Monday, April 20, 2015

Toronto Blue Jays 2015 Team Breakdown


Projected Division Finish

1.              Boston Red Sox
2.              Toronto Blue Jays
3.              Baltimore Orioles
4.              Tampa Bay Rays
5.              New York Yankees

Toronto Blue Jays

2014 Finish:              83-79 (Third Place)

Projected Batting Order

SS        Jose Reyes
C          Russell Martin
RF        Jose Bautista
DH       Edwin Encarnacion
3B       Josh Donaldson
1B       Justin Smoak
LF        Kevin Pillar
CF        Dalton Pompey
2B       Devon Travis

Projected Starting Rotation/Closer

RHP                 Drew Hutchinson
RHP                 R.A. Dickey
LHP                 Mark Buehrle
LHP                 Daniel Norris
RHP                 Aaron Sanchez
CLOSER          Brett Cecil

The Blue Jays are trying to take that final step.  I have liked their makeup for a while, but they have been unable to take full advantage of their talent.  A few years ago it was injuries.  Last year, it was ineffectiveness, especially on the mound.  The Blue Jays have a potent offense and it got more potent this offseason with the addition of Josh Donaldson.  However, if the Blue Jays want to make some noise in the wide-open AL East, they have to get better on the mound.  And with them not adding any arms, its clear the Blue Jays will try to make a go of it with the arms they already have, which is certainly a risk.


Offense/Defense:

The Blue Jays have a phenomenal offense.  Last year they hit 259 as a team (tied for third in the league) and ranked in the top 4 in hits, runs and were second with 177 HR.  Their home park helps with that, but the rest is their sluggers.  They have two of the best home run hitters in baseball in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.  They added Josh Donaldson this offseason to give them the best middle of the order in baseball.

Jose Bautista is the leader of this club and has been one of the best players in baseball over the last few years despite missing a lot of games over 2012 and 2013.  But he stayed on the field last year and showed what he was capable of when fully healthy.  He hit 286 with 35 HR, 103 RBI, 101 R and a 403 OBP off the strength of 104 BBs.  He is a phenomenal hitter with a slugger’s mentality but much better batting AVG.  He is one of the most dependable hitters in the game and one of my favorite players.  I think he is a lock for 270+ with 30+ HR and 100 RBI/R.  Perhaps more if he’s fully healthy and with the offense he has behind him.

Edwin Encarnacion is the cleanup man hitting behind Bautista.  He made adjustments since joining the Blue Jays in 2010 and immediately became a power hitter.  He’s hit 112 HR since 2012, tied for second in the league behind Miguel Cabrera.  Last year he hit 268 with 34 HR and 98 RBI.  He did all that in only 128 games.  He, too, has become a reliable slugger with the ability to get on base and hit for solid AVG.  I like him for 265+ with 30+ HR and 100+ RBI/R as well.  Both Bautista and Encarnacion could flirt with 40 HR and 130 RBI this year.

New third baseman Josh Donaldson makes up the third part of this monster middle of the lineup.  He’ll hit 5th and take his powerful swing to a much better ballpark for his makeup.  In Oakland, a hitter’s graveyard, he hit 255 with 29 HR and 98 RBI.  The year before he hit 301 with 24 HR and 93 RBI.  The AVG is variable and you wonder where it will end up.  But the power is legit.  I think hitting in Toronto will enable him to see that AVG climb to match his HR output.  Put him down for 260+ with 25+ HR and 90+ RBI.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he also makes it to 30 HR and 100 RBI, though 80+ R is a better estimate for the number 5 hitter.  And there is no question that these three make up the most potent 3-4-5 combo in baseball.

That group will be trying to drive in the top of the order, which isn’t quite as formidable but is still solid.  Jose Reyes is the leadoff hitter at short.  He has lost a step from his All Star days with the Mets, but is still very fast and has great contact skills.  Similar to Bautista, the issue for Reyes is health.  Last year he improved and made it into 140 games, but still missed time.  When he was on the field, he was productive at the plate hitting 287 with 30 SB and 94 R.  I don’t think he’ll ever steal 40 bags again.  And his 328 OBP was lower than the Jays would like.  If he can stay healthy, I think he can have another season around 285 with 25-30 SB and over 100 R.  But there is already chatter about him heading to the DL after getting hurt a few days ago.

The other major addition to the Jays this year will hit second and be the primary catcher.  Russell Martin was added in a big free agent deal after his phenomenal year in Pittsburgh.  He hit 290 with 11 HR and a 402 OBP.  But he is really prized for his defense and clubhouse character.  While I wouldn’t chase that AVG on a 32-year old catcher with a lot of innings on his legs, I do think he can reach double-digit homers again. But as much as I like this signing, I don’t think his offense will stay at its current level.  I’ll put him down for 255 with 14 HR, 68 RBI and 60 R.  His real value comes on defense.

The rest of the offense isn’t as frightening.  The Jays are trotting out three youngsters and two veterans who will share the DH duties.  Dioner Navarro was the starting catcher last season but will get most of his ABs as a DH now.  He is currently the backup catcher, but there is a possibility that Josh Thole will get recalled from Triple A to catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey if Martin and Navarro can’t handle the job.  Navarro initially requested a trade, but seems happier knowing that he will be the backup catcher and get a fair number of appearances as the DH.  He played well last year hitting 274 with 12 HR and 69 RBI.  His power plays in that park and the AVG was a welcome surprise.  I think he can get 400 ABs this season and hit over 260 with 8-10 HR in limited action.

The other DH will be Justin Smoak.  He’s been an all or nothing hitter his whole career with Texas and Seattle hitting for power and nothing else.  From 2011 to 2013 he hit 15, 19 and 24 HR respectively.  But his highest AVG in that time was 234.  The hope is he can hit even more HR in a park like the Rogers Centre, but the Jays aren’t counting on him.  He will be in a DH platoon and may nab some playing time at first.  Think 400 AB, 20+ HR and an AVG around 220.

Center field will be manned by youngster Dalton Pompey, left field by youngster Kevin Pillar and second base by rookie Devon Travis.  All have bright futures, but young hitters can struggle.  The Jays are having them hit lower in the lineup until they prove themselves.  Lots of speed potential here, but the rest is a question.  They would love Michael Saunders to come back from injury to take back a starting job because he has power and speed potential.  Danny Valencia and Maicer Izturis provide veteran depth on the infield.

Once again, this offense could be among the best in the league if healthy.  They have a great middle of the order and solid guys at the top.  The one Achilles heel of this team could be depth.  What compounds that is the fact that two of their stars are injury prone.  They don’t have any proven talent at the bottom of the order and the options on the bench are somewhat limited.  But if this team is healthy, the middle of the order should hit enough to cover any other deficiencies the Blue Jays have at the plate.

Unlike most teams with potent offenses, the Blue Jays also have a strong defense.  Many teams sacrifice defense for better offense thinking they can hit enough to cover up for any mistakes in the field.  That is not a problem in Toronto.  This defense can play.  Edwin Encarnacion, a former third baseman, is at least average and some metrics have him pretty good at first.  I like him there and don’t mind his aggressiveness.  Youngster Devon Travis won the second base job partly due to his great defense.  Josh Donaldson is a very good defensive player at third, almost great.  The only subpar defender on the infield is Jose Reyes, who is not what he once was. His reaction time has diminished with age and his arm isn’t as strong as it used to be.  He actually cost the Blue Jays runs in the field last year.  Jose Bautista’s great defense is often overlooked due to his offensive prowess.  We all know his arm is legit (a former third baseman) but he gets great reads and has more than enough speed to cover a huge range in right field.  Pompey and Pillar are good, young defensive players in center and left.  And catcher Russell Marin is great behind the plate.  Valencia can back up first, second and third.  Izturis can back up second, third and short.  When Michael Saunders returns, he can play either corner.  Smoak provides depth at first.  This defense is one of the better ones in the division and the league.


Pitching:

While the Blue Jays feature an elite offense, their pitching staff isn’t as sharp.  That being said, they weren’t bad ranking in the middle of the AL in every major pitching category and featuring a team ERA of 4.  That’s not championship caliber pitching, but with this offense it could be playoff caliber.  The Blue Jays didn’t add any new names on the mound.  They are hoping their young pitchers mature and that is enough to put them over the top.  It’s a risk.  And it’s further complicated by the fact the Toronto lost Marcus Stroman for the season with an ACL injury.

The Blue Jays have a lot in on Drew Hutchinson.  They are counting on the youngster to be their ace despite only 44 starts in his big league career.  Last year he went 11-13 with a 4.48 ERA in 32 starts.  He averaged about one strikeout per inning in 184 IP.  The good news is that he was effective and stood up to a full workload.  He’s got good stuff and keeps the ball down.  The bad news is he’s still learning to pitch and allows too many base runners (60 BB, 245 BAA, 1.26 WHIP).  I think he can be an effective pitcher and has a bright future.  I just think the expectations for him for this season may be too high and he will feel the pressure.  Put me down for 12-15 wins and 200 IP but also 10 losses and an ERA of 4.25 with 185/190 Ks.

R.A. Dickey is returning for his age 40 season.  He went 14-13 with a 3.71 ERA last year and 173 Ks in 215 IP.  The good thing about Dickey is that he can log a lot of innings even at this point in his career and generally is competitive.  A lot of knucklers are former position players who are trying to stay in the bigs.  Dickey has been a pitcher his whole career which allows to him to throw a harder knuckleball and harder fastball than any other knucklers.  He also is able to avoid walks better than others, but all knuckleball pitchers are prone to the base on balls.  I’m expecting 10-12 Wins with an ERA around 4.  Toss in 170+ Ks in 220 IP if healthy.

Veteran Mark Buehrle is back again this year as well.  Dickey and Buehrle are two of the oldest starters in the game, but both are able to pitch effectively.  Buehrle has never thrown hard and his control and ability to pitch to contact have kept him a viable starter for the last few years.  He went 13-10 last year with a 3.39 ERA.  He gives up a ton of hits (287 BAA) but does a great job avoiding walks.  That will keep you employed in the big leagues.  He had some luck on his side when it came to stranding runners, but a lot of that is veteran savvy.  Put him down for 12 Wins, an ERA of 4 and 200 IP.

The rest of the starting rotation is even younger than Hutchinson.  Lefty Daniel Norris has made 5 big league appearances and 1 start to this point in his career.  He struggled in those outings with a 5.40 ERA and 5 BBs in 6.2 IP.  He has to lay off the walks and may struggle this year.  He’ll get better with age and hi stuff is legit, but he’ll have to make a lot of adjustments to even be average this season

The last starting spot belongs to Aaron Sanchez.  Sanchez has a little more experience than Norris, but exactly one less start.  His 24 relief appearances last year are the total of his MLB experience and he was good in his role out of the bullpen.  He pitched to a 1.09 ERA in 33 IP with a 0.70 WHIP and 128 BAA.  Those numbers are very strong, but also represent a limited sample size.  Having him start full time is another risk, but one the Jays have to take with Stroman’s injury.

The bullpen looks like a stronger crew, but not crazy good either.  Aaron Loup and Marco Estrada have experience and live arms.  Estrada provides some starter insurance and Loup is a closing option.  Brett Cecil is trying to re-make himself as a reliever and was hoping to be the closer coming into the season.  He was pretty good in relief last year, but gave up too many walks and struggled in the spring.  It lost him the closer’s job and he is starting out the year as a setup man.  Miguel Castro is being given the keys to the closer’s role but having a rookie in that role is a real risk.  He’s got the stuff, but having a closer work out his growing pains in the 9th is potentially dangerous. 

This pitching staff is not great.  It has potential to be solid, but I don’t know.  Buehrle and Dickey should be capable innings eaters.  Hutchinson can be a horse as well, but is being asked to do more.  The back of the rotation is a question.  The bullpen has some good arms, but not having a solid closer makes things fuzzy.  If there are any serious injuries, the Jays are in trouble.  This pitching staff won’t be asked to win a lot of 1-0 games.  But they have to be able to hold down the fort in a strong offensive league and great offensive park.  If the Jays make the playoffs, its because everything worked out really well on the mound.

Prediction:

This offense is so good that I think they can overcome a lot of pitching deficiencies.  What helps them out is that the defense on the field should be very strong as well.  Pitching wins championships, but playing in the AL East this year is going to be easier than in years past.  And with this offense, they will be in every game.

I’m putting the Jays down for 92 Wins and second place finish in their division.  I also think they can take home a wildcard spot and break their playoff drought.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Boston Red Sox 2015 Team Breakdown


Projected Division Finish

1.              Boston Red Sox
2.              Toronto Blue Jays
3.              Baltimore Orioles
4.              Tampa Bay Rays
5.              New York Yankees

Boston Red Sox

2014 Finish:              71-91 (Last Place)

Projected Batting Order

CF        Mookie Betts
2B       Dustin Pedroia
LF        Hanley Ramirez
DH       David Ortiz
3B       Pablo Sandoval
1B       Mike Napoli
C          Ryan Hannigan
SS        Xander Bogaerts
RF        Shane Victorino

Projected Starting Rotation/Closer

RHP                 Clay Buchholz
RHP                 Rick Porcello
LHP                 Wade Miley
RHP                 Justin Masterson
RHP                 Joe Kelly
CLOSER          Koji Uehara


The Red Sox have developed a pattern in the AL East.  They go from worst to first to worst.  Following that pattern, the Red Sox should be first again and perhaps win another World Series.  I don’t know if they’ll be that good, but they look to be significantly better now than they were last year.  In addition, their division looks wide open.  The Red Sox weren’t great last year, but they made a ton of moves including signing Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and a slew of mid-rotation level starters with the hopes that they can take this division in a year where no one looks to be great. 

Offense/Defense:

The Red Sox have generally been a good offensive team since 2000.  But last year they ranked in the near the bottom of the league in every major offensive category:  AVG, runs, hits, HRs and steals.  If they can’t hit, generally the Sox have no chance.  The good news in Boston is that their offense looks vastly different this year and they think they have the personnel to be an upper echelon team at the plate.

One of the new players brought in was Hanley Ramirez.  Ramirez actually came up in the Red Sox system before he was traded to the Marlins a long time ago.  Since then he’s become an excellent player.  He played shortstop for the Dodgers last year, but the Red Sox are hoping to turn him into a left fielder.  He agreed to play third base for the Marlins in 2012, but that didn’t work well as he was unhappy, played sloppy defense and his offense suffered.  Unfortunately, he is getting bigger so his range at short is pretty bad.  He is more than athletic enough to play left, but that’s not an easy position to play in Fenway with the Green Monster.  What the Red Sox really care about is his offense.  Last year he hit 283 with 13 HR, 71 RBI, 64 R and 14 SB in 128 games.  He’s had trouble staying healthy the last few years and hasn’t played in 150 games since 2009.  But if he can stay healthy he has a chance to be a 30 HR/100 RBI guy with an AVG around 300 and 15-20 SB.  I love him this year and think he’ll reach all those plateaus, even if he only plays in 140 games.

The other major offensive addition was Pablo Sandoval.  Kung Fu Panda signed a huge deal to move to Boston after winning his third World Series with the Giants.  He’s another guy whose defense is questionable.  But it’s really only the range scouts don’t like, and Xander Bogaerts has enough range at short to make up for any shortcomings Sandoval has at third.  He’s become a pretty predictable player, which is something a lot of people highly value.  Especially when he’s predictably good at a shallow position.  He hit 279 last season with 16 HR and 73 RBI.  He’s likely no longer a 300 hitter, but has hit around 280 the last three years.  If he can stay healthy (a decent sized if) moving to Fenway could help up those power numbers and playing in a better lineup should give him more RBI opportunities.  I like him this year to the tune of 290 with 30 HR and 95 RBI. 

I have DH David Ortiz hitting between the two new arrivals in the cleanup spot.  I’ve heard a lot of talk about having Ortiz hit third and Ramirez fourth but I don’t like it and think it won’t last.  Ortiz can hit third, but he’s a better cleanup man because of his ability to hit with runners on.  Ortiz hit 263 last year with 35 HR and 104 RBI.  I think playing in a better lineup will get him better pitches to hit and he will rebound in AVG while continuing to put up strong power numbers.  Even in his older age, I think he can have a huge year.  Think 285 with 35 HR and 120 RBI.

Those three make up the heart of the lineup.  The team leader will hit right in front of them in the 2 hole.  Dustin Pedroia is hoping to have a bounce back year.  He hit 278 last season, but only produced 7 HR and 6 SB in 12 attempts.  He played through a lot of injuries and still only logged 135 games so part of his issues stemmed from health.  Also, like Ortiz, there was little incentive to give him anything to hit when the rest of the lineup was so weak.   I think he will have a better year, but I think he won’t bounce all the way back.  Put him down for 285 with 12 HR, 70 RBI and 80 R.  But his speed is on the downswing and I doubt he makes it to 10 SB this season.

The Red Sox also feature a glut of outfield talent, even after trading Yoenis Cespedes to Detroit.  Hanley Ramirez was brought in to play left and joins a group that includes Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Jackie Bradley Jr., Daniel Nava, Cuban prospect Rusney Castillo and last year’s rookie phenom Mookie Betts.  Betts played some second last season, but with Pedroia healthy he competed in the outfield in the spring and won the starting center field job over the more experienced Victorino and Craig and over Castillo, who is being paid like a starter.  But the Red Sox love Betts’ potential and who can blame them.  In 52 games last year, Betts hit 291 with a phenomenal 368 OBP and 21 BBs to 31 Ks, great splits for a rookie.  He also added 5 HR and 7 SB in 10 attempts.  He is a real sparkplug with plate discipline beyond his years.  After his great spring, he was given the leadoff job and I think he will run with it.  Put him down for 275 with a 340 OBP.  Add to that 10 HR, 30 SB and 100 R in a great rookie season.

Beyond the top 5 in the order, there is a lot of depth and experience.  Mike Napoli mans first and will hit 6th.  Napoli hit 248 with 17 HR in 119 games last year.  It was a step back from what he’s done in recent years, but part of that was due to injury.  With all the talent in front of him, I think Napoli will have less pressure to perform and he will play better.  Think 260 with 23 HR and 75 RBI.

I put catcher Ryan Hannigan in the 7th spot.  He’s more of a defensive catcher with experience than an offensive threat, but with a career 256 AVG and 334 OBP, he can give some quality ABs.  Xander Bogaerts hits 8th and is in the starting lineup for his defense.  That being said, he’s shown some good pop in his career thus far with 12 HR last season.  They’d love for him to pull that AVG up some, but really anything he does at the plate is a bonus.  I also have Shane Victorino getting the most playing time in right and hitting 9th.  He’s not the All Star he once was, but he’s got plenty left in the tank.  He only played in 30 games last year, but in 2013 he hit 294 with 21 SB and 15 HR.  While I’d be surprised to see him return to those levels, I think he can hit 270 with 10-15 SB and maybe 10 HR.  If he struggles, Alan Craig and Daniel Nava are waiting to take over.

This offense is talented and deep.  I think they are among the best in the league.  They have a good balance of power and speed and several potentially great hitters who can hit over 300.  I don’t think the Red Sox will have any issues scoring runs.  And with their glut of talent, I think they can weather injuries better than any other club in the league.

Their defense won’t rank as highly.  Mike Napoli is subpar at first.  Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts are very good up the middle and Sandoval is pretty decent at third, despite terrible range.  Mookie Betts can handle center field, but could use more experience and I’ve heard some questions about his arm.  Hanley Ramirez will probably struggle in left.  Victorino is pretty good in right and Hannigan is solid behind the plate.  There are really only two above average players at their positions, with the potential for two more.  There are lots of options on the bench, but they aren’t much better.  Allen Craig is fine at first, but not great in right.  Daniel Nava is good in left and fine in right.  Brock Holt is talented with the leather and can cover second, third and short.  And David Ortiz may play some first during interleague games.  He’s probably the worst fielding DH in the game.  This defense is not nearly as deep, and the starters aren’t great.  Hopefully their offense is potent enough to overcome any defensive deficiencies. 

Pitching:

While the Boston offense was a below average group across the board, the pitching staff wasn’t much better.  The Red Sox were average or worse in every major pitching category.  They saw a lot of turnover and hope their new group of starters can help right the ship.  But they will be attempting to do it without a true ace.  The hope in Beantown is that they have more depth than any other team and that will help them in the long run.

The Red Sox are hoping Clay Buchholz can step up to be their ace.  He’s showed flashes before, but has been unable to sustain it due to injury and ineffectiveness for periods of time.  Last year is a perfect example:  After going 12-1 in 16 starts with a 1.74 ERA in an injury-shortened 2013 season, Buchholz came out in 2014 and went 8-11 in 28 starts with a hideous 5.34 ERA.  You truly don’t know what pitcher you are getting in Buchholz.  He’s got a 3.89 career ERA, so when you look at it as a whole, he’s been average.  Pitching in that league, that park and that division can be tough.  The safe bet is to say he gets double digit wins with an ERA around 4.  But chances are he’ll either win 15 games with an ERA under 3, or lose 15 games with an ERA over 5.  I truly have no idea what to expect from him.

The number 2 man is Rick Porcello, who they acquired in a trade with Detroit by jettisoning Yoenis Cespedes.  Porcello, a long time number 4 starter with the Tigers, has always been better than people realize.  He went 15-13 last season with a 3.43 ERA.  It was his best year yet, but he still had a fairly average WHIP (1.23) and bad BAA (268).  He did reach 200 IP for the first time, but saw his K-rate drop, which is alarming because it was never that good to begin with.  He’s a groundball pitcher playing in a great hitting league.  I don’t think he’s a number 4 starter but I don’t think he’s a number 2 either.  With the defense the Sox have, he could be in trouble.  Luckily he rarely walks guys and won’t beat himself.  I think he can win 12 games on this team, but perhaps see his ERA climb over 4 again, though probably not to 4.25.

Lefty Wade Miley was added in a trade with the Diamondbacks.  Miley is more of a number 4 starter, but is the number 3 man here.  Miley is a dependable innings eater who struggled last season in a lost year in Arizona.  While Arizona is a tough place to pitch, Fenway is probably tougher, especially when you consider the AL’s offensive prowess.  He went 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA.   His ERA has climbed for three straight years and his WHIP and BAA totals also climbed to highs not seen since his first appearance in the bigs.  He walks too many guys and gives up too many hits.  However, he did strikeout more hitters than ever last season (183) while throwing 201 innings, one less than he did in 2013.  He may struggle in Boston, but if he can keep his team in games he should be a lock for 8 Wins with an ERA around 4.50.

Justin Masterson was signed as a free agent on a one-year deal.  For Masterson, it’s about staying healthy. He was returning from injury and made 25 starts with the Indians and Cardinals.  But he was not as good as he was in 2013 (14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and career high 195 Ks that year).  In fact, he was bad in 19 starts with Cleveland (5.51 ERA) and worse with St. Louis (7.04 ERA in 6 starts and 3 relief appearances).  If he’s fully healthy he may be able to return to being a quality innings eater.  But the Sox are taking a risk here.  If it was more than health issues plaguing Masterson last year, they are in trouble.  The goal is 200 IP of sub 4.50 ERA baseball.  But I think he falls short on both counts, turning in a losing record as well.

The 5th spot goes to Joe Kelly, a former Cardinals prospect.   He was added in a deadline deal with the Cards last season.  He was decent, especially for a young pitcher, going 6-4 in 17 starts overall with a 4.37 ERA in St. Louis and 4.11 ERA in Boston.  He’s better than most other 5th starters and has potential to be more.  What I like is the improvement he showed with Boston after the deal lowering his WHIP and BAA substantially.  He was very good with the Cards in 2013 and the Sox hope he can pitch that way for them.  Experience always helps young pitchers and I think he rises to the occasion and becomes the number 3 or 4 starter with a winning record (10 Wins) and ERA around 3.80.  Not an All Star or anything, but someone they can build with. 

That is the starting rotation and it’s not great.  But the good news is Boston has a great bullpen, especially now with Koji Uehara returning from the DL.

Uehara is the closer and he is very good.  He’s been one of the top closers in the league since he came to Beantown.  But there is come slight concern that he is starting to regress, and at 40 that can happen fast.  He went 26 for 31 in his Save opportunities last year but saw his ERA rise to 2.52 and his Ks drop to 80.  Now, that still puts him in the quality closer discussion, but it’s a far cry from what he did in 2013.  I still think he can be very good, but likely no longer one of the best.  I’m thinking 25 Saves and an ERA around 2.25.

Edward Mujica is around to setup and provide closer insurance.  Mujica is one of many veteran arms in the Boston pen and has some closing experience.  He has 49 career Saves and 37 came in 2013.  He is better as a set up man and that is why he was signed.  He gave up more hits last season than many expected, but I think he can still be a quality setup man and help build the bridge to Uehara. 

The rest of the pen features a good mix of veterans (Tazawa, Ogando, Breslow) and young arms with promise (Varvaro, Workman).  While this starting staff may not be great, this bullpen is more than capable of picking up the slack.

This pitching staff is not ranked near the top of the league.  But within their division, they are probably third behind the Rays and Baltimore.  With their offense they won’t have to win a lot of low scoring games.  Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if this starting rotation gets upgraded mid season.  So while this staff overall is subpar, it’s not bad compared to the rest of the division.

Prediction:

It’s funny.  I don’t think this team, as its constituted right now, is representative of a playoff caliber team.  But, they play in a weak division in a year where the whole AL is wide open.  Here’s what I like:  the offense looks phenomenal.  They are easily in the top 2 of their division, maybe even the best.  They also have the pieces to make a move for a top starter.  And I just don’t believe this team will ride the pitching staff as it’s currently constructed to the playoffs.  They should score more than enough runs to stay competitive with a lot of starters who can eat innings and a bullpen that looks strong.  While no team in this division is great, the Red Sox look to be one of the best in the East. 

I’ll put them down for 94 Wins and the division crown.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Minnesota Twins 2015 Team Breakdown


Projected Division Finish

1.              Kansas City Royals
2.              Detroit Tigers
3.              Chicago White Sox
4.              Cleveland Indians
5.              Minnesota Twins
 
Minnesota Twins

2014 Finish:              70-92 (Fifth Place)

Projected Batting Order

SS        Danny Santana
2B       Brian Dozier
1B       Joe Mauer
RF        Torii Hunter
DH       Kennys Vargas
3B       Trevor Plouffe
LF        Oswaldo Arcia
C          Kurt Suzuki
CF        Jordan Schaffer

Projected Starting Rotation/Closer

RHP                 Phil Hughes
RHP                 Ervin Santana/Mike Pelfrey
RHP                 Ricky Nolasco
RHP                 Kyle Gibson
LHP                 Tommy Milone
CLOSER          Glen Perkins

The Twins are in the middle of a re-build, even if they didn’t realize it until after the rest of the sport.  The current major league club hasn’t played well in recent years with a surprisingly average offense, bad defense and woeful pitching.  The Twins were forced to make some changes and fired Ron Gardenhire after 13 very good years.  No one thinks he’s a bad manager, but the youngsters in that clubhouse didn’t mesh with him.

I don’t like this team this season.  They are still re-building and will really miss Gardenhire, one of the better managers in the game.  Add to that a ballpark that smothers offense and the lack of fans (shockingly no one wants to sit outdoors in Minnesota’s cold spring weather to watch bad baseball) and this will be a long season in the Twin Cities.

Offense/Defense:

This offense was actually better than people realize.  Most thought they were going to be among the worst in the league.  They were actually fairly average ranking 5th in Runs and 6th in Hits.  For most teams, that’s not something to write home about (remember this is 5th out of 15) but it’s a big improvement for the Twins.

This offense is built around Joe Mauer.  He is the hometown boy who has won a batting title and signed a big contract to stay in the area.  But after the ink dried, the Twins started experiencing buyer’s regret.  Mauer has never hit for power, despite his size and has no speed.  He is becoming a base clogger.  As a catcher, having a 300 hitter was a novelty.  As a first baseman, they’d rather see him hit for power.  He had one of his worst seasons last year hitting a career low 277 with only 4 HR and 55 RBI.  Injury limited him to 120 games last year, so there is additional hope that a fully healthy Mauer will play a little better.  Hitting third will give him RBI opportunities.  Hitting over 300 in a spot with a lot of RBI opportunities can net you 70 RBI.  That’s okay, but if that’s the ceiling for your number 3 hitter, you are in trouble.  Additionally, opposing pitchers have little incentive to pitch to Mauer, considering his supporting cast.  Mauer is a limited player, paid like a superstar for a team with limited resources.  I think he could hit 300 again, but wouldn’t expect more than 10 HR and 80 RBI.  I’d really expect 8 HR and 70 RBI.  Not bad, but not worth the money he’s paid.

Brian Dozier has turned into a pretty good player at second base.  He hit 242 last year, but added 23 HR and 71 RBI.  He also added 112 R, good enough for second in the league.  If you have a light hitting first baseman, having a power hitting second baseman helps offset the lack of power.  Dozier also stole 21 bags so he contributes in multiple ways.  Dozier is expected to hit second again with the hope that hitting behind the leadoff man will get him a lot of fastballs to hit.  It also helps utilize his speed.  I like him better in the cleanup spot, but that’s just my opinion.  It depends on where he hits, but I think he can hit 240 again (241 career AVG over 3 seasons) with 20+ HR and SB.  If he hits 4th, he can threaten for 100 RBI (likely more like 85).  If he hits 2nd, expect closer to 70 RBI and maybe 90-100 R again.  His great OBP gets him into scoring position more than someone with his AVG normally would. 

Tori Hunter has returned to Minnesota where his career began.  He is no longer the Gold Glove center fielder he used to be and he has also struggled to be a decent right fielder over the last few years.  But having a proven winner and good clubhouse guy on this team of youngsters was a worthy investment for the Twins.  He also steps in as one of the better hitters on this team, even on the downswing of his career.  He hit 286 last season with 17 HR, 83 RBI and 71 R hitting second for the superior Detroit offense.  The Twins plan to hit him cleanup, which I don’t like only because Dozier has a higher ceiling in that spot.  Put him down for 270 with 15 HR, 80 RBI and 60 R.  I’d hit him second, in which case you could still see 70+ RBI with over 70 R as well. 

Danny Santana emerged as a viable leadoff option for Minnesota last year.  After primarily playing CF for the Twins last year, he will be their everyday shortstop and leadoff hitter this season.  He hit 319 in 101 games last season with 20 SB, 70 R and 7 HR.  His 353 OBP was much better than most rookies and I think he could be their future leadoff man.  I would expect growing pains in his second season, but still think he could be a viable leadoff option.  I’m thinking 280 with a 330 OBP, 40 SB and 90 R.  If the rest of the offense was any good I’d think fewer SBs and more R, but that’s not a bad bottom line for anyone, much less a second year shortstop.

Oswaldo Arcia is the most aggressive hitter on this club with 20 HR in only 103 games last year.  That came with a 231 AVG, but that’s to be expected from a young player with his makeup.  Frankly, the Twins don’t care if he hits 220, as long as he hits for power and can be someone pitchers fear throwing to.  A lot of people expect a breakout, but I don’t know.  The supporting cast isn’t great and the ballpark kills power.  I think he’ll hit 230 again with maybe 25-30 HR, but no more than 75 RBI.

Trevor Plouffe will run back out there for his 6th season playing third for the Twins.  He is unexciting and not someone anyone focuses on, but he has had quietly productive seasons the last few years.  He had 24 HR in 2012 with a 235 AVG.  He’s improved his AVG by about 20 points over the last two seasons, but has seen a drop in HR with 14 each of the last two years.  That being said, the Twins are happy with his performance.  He hit 258 last year with his 14 HR and a career high 80 RBI.  They gave him a look for the cleanup hole, but are likely to hit him hit 5th or 6th.  I think he may start the season 5th, but will settle into the 6th hole with Arcia having better power potential.  Put him down for 250, 12-15 HR and 70-80 RBI. 

The rest of the lineup will be made up of DH Kennys Vargas, catcher Kurt Suzuki and center fielder Jordan Schafer.  Vargas will be the DH and play first base on occasion to let Mauer have a break from playing in the field.  Vargas hit 274 in 53 games last year with 9 HR and 38 RBI.  I have no idea why they want him to bat 5th with his limited experience.  Hitting 5th is a lot of responsibility for a guy with less than a third of a season of experience under his belt.  While he’s got good power and handles fastballs, he needs to improve on his ability to hit breaking pitches if he’s going to be successful in the big leagues.  Hitting 5th will add undue pressure on him, and I think he may struggle to the tune of 220 with maybe 15 HR.

Kurt Suzuki hit a very impressive 288 over 131 games with the Twins last year.  He has no power or speed and is only a career 257 hitter, so that AVG was a surprise.  They like him for defense and consider any offense a bonus.  He is just a placeholder until young Josmil Pinto gets his defense into major league shape.  Based on where it was last year, Pinto may spend all year at Triple A.

Jordan Schafer will hold down center field until the arrival of top prospect Byron Buxton.  Schafer is a former top prospect that struggled in the majors, served a PED suspension and then settled into a part time role last year.  After failing as a starter in Houston, he returned to Atlanta last season, where he began his career and played as a fourth outfielder.  He only hit 163 with 15 SB while playing great defense.  With B.J. Upton’s struggles, many Braves fans wanted him to take over the starting job.  Instead, the Braves let him go to Minnesota, where he was great in 41 games with the Twins.  He hit 285 with a 345 OBP stole 15 more bases in 20 fewer games and scored 17 Runs.  If Santana struggles in the leadoff spot, Schaffer can be a viable leadoff option.   If not, he can hit 9th to get on base for the flipped lineup and maybe steal 20-30 bags.  He, too, is only a placeholder for Buxton, who may appear in the majors this year. 

This offense isn’t overly potent.  They have a first baseman that hits for AVG and a second baseman that hits for power.  They have speed in the middle infield and moderate power in the corner outfield spots as well as at third.  They could be competitive, but won’t win a lot of games on their own.  This offense isn’t as bad as people think it is, but won’t be any better than slightly above average.

The defense has gotten sloppy in Minnesota over recent years.  That’s part of the reason they let Gardenhire go.  But I don’t think that will do much to help the on-field defensive production.  Mauer is still learning first. Dozier is average at best, maybe a bit below average at second.  Santana should be good at short despite playing more games in center last year and Plouffe is average or better at third.  Hunter has definitely lost a step in right and has very limited range.  He hides it well with his experience and good positioning, but he is a below average right fielder.  Oswaldo Arcia was bad in right.  They are moving him to left, hoping that he’ll play better there, but he has bad reactions and makes bad reads.  Eduardo Nunez is more of an offensive bench player who has struggled in the infield defensively and is trying to learn left field.  Aaron Hicks is trying to get healthy enough to play some center field and Eduardo Escobar has a nice glove backing up the middle infield.  Kurt Suzuki is pretty good behind the plate as is Schafer in center.  They are arguably the two best defenders on the team right now.  This defense won’t be helping the pitching staff a whole lot.

Pitching:

While this offense could use some work, the pitching staff could use even more.  They made significant improvement last season and were still last in the league with a 4.57 ERA.  They have had the highest team ERA in the league over the last two years and they weren’t good last year ranking last in both hits allowed and Ks.  They don’t have any pitchers who can throw gas and only one of their soft tossers had the command to get hitters out last year (Phil Hughes).  While they have been bad across the board, their starters have been particularly atrocious.  This team won’t be good this year and with the way their pitching staff is constructed, they may not be good for a while.

I mentioned Phil Hughes as the staff ace.  He lacks overpowering stuff and gets by with great command.  He led the Twins with 16 Wins, a 3.52 ERA and 186 Ks.  While that number of Ks doesn’t look bad, he had to throw 209 innings to get there.  And while he had the best walk rate in a single season last year en route to a 1.13 WHIP, he still uses smoke and mirrors to keep runs off the board, as evidenced by his 268 BAA.  Long story short, guys will get hits off of him.   But if he can continue to strand runners and avoid walks, he should have another okay season.  He was very lucky last year and it only led to a 3.52 ERA.  I think he’ll be the Twins most competitive pitcher again, but we are only looking at 10-12 wins with an ERA under 4, but likely north of 3.75.

Ricky Nolasco was added last offseason and was supposed to help settle this starting rotation.  It didn’t work out.  Nolasco went 6-12 with a 5.38 ERA.  Hitters crushed him to the tune of a 316 BAA.  He put a ton of runners on base and didn’t have the stuff to get out of trouble.  He is another guy with average stuff, but doesn’t have the control Hughes has.  I don’t think he’ll be much better this year, likely with another losing record, about 5 wins and an ERA north of 4.50.  200 IP would be a win, no matter how he gets there.

Ervin Santana was supposed to be the new number 2 starter after his good season with the Braves last year, but a second PED violation has gotten him suspended for almost half the season (80 games).  Before coming back he will likely need some minor league rehab games, so the Twins can’t expect him back until after the All Star Break.  With that much time off who knows how sharp he’ll be. 

With Santana gone, Mike Pelfrey has returned to the starting rotation, a place he thought he never should have left.  He only made 5 starts last year before going down with another injury.  He was terrible in those starts, pitching to a 7.99 ERA.  The year before it was a 5.19 ERA in 29 starts with the Twins.  I don’t expect much from him, likely another ERA around 5 in his starts.  I’m honestly confused as to why he thought he deserved to be starting in the first place.

The rest of the rotation is made up of Tommy Milone and Kyle Gibson.  Gison was passable in 31 starts last year with a 13-12 recocrd and 4.47 ERA.  He made improvements from his first season and that’s really all that matters.  Not much is expected of him, likely another season north of 4 in the ERA department.  Milone is a former highly touted prospect that is now just looking to succeed as the 5th starter on a last place team.  He only made 5 starts and 1 relief appearance last year and struggled with a 7.06 ERA.  He’s got a decent body of work and has pitched to a 3.98 ERA in his 5 limited seasons.  Injuries been a major issue with him and he is likely not the pitcher he used to be in Oakland.  But he had a good year in 2013 (6-3 in 16 starts with a 3.55 ERA) so maybe he can be a quality starter if healthy.  I’m expecting a losing record with an ERA around 4.50.

The bullpen is actually a better group of arms than the starters, but that’s not saying much.  Closer Glen Perkins earned 34 saves last year despite a subpar 3.65 ERA last season.  He struck out 66 in 61 IP, but saw hitters hit 258 off him, not good at all.  He’ll be acceptable again this year, but not one of the best.  30 Saves and an ERA between 3 and 3.50.

The rest of the arms are unremarkable.  Blaine Boyer is a reclamation project that struggled in relief for the Braves years ago and Tim Stauffer is a failed starter trying to make a go of it in relief.  Brian Duensing is another failed starter trying to make it as a reliever.  They aren’t a good group, but aren’t the worst in the league either.

This pitching staff is one of the worst in baseball.  While the bullpen is only near the bottom, the starters might actually be ranked at the bottom.  Even if they aren’t that bad and improve some, they are a far cry from competitive, much less good.  Minnesota has a lot of holes, but the men on the mound make up the most gaping one.

Prediction:

Look out Twin Cities, this is going to sting.  The Twins are bad.  They have a future ahead of them, but frankly I don’t think it’s as close as they do.  In addition, they will miss Ron Gardenhire, miss Ervin Santana and really miss their fans, which continue to stay away.  The Twins built an outdoor stadium in one of the coldest parts of the country for a team that plays games at least 6 months out of the year.  April is cold there.  May isn’t warm.  And if the Twins ever make the postseason (a silly, ridiculous notion at this point) it will be cold in October and November.  People don’t like to sit outdoors in cold weather for 3-hour baseball games.  They really don’t like it when the on-field product resembles a dumpster fire.  I don’t see any of that changing this year.

Spoiler alert: the Twins will finish in last place.  They may win 70 games.  They may only win 65.  Gonna be a long year in Minnesota.