With the baseball season coming up, I have decided to take an in-depth look at the MLB’s 30 teams, and rank them on how strong of a team they are overall. These power rankings will be done in 3 different articles; 30-21, 20-11, and 10-1, in a countdown.
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
Pittsburgh, you are the weakest link. There is not much upside to this Pirates team at all. No one on their team won 10 or more games last year. The only bright spot in the rotation is Paul Maholm, who went 9-9 with a 3.71 ERA, the only starter on the team with an ERA below 4. However, the league average was 14.5 wins for each team leader in wins; while Maholm was the only pitcher on the Pirates that started double digit games who didn’t lose more games than he won, he was 5.5 wins behind the league average in that category. Especially in the NL, the “ace” of the rotation has to be more of a winner than that. A washed out former ace Ian Snell was second in wins, with just 7.
As for the bullpen, closer Matt Capps was out most of the season with an injury, and John Grabow, who lead the team in ERA was the only bullpen arm to step up in his absence. Tyler Yates, Sean Burnett, Craig Hansen, and Phil Dumatrait mainly make up the rest of the bullpen that was 28th in the MLB in ERA, and none of them had an ERA below 4.75 in ’08. The overall pitching staff was also 28th in ERA in the MLB, and, like the bullpen, dead last in the NL.
The Pirates’ hitting is nothing to be proud of either. Last season, the Pirates were 19th in the MLB in runs scored and 22nd in batting avg. Xavier Nady lead the team in batting average; he batted .330 with the Pirates before being traded to the Yankees along with Damaso Marte.
Jason Bay was third on the team in HR with 22, before he was traded to the Red Sox. Keep in mind now that this is only counting when they were with the Pirates, and that Nady and Bay played 89 and 106 games with the Pirates respectively. Before those two trades, Pittsburgh had arguably the best outfield in the game; now Bay and Nady have been replaced by Brandon Moss and Nyjer Morgan, two young and unproven players who will not bring much to this lineup.
It’s inevitable that the Pirates will trade away some of the little talent they have remaining when this year’s trade deadline comes, as well. The only 3 batters on that will help this farm team are Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, and Adam LaRoche. Everyone else on the offense is either an unproven prospect, or just an average player. Overall, it would be more fitting to put the Pirates as the #1 AAA team instead of the #30 MLB team.
29. San Diego Padres
It may come as a surprise to you that the Padres are #29 on this list. Can anyone guess how many wins Padres ace Jake Peavy had last year? You probably guessed somewhere between 15-20; no, the answer is 10. Peavy, the heart and soul of the Padres pitching staff, posted a 10-11 record last season, one year after he was the unanimous NL Cy Young award winner.
While it is true Peavy was injured for a few weeks, he still made 27 starts, and lost more games than he won. Nevertheless, Peavy kept his ERA under 3, sporting a 2.85 ERA on the year.
So why did he win so few games? Part of the problem was the bullpen, which blew 4 potential wins for Peavy last year and was 25th in the MLB in ERA. And now, the Padres have lost the all-time save leader, veteran closer Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman had 30 saves last season, and will be replaced by Heath Bell, who has 2 career saves. Bell was given 7 save opportunities last season, and blew each and every one of them. He is 2-of-14 in his career converting saves, which is not a good statistic for a closer at all. After posting a 2.02 ERA in 2007 with the Padres, Bell had a 3.58 ERA last season.
The Padres acquired former Yankee Chris Britton to act as Bell’s Setup man. Britton had a 5.09 ERA last season with New York, allowing 13 earned runs in 23.0 innings. Justin Hampson, a Middle Relief pitcher behind Britton on the depth chart, posted a 2.93 ERA and a decent 2008 season; however, no pitcher in this bullpen other than Hampson and Bell had an ERA below 4.00 last year.
Peavy also doesn’t exactly have the deepest starting rotation supporting him. After Peavy in the rotation is Chris Young, who went 7-6 in 2008 with a 3.96 ERA last year. Cha Seung Baek is currently the third man in the rotation, who was 6-10 with a 4.79 ERA last year as well as a career ERA of 4.83.
While Josh Geer hopes to make the rotation, having pitched well in his first season last year, his 2-1 record and 2.67 ERA in 27.0 innings make have been a fluke; but no one else who seems to be lined up to make the rotation had a 2008 ERA below 6.00. Even if Peavy can return to Cy Young form, the rest of rotation is made up of Young, who would be a #3 starter on most other teams, and a bunch of mediocre pitchers, as well as a mediocre bullpen.
San Diego was dead last in the MLB in runs scored and on-base percentage, and 28th in batting average. The Padres batted 26th in baseball with runners in scoring position, and worst in the league with runners in scoring position and two outs, blowing many opportunity to score. Adrian Gonzalez is nothing but a beast, but other than that, you don’t have much in this offense.
Kevin Kouzmanoff batted .260 with 23 homers and 84 RBI, though he lead the team in at-bats. Brian Giles and Jody Gerut had the two best batting averages on the team, and do have potential to add something to this Padres lineup in 2009, especially Gerut, who played in 100 games last season. But other than Gonzalez and maybe Kouzmanoff, there is no power hitter in the lineup.
Scott Hairston was third on the team in home runs with 17 last year, yet is not even listed on the current depth chart. As well as the issue of power, there are absolutely no base-stealers on the Padres. Gerut lead the team with 6 stolen bases last year, and San Diego totaled 36 stolen bases, 21 steals behind the 29th-ranked Pirates.
Part of the problem with not scoring is not stealing. There are a lot of problems with this San Diego team that went from winning 89 games and barely missing October in 2007 to winning 63 games and finishing last in the NL West, and they should not do much better in ’09.
28. Washington Nationals
The Nats owned the worst record in the league in 2009, barely edging out Seattle, San Diego, and Pittsburgh for worst team in baseball. With 59 wins, the Nationals were the only team that failed to win 60 games, finishing 40.5 games behind the MLB-best Angels. The Nats also were the only team other than Seattle to lose over 100 games.
The Nationals’ “ace”, (if you want to call him that) is John Lannan, who went 9-15 last season with a 3.91 ERA, good numbers for a #3 pitcher. The guy is only 24 though, and may see improvement as he develops, but will still be in a smaller category than most other #1 starters.
The #2 pitcher is Scott Olsen, who the Nationals acquired from the Marlins. Olsen has been suspended and fined in the past, so he needs to behave before he thinks of performing for the Nats. Olsen posted an 8-11 record with Florida last season with a 4.20 ERA, but, like Lannan, is young (he just turned 25 this January) and may have some potential as long as his behavior keeps up. This year, though, shouldn’t be any breakout year for either of the two top starters.
There is no need to discuss anyone else in this rotation. None of the other starters had a winning record, or sported an ERA below 5 in 2008. With the top two pitchers unproven, and the rest just plain horrible, this rotation is a joke.
Last season, closer Chad Cordero suffered a season ending injury early on, and was replaced as the closer by Jon Rauch, who did well in this position. However, he was traded to the Diamondbacks for 2B prospect Emilio Bonifacio, who was then traded to Florida for Olsen and Josh Willingham. Current closer Joel Hanrahan was given 13 save opportunities last season, converting 9 with a 3.95 ERA. Though he didn’t have a horrible season, those are average numbers for a closer. With a team like Washington, he shouldn’t expect many opportunities at all, so missing over 1/4 of your chances is unacceptable.
Acting as a set-up man is 31-year-old Saul Rivera. Rivera has been with the Nats and in the MLB since 2006, and has had an average career thus far. Rivera’s 2008 ERA was 3.96, with a 6-5 record and 65 strikeouts in 76 appearances. He is right now representing his home country of Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, but is an average player when representing his Nationals.
The only member of the Washington Nationals bullpen with real potential is Steven Shell. The right-hander had a 2.16 ERA last season, a 2-2 record, and 41 strikeouts in 39 games. It would be my guess that he becomes the set-up man or perhaps even the closer by the end of the season, unless of course his rookie 2008 season was a fluke. No one else in the bullpen is worth writing about, as they all had inflated ERA’s and losing records.
The Nationals hitting is not bad as a whole. The left half of the infield is made up of Chrstian Guzman and Ryan Zimmerman. Guzman, a two-time All Star (his second All Star appearance being last season), batted .316 last year with 9 homers, 77 runs, and 55 RBI. Zimmerman, who is 24 years old, missed a good deal of last season hurt, but managed 14 homers, 51 runs, 51 RBI, and a .283 average in 106 games.
CF Lastings Milledge, a 23-year-old former New York Met, also hit 14 homers, scoring 68 times, driving in 61 runs, and stealing 24 bases with a .268 batting average in ’08. RF Elijah Dukes batted .264 with 13 home runs, scoring 48 times with 44 ribbies and 13 stolen bases.
This is a very young offense that ranked 28th in the MLB in runs scored last season. However, it should see a rise in runs scored, as the Nats were able to add slugging outfielder Adam Dunn in the off-season. Dunn has hit 40 homers in each of the last 4 seasons, and comes to a lineup where no one hit more than 14 homers last year. He is just what they needed, though they were unable to land Mark Teixeira, who signed a huge deal with the Yankees in one of the major moves of the off-season; had they somehow signed both Teixeira and Dunn, the Nationals would be near the middle of the list as opposed to the end. Overall, though, the Nationals still didn’t improve much. They may not finish in last place like last season, but will still find themselves at the bottom of the pile.
27. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles were the best (record-wise) of the five teams that didn’t finish 2008 with 70 wins. Baltimore had 68, failing to reach 70 in the “W” column for the second straight season.
The Orioles’ starting rotation was dreadful. Their starters’ combined ERA ranked worst in the MLB, as well as their combined strikeouts. Starting pitching’s strikeouts per 9 innings ratio was 30th in the league. The rotation also found itself near the bottom of the league in several other categories.
The #1 starter, Jeremy Guthrie, is the only person on the current 5-man rotation on the Orioles’ official team depth chart that started any games for the O’s in 2008, so there have been a lot of changes made to the worst rotation in the game. Guthrie posted a 10-12 record on a team where no one who started more than 4 games had a winning record. Two potential wins for him were blown by the bullpen. Guthrie had an ERA of 3.63, which was great for an Oriole, considering no member of the ’08 O’s team that made 10 or more starts had an ERA below 5.
The #2 man in this Orioles rotation is Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara, whom the Orioles signed to a two-year deal this January. Uehara pitched for the Yomiuri Giants from 1999-2008, playing on some of the same teams as current MLB players Hideki Matsui and Hideki Okajima. The 33-year-old is a two-time winner of the Sawamura Award, which is the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award, and could step up and bring something to this Baltimore rotation.
Rich Hill, whom the O’s received in a deal with the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later, is the Orioles’ #3 starter. He has been in the MLB since his 2005 rookie season with the Cubs, and has a career record of 18-17 with a 4.37 ERA and 309 strikeouts in 57 starts; last year, however, he was only given 5 starts, and went 1-0 with a 4.12 ERA. Hill may have an impact on this team, but thus far his career has been average.
Adam Eaton was cut by the Phillies after he won the World Series with them last season; he was picked up by Baltimore and is their 4th starter. He went 4-8 last season with a 5.80 ERA, and is really nothing special. Currently the final man listed in the rotation is Danys Baez. Baez missed all of 2008 after elbow surgery, and has not started a game since 2002, so is obviously not expected to have a huge bounce back performance. Neither, quite frankly, is the rotation as a whole.
The Baltimore bullpen ranked 26th in the MLB in ERA among relief crews. They ranked 19th in strikeouts, 26th in batting average, 29th in on-base percentage, and blew the 9th-most saves in baseball. Left handed Closer George Sherrill, who was traded to Baltimore from the Mariners in the Erik Bedard deal, made the All Star game, and started the season great. He missed about a month due to a shoulder injury, but still finished the season with 31 saves. His ERA, however, saw a rise late in the season, and he finished with an earned run average of 4.73. He did have 58 strikeouts in 53.1 innings, averaging over a strikeout per inning.
Without Sherrill, the O’s bullpen is in a bad situation; in his absence, no pitcher could save more than 1 game last year. If he can keep the ERA down, he will be a good closer in 2009. Taking the ball from the 8th inning into Sherrill’s hands last season was Jim Johnson. The 25-year-old went 2-4 in 2008 with a 2.23 ERA in 54 games. He also converted his only save opportunity of the season. He is a good pitcher, but not exactly a strikeout machine; in 68.2 innings last year, he only racked up 38 K’s.
Despite Johnson’s success in the set-up role, however, it seems former closer Chris Ray will be this year’s set-up man for the O’s. Ray lost his closer’s role after a mediocre 2007 season, especially notorious for allowing 3 runs in the “Mother’s Day Miracle” when the Boston Red Sox came back from a 5-0 deficit against the Orioles in the bottom of the ninth inning at Fenway Park. Towards the end of 2007, Ray had Tommy John surgery, missing the rest of ’07 and not throwing a pitch in the majors last season.
Assuming Ray can bounce back, he, Sherrill, and Johnson do not make a bad top 3 relief pitchers for the O’s. However, the rest of this bullpen is shaky; all the other members of the pen had high ERA’s, and the bullpen will struggle when someone not named Johnson, Ray, or Sherrill is pitching.
The Orioles may not have good pitching, but their hitting is certainly one of their strengths. The O’s were 11th in both runs scored and batting average last season, as well as 13th in on-base percentage. The outfield consists of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Felix Pie. Markakis is a 25-year-old in the 3rd year of his career, and is already one of the better outfielders in the game. He batted .306 last season with 20 homers, 87 RBI, and 10 stolen bases.
Pie and Jones are two young prospects with good upside that were acquired in trades in the last year, and could add to what is already a good MLB offense. Aubrey Huff, who played DH last season, is listed as the starting 1B on the depth chart. He had a terrific 2008, batting .304 with 32 homers and 108 RBI.
Opposite to Huff on the diamond at third base is Melvin Mora, who hit .285 with 23 HR and 104 RBI. Every good offense needs someone who steals bases, and for the Orioles that man is Brian Roberts. Roberts stole 40 bases in 2008, as well as just missing .300, batting .296 with 9 home runs.
At catcher, the O’s have the another prospect with high potential in Matt Wieters, who has the power to bomb 20+ homers. Right now he is behind Gregg Zaun on the depth chart and will start in the minors, but he will eventually come to play in the majors. It looks like 2009 may be the year that Baltimore follows suit, and could also be playing like a major league team this year.
26. Colorado Rockies
Colorado made it to the World Series in 2007, but 2008 for the Rockies was no storied season. The Rocks had a 74-88 record last season, winning more games than only four other teams. They finished 10 games back in the division behind Los Angeles, and I expect them to fall further back this season.
The starting pitching for the Colorado Rockies in ’08 ranked 27th in ERA, and 26th in both batting average and on-base percentage allowed. Aaron Cook, the ace of the staff, had a 16-9 record and a 3.96 earned run average. In 32 starts and 211.1 innings pitched, Cook had just 96 strikeouts.
Ubaldo Jimenez will start second behind Cook; Jimenez finished 2008 12-12 with a 3.99 ERA and 172 strikeouts in 34 starts and 198.2 innings. The duo were the only two in the Rockies rotation last season to finish with ERA’s below 4, just barely doing so. Last season, Jeff Francis went from having a 17-win season and eventually starting Game 1 of the World Series in 2007 to completely collapsing in 2008, with a 4-10 record and 5.01 ERA; he also underwent shoulder surgery, and will miss all of 2009.
So, without Francis, Jason Marquis, whom the Rocks acquired from Chicago this January, will be the third pitcher in this rotation. Marquis, a former top Atlanta Braves prospect, finished 11-9 with the Cubs last year, with a 4.53 ERA. With 91 strikeouts in 167.0 innings, like Cook, he is not a strikeout pitcher. In a park like Coors Field, it is important that you can fan batters, since some balls put into play are hits in Coors Field as opposed to outs in most other parks.
Jorge De La Rosa is the 4th man in the Rockies starting 5, and was the only Colorado starter other than Cook and Jimenez that finished the season with an ERA below 5 last year. He went 10-8 with a 4.92 earned run average, and did strike out 128 men in 130.0 innings; he nearly averaged a strikeout per inning pitched, so he is pretty valuable to the Rockies as a #4 starter who can get a 10-win season. But in the end, the Rockies still have one of the worst rotations in the MLB; starting pitching is certainly not a bright area for Colorado.
While starters for the Rockies were a major weakness for the team last year, the Rockies bullpen had a decent season. The pen ranked 16th in the league in ERA, and while ranking 21st in batting average allowed, ranked just 15th in on-base percentage allowed. Over the off-season, the Rockies lost Brian Fuentes to the Angels; Fuentes took the Closer’s role from Manny Corpas in late April, and saved 30 games over the season while blowing 4.
To replace Fuentes, the Rockies acquired Huston Street from Oakland in the Matt Holliday deal. Street lost his role as a closer with the A’s last season, and has not saved a game since July 27th of 2008. Street finished 2008 with a 7-5 record, 18 saves, 7 blown saves, and 69 strikeouts in 63 appearances and 70.0 innings pitched. It seems that he is not currently the full-time closer for Colorado, and will start the season sharing the closer role with Corpas.
Manny Corpas could only convert 4 of his first 8 save opportunities in ’08, and after that kissed the Closer’s role goodbye last season, serving the rest of the year as a set-up man. He blew another 5 saves along the way, and unless he can be the 2007 Corpas that converted 19 saves, his sharing of the Closer’s role should be temporary until Street gets settled in. Corpas had a 4.52 ERA last season, much worse than his 2007 ERA of 2.08.
Taylor Buchholz is listed as the third man in the bullpen, and is a bright spot in the Rockies relief staff. Buchholz kept his ERA at 2.17 last season with a 6-6 record, and had 56 strikeouts, pitching 66.1 innings over 63 appearances. Buchholz lead his team in earned run average, and only he, Fuentes, and Jason Grilli had an ERA below 3.00 with Colorado. Grilli had an ERA of 3.00 on the season, although was traded to Colorado mid-season from Detroit, and with the Rockies had a 2.93 ERA. After that, there is no one special in this bullpen. The pen is, in my opinion, not great, but above average.
The Colorado Rockies scored 747 runs last season, 18th most in Major League Baseball. 411 of those runs came at home, while 336 came on the road. With perhaps the most advantageous park to hitter in the game, the Rockies had a much better season when playing in Denver than away from home. But early this off-season, the Rocks traded their best hitter, and probably best player.
Left Fielder Matt Holliday was shipped to Oakland, which is a huge hit to this offense. Holliday batted .321 last season, hitting 25 homers, driving in 88 runs, and stealing 28 bases. Seth Smith is his replacement in left; Smith batted .259 with 4 home runs, 15 RBI, and 1 stolen base last season in 69 games.
Another huge loss for Colorado was CF Willy Taveras; though Taveras batted just .251 last season, he stole 68 bases, and with him and Holliday both gone, there is no one to be a major threat of stealing bases; not counting those two, Clint Barmes lead the team in steals with 13 last year. Starting in Center this season will be Ryan Spilborghs, who hit .313 in 89 games last season, and is a good contact hitter.
Brad Hawpe is the starting Right Fielder for Colorado; Hawpe had a down year last season compared to his 2007 campaign. He batted .291 with 29 homers and 116 ribbies in 2007, but last season hit .283 with 25 home runs and 85 RBI. As one of the only major power threats on the team now with Holliday out of town, Hawpe will need to step up his game for the Rockies in 2009.
Garrett Atkins also saw a decrease in his stats last season. From ’07-’08, he went from hitting .301 to .286, hitting 25 homers to hitting 21 homers, and from driving in 111 runs to getting 99 RBI. How this offense performs will be affected substantially by whether we see the Hawpe and Atkins of 2007, or the Hawpe and Atkins of 2008, and the same goes for third-year shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
Tulowitzki missed over a month and a half from May to June, and then later on two weeks in July. After a 2007 season in which he finished runner-up to Ryan Braun for Rookie of the Year, Tulowitzki batted just .263 with 8 homers and 46 RBI, and still played in 101 games with the time missed. A large reason why the Rockies were unable to succeed last season was that three of their best hitters all had down years, and all three will certainly need to get back to 2007 form. Will the Rockies get back to 2007 form themselves? It is very doubtful.
25. Seattle Mariners
Only the Nats had a lesser record than Seattle last year, who went from being a wild card contender in 2007 to a 61-win, AL-worst team in 2008.
The starting pitching for the M’s last season ranked 26th in ERA. Starters allowed the 6th-most earned runs in the league, 7th-most runs, 11th-most home runs, and 7th-most walks. They ranked 24th in strikeouts, 28th in batting average allowed, 27th in on-base percentage allowed.
Felix Hernandez went 9-11 on the season with a 3.45 ERA and 175 strikeouts. Seattle’s ace got off to a rough start record-wise, starting 2-5 and allowing 4+ runs on 5 occasions in that stretch. Hernandez eventually found his rhythm, seeing his ERA dip from 3.42 to 2.83 from the beginning of May to the end of June. He was hurt in his final start in June, and did not pitch for 18 days, but still lead the team in starts and innings pitched with 31 and 200.2, respectively. His ERA rose from 2.83 to 3.45 from July to the end of the season, and the Mariners lost his 5 starts, while Hernandez took 3 losses and 2 no-decisions in those 5 games.
Erik Bedard was dealt to Seattle in a trade with Baltimore prior to the 2008 season, in which the M’s gave up George Sherrill and Adam Jones. Bedard had a 6-4 record with a 3.67 ERA and 72 strikeouts up until Independence Day, when he started his final game of the season before spending the rest of 2008 on the DL with a left shoulder injury. This was the second time Bedard went on the DL last year, also making a disabled list trip in April with a hip inflammation and missing 18 days in the process. This raises a question of whether Bedard can stay healthy in Seattle, and it’s never good to have one of your two best pitchers, especially one you gave up so much to acquire, to be constantly getting hurt.
Brandon Morrow is the third man in the rotation, and posted a 2008 record of 3-4 with a 3.34 ERA and 75 strikeouts. He had 10 saves, and blew only 2 when he held the closer’s role for 2 months before J.J. Putz came back. The kid has potential, as those 75 K’s came in 64.2 inning, averaging well over 1 strikeout per inning. He was a bit shaky as a starter last season however; he went 2-2 in 5 starts and allowed a total of 15 earned runs in his final three.
Seattle’s #4 starter is Carlos Silva, who failed miserably last year in his first outing with the Mariners. He had a 6.46 ERA and a 4-15 record, and was just nothing but bad news starting last season, the only pitcher on the team to allow over 100 earned runs with 110.
It seems that Ryan Rowland-Smith will make the end of the rotation for 2008. He had a 3.42 ERA last season, but as a starter was 2-3 with a 3.50 ERA. The lefty had just 77 strikeouts in 118.1 innings last year, and as a full starter doesn’t seem to possess the potential to have any break out season as a starter. In the end this will be a better rotation than last season’s without many doubts, but won’t be one of the top-end starting staffs in the league.
The Seattle Mariners bullpen is certainly one of the worst in the league. Last year, the pen ranked 18th in ERA, 16th in batting average allowed, 23rd in on-base percentage allowed, and allowed the 5th-most walks all season. And now with the departure of J.J. Putz, as well as both Ryan Rowland-Smith and Brandon Morrow joining the starting rotation, it didn’t improve much.
Mark Lowe is currently listed as the Mariners’ closer. After getting hurt and pitching a total of just over 20 innings in 2006 and 2007 combined, Lowe came back in 2008 to have a 1-5 record with a 5.37 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 63.2 innings. Lowe is a young guy, but did not impress last season, and as a closer was 1-of-5 converting saves.
It seems that the set-up man for Lowe will be David Aardsma, who was acquired from the Red Sox. Aardsma finished 2008 with a 5.55 ERA and a 4-2 record, finishing the season pitching mediocre at best.
Roy Corcoran does possess potential in the Mariners bullpen, he was able to put up a 6-2 record in 2008 with a 3.22 ERA that was second-lowest on the team. He did, however, have just 39 strikeouts in 72.2 innings, and is obviously not someone who fans a lot of batters, but he may contribute something positive to this staff.
Former Washington Nationals closer Chad Cordero was signed by Seattle. He was out for almost all of last season, and will probably not be what he once was when he gets back. If he is healthy, he could take the closer role from Lowe, but I doubt he will be able to have a strong season returning. Overall, I do not like this bullpen, and I do not think it will help the Mariners try and rebound from such a horrible season.
Seattle’s offense ranked 26th in the MLB in runs scored, 13th in batting average, and 28th in on-base percentage. They did possess one very positive trait, in that they struck out the fewest times in Major League Baseball on the season. But overall, the offense wasn’t great; it’s all about your ability to score runs, and the Mariners were one of the worst in the league at that.
The M’s have one of the best contact hitters in the game in Ichiro Suzuki, but while he is a 200-hit, 40-steal, .300+ batter, He does not drive in runs. Not to take anything away from Ichiro, but he had only 42 RBI and 6 homers last season, so losing a guy like Raul Ibanez, who drove in 110 and hit 23 home runs while still batting .293 is a big setback.
Seattle added Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez to the team and they will both be starting in the outfield. Chavez is a great defensive outfielder, but his hitting is horrible, and will not be of much offensive help to the M’s. Gutierrez batted .248 in 2008 with 8 homers, 41 RBI, and 9 stolen bases, and really isn’t going to be much help either, except for the fact that while he bats below .250, he does not strike out much, like the team as a whole.
The major addition in offense over the off-season was former Mariner and future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., who will be the DH for Seattle. Junior joined the 600 home run club last season as a member of the Reds, but his best years are behind him. While he jacked 18 homers last season, he batted only .249. You can expect another near-20 home run season from Griffey, but he isn’t going to storm back into Seattle and single-handedly carry the team to the promised land.
Adrian Beltre led the Mariners in home runs last season with 25 as well as 77 ribbies and a .266 batting average. While his average isn’t spectacular, he is one of the the main sources of power for the Mariners, and is certainly a bright spot in the lineup. Jose Lopez had a nice 2008 season at second bases, hitting 17 bombs and driving in 89 with a .297 average.
After that though, there’s really nothing all that special about the M’s offense. Just like the Mariners are an average team, they have an average offense. In my opinion, Seattle is the best of the teams that finished 2008 without at least 70 wins. But being the best loser is nothing to be proud of.
24. Kansas City Royals
Kansas City finished 13.5 back in their division behind the Chicago White Sox with a 75-87 record, but actually edged out the Detroit Tigers by a game, and avoided finishing in dead last in the AL Central for what would have been the 5th straight season. Still though, the Royals are a pitiful team, and have been consistently bad; they have not even had a winning season since 2003, when they barely made it over .500, and since then have seen some royally rough times.
The Kansas City starting rotation ranked 21st among starting crews in ERA last season, with a 4.62 ERA, and allowed the 8th-most earned runs as well as 9th-most runs in the league. KC ranked 19th and 17th in batting average allowed and on-base percentage allowed, respectively.
Ace Gil Meche had a less than fantastic season; he had a 3.98, just barely keeping his earned run average under 4.00. Meche posted a 14-11 record, and 183 strikeouts in 34 starts. Simply put, Meche had a very average 2008, especially for a #1 starter.
The #2 starter, Zack Greinke, posted a 13-10 record with a 3.47 ERA and 183 strikeouts of his own in two less starts than Meche. Greinke had a similar but better season than Meche (it seems Meche will keep his role as top starter in 2009, nevertheless), and the combo aren’t a bad 1-2 in the rotation.
The rest of the rotation is made up of Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies, and Luke Hochevar, as of right now one of the few rotations in baseball that did not change since last year. Davies had a 2008 record of 9-7, with a 4.06 ERA. He posted a decent season in only 21 starts, but did not strike out many; in 113.0 innings of work, he fanned only 71 batters. Nevertheless, he kept his ERA lower than Bannister or Hochevar could.
Bannister had a terrible season to follow a good 2007 campaign, going 9-16 with a 5.76 ERA and 113 strikeouts. He has lost his spot at third in the rotation to Davies as of recently, and will be Kansas City’s projected 4th starter. Hochevar is the final man in the rotation, and certainly nothing special. He went 6-12 in 2008, losing twice as many games as he won, with an ERA of 5.51. While he is young, he shouldn’t be expected to improve in ’09. Overall this Royals rotation is laughable, and if Kansas City wanted to be a contender, they should have acquired a good starter over the off-season.
The bullpen in 2008 ranked 22nd in ERA, despite ranking high in batting average and on-base percentage allowed, ranking 7th and 6th in those respective categories, also ranking 7th in WHIP. This means that the Royals allowed most of the men who reached base to score.
Closer Joakim Soria, a 25-year-old with a ton of upside, was nothing short of dominant in his second season. Soria had just a 1.60 ERA last season, easily leading the team in that category, and also 5th in the MLB in ERA out of players who pitched at least 50 innings. He also had 42 saves, good for 3rd-most in the MLB, and 66 strikeouts in 67.1 innings pitched as well as 63 appearances.
Soria is certainly the centerpiece of this bullpen and perhaps the best, if not at least most likely the most valuable player on the entire team. Ramon Ramirez was second on the team in ERA last season, and was one of the better Royals relief pitchers; he is now with the Boston Red Sox after being traded to Beantown for Coco Crisp.
Currently listed at set-up man for KC is Kyle Farnsworth, but hopefully they have the sense to move him down to #3 or perhaps #4 reliever with Juan Cruz also in the pen, and the rightful man for the set-up job. Farnsworth had a 2-3 record and a 4.48 ERA last season with 61 strikeouts in 60.1 innings, which does not compare to Juan Cruz’ 2008, in which Cruz posted a 4-0 record with a 2.61 ERA and a whopping 71 strikeouts in just 51.2 innings pitched.
Also in the bullpen is Ron Mahay, who had a 5-0 ’08 record with a 3.48 record. He isn’t much of a strikeout guy, as he had only 49 K’s in 64.2 innings, and is also going to be 38 in June. But based on last season’s numbers, he too should probably be above Farnsworth on the depth chart. Unfortunately, there are no more players in this bullpen worth mentioning; in the end the Royal pen is not bad, and is probably one of the team’s better areas.
In 2008, the Royals scored 691 runs, which was 25th in baseball. While their team batting average was .269, 9th in the MLB, they trailed all other teams in walks drawn, and as a result were 26th in the league in on-base percentage.
David DeJesus mans left field, a very balanced player. He batted .307 with 12 homers and 73 RBI, as well as 11 stolen bases last season. Shortstop Mike Aviles will be another key to maintaining a balance in the lineup, as he hit .325 with 10 home runs, 58 RBI, and 8 stolen bases in only 102 games in ’08.
Jose Guillen, who will be starting in right field, batted only .264, but hit 20 homers, and was only 3 shy of 100 ribbies. Mike Jacobs was added over the off-season, and will add more power, with the 32 home runs and 93 RBI he hit in 2008, though his average was only .247. Jacobs will probably split time between first base and DH with Billy Butler; Butler hit .275 with 11 homers and 55 RBI last season in 124 games, but, as he is turning 24 in April and going into only his third season, there is room to improve for Butler.
Coco Crisp was an important acquisition for this offense, since none of the other starters steal many bases. He will be the starting center fielder for the Royals, not having to share with Jacoby Ellsbury anymore, which limited him to only 118 games last season. In that time, though, Crisp hit .283 with 7 homers and 41 RBI, and managed 20 stolen bases, his third straight season in which he reached 20 or more.
Catcher Miguel Olivo batted .255 last season, hitting 12 homers and 41 RBI as well as stealing 7 bases, and in only 84 games. He played about half the season, so double his numbers and you have 24 home runs, 82 RBI, and 14 stolen bases at that rate, more than respectable stats (especially for a catcher).
The Royals also have Alex Gordon playing third base; he hit .260 with 16 homers, 59 RBI, and 9 stolen bases in his second MLB season. As a whole I like the Kansas City offense, though the team batting average should see a decrease from last season, and the team itself is below average.
23. Texas Rangers
Could Texas really be any higher on this list? While it’s true the Rangers have a mighty offense, they clearly have problems with their pitching. Not only that, but those problems were unaddressed in the off-season.
The Rangers’ starting pitching finished dead last in baseball in numerous categories. Texas tied for last in the league in ERA with Baltimore, with a dreadful 5.51 earned run average. Texas was tied for last in batting average allowed with Pittsburgh; they both allowed batters a .300 average. The Rangers’ starters also ranked 29th in on-base percentage allowed, WHIP, and strikeouts.
Kevin Millwood is currently at the #1 slot in the Texas rotation. In both of the past two years, Millwood’s ERA has been over 5, and he has had a losing record. Last season’s 5.07 ERA and 9-10 record in 29 starts are horrible numbers for an “ace”. Vicente Padilla is #2 in the rotation.
Padilla doesn’t add much to this 1-2 punch (more fittingly known as a 1-2 slap, since you can’t really refer to this as a “punch”). He did have a record of 14-8 in 2008, but with an earned run average of 4.74. Sadly, his 4.74 ERA was second (among players who pitched at least 25.0 innings) only to Frank Fransisco on the team.
Matt Harrison is third in this rotation. Though his ERA was awful at 5.49, he did win 9 games in 12 decisions last season, but that may be more from luck than talent. Still, his rookie season was good enough to land him the third spot behind Millwood and Padilla. The Rangers actually finished second in their division last season, but did not make any moves to acquire a good starting pitcher. Because of this, the rotation will be among the worst, if not the worst, in 2009.
The bullpen ranked 30th in ERA, 27th in batting average allowed, and 28th in on-base percentage last season. C.J. Wilson got off to a great start on the season, not allowing any earned runs in his first 8 appearances and picking up 5 saves in that stretch. However, his season soon went into a bad direction, and although he had 24 saves, he lost the closer role by July because hit ERA soared up to 6.02. He finished the season with that same ERA, not pitching after early August, when he underwent season-ending surgery.
Frank Fransisco now holds the closer role, while Wilson acts as his set-up man. Fransisco, who turns 30 this season, kept an ERA of 3.13 in 2008, but a huge thing Fransisco did was show that he can fan batters. He struck out 83 hitters in 63.1 innings pitched, and converted 5-of-11 saves, which was enough to earn him the rank of closer.
The Rangers acquired former Milwaukee Brewer Derrick Turnbow; Turnbow, a former closer for the Brew Crew, was out for almost all last season, and had an ERA of 15.63 in the short time he did play.
Eddie Guardado pitched decent in his first season in Texas; his 3.65 ERA was enough to put him at #3 on the bullpen depth chart. There isn’t much else talent in this bullpen, though. If Fransisco can live up to the expectations Texas has for him as a closer, the pen could be decent. If not… watch out Rangers bullpen, because you’re in for a bumpy ride.
If there is anything to be optimistic about on the team, it is the Rangers offense. Texas lead the league in runs scored last season, the only team to reach 900 runs. Texas lead the league in batting average, was 3rd in on-base percentage, and finished 6th in home runs.
Center Fielder Josh Hamilton turned in nothing short of a fantastic 2008. The slugger batted .304 with 32 homers and an AL-leading 130 RBI. Hamilton cooled down a bit in the second half, and toward the end of the season started getting more hits but knocking in less runs (he batted .366 in September but with just 2 homers and 13 RBI), but is sure to have another great season this year.
Unfortunately, the Rangers did lose a big part of their offense in Milton Bradley to the Cubs. Bradley led the team in batting average with an average of .322, and knocked in 77 runs with 22 home runs. This means David Murphy will be an everyday starter for sure. The young Murphy hit 15 homers and batted .275 last season, and while he is not Milton Bradley, he can be a fair replacement.
Nelson Cruz will also get more playing time, and is starting in right field. He batted .330 with 7 homers and 26 RBI in only 31 games last season, and could have a nice year ahead of him.
Michael Young played shortstop for the Rangers last season, though he has shifted over to third base. Young is a great player, and hit .284 with 12 jacks and 82 ribbies last year. On the opposite side of the diamond to Young is Chris Davis. The first baseman for the Rangers has a ton of potential. Last season was his rookie season, and Davis hit .285 with 17 homers and 55 RBI in 80 games.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler looked like he may have been in the potential running for MVP before his season was ended by injury last year. In 121 games on the season, he hit .319 with 18 homers and 71 RBI. The Rangers also have a nice two-headed catcher attack with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden. The Rangers may have lost a big part of the team, but make no mistake that they are still near the top of the league in offense. If only they had good pitching.
22. San Fransisco Giants
The Giants finished 2008 with a record of 72-90, 12 games behind the NL West division-leading Dodgers, and in 4th place in the division.
San Fransisco’s starting rotation was 16th in ERA. Though it ranked 6th in batting average allowed, it also ranked 20th in on-base percentage allowed. While the Giants were 2nd in strikeouts, they were also the team that allowed the most walks in 2008, and by a fair margin; the Giants were the only team to allow 400+ walks with 425, 30 more than the Orioles, who were 2nd in that category.
Without a doubt the best player on the team, what would the rotations have been had it not been for ace and 2008 NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum? Lincecum posted an 18-5 record in 2008. one of only 7 players in the league to win 18 games. On 5 separate occasions, the bullpen blew a potential win for Lincecum; had all those potential victories been kept intact, Lincecum would have led the MLB in wins. Lincecum had an earned run average of 2.62, which was third in the majors among starting pitchers. He also lead the league in strikeouts with 265, though he did walk 86 batters (12th in the MLB in walks).
Lincecum was also able to go deep into games very consistently. In 33 starts, Lincecum had the 5th-most innings pitched last season in the majors, and he pitched at least 7.0 innings 20 times, including two complete games and one complete game shutout. He only failed to pitch 6.0 innings or more on 5 starts. Unfortunately, no one else on the Giants is quite like the amazing 24-year-old.
45-year-old veteran Randy Johnson was picked up over the off-season to be the second starter for San Fran. Last season with Arizona, Johnson had a record of 11-10. The Big Unit was able to rack up 173 strikeouts, and pulled a safe margin ahead of Roger Clemens for #2 all-time in strikeouts. He did, however, have an ERA of 3.91. Johnson is 5 wins short of 300 in his career, and he will almost undoubtedly reach that milestone this season; Randy will probably call it a career at the end of the year, and will not just be a help to the rotation by actually pitching, but also by letting the younger pitchers learn from him.
The third pitcher in San Fransisco’s rotation is Matt Cain, whose ability to do well of the lack thereof could potentially make or break this rotation. Cain, in his 4th season of pitching in the majors in 2008, could only finish with a record of 8-14 pitching second in the rotation last season. He had an ERA of 3.76 on the season, and over the course of the year pitched average except for the month of July; in July, he had an ERA of only 1.88 as well as his only complete game on the season, a shutout. If Cain can improve this season though, and become the pitcher Giants fans expect him to become, it will be a real boost to this rotation.
Fourth, we have Barry Zito, a former Cy Young Award winner, who was just a mess last year. After the 2006 season, his last with the Oakland Athletics, Zito signed a deal with the Giants that was at the time the largest ever for a pitcher. Over the last three years, his ERA has seen a rise from 3.83 to 4.53 to 5.15 (last season). Zito started 0-6 last year, moving him to the bullpen for a while (though he never appeared out of the bullpen), and finished the year 10-17 with 120 strikeouts in 32 starts. There is upside in this rotation, but everyone will have to play their part to achieve success.
The bullpen for San Fransisco ranked 24th in ERA, with a 4.45 earned run average for relievers. Amongst bullpens, they also ranked 22nd and 26th in batting average as well as on-base percentage allowed, respectively.
Closer Brian Wilson saved 41 games last season, though while he was a 40-save man for the Giants, he also had an ERA of 4.62 and blew 6 saves. It was, however, his first full season as a closer, so now that he is adjusted to his role, expect excellence from Wilson. Bob Howry is listed on the depth chart as the man who will be handed the ball in the 8th inning this season.
Howry, a former Cub, pitched in 72 games for Chicago last season. He had a 5.35 ERA, certainly a down year for a man who had not seen an ERA above 3.32 since 2003, and a high WHIP of 1.45 (in 2007, it was 1.16). The veteran is going into his 12th year in the MLB, but he should be able to pitch better than last season despite not getting any younger at the tender age of 35.
Merkin Valdez, who is now listed 4th on the bullpen depth chart, could be a candidate to eventually take the set-up role from Howry, however; in 16.0 innings last season, Valdez allowed just 3 earned runs with an ERA of 1.69, a 1-0 record, and 13 strikeouts over 17 games. Another man in this bullpen to look out for is Jeremy Affeldt, who had a nice season with the Reds in 2008. In 74 games and 78.1 innings, Affeldt had a record of 1-1 with a 3.33 ERA and 80 strikeouts. You can expect the Giants’ bullpen to perform better than it did in ’08, but it’s still not great.
Offensively, the Giants were terrible in 2008. They ranked 29th in runs scored with 640, only one rank and three runs ahead of their rivals, the Padres. While batting 20th in the league with a team average of .262, the Giants on average reached base 24th in the league. San Fransisco was the worst team at hitting the longball; they were the only team not to reach 100 homers with just 94, 17 behind Minnesota, who was 29th in that category.
Veteran right fielder Randy Winn lead the team in batting average in 2008, hitting .306 with 64 RBI, 10 homers, and 25 stolen bases. Center fielder Aaron Rowand hit .271 with 13 home runs and 70 RBI, though he lead the team in strikeouts with 126.
Catcher Bengie Molina, the oldest of the catching Molina brothers (which you know very well by now if you’ve ever heard Jon Miller calling a game with one of the Molinas playing) lead the team in both home runs and ribbies, with 16 and 95 respectively. But thats just shows how bad the team was overall, with no 20+ home run man, no 100+ RBI man, and only one .300 hitter (though Pablo Sandoval hit .345, however had only 145 at-bats).
The Giants did add Edgar Renteria from free agents, who the Tigers did not resign. But he wont add much to this offense if he has a repeat of last year, where the he hit .270 with 55 RBI and 10 HR. This offense is below average, and should have made some bigger pickups if they wanted to upgrade to a good offense or a playoff contender.
21. Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays, who have been quite accustomed to third place in the AL East lately (from 1998 to 2007, they only finished elsewhere three times), were rudely sent into 4th place last season when the Tampa Bay Rays decided to become a contender. The Jays finished 2008 with a respectable 86-76 record. However, a deprivation of A.J. Burnett will end up being a huge blow to this team; that and the fact that the only prize the Jays will be contending for is 4th place, in a battle with the O’s, puts Toronto at #21 on the list.
The Jays starting pitching had the best ERA and on-base percentage allowed, second-ranked batting average allowed, and were third in the MLB in strikeouts, undoubtedly the best starting rotation last year.
Roy “Doc” Halladay leads the crew, the ace and 2008 AL Cy Young runner-up. Halladay’s 2008 ERA of 2.78 was 5th in the league last season. He went 20-11 on the season, one of only four pitchers to accomplish the feat. He was also in a 4-way tie for 5th in the MLB in strikeouts (eerily enough, 4 different pitcher all had exactly 206 K’s). While Halladay was nothing but a beast, a big reason the Jays had the best rotation was Halladay’s partner in crime, A.J. Burnett.
Burnett did something he does once in a blue moon- stay healthy. And boy, when he stays healthy, Burnett is a fantastic pitcher. Unfortunately, Burnett does allow quite a bit of runs, shown by his ERA of 4.07. But he also mows down batters. Burnett led the AL in strikeouts with 231. And he also did well in the most important category of all, that of course being record; Burnett was an 18-game winner in ’08, and lost just 10 games. A.J. also ended the year on the high note, with a 2-0 record, 38 strikeouts, and a 1.88 ERA in 5 September starts. And unfortunately, all of what he brings to this pitching staff leaves with him to New York.
Jesse Litsch is the new #2 man in the starting rotation, who had a good season, becoming the third starter last year when Shaun Marcum went down with Tommy John surgery. Litsch had a 13-9 record last season, with a 3.58 ERA. He is not a big strikeout man at all, reaching only 99 strikeouts on 176.0 innings, but he is able to go deep into games; the 24-year-old pitched two complete games on the season, both shutouts.
Behind Litsch in the starting crew is David Purcey. Purcey made the first twelve starts of his MLB career last season, and in that stretch was 3-6 with a 5.54 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 65.0 innings. Though he obviously didn’t have a fantastic start to his career, he does have potential to do well. After those three though, the bottom two slots of the starting rotation are up for grabs as of now. If the Jays had managed to keep Burnett, they would have still one of the best starting pitching staffs in baseball (and be higher on this list), but without him, they are not at the top of the league in starting pitching.
The Toronto bullpen was also #1 in the MLB in ERA, with an earned run average of 2.94. The pen ranked second in batting average allowed, and third in on-base percentage allowed. The only major category the Jays relief staff were not one of the better teams in the league in was strikeouts; Toronto ranked dead last in strikeouts, oddly.
Toronto has a very deep bullpen, headed by closer B.J. Ryan. Ryan only started 5 games in 2007 thanks to Tommy John surgery, but came back in 2008 to have a record of 2-3 with a 2.95 ERA. He converted 32 saves in 35 chances and 60 overall appearances in the bullpen, and in 58.0 innings, struck out 58 batters.
Scott Downs is the set-up man for Ryan. Downs had a record of 0-3 last year, but with just a 1.78 ERA in 66 games. He is great at holding the game and getting the ball to Ryan, and only allowed 14 earned runs all season in ’08.
Brian Tallet, the third man in this bullpen, had a record of 1-2 in 2008 with a solid 2.88 record. He appeared in 51 games, and struck out 47 batters in 56.1 innings pitched. Jesse Carlson and Brandon League also compliment this bullpen, keeping the ERA low. They had respective ERA’s of 2.25 and 2.18. While the starting rotation lost a key man and won’t be what it was last season, the bullpen is still among the best in baseball.
The Toronto offense ranked 21st in runs score last year. Batters for the Jays hit .264 and reached base .331 of the time. Nobody on the offense who played in 25 or more games hit more than 20 homers, 80 RBI, or batted over .300.
Outfielder Vernon Wells led the team in home runs as well as batting average, with 20 jacks and a .300 average, but was hurt for a good deal of the season. Wells’ health will be a concern this year for the Jays, and without him, the offense is weak.
Outfielder Alex Rios is a bright spot in this lineup for sure, and lead the team in many major categories. He was the team leader in runs, hits, doubles, and RBI; he was also the only speed man in the lineup, with 32 steals (no one else on the Blue Jays had double digit steals). Rios batted .291, third on the team in that category, and was just an all around great player.
Lyle Overbay is Toronto’s starting first baseman. Though Overbay contributed 15 home runs, second in that category, he only hit .270 and 69 ribbies, putting together an average season offensively.
Aaron Hill, the team’s second baseman, only played in 55 games for the Jays in ’08. He had a hideous season, batting .263 with 2 homers and 20 RBI, but looking at the past, has potential to do well in a full season this year. He batted .291 in both 2007 and 2008, and in 2008, where he played 160 games, he was able to hit 17 home runs.
Catcher Rod Barajas got the lion’s share of playtime last season over Gregg Zaun, but Zaun was still a nuisance to him. Now that Zaun is with the Orioles, Barajas seems to have the catcher’s role all to himself. In 104 games in 2009, Barajas batted .249, but hit 11 homers with 49 RBI. Not much else stands out in this Toronto offense, though.
The Jays will most likely struggle offensively. The Jays play in a very powerful, three headed division, and yet are not one of the three heads; they have very little chance of contending next season, and therefore do not make it out of the bottom 10.
Teams 20-11 coming soon.