Thursday, June 30, 2011

Developed Teams 2011: Los Angeles Dodgers

It's not every day that a Major League team declares bankruptcy. The news of Frank McCourt's latest sleazy and foolish dealings has dominated the headlines, with the prospect of MLB taking over the team looming like a stormcloud over the fair city of Los Angeles. In honor of their tarnished image being all over the news, let's give a shout out to the Los Angeles Dodgers and a team made up of all the players they've developed.

Their lineup contains only two players (if you count Loney as the AL-only DH) who have stuck around since being developed, which points to a very aggressive style of general manager. Of the stars who have since left the team, only Adrian Beltre and Russell Martin put up significant numbers while with the Dodgers. (Remember Beltre's career 2004 and Martin's breakout 2007?) Paul Konerko was traded after just 55 games with the boys in blue, before becoming a star in Chicago. And Victorino, Gutierrez, and Santana never saw major league time with the Dodgers, traded away while still in the prospect stage. The one notable stickaround is legitimate first-half MVP candidate Matt Kemp, who may not even be voted into the All-Star Game (travesty of travesties!).

I won't even mention the suspect middle infield or extremely questionable bench in the interest of shortening these articles (I've done seven in roughly a month, so with half the season left to go, I'll have to average more than two a week to finish this project by the playoffs) and in favor of spending more time talking about the awesome homegrown pitching staff! Kershaw and Billingsley are set to become a lefty-righty combo for the ages. Kuroda is a Japanese import, so technically he was developed by his home country, but technically he did start his major league career with LA. Lilly took a roundabout path to get back to his hometown(ish) team, but now he's back where he started, in more ways than one!

With the exception of Joel Hanrahan (also traded away before pitching for the Dodgers' big club), the bullpen is in even worse shape than the bench. Broxton and Kuo are injured (injured bad). Saito has pitched all of 2.0 innings in '11 and Feliciano (an off-season pickup by the Yankees) hasn't played at all. And Kenley Jansen is proving that he more accurately profiles as the closer of tomorrow than the closer of today.

To recap:

The Strengths: 
- A potent middle-of-the-order attack running four-deep on a good day.
- Outfield defense, as all 3 spots are manned by career centerfielders (two of them above-average defensively).
- A legitimate ace pitcher backed by a good mix of crafty veterans and solid performers with some upside left.

The Weaknesses:
- A bench that doesn't include any real power threats or late-inning defensive whizzes.
- A bullpen filled with a lot of potential, but few legitimate performers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Developed Teams 2011: Cincinnati Reds

I originally resolved to cover this developed team after I was able to see them play at Dodger Stadium. (Also because I have a certain professional interest in the team and the city from the most recent TV show I worked on.) But that was now more than two weeks ago and in the time I've let this project go by the wayside, the Dodgers have become a much more interesting and relevant team to cover than the Reds. However, a plan's a plan, and I'll get to the Dodgers next time.

When I attempted similar versions of this project in the past (once in 2000 to coincide with All-Star Baseball 2001 on the N64 and once in 2005 with MVP '05 for the PS2), the Reds were almost impossible to compile because of a pure lack of pitching. I would be hard-pressed to think of five starters developed by the Reds between those two years combined. And as you can see, all but two pitchers out of 12 on the staff are currently with the Reds, and none of the key players were around as far back as 2005. What we're seeing here is a clear trend in the direction of developing good young arms, which has seemed to serve Cincinnati well (if their 2010 trip to the playoffs is any indication).

The Big Donkey himself, in all his glory.
But young arms aren't all that's recently come out of the Reds' pipeline. In addition to future All-Star Johnny Cueto and disappointing/injured Cuban import Aroldis Chapman, the Reds have former MVP Joey Votto, budding outfield star Jay Bruce, and quietly solid Drew Stubbs to their credit. Although they're languishing around .500, their incredible offense is not to blame - they lead the league in hits and runs, and are 3rd in AVG & home runs. No, what's holding them back at the moment is a combination of ineffectiveness and injury regarding several key starting pitchers. If I had a nickel for every major league team for which that's their problem, I'd have the majority of the nickels.

What about the ones the Reds let get away? Well, the list is rather small. The only big bopper, Adam Dunn, has to play out of position with Votto occupying first base and no DH in the National League. Although the way he's playing now - in his first year as a full-time DH - I'd rather have his division rival Austin Kearns out there in left; at least he contributes a (very) little with his glove. Edwin Encarnacion was another guy in danger of being slapped with the "full-time DH" mark, until Toronto decided to give him some playing time at the hot corner.

What this team is lacking in star power, it makes up for in... actually having enough players to field a full roster. Not very impressive, I know, but the couple legitimate (at least on paper) power threats do show tremendous promise and those young arms have mostly upside. If I'm still playing videogames in 2016, I'll bet this team suddenly becomes one to watch.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Developed Teams 2011: Atlanta Braves

Remember that discussion about players with the longest tenures with one team? A few weeks back, that spurred the Developed Teams project. Well, I just found out the answer to the question of who's had the longest active tenure with one team: It's Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves. He's right in front of Todd Helton from the Rockies, the one about whom the discussion took place. In honor of Chipper's incredible career - he's up there with Mickey Mantle on the list of greatest switch-hitters of all time - let's profile a team made up of the Braves' best homegrown talent:

There's Chipper himself -
doesn't he look so young...
As with the other teams in this series, I'll start with the players still on the real life Braves. Unlike most of the other teams in this series, those players make up the real crux of the story. There's Chipper Jones, obviously, whose marvelous career I won't try to explain in a sound byte. There's star outfielder Jason Heyward, whose potential is somewhere up around the cumulo-nimbuses. Perennial All-Star Brian McCann (Erickson?) and converted infielder (and batting title contender) Martin Prado make up the rest of the still-on-the-team lineup.

Three of the four dedicated relievers on the Developed squad still play for the Braves - indeed, two are rising stars. The rotation as it stands above - drawn up based on pre-season rankings and ignoring season-ending injuries - consists of mostly current Braves, including two rookies. If I were to have made the rotation using 2011 stats to date, it would contain many fewer current Braves...

The thing is: those other starter candidates are still on the team, in the bullpen. That's right, the number of decent Starters by the Braves outnumbers their number of decent Relievers. And remember, it's a lot easier to be a good reliever than a good starter. And that's not even counting what Charlie Morton (who didn't make my list all those months ago) is doing for the Pirates. There's Matt Harrison (who wasn't even ranked by MLB) and Jason Marquis (who's bouncing back like we knew he should) as well.

Adam Wainwright, when he
pitched for Danville in 2000.
He won't throw a pitch in 2011
Kyle Davies was struggling in the majors, but he's currently in the middle of a pennant race, pitching for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. I wonder if they're named after the original The Natural. I mean, it's plausible, right? The movie was from 1984 and the team only adopted that name in 2008.

In addition to developing a wealth of starting pitching, the Braves have three very strong shortstop candidates. However, they don't really have a true center fielder. The two candidates - Jeff "Frenchy" Francoeur and veteran bench/DH type (though still listed as CF) Andruw Jones - display a characteristic shared by a great many of these former/developed Braves: they have great baseball names (c'mon, who's ever seen it spelled with a "u" before?).

LaRoche hearkens back to "LaLoosh" in another '80s baseball movie. (It could have been Freddie Freeman, who's currently pulling his weight in his rookie season.) Andrus is the only active major leaguer with the name "Elvis" and Escobar is the only person ever in baseball associated with the name "Yunel." DeRosa has a nice ring to it. And just marvel at the syllables involved in Saltalamacchia (5 on a good day).

A solid team, especially considering Kelly Johnson is going the extra mile to prove that 2010 was no fluke. Next time, I'll look at a team I saw play recently, the Cincinnati Reds.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Developed Team 2011: Anaheim Angels of Anaheim

Interestingly enough, the next team on the Yankees' AL West road trip is the We Hate Playing In the O.C. Angels of Anaheim. Interestingly enough, the next time the Yankees come to Anaheim: September 11th. Hey, the Yankees have to play somewhere on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, why not sunny southern California?

What do we always start with? That's right, a whopping 12 members of this 25-man squad I've selected are still currently with the team (or would be, discounting DL stints). The Angels do seem like a team that has a near constant stream of talent coming through the pipeline, which is why they usually don't make too much of a splash on the Free Agent market. Not a lot of big power hitters (incidentally, their biggest (and most injured) slugger is one of those pesky, hard-to-classify, foreign-type players), which is why they're also near the bottom of the league in slugging percentage as well.

They also have a shortage of developed outfielders, which is why two of the four they're carrying (Jim Edmonds and Garret Anderson) have announced their retirements prior to 2011. As you've (hopefully) seen in my most recent entry on the New York Yankees, I've decided to discount certain retirements/unsigned statuses (Troy Glaus), and injuries (Kendry(s) Morales) in the interest of fielding the coolest and best team possible.

The two active outfielders on the team have that power-outage problem I mentioned before, but they bring plenty of speed to the table. They'll join Erick Aybar as the main table setters, hoping for plenty of line drive base hits from contact hitters Howie Kendrick and Alberto Callaspo, cuz the only legitimate home run threat NOT on the 1000 day DL is Mike Napoli.

The top of their rotation is made up of two solid pitchers still with the team: Jered Weaver (currently anchoring my Fantasy team) and Ervin Santana. The next two in the rotation have since been traded to be starters on other team. And the last has recently become a starter after spending some time as a reliever. Five solid starters, but not much depth after that.

The bullpen has plenty of depth, with three pitchers of closer-quality. The rest of the bullpen has some questionable characters in it - some because of ability in addition to injuries and circumstance - but it's quantity over quality for this team. Interestingly enough, one of the only key players to not have spent a significant time on the Angels during their actual careers is one of those closer-types: former closer Bobby Jenks.

Jenks also serves as a cautionary tale about using the player evaluation system of a videogame. When I re-created this developed team on MLB 11 The Show, the game had Bobby Jenks ranked above all the starters on the team, including Jered Weaver and John Lackey. How can a guy who'll give you 70 innings with a 3.51 ERA is better to have than a guy who'll give you 218 innings with a 3.98 ERA? Sometimes games are weird.

Overall, this team has some pretty solid arms and a bullpen that will protect a lot of leads, but the offense (much like their offense from much of the mid-2000s) will have to rely on scrappy base hits and smart baserunning more than big time power to score runs. I could run a 162 game simulation with them, but it would be on a system with some questionable evaluatory and presentational quirks. I'll just stick to imagination and move on to my next team on the list. [But likely only after I return from my week-long venture to E3...]

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Developed Teams 2011: New York Yankees

I know I said the Angels would come next, but the A's have since moved on to their next opponents: the New York Yankees. And since I was able to catch their matchup on MLB Network last night, I might as well jump right into their developed team while they're fresh in my mind.

What do we start with, traditionally? Developed players still with the team, of which the Yankees have 10. A pretty average amount, so far. You'll notice the presence of the entire Yankees' Core Four on this developed team - for those of you not versed in Yankees lore, that's Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte, who all came up with the team around the same time - despite the fact that Pettitte has announced his retirement (again) prior to 2011. I decided to put this team together based on aggregate major league experience and projected level of 2011 talent, regardless of the ability/willingness to produce in actual 2011. I figure if we're positing an alternative universe where thousands of trades/free agent signings never took place, what's a couple of ignored injuries and nullified retirements into the mix?

From left: Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Pettitte
Speaking of ignored injuries, Pettitte's imagined rotation mate, Phil Hughes, went on the 60-day DL and is out indefinitely after just 3 starts in April. And Christian Guzman still counts himself among the unsigned Free Agents. But other than Guzman (who played on a World Series caliber team as soon as last year), it was either Kevin Russo or Ramiro Pena for the utility infielder spot. Neither of those two have played in 2011 nor amassed sizable major league careers. The Bronx Bombers seem a little weak on infielders in general, once we get past middle infield stalwarts Jeter and Robinson Cano. Nick Johnson was the only other choice at 1B, and while he has had a longer career than Juan Miranda, only one of the two are currently starting for a major league team.

The outfield, however, is solid, despite the injury to Alfonso Soriano (again, ignored). In fact, he might not even be the best candidate to round out this group, considering the up-and-coming status of Jose Tabata, who never actually played a game with the Yankees, but spent parts of four years in their minor league system before a trade to Pittsburgh. At 22 years old, he would fit in better with 24-year-old Rookie of the Year runner-up Austin Jackson and 27-year-old speedster Brett Gardner. But, again, I'm going with former major league pedigree over potential future stardom. (Hence the presence of Hideki Matsui, who is playing so poorly that he's actually costing the A's money to put him in the lineup every day.) Other outfielders who didn't quite make the team: Toronto's Juan Rivera, Los Angeles's Marcus Thames, and Cleveland's Shelley Duncan. None of these three can match the performance Melky Cabrera is putting up for Kansas City right now (good enough for me to grab him for my Fantasy Team), plus he can play other positions than LF and DH.

Sports Illustrated sure loves the Yankees, huh?
To go over the other three hurlers in the rotation, Ian Kennedy is really coming into his own in Arizona. Phil Coke is proving he can start in Detroit. And Ivan Nova is barely holding on in NY. Jeff Karstens has started 2 out of every 3 games he's played this year, so that's kind of a red flag for Long Relief. Based on my comment about past major league pedigree, I could have had Chien-Ming Wang (he who hasn't pitched since 2009) join him in the bullpen, but he just had shoulder surgery in March and isn't likely to contribute in 2011. There's also Alfredo Aceves, who has a mix of starts and relief appearances for the Red Sox, but he only has one good season under his belt - not enough to warrant a spot.

Plus, why mess with the strength of the team (the bullpen) by putting questionable starters in there? In addition to the Yankees' current setup staff behind Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera (namely Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson, sporting a combined 2.06 ERA), we've got the Phillies' acting closer Jose Contreras, the Nationals' star setup man Tyler "The Yankee Clipper" Clippard, and Marlins lefty Michael Dunn (I hadn't heard of him either, but he was ranked on MLB's preseason rankings, and every club needs a lefty out of the 'pen). Honorable mentions who would be star relievers on most other teams: Ramon Ramirez on the Giants (1.64 ERA in 22 IP), Mark Melancon on the Astros (2.05, 26.1, 3 SV), and Daniel McCutchen on the Pirates (1.19, 22.2).

So, there you have it. The New York Yankees' developed team. As much fun as I had putting this together, I'm not embarrassed to say I hope the A's can take at least ONE GAME from their real-life team when they play each other later this afternoon...