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While the Jays principle opponents in interleague play this year will come from the NL Central (Reds, Cards, Astros), the team will square off against two NL East foes this year Ė the Phillies and the Braves. It seems apropos to take a look at the whole division now, not the least because we are doing divisional previews.

We (Dave and Anders) are in agreement about the following order of finish, and PECOTA agrees, so therefore it must happen.



5. Washington Nationals.

Anders: Well, there are probably worse ways to spend $126 million than on Jayson Werth (Waterworld anyone?) Still, I don't think anyone expects the Nationals to be good in the next couple of years, by which point Werth will be a dried out husk.

The proposed Nationals lineup looks something like this:

CF Nyjer Morgan: An either good or great defender, and an either poor or mediocre hitter. On the plus side, he steals bases. Also, he played for the Regina Pats in the WHL.
SS Ian Desmond: Basically Alex Gonzalez (the current one) with the bat Ė no walks but some juice. Not a plus defender, and probably not even an average one.
3B Ryan Zimmerman: This guy is really good, if you didnít know that. Evan Longoria good.
RF Jayson Werth: Well, heís hit like a machine the last 3 years. Itís just, heís 32.
1B Adam LaRoche: Reminds me of a reverse Lyle Overbay Ė more power, fewer walks, a nice player, helps with the glove, but not a difference maker.
LF Mike Morse: Some power, plus he walks about as much as any non-Werth/Zimmerman National.
2B Danny Espinosa: Very likely a better defender at short than Desmond, but theyíll stick him at second. He whiffs an awful lot, and goes for the fences when he does connect.
C Ivan Rodriguez: Still kicking, despite a preponderance of evidence suggesting he isnít any good anymore.

Bench:
Roger Bernadinha, Wilson Ramos, Rick Ankiel, Jerry Hairston

There are some good players in there, but this team just isnít going to get on base at all. I suppose they could go all Blue Jays on people and just bludgeon teams to death with the long ball, but that isnít exactly an effective strategy. Plus, is their pitching any good?

Dave: No. Here's how it shakes down:

Livan Hernandez: it's never good news when your rotation starts with Livan Hernandez.
Jason Marquis: it's never good when your rotation starts with Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis.
Jordan Zimmermann: Zimmermann missed half of 2009 and most of 2010 after Tommy John surgery, but he'll open 2011 in the rotation. He put up an excellent 3.17 K/BB as a rookie in 2009, and he'll look to build on that success this year. Zimmermann is pretty much the future of this rotation. Except for one other guy.
Tom Gorzelanny: Gorzelanny once seemed like a promising young pitcher, but I guess all those 2007 Pirates did. The truth is that he has a 1.491 WHIP for his career.
John Lannan: a groundballer who doesn't have particularly good control and doesn't strike anyone out. Sounds like a Nats starter to me.
 
Bullpen: Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Doug Slaten, Collin Balester, Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler. Storen is a former first-round draft pick and is getting the closer's job after just 55 innings in the big leagues. There are some other former highly-regarded prospects in here, but Storen is the one to watch. The pen should be okay.

Dave: The Nats will score some runs, and their defense will be pretty good behind Morgan, Zimmerman, and maybe Espinosa, but the starting pitching is so atrocious that Washington will be in the cellar for another year. There's light at the end of the tunnel, though, Nats fans. Just keep repeating: Harper and Strasburg, Harper and Strasburg...
 
4. New York Mets

Anders: The Mets are a mess, both on the field, where they continue to struggle, and off, as their owners, the Wilpons, have fallen victim to Bernie Madoff. Theyíve taken a $25 million loan from MLB, and are looking to sell a stake in the team. Whoops.

Dave: The offense is non-horrible, but like the Phillies, each member of the former-superstar-core has some questions. And a Box favourite makes an appearance!

SS Jose Reyes: Jose Reyes is only 27. Seriously. The guy played half-seasons at ages 20 and 21 and was full-time by 22, so it's easy to think he's over the hill at this point. If he gets healthy for the first time since 2008, he could be an excellent player again, and possibly maintain it for several years.
CF Angel Pagan: Pagan is kind of representative of why the Mets couldn't win a few years ago with their great core of Reyes, Wright and Beltran - the team kept surrounding that core with useless spare parts, sometimes when there were above-average players (like Pagan) under their nose the whole time. He finally has a full-time job, but it's a little late for the team as a whole.
3B David Wright: Same story as Reyes. Wright is only 28, but his best season came at 24 and he just hasn't been the same player the last two years. But given his age, he could get back there.
1B Ike Davis: Davis was taken one pick after David Cooper, and it looks like the Mets got the better end of that deal. Ike had a very successful rookie season, putting up a 115 OPS+ in 601 PAs.
LF Jason Bay: When was the last time you heard anything about Jason Bay? OK, maybe Jason Bay is more representative of the Mets' recent lack of success. The front office lucked into a few superstars, but generally made bad decisions. This is one (and it was widely panned at the time, though Bay's injury-plagued, ineffective 2010 makes hindsight a little 20/20er).
RF Carlos Beltran (DL to start the year): Formerly one of the game's best players, injuries have taken their toll. Unfortunately for Beltran, the nature of his injury (knee) is one that will limit two of the most productive facets of his game - defense and base-running. He won't miss much time, but he'll likely never again be the star he once was.
2B Brad Emaus: We all love Brad Emaus, right? Good luck, Brad!
C Josh Thole: Pretty good minor league numbers, could be an effective player.

Bench: Daniel Murphy, Chin-lung Hu, Willie Harris, Scott Hairston, Ronny Paulino

Anders: While the Mets lineup has a chance to be good, I donít think the same can be said for the rotation. The Mets pitching was actually middle of the pack last year, though if you adjust for league it looks less good. Johan Santana is expected back midway through the year.

Mike Pelfrey: Heís had an ERA under 4 two of the last three years Ė how, I have no idea, as he walks too many and strikes out too few. Still, he eats innings, and seems to have some sort of gift for not giving up home runs.
Jon Niese: A breakout sleeper last year (is that a real thing?), he is left-handed and strikes out at least 7 guys per 9 innings. I like it.  
R.A. Dickey: Remade himself into a knuckler a few years ago, and remade himself into a good pitcher last year. Iím sceptical it lasts, but if he can keep his walk rate at 2/9 instead of 4/9 he has a chance.
Chris Young: Heís thrown less than 200 innings over the last three years, and his already slow fastball tops out at 85 now. Fork, meet location to be in.  
Chris Capuano: Similar to both Niese and Young Ė Niese because of the strikeouts and left-handedness, Young in that heís barely pitched the last three years due to injuries. Was good in a third of a season last year. Iím rooting for him.

Bullpen: Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell, Jason Isringhausen, D.J. Carrasco, Taylor Buchholz, Tim Byrdak, Pedro Beato

Anders: Ultimately, it seems more likely that the Mets would surprise by being bad than by being good. Itís an old core, the pitching isnít good, and there are several other competitive teams in the division. With that being said, they have a bunch of guys capable of playing like stars, so youneverknow.

3. Florida Marlins

Anders: Though the cast regularly changes, the modus operandi for the Marlins remains the same Ė play your good, young, cheap players until they become good, old, expensive players - trade, lather, rinse, repeat. They sort of did that this past year, flipping Dan Uggla for not much it seems, but they also locked up uber-ace Josh Johnson to a 4 year extension, though that might have been because of flak about their low payroll. Still, they have plenty of intriguing young players, and a staff that has a chance to be pretty good.

CF Chris Coghlan: Well, he basically played the infield throughout his minor league career, and after two years of mediocre play in left is being asked to play CF. Iím skeptical. His offense is also entirely BABIP dependent.
2B Omar Infante: Well, he can basically play every position and hit a pretty empty .290. So thereís that.
SS Hanley Ramirez: He hit 300/380/475 as a shortstop last year and it was his worst in the last four. I wonder if they will move him to CF ever Ė Cameron Maybin hasnít worked out and they traded him, and Hanley isnít much of a defender at short. 
RF Mike Stanton: Heís gonna hit 30 home runs and be really good. Book it.
1B Gaby Sanchez: On the verge of 4A status. Had a nice year last year, but not for a first baseman.
LF Logan Morrison: He walks a lot and has a bit of pop, and heís 24 (Stanton is 22, did I mention that?)
C John Buck: We all know what he can do, and it ainít worth what theyíre paying him.
3B Matt Dominguez: Light hitting, slick fielding top prospect (for the Marlins, not in general.) At least itís not Emilio Bonifacio.

Bench: John Baker, Wes Helms, Emilio Bonifacio

Dave: Though the rotation is young, it's more experienced than the line-up, since all of its members have pitched full seasons in the big leagues. This could be a strength of the team.

Josh Johnson: One of the best pitchers in baseball. Nearly matched his innings total (183.2) with his ERA+ (182) last year.
Ricky Nolasco: K/BB the last 3 years: 4.43, 4.43, 4.45. But he gives up too many homers. Solid.
Anibal Sanchez: Finally stayed healthy for a full year and was pretty good, though not as good as his 3.55 ERA suggests.
Javier Vazquez: The AL/NL difference isn't as pronounced as one would assume based on Vazquez's last two years. Expect something in the middle from the 34-year-old.
Chris Volstad: Peripheral stats are thoroughly unimpressive, though he is just 24.

Bullpen: Leo Nunez, Clay Hensley, Ryan Webb, Mike Dunn, Edward Mujica, Randy Choate, Brian Sanches. This looks like a slightly above-average bullpen to me.

Anders: There is definitely some talent here, both in the lineup and in the rotation. I donít know if this team can catch the Phillies, but they are young, and if they can hold it together for a couple of years they could be more than just good.

Dave: I think that's what we say about the Marlins every year. However, this time they may actually have enough time to grow into a competitor with Ramirez and Johnson both locked up for at least three more years. The new stadium should help too, and I know this from personal experience - I tried, on two consecutive days, to go to a Marlins game, and was foiled both times by Miami public transit. The new park is much more accessible.
 
2. Atlanta Braves
 
Dave: The Braves had been a trendy pick to snag the wild-card for several years before they finally broke through in 2010. This year I think they've achieved full wild-card favourite status, and for good reason - a solid team across the board with plenty of upside in its young players.

Anders: Then there were all those years they were a trendy pick to win the division before thatÖ Never mind. Tell us about the hitters, Dave.

Dave:

LF Martin Prado: A good bet for an .800 OPS entering his peak years.
RF Jason Heyward: A good bet for a 1.000 OPS, still decades away from his peak.
3B Chipper Jones: In a down year, put up a 120 OPS+. Of course, that was in only 381 PAs. Expect some Hinske Time.
C Brian McCann: Did you know Brian McCann is only three years older than Buster Posey? I still can't believe I didn't get any good offers for him in the BBFL. Grumble grumble.
2B Dan Uggla: Lacking a big power threat (McCann led the team with 21 last year), the Braves went out and got themselves one. Uggla is a perfect fit with a bunch of on-base machines in front of him.
1B Freddie Freeman: It's a big risk handing a starting job to a 21-year-old with 20 major league at bats when you have playoff aspirations. Then again, Freeman manhandled the International League last year. Still, I could see a mid-season trade for a veteran 1B if Freddie struggles.
SS Alex Gonzalez: also known as Not Yunel Escobar. Thanks, Frank Wren!
CF Nate McLouth: Was an all-star a few years ago, was horrible last year. Jordan Schafer is waiting in the wings.
 
Anders:
The Braves pitching is similar to their hitting Ė a good mix of youngsters and proven veteransô

Tommy Hanson: A star in the making, he cut his walk rate this past year, boosting his K/BB above 3. He has a 3.16 era in 330.1 career innings, and heís only 25 in August.
Tim Hudson: Fun fact: he has the same career record as Sandy Koufax, 165-87. (h/t Bill James.) They, uh, differ in several other regards though.
Jair Jurrjens: The best pitcher ever eligible to pitch for the Dutch national team, bar none. He had a monster 2009, aided by some unrealistic rate numbers, and fell back to earth in 2010 despite not doing anything appreciably different. 2011? Who knows.
Derek Lowe: A model of consistency, Lowe has had an xFIP below 3.65 for five of his six years in the NL. He strikes out enough, walks but a few and gets a ton of ground balls. Whatís not to like?
Mike Minor: The Braves #2 pitching prospect, Minor looks likely to open in the bigs. He struck out 43 and walked 11 in his 40 inning debut last year, although he gave up a ton of hits. He posted huge K numbers in the minors, and looks like a pretty big sleeper in Ď11.

Bullpen: Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters, Peter Moylan, Brandon Beachy, Eric OíFlaherty, ???
 
Anders: I like this Braves team. Theyíre young and have a boatload of talent. I think that the Phillies rotation is good enough that theyíre fine for this year, but if things go wrong, watch out for the Braves, even Coxless.

Dave: The Braves are just such a good franchise. They always have a solid veteran core, but constantly replenish the team through the farm system - last year it was Heyward, this year Freeman and Minor keep the line moving, and the farm system is still one of the best.

1. Philadelphia Phillies

Anders: I donít think we need to introduce the Phillies to you Ė theyíve gone deep in the playoffs the past few years, and you know the names of the stars Ė Chase, Ryan, Roy, Roy, Cliff, Cole, etc. They are a trendy pick to win 100 games, though Iím skeptical of that Ė thereís enough talent in the division, and there are enough question marks with their hitters to make their anointment as division winners slightly premature.
 
SS Jimmy Rollins: Hard as it may be to remember now, Jimmy Rollins was a legitimately fantastic shortstop back in the day, putting up consistently good offensive numbers to match his stellar defense. The he got hurt and got old(er), and has had an OBP in the low 300s for the last two years and ~1100 plate appearances, to match a drop in stolen bases and power. I donít think heís coming back
3B Placido Polanco: Another strong defender who doesnít really hit like he used to. He still doesnít walk, strike out or hit home runs, and when you do that you have to hit well north of .300 to be very valuable, and he doesnít.
2B ???/Chase Utley: Chase Utley is going to be out an indeterminate amount of time, which is unfortunate given he is their best position player. The Phils just signed Luis Castillo, who may get the bulk of the playing time, unless he doesnít, or they trade for Michael Young.
1B Ryan Howard: Howard turns 32 this year and it looks like the wheels might already be coming off. He walked less than he had in the past, and hit some 15 fewer home runs (31) than he had in any previous full season. Throw in mediocre at best defense, and the fact that heís really only ever had one superstar calibre season, and that that was five years ago, and I wouldnít be overly optimistic if I were a Phillies phan. Plus, his 5/$125 extension doesnít kick in til next year. Whoops.
LF Raul Ibanez: Old Man Ibanez is just going to keep hanging in there, hitting 280/350/4??, until one year he doesnít.
CF Shane Victorino: A nice player with some speed, some D, and some O. Not an all-star.
C Carlos Ruiz: Very underrated, Carlos put up a good line two years ago and a great one last year. Getting old, like every other Philly, but not much on the catching odometer.
RF Domonic Brown: Itís his age 24 year, which makes him practically a grandchild compared to the other Phillies. They need to let him figure out if he can hit this year.

Bench: Ben Francisco, Brian Schneider, Luis Castillo, John Mayberry
 
Dave: Of course, everybody knows how the Phillies assembled one of the best rotations in history, but I'll tell you anyway - Cole Hamels, the elder statesman of the quartet in a sense, was joined first by Roy Halladay who came over in a trade from, well, you know. Another Roy, Oswalt, was acquired last year before the July deadline. And Cliff Lee, who'd been shipped out of town when Halladay was shipped in, returned to his former team by signing a $100M contract.

Roy Halladay: I used to argue that Halladay wasn't the best pitcher in baseball. I think it was my gut reaction to over-the-top homerism. (Also Johan Santana was really good.) No longer. Roy Halladay - Best Pitcher in Baseball.
Cliff Lee: I have a bet with a friend that Lee will out-WAR Sabathia this year. What side of the bet would you have been on?
Roy Oswalt: The 33-year-old was lights out after being traded to the Phillies last year, rediscovering his mid-aughts form.
Cole Hamels: Remember when Cole Hamels the 23-year-old was clearly the best pitcher on the Phillies?
Who Cares? But actually, Joe Blanton - a mediocre pitcher can look good if he has a fully-rested bullpen every time he pitches.

Bullpen: Brad Lidge, Jose Contreras, Ryan Madson, Danys Baez, J.C. Romero, David Herndon, Scott Mathieson. I saw the point made earlier in the off-season that the Phillies should go with a 6-man bullpen, and even though I hadn't considered the idea myself, my brain just said "well, yeah, definitely". It seems so obvious, and if they don't I think it's a huge mistake. They could use that roster spot to form an effective platoon or carry a bat-only pinch-hitter, a glove-only defensive replacement, whatever, and it will be a better use of a roster spot than a 7th reliever behind that rotation.

Anders: The more I think about it, the more I would be worried about the Phillies. All of their position players are on the wrong side of 30, and their pitchers arenít exactly spring chickens either. On the other hand, if they can make it to the playoffs in some form of health, watch out.

Dave: Yeah, if a couple things go wrong on offense it could turn ugly fast. Domonic Brown can't mature fast enough. I'm less worried about the pitchers, despite their age; they're all consistent innings-eaters who are at worst above-average and at best The Best Pitcher in the Game (Blanton excluded). The Phillies' downside is fantastic pitching with a mediocre offense, which would still make for a contender.
 
Bold Prediction:

Anders: The Braves almost shock the Phillies and win the East, while the Marlins are quietly much better than anyone would have thought.

Dave: Bobby Cox sets a new record for most ejections by a former manager.

Anders: Also, next year, I'm definitely previewing a DH-less division again. Its, like, 12% less work!

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Mike Green - Wednesday, March 23 2011 @ 10:47 AM EDT (#231611) #
Nicely done, gentlemen.

With Chipper Jones expounding on the JFK assassination, no NL East Preview can be complete without a schedule for the Braves post-game player lecture series:

April 1-  Tim Hudson on Bias and the Supreme Court
May 1-   Jason Heyward on The Cultural Significance of "Dancing in the Streets"
June 1- Freddie Freeman on Oil and Imperialism from Texas to Tripoli
July 1-   Jair Jurrjens on The Diary of Anne Frank
Aug. 1-  Alex Gonzalez on Immigration policy and the demographic time bomb
Sep. 1-  Brian McCann on Fables of the Reconstruction- the Civil War revisited

Who needs fireworks anyways?

The first sentence of this piece needs a wee bit of editing, lest the school principal come after you.


John Northey - Wednesday, March 23 2011 @ 01:28 PM EDT (#231614) #
Much better than my effort guys - love it.

I do wonder if Freddie Freeman says 'Captain Marvel' will he hit any better? [/comic geek]

The Phillies are pulling a NL Yankee bit right now spending so much on a killer rotation. There really is no reason for them to have 7 relievers. I'd argue 5 would be plenty with that staff. Maybe by June they'll figure that one out.
John Northey - Wednesday, March 23 2011 @ 01:41 PM EDT (#231616) #
Btw, just checked and I-Rod is up to 2817 hits - 183 from 3000. Now, he hasn't had that many in a season since the 1990's but it is possible for 2012 at the age of 40 for him.

Any other guys close to milestones out there? Halladay is at 169 wins, so 31 for 200 (hey, for him anything is possible). He also could move into #1 for active wins if Moyer, Pettite (says he is retired) and Wakefield (193 wins) retire. Give it a couple of years and he should pass Wakefield anyways.

Jeter is 74 hits from 3000, Jim Thome 11 from 600 HR, ManRam 45 from 600, but that about ends it for significant numbers (300 wins, 3000 hits, 500/600/700 HR).
Dave Rutt - Wednesday, March 23 2011 @ 01:54 PM EDT (#231617) #
The first sentence of this piece needs a wee bit of editing, lest the school principal come after you.

Have to disagree with you on that one Mike, principle is only used as a noun. "Jays" could use an apostrophe, though!
Mick Doherty - Wednesday, March 23 2011 @ 02:17 PM EDT (#231619) #

Truly outstanding work, gents, though I'd have liked to see a line for each team on the manager/coaching staff and/or front office, too ...

A few comments ...

  • John, wouldn't Pudge be the first primarily-catcher to get 3000 hits? IInteresting to see if he does.
  • Dave, Lee over Sabathia by zillions of miles. I'm a Yankee fan, and nothing about the Yankee rotation -- including CC's, uh, girth -- makes me comfortable.
  • Wow, the Mets have (potentially) a HELL of a bullpen this year. That could move them up near .500!
  • Dave is correct on principle/principal, inciidentally (or should that be, "principally, he has the principle correct"?)
Magpie - Wednesday, March 23 2011 @ 02:19 PM EDT (#231620) #
Any other guys close to milestones out there?

Jeter will be the first career shortstop to make it to 3000 hits - Wagner, Yount, and Ripken all spent significant chunks of their careers at other positions. Pretty impressive, and enough of his career is in the books that you can start thinking about where he ranks of the all-time shortstop list. (I'm thinking probably second in Career Value, behind Wagner. Peak value, he'd be behind Wagner, Rodriguez, Vaughan, Ripken, Banks and Yount for sure. Maybe Nomar as well. He'd be in the next group, with Trammell, Larkin, Appling, Cronin, and Ozzie.)

The Braves are winning this division, by the way.
Magpie - Wednesday, March 23 2011 @ 02:28 PM EDT (#231621) #
wouldn't Pudge be the first primarily-catcher to get 3000 hits?

Yup. It's a tribute to good health, good defense, and a willingness to swing at everything that doesn't bounce. No other catcher has even come close - not many catchers have even made it to 2000 hits. Not even the ones who moved to other positions at the end of their careers (Simmons, Berra, Bench.) Simmons had 2472, Fisk ended up with 2356 and the others who cleared 2000 include Berra, Piazza, Carter, Kendall, and Bench.
Mike Green - Wednesday, March 23 2011 @ 03:21 PM EDT (#231627) #
Have to disagree with you on that one Mike, principle is only used as a noun. "Jays" could use an apostrophe, though!

But what about the principled opponents- Luke Scott and his "Born in the USA" Orioles?!

Incidentally, I agree with Magpie.  The Braves are going to win this division, but it will be close.


TimberLee - Wednesday, March 23 2011 @ 04:23 PM EDT (#231634) #
How many hits did Biggio have?
Alex Obal - Wednesday, March 23 2011 @ 04:39 PM EDT (#231635) #
Nice job, guys.

Ross Detwiler will end up in the Natinals' rotation before long; I've finally trained myself not to take the over on Washington; the Mets are officially the most depressing team in baseball; I think Omar Minaya was planted by Steinbrenner sort of like how Gary Bettman is a David Stern puppet; I'm starting to believe Anibal Sanchez is a Matt Cain All-Star (systematically gets 'lucky'); I'm sticking with the Phillies as my pick to win the division - a lethal pitching staff in a great hitters' park is tough to beat, and their offense is designed to be annoying in close games.

John Northey - Wednesday, March 23 2011 @ 04:43 PM EDT (#231636) #
I-Rod is interesting. Starting at age 19 in the majors (74 hits in his age 19 season) is a big, big help when building up career numbers. Being able to catch 2390 games (and counting) is amazing too - Carlton Fisk had the record at 2226, with only Bob Boone also cracking 2100 (he ended at 2225) and just 29 guys reaching 1500 games all-time.

Btw, Biggio only caught 428 games (good for 377th on the all-time list) vs 1989 at 2B. Mix in 255 in CF and 109 in LF and you got someone who was fairly regular at a lot of spots on the diamond but not someone I'd call primarily a catcher. Btw, did anyone else know Biggio caught 2 innings in his final season? He started the game behind the plate, then played only one more game before the season (and his career) ended.
Mick Doherty - Wednesday, March 23 2011 @ 05:03 PM EDT (#231638) #

What John said, ditto. But Timberlee, the answer to your specific question is 3,060.

One of the great versatile guys in baseball history, with long stints in the outfield, infield and behind the plate. Not many can say that, and nobody with that many hits!

Magpie - Wednesday, March 23 2011 @ 05:30 PM EDT (#231640) #
How many hits did Biggio have?

Biggio had 3060 hits, and he spent about two-thirds of his career at second base, the rest at catcher and the outfield. (He never played shortstop, which is what I was on about.) There are two career second basemen who cleared 3000 hits, Eddie Collins and Nap Lajoie. And of course Rod Carew, Pete Rose, and (yes!) Paul Molitor all began their MLB careers at second, even if they all ended up playing more games elsewhere.
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