Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Team of '10

While it may only be January roster across MLB seem to be solidifying in preparation for what will doubtlessly be another riveting season.

In preparation for spring training I thought I’d take the time to outline my picks for greatness in 2010, all handily structured into what I like to call: “If I owed a MLB team, this is who would play for it”.

Starting Pitching:

1) Dan Haren (Arizona Diamondbacks)

Dan (formerly Danny) Haren may just be the best value for money pitcher in baseball at the moment. Whilst its true that he faded from being a legitimate Cy Young candidate into an also-ran behind Lincecum and the twin Cardinals in 2009, Haren was very very good all year long. Just look at his stats from the past 3 years:

2007 15-9 3.07 222 192
2008 16-8 3.33 216 206
2009 14-10 3.14 229 223

All this whilst having the profound misfortune of pitching in Arizona in front of a team that couldn’t score in a brothel. Haren dominated the league in WHIP.

Considering that the A’s have just shelled out $10+ to Ben Sheets (a player I regarded as hugely over-rated even before he sat out the whole of 2009) Haren’s value (roughly the same as Sheets per season I’d imagine) seems like the biggest steal in baseball. Quite why the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox haven’t been making a big run at getting this guy is beyond me.

He’s my ace.

2) James Shields (Tampa Bay Rays)

There’s no denying that ‘Big Game James’ had a rough 2009 finishing below .500 as the Rays game back down to earth with a bump following the dizzying heights of 2008. That being said Shields is still 43-36 for his still young career (better than the likes of Ben Sheets at the time) and has logged well over 200 innings pitched since 2006.

With his value likely to decrease following the hardships of the 2009 campaign Shields could represent excellent value for money as an affordable number two pitcher. Essentially a low-risk, high-upside player, if Shields bounces back and repeats his 2007/2008 performance he and Haren would make a formidable 1-2 combination.

3) Max Scherzer (Detroit Tigers)

Scherzer is another risky yet potentially hugely rewarding player. Toiling away for the offensively woeful D’backs last year Scherzer managed 174K in 170 innings pitched. This 9.2 SO/9 ratio was good enough for 8th in the NL.

Moving to the AL, for a team that should generate more runs than Arizona managed, should allow Scherzer to greatly improve on the 9-11 W-L record he held in 2009. Barring injury I envision Max getting the opportunity to pitch 200+ innings and, as a result, challenge for the AL strikeout crown. Certainly being around Justin Verlander (the current King) can’t held but benefit Scherzer.

Keeping healthy is going to be Max’s biggest challenge, as is the case with most young flamethrowers. This is why Arizona were prepared to let him go so relatively cheaply (Scherzer has a much bigger upside than Edwin Jackson, but more risk long term). I can’t image that Scherzer will disintegrate during 2010 but decline from wear and tear is likely to be an issue in 2011 and beyond.

4) Randy Wells (Chicago Cubs)

For all the noise and kudos Rick Porcello generated in Detroit last season, Wells did the same, to much less fanfare in Chicago. My pick for Rookie of the Year honours became a valuable part of the Cubbie’s rotation last season and, arguably, is the reason they felt comfortable giving up Rich Harden to Texas.

Wells went 12-10 in 2009 all the while holding a stellar 3.05 ERA over 165 IP. He compiled 104 strikeouts. These are extremely impressive numbers that I look for Randy to improve upon in 2010. With Harden gone he will likely get more opportunity to pitch.

I actually think the Cubs have made great strides this off-season with the signings of Byrd and Nady and could really contend next season. If that is the case and Wells get the offensive support his low ERA deserve he could seriously figure in NL Cy Young discussions come season end. This is certainly the last season I will be able to get away with placing him this low down the rotation, come 2011 Wells will be a 1 or 2 starter anywhere in the league.

5) Brian Matusz (Baltimore Orioles)

Closing out the rotation is another young gun who I predict to have a breakout season in 2010. Matusz looked extremely impressive in a late season call up (followed by a nonsensical later season shut down which informed my first ever blog post). Baltimore’s 1st round (4th overall) pick in the 2008 draft finished off 2009 with a 5-2 record with 38Ks in 44 innings pitched.

I fully expect Matusz to make the Orioles’ starting rotation out of the spring training this year and to benefit greatly from the O’s inspired (for once) signing of Kevin Millwood to act as a mentor for their young, talented rotation. Come season end I fully anticipate the Matusz and Chris Tillman will be much higher profile players than they currently are.

Relief Pitching:

Closer: Andrew Bailey (Oakland A’s)

Choosing 2009’s AL Rookie of the Year and first time All-Star as my closer is as much of a no-brainer as exists in terms of compiling my bull-pen.

Bailey seemingly came from nowhere to take over the A’s closer spot and amassed 26 saves and a microscopic 0.876 WHIP over the course of a fairytale 2009 season. Bailey’s 1.84 ERA also stands out.

Given Billy Beane’s fondness for profiting off the false-economy of closers I fully expect the New Jersey native to be gone from Oakland before very long, probably for a grossly inflated contract. Get him while you can, in other words.

Setup Man: David Robertson (New York Yankees)

Setup up Bailey will be the 24 year old David Robertson, the emerging strikeout supremo of the New York Yankees.

In his 45 games out of the Yankee bull-pen last year Robertson compiled a league leading SO/9 ratio of 13 whilst maintaining a 3.30 ERA.

Given more experience I would expect Robertson’s K numbers to drop a little, yet, as he becomes more familiar with big league hitting that ERA should dip below 3.00 too. Scroll down to C.J Wilson’s 2009 numbers and you should get a pretty good idea of what I expect from Robertson in 2010.

Having a lefty and a righty in late innings roles, both producing 10+ SO/9 ratios and sub 3.00 ERAs should stand my side in very good stead in terms of winning out in tight games.

Lefty Specialist: C.J. Wilson (Texas Rangers)

Whilst he may have lost the Rangers’ closer role to Frank Francisco C.J Wilson continues to be a favourite of mine.

C.J appeared in a whopping 74 games last year, saving 14 of them. At the age of just 28 C.J has 52 career saves and a return to the closer’s role in the future seems likely, although perhaps not in Texas where they seem to have a wealth of young pitching talent rising through the ranks (for a change).

Whilst compiling a very good 2.81 ERA in 2009 C.J secured a 10.3 SO/9 ratio. Very impressive stuff!

Part of the logic behind getting C.J in this bull-pen stems from his versatility: should Bailey fall prey to a ‘sophomore slum’ C.J has the experience and the stuff to close. Likewise, C.J could replace Robertson in the setup role if the young Yankee also stutters.

Middle: Ramon Ramirez (Boston Red Sox)

Continuing my young bull-pen (only Guerrier is over 30) is Ramon Ramirez. I’ll admit I didn’t know much about the 27 year old flame-thrower before he arrived in Boston, but what I saw this season I was extremely pleased with.

Taking over the traditionally tricky middle relief role in the Boston bull-pen (the Mike Timlin role essentially) Ramirez excelled, posting a 2.84 ERA over the 70 games he appeared in. Ramirez also gave the Red Sox plenty of opportunities to win, finishing the season with a 7-4 record.

Middle #2: Matt Guerrier (Minnesota Twins)

In 2009 Guerrier appeared in 79 games. This was the highest number of appearances in the AL. 2009 also marked the second consecutive year that Guerrier has led his league in number of appearance, solidifying his reputation as the premier workhorse in the AL.

Whilst the option of having Guerrier pitch essentially every-other-day would make him a valuable player in and of itself, his performance is exceptional in many areas other than simply just the amount of games he appears in.

In 2009 Guerrier held a 2.36 ERA through his 79 games of work. Add to this his 0.969 WHIP and, in Guerrier, my team has an extremely capable middle inning man to eat up a bunch of innings as the season progresses.

Fireman: Junichi Tazawa (Boston Red Sox)

The Japanese wonder-kid Junichi Tazawa was rushed by the Sox last year. Signed as a non-drafted high school player out of Japan the Red Sox handed him a late season big league call-up WAY before he was ready. The rest is history. Tazawa get shelled routinely during his starts last September finishing with a 2-3 record and 7.42 ERA.

Still, now that his baptism of fire is over I fully expect Tazawa to develop into a proficient, if not spectacular big league ball player. I don’t think that Tazawa is ready to begin 2010 as a starter, hence his positioning here as long relief. Once he is able to further acclimatise to the Major Leagues in a less pressured environment Junichi could become a useful back of the rotation guy.

This guy is brimming with potential. Only 23 years old, with experience of pitching in the pressure cooker that is Fenway Park in the middle of the playoff run behind him, the future looks extremely bright for Junichi Tazawa.

Position Players:

C) Kelly Shoppach (Tampa Bay Rays)

While Kelly had a poor 2009, batting just .214 for the Indians, I fully expect him to bounce back in his new job at the Rays. Doubtlessly being V-Mart’s backup cannot have helped Shoppach’s confidence after a very good 2008 where he hit 21HR and drove in 55 RBIs.

Given the decline of Dionier Navarro I would have expected Shoppach to begin 2010 as Tampa Bay’s number 1 catcher and return to form accordingly.

Shoppach is a player in the Jason Varitek mold. His OBP is extremely good (in 2008 Shoppach’s line was .261/.348/.517) and he brings a sense of professionalism and maturity to whatever ball club he plays for.

Part of my reasoning in selecting Shoppach as my Catcher is for him to play a mentoring role to Lou Marson, my big pick for the future, just as he did in the closing months of the 2009 season.

1B) Adam LaRoche (Arizona Diamondbacks)

In an ideal world I’d have stuck Pujols or Miggy here. However I decided that I would limit myself to a team that one might legitimately be able to compile in a Fantasy Draft.

Nevertheless, whilst LaRoche is included here as a 2nd (or even 3rd or 4th) choice player, he is a very, very good replacement.

I was furious when the Red Sox acquired LaRoche only to ship him off to Atlanta 2 week later. His production is excellent (better than Adrian Beltre, who we just paid megabucks for) and no less an authority that Big Papi declared him a great guy to have around the club house.

Take a look at Adam’s stats from the past 4 years, a model of consistency if ever there were one.

2006: 32HR/90RBI .285/.354/.561
2007: 21HR/88RBI .272/.345/.458
2008: 25HR/85RBI .270/.341/.500
2009: 25HR/83RBI .277/.355/.488

As Adam is only 29 there is no reason to expect a dramatic drop off from these numbers in 2010. Batting 5th in my order behind Ramirez and Holliday I see no reason why LaRoche couldn’t produce 25HR and 90RBI. All that and the guy’s defence is above league average at 1B as well.

2B) Matt Tuiasosopo (Seattle Mariners)

This might be the most surprising pick. I’ve been following Tuiasosopo for years as he progressed through the minors and 2010 looks like being the first that the converted third baseman gets a prolonged shot at the majors.

Whilst Matt’s average and production have not been stellar during his tastes of the big leagues thus far, both stints have been ‘cups of coffee’ and I expect him to receive a significantly higher amount of Abs this season.

Tuiasosopo has shown a great deal of pop in his bat (including that memorable first big league home run so fantastically predicted by Mariner’s radio announcers) and as his conversion to 2B continues I would expect his natural athleticism to allow him to become an effective defender.

I think that, given time, Tuiasosopo could become ‘the new Dan Uggla’, ideally with a better glove, which seems likely given the company he will be in in Seattle.

3B) Ian Stewart (Colorado Rockies)

Here is a player that could go either way. I was really impressed with Stewart last year as he had moments of brilliant during his rookie campaign. Certainly the power numbers speak for themselves; Stewart hit 25 bombs in 2009 and drove in 75 RBIs. Whilst these are certainly not numbers to be sniffed at, they were achieved at the expense of 138 strike outs and a miserly .228/.322 batting average.

I’m not a fan of the Mark Reynolds ‘all or nothing’ school of hacking and would certainly hope that, as he gets more comfortable in the big leagues, Stewart will develop greater patience at the place and we will see these percentages increase. Certainly having the combined hitting expertise of Jason Giambi and Todd Helton in the locker room in Colorado can’t hurt.

SS) Hanley Ramirez (Florida Marlins)

I’ve not been shy about singing Hanley’s praises on this blog before and I will continue to do so here. He is simply the best player not named Albert Pujols playing the game today.

Whilst I’ve shied away from including the likes of Pujols in this team for the sake of presenting a team one might realistically be able to compile and for the sake not being predicable, I make no bones about ‘predictably’ including Ramirez.

How can anyone argue with 30HR/100RBI out of the SS position?

LF) Matt Holliday (St Louis Cardinals)

What can one say about Matt Holliday that hasn’t been said a million times before? Simply put, he is an absolute beast: athletic, powerful, patient and (high-profile playoff blunders aside) a lot better in the field than he is given credit for.

Holliday hit .353/.419/.604 after being traded to the Cardinals last year, and he was nowhere near as bad as people seem to like to suggest at the A’s either. Matt’s 162 game average now stands at an awe inspiring 195H, 29HR, 112RBI .318/.387/.545!

Having Matt bat clean-up behind the Stubbs, Byrd, Ramirez 1-2-3 I intend to go with would certainly give him ample opportunity to drive in a lot of runs, plus it would give LaRoche plenty of protection batting fifth.

CF) Marlon Byrd (Chicago Cubs)

Marlon Byrd has a monstrous 2009, there is no other way of explaining it. Given the opportunity to play 146 games for the Rangers Byrd turned in 20 homers, 89 RBIs and a .283/.329/.479 batting line. While ideally I’d like that OBP to be a little higher, getting this sort of production out of a mobile, defensively sound CF has great value in and of itself.

Given his 2009 performance, and the fact that Lou Piniella seems to have a huge grudge against Kosuke Fukudome, I would expect Byrd to at least equal his career high 146 games started in 2010 and replicate his 2009 production.

RF) Drew Stubbs (Cincinnati Reds)

Stubbs is a player I’m a little wary of. He seems to have phenomenal potential: power, speed, fielding... However, he play’s for the Reds and that means he plays for that infamous wrecker of young careers, Dusty Baker.

I remember well the excitement that followed Jay Bruce’s entry into the league a few years ago. Bruce seemed poised to become great only to be hit with injuries and a retreat into being Ohio’s own Mark Reynolds.

Stubbs could go the same route. While the 8HR and 17RBIs he put up last year translate into 31HR and 66RBI when put in the context of a 162 game season I do have concerns, based on the low HR/RBI ratio that Drew might become an all-or-nothing hitter like Bruce.

That being said, Stubbs offers many other upsides. His BA is actually not bad, especially for a rookie player (.267/.323/.439). Plus he looks to have decent SB potential. While the 10 bases he stole in 2009 (39 over 162 games) won’t put him in Jose Reyes/Jacoby Ellsbury territory, they are certainly very respectable.

With the proper coaching I can see Stubb’s developing into a highly competent lead-off hitter, a role he would occupy on my team.

DH) Garrett Jones (Pittsburgh Pirates)

As the comments above his statistics on plainly state: “Garrett Jones is the real deal”. Certainly his performance in 2009 after finally at the age of 28 getting an opportunity to play in the Bigs was exceptional and Jones (along with McCutchen) finished strongly in the NL Rookie of Year voting.

Jones clubbed 21 HR in just 82 games last year, driving in 44 RBIs in the process. Adding icing to his already strong batting line of .276/.351/.525 was his outstanding OPS of .872!

Jones looks to be a solid play for Pittsburgh for years to come, providing some much needed power into a lineup that has been starved of it since the departure of Jason Bay.

Also notable about Jones is the fact that, in his 82 games as a Pirate last season, he stole 10 bases. If this continues and Jones is able to steal 20 bags this year too he could turn out to be a far more complete player than his early reputation as an emergent slugger would seem to suggest.


C) Lou Marson (Cleveland Indians)

Lou Marson seems to have become the forgotten man of catching in Cleveland, what with all the excitement surround the development of Carlos Santana (no, not that Carlos Santana). Nevertheless what I’ve seen of the 23 year old former Philly (and I got the chance to see him personally when the Indians visited Fenway in October) has been encouraging and impressive.

Over a 162 game average season predicts that Marson would produce 7HR, 44RBI and a .262/.355/.415 batting line. Whilst this is nothing special, it is very encouraging for such a young player with so little big-league experience behind him. Particularly exciting is the already very good BA/OBP differential. If Marson can build on this (and I expect him to get a lot more playing time in Cleveland this year) he could easily become a solid, first-choice catcher come 2011.

IF) Ryan Roberts (Arizona Diamondbacks)

I was impressed with several of the D’backs’ young call ups in 2009, notably Roberts, Trent Oeltjen and Rusty Ryal. I’ve gone with Roberts here purely for his versatility and hussle.

The heavily tattooed Roberts proved a very useful player for the offense-strapped Diamondbacks last year, providing 7HR and 25RBI in 303AB. Roberts also stole 7 bases and hit .279/.367/.416.

Roberts looks to be a mature, patient hitter even at this early stage in his Major League career. His BB/K ratio was a very respectable 40/55 and already that .367 OBP is more or less where it needs to be for a player who is likely to be a career backup infielder/utility player. A useful addition to my roster.

IF/OF) Emmanuel Burriss (San Francisco Giants)

Burris is here on this team to provide a specific role; speed off the bench. Whilst the everyday lineup contains a little bit of pace in Byrd and Stubbs, we lack a legitimate speedster.

In 2009 Burriss managed 13 RBIs and 11 SB in just 202 AB. At just 24 years old I fully expect him to build upon this, given the opportunity to play regularly. Whilst the Giants are well stocked with young prospects Burriss should get a reasonable opportunity to play, even if he does not start in 2009. Expect good things.

OF) Rocco Baldelli (Free Agent)

I can’t make any justification for including Rocco based on statistics, although, due to his early career brilliance his 162 game average production is still 19HR. 82RBI!

I’ve made no secret that I am a big Rocco Baldelli fan, I love the story, I love the guts and the determination to play. Rocco was absolutely fine for the Red Sox last year, he performed his role as a temporary OF to perfection and I have no doubts that he will continue to do so wherever he ends up in 2010. It’s easy to forget just how good Rocco was when he broke into the league at the age of 21. Despite the health issues he will never lose those natural instincts that could have made him at least the player Matt Holliday is. As such Rocco will always have value regardless of how little actual playing time he is limited to.

No comments:

Post a Comment