wrong side of 5.00, as they were last year. The bullpen can't make up for that, and they don't have the minor league talent to either plug in or trade for another solid starter.

My best guess is something like 84-78, no playoffs.

The Wild Card will come out of the NL West.

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