Archive for the ‘Preview’ Category

Cincinnati Reds v Pittsburgh Pirates

The National League Central will likely be a two horse race in 2013, with the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals battling all season for the Central crown. The Reds offense, already a balanced attacked,  will benefit with the addition of Shin-Soo Choo, while the Cardinals don’t appear to be in panic mode after losing Rafael Furcal for the season with an elbow injury. The Pirates, Cubs and Brewers made minimal changes from their 2012 Opening Day lineup, and won’t likely have the offense to compete for a playoff position.

Over the next week, we will take a look at how each team’s lineups looked to start the season in 2012 compared to the projected look for 2013 (all ZiPS projections courtesy of Fangraphs.)

We covered the NL West, now here’s a look at the NL Central.

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Milwaukee Brewers v Arizona Diamondbacks

2012 Record: 83-79, 3rd NL Central
2012 Pythagorean Record: 85-77
Impact Player: LF Ryan Braun
Impact Pitcher: RHP Yovani Gallardo
Top Prospect: RHP Wily Peralta

Significant Acquisitions: LHP Mike Gonzalez, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, RHP Burke Badenhop

Significant Departures: RHP Shaun Marcum, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, OF Nyjer Morgan, IF Cody Ransom, 1B Travis Ishikawa

Over the last few years, the Milwaukee Brewers emptied their farm system in order to acquire quality Major League talent understanding that they had a window to win. During the 2010-11 off-season, they dealt Brett Lawrie to the Blue Jays to acquire starting pitcher Shaun Marcum and then dealt a package of prospects and established young players such as Alcides Escobar and Jake Odorizzi to acquire Zack Greinke. They decided to go all out in the final season of Prince Fielder’s tenure with the team and it worked. In 2011, they won 96 games and went to the playoffs for the second time in four years.

Coming in to last season, the Brewers still had high hopes even with the departure of Fielder to Detroit. A strong pitching staff anchored by Greinke, Marcum and Yovani Gallardo was coupled with a deep lineup consisting of the likes of Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and newly minted Aramis Ramirez put the Brewers in good shape on paper. Then the season started and the wheels almost immediately fell off. By May 22, the Brewers were 17-26 and falling fast.

On July 28, with the team sitting 15 games out of the division, General Manager Doug Melvin waved the white flag and sent Greinke to the Angels for a package of prospects headed by shortstop Jean Segura trying to replenish a barren farm system. He had plans to trade Marcum and Randy Wolf as well, but ineffectiveness and injuries kept them on the team a little while longer. Then, because of course, the Brewers started winning.

In August and September, the Brewers went on an inspired 24-6 run that landed them with a 78-72 record and suddenly they were just a game-and-a-half behind the Cardinals for the second wild card spot in the NL. They would come back down to earth a little in the season’s final weeks, but they still finished with a winning record on a year that looked totally lost in early August.

Whether or not the late season run changed the strategy of Melvin and company heading into the winter is unknown, but the Brewers were not busy this offseason, adding little more than some useful pieces to their bullpen. If they are going to contend in 2013, they’ll be doing it with nearly the same roster that finished last season and therefore are counting on the continued good performance of some serious regression candidates.

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2012 Record: 97-65, 1st NL Central
2012 Pythagorean Record: 91-71
Impact Player: 1B Joey Votto
Impact Pitcher: RHP Johnny Cueto
Top Prospect: CF/SS Billy Hamilton

Significant Acquisitions: OF Shin-Soo Choo, 3B/1B Jack Hannahan, IF Jason Donald, LHP Manny Parra, RHP Clay Hensley

Significant Departures: 3B Scott Rolen, CF Drew Stubbs, IF Wilson Valdez, IF Miguel Cairo, SS Didi Gregorius, RHP Alfredo Simon

It feels like the Cincinnati Reds have been a good team for quite a while. Boasting an impressive core – Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto — fuels that impression.  Odd, then, that their 97-win season in 2012 represents not only their highest win total since 1976 but but just the second winning season since 2000. Walt Jocketty and his front office have done an excellent job of turning a perennial loser into a team bursting with high-end talent. The team’s core is locked up for several seasons and every year they seem to add more pieces to improve.

This winter is was the addition of Shin-Soo Choo along with some savvy depth pickups. Choo playing centerfield could end up being a calamity, but either way the Reds will once again trot out an awfully impressive lineup chock-full of stars. They have some serious depth in the pitching staff as well and they have to be considered one of the best teams in the NL—at least on paper.

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Chicago Cubs v New York Mets

2012 Record: 61-101, 5th NL Central
2012 Pythagorean Record: 65-97
Impact Player: SS Starlin Castro
Impact Pitcher: RHP Matt Garza

Significant Acquisitions: RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Scott Baker, RHP Carlos Villanueva, OF Scott Hairston, RHP Kyuji Fujikawa, C Dioner Navarro, UT Brent Lillibridge, LHP Hisanori Takahashi, RHP Hector Rondon, RHP Cory Wade, OF Brian Bogusevic

Significant Departures: 1B/OF Bryan LaHair, CP Joe Mather, RHP Chris Volstad, RHP Manny Corpas, RHP Justin Germano, RHP Randy Wells

Cubs fans knew they were in for the long haul when the new front office brass of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod took over before last season. Due to the short-term thinking of the previous regime, the Cubs’ new front office not only had to deal with an overpriced Major League roster, but also a farm system that had been bled dry by poor drafting and frequent attempts to stop a raging flood with a beaver dam.

The drastic rebuild culminated in the team’s first 100-loss season since 1966, but the team is in a much better position now than it was a year ago. The farm system is suddenly loaded with talent in the lower-levels and there are some intriguing pieces on the Major League club that can, at the very least, be used as trade assets in the next couple years.

Pitching

The Cubs pitching was atrocious in 2012 as the team finished ahead of only the Rockies and Astros in the NL in runs allowed. The Cubs allowed 301 runs over the last two months of the season and went 18-41 (only the Red Sox had a worse record over the final two months of the season) after the team traded Ryan Dempster to Texas and lost Matt Garza to injury.

Garza was to be the Opening Day starter in 2013, but a lat strain will keep him out until at least May—which further hurts his already diminishing trade value; he’ll be a free agent at season’s end. In 18 starts last season, Garza posted excellent strike out- and walk-rates, but gave up 15 home runs in only 103 2/3 innings. The Cubs may have missed his peak trade value by not dealing him in the 2011-12 offseason.

Jeff Samardzija opened eyes in 2012 and will likely start on Opening Day in Garza’s absence. In his first season as a starter at the Major League level, Samardzija was excellent posting a 3.21 K/BB ratio in 174 2/3 innings. He’s another player that, at 28 with two more years of control beyond 2013, could bring back a serious haul in a trade if he has another good year.

The rest of the rotation underwent a drastic reconstruction with free agent signings Edwin Jackson (four-years, $52-million), Scott Feldman (one-year, $6-million) and Carlos Villanueva (two-years, $10-million) expected to start the year in the rotation. Jackson looks to have finally found a home after playing for seven different organizations in his first eight big-league seasons. He’s durable and consistent and should fit nicely into the middle of the rotation for the next few years until the team is ready to be good again. Feldman and Villanueva have spent the last few years as swingmen and although they are both expected to be starting at the beginning of the year, they’ll be competing for the last rotation spot for when another free agent signing, Scott Baker, returns in June from Tommy John surgery.

The bullpen could be dangerously thin again this season. Many of the pitchers posted half-decent results last year, but their peripherals suggest marked regression for 2013. Closer Carlos Marmol is once again on the trade block, but the Cubs have yet to be able to unload him. Last year, he somehow posted a 3.42 ERA, but walked 45 batters in 55 1/3 innings—he’s a disaster waiting to happen.

The Cubs also went out and signed former Hanshin Tigers closer Kyuji Fujikawa to a two-year, $9.5-million deal with a third-year option and the 32-year-old could take over for Marmol is he’s dealt or can’t hit the strike zone. Fujikawa was dominating in time with Hanshin posting a 1.36 ERA in 369 2/3 innings over six seasons.

Veteran right-hander Shawn Camp is back after leading the NL in appearances last year and joins incumbent left-hander James Russell and right-hander Michael Bowden, all three of whom posted better ERAs than their peripherals would suggest. Hisanori Takahashi, Rule V pick Hector Rondon, Jaye Chapman and Alberto Cabrera will provide depth.

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Lineup

The Cubs weren’t any better at scoring runs than they were at preventing them last year, but there were a few bright spots. Bryan LaHair started off well at first base, but then fell off dramatically after the call-up of Anthony Rizzo which moved him to the outfield. LaHair is now plying his wares in Japan while Rizzo looks like a legitimate everyday first baseman after posting a .285/.342/.463 slash line with 15 home runs in only 368 plate appearances as a 22-year-old.

Joining Rizzo in the middle of the lineup is leftfielder Alfonso Soriano, who despite having a cumbersome contract, is actually a very useful player. He had a 116 wRC+ last year as a 36-year-old and might actually have some trade value if the Cubs are willing to eat the majority of the $36-million remaining on his deal over the next two years.

Shortstop Starlin Castro regressed a little bit offensively, but is still one of the best short stops in the NL and at just 23, still has a lot of room to grow. He probably doesn’t get on base enough to be a top-of-the-order hitter, but his bourgeoning power suggests he might fit well in the middle-to-lower half. He combines with Ian Stewart to form the left side of the infield, providing Stewart stays healthy. The Cubs don’t have much in the way of options at third base with the reinforcements consisting of Luis Valbuena and Josh Vitters so they’ll need Stewart to hit better than his awful 65 wRC+ from last year.

At the top of the order will be David DeJesus, who’s entering the year as the projected everyday centerfielder. DeJesus is an average hitter, but he gets on base at a decent clip and has the profile of a leadoff hitter. Beside him in rightfield, the Cubs will likely go with a platoon of Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston with former Astro Brian Bogusevic providing insurance.

Darwin Barney is back to play second base, but his value is derived entirely from his glove. Last season in 588 plate appearances, Barney hit a woeful .254/.299/.354. Valbuena and utility man Brent Lillibridge could also see time there this season.

Welington Castillo and Dioner Navarro are expected to handle the catching duties in 2013. Castillo showed some promise in 190 plate appearances last season and should get a bulk of the playing time. Steve Clevenger and J.C. Boscan are around to provide depth if needed.

2013 Defense

The Cubs finished ninth in defensive efficiency in the NL last year and return much of the same group for 2013. DeJesus’ move from right to centerfield with the departure of Tony Campana won’t help, but both Hairston and Schierholtz are solid in right. Soriano worked on his positioning last season which seemed to help, but he’s still well-below-average in left.

Up-the-middle, Barney is one of the best defensive infielders in baseball and should probably be playing short, but there are worse options than Castro even if he eventually needs to move off the position. Castillo has worked hard to become an average defensive catcher but is not considered to be any better than that.

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2013 Outlook

The Cubs worked hard to improve their starting rotation over the winter and they’ll be better in 2013, but the lineup is very thin and the rotation still lacks high-impact talent. Prospects like shortstop Javier Baez and outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler are still a couple years off so expect the Cubs to continue to trade away their Major League assets and build for the future. When the time is right, the Cubs have as much money as anyone and should be able to turn things around quickly once they decide to.

2013 Prediction: 68-94, 5th NL Central

For a detailed depth chart with statistics, click here. Stats obtained from FanGraphs (Cubs’ team page here) and Baseball Prospectus. Depth chart info provided by MLB Depth Charts.

San Francisco Giants v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three

2012 Record: 94-68, 1st NL West
2012 Pythagorean Record: 88-74
Impact Player: C Buster Posey
Impact Pitcher: LHP Madison Bumgarner
Top Prospect: RHP Kyle Crick

Significant Acquisitions: RHP Ramon Ramirez, OF Andres Torres, IF Tony Abreu, RHP Chad Gaudin, IF Wilson Valdez

Significant Departures: LF Melky Cabrera, IF Ryan Theriot, 1B Aubrey Huff, RHP Clay Hensley, RHP Brad Penny

Remember when we used to make fun of San Francisco Giants’ General Manager Brian Sabean? We used to deride him as hapless and veteran obsessed — and with reason — but then he made the Giants into the closest thing to a dynasty since the late 90s Yankees. The first time around, in 2010, San Francisco relied on the strength of their unrivalled pitching staff which carried one of the worst offenses in baseball to a World Title. In 2012, the Giants relied on a much more balanced attack with a good, but not great pitching staff and an equally impressive lineup.

The Giants have developed an impressive crop of homegrown superstars and Sabean has done a nice job filling in the rest of the roster with quality role players. Despite his seemingly old-school ways, the Giants GM seems to have a method to his madness and the Giants currently find themselves in their San Fran glory days because of it.

Over the winter, the Giants set their focus on bring back almost the exact same team for 2013, re-signing center fielder Angel Pagan and second baseman Marco Scutaro instead of letting them walk as free agents. Sabean and his brass are hoping that the same group gets it done again and the core he has assembled should keep the team competitive for a while.

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St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants - Game Seven

The San Francisco Giants quest for back-to-back National West Division crowns will be no easy task this year with the Dodgers fielding a lineup with five potential All-Stars and a re-vamped D’Backs lineup that will look to continue their offensive success of last season without outfielder Justin Upton. The Rockies don’t have the pitching, but may still be able to win some ball games with a lineup featuring a healthy Troy Tulowitzki, while the Padres may be in for a long season, especially if they deal Chase Headley.

Over the next week, we will take a look at how each team’s lineups looked to start the season in 2012 compared to the projected look for 2013 (all ZiPS projections courtesy of Fangraphs.)

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Washington Nationals v San Diego Padres

2012 Record: 76-86, 4th NL West
2012 Pythagorean Record: 75-87
Impact Player: 3B Chase Headley
Impact Pitcher: RHP Edinson Volquez
Top Prospect: RHP Casey Kelly

Significant Acquisitions: RHP Freddy Garcia, RHP Tyson Ross

Significant Departures: IF Andy Parrino

The San Diego Padres entered the 2012 season with a thin roster and knew they would take their lumps in the first half but, with considerable prospect depth on its way, General Manager Josh Byrnes and the rest of his front office thought they might have a team that could make a run in the second half. Unfortunately, the team was so bad in the first half—they were 28-50 on June 29—that no manner of second-half surge could save their year.

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