Monday, September 26, 2011

Developed Teams 2011: St. Louis Cardinals

As of this writing, the Cardinals are the only team in contention that I have not yet profiled for this project.  And they're surging fast, as Wild Card teams in both leagues have faltered to the point of coming within a hair's breadth of giving up their leads.  And with only two days left in the season, I just slipped under the wire with this, the profile of the St. Louis Cardinals' developed roster:

Talk about a well-rounded squad: except for the back end of the rotation, this team has everything.  The lineup has a nice mix of power, average, speed and defense.  The rotation has a good mix of established stars, up-and-comers, and washed-out no-names.  And a couple of star setup men back up two guys who are currently closing in the majors (but only one of which was projected to do so).  Their one weakness is starting pitching depth, as they weren't able to furnish even one contestant for long relief, but the prognosis gets slightly better when we recall that Kyle McClellan did some starting this year (however ineffectively) to fill in for the injured Adam Wainwright.

As this is likely the last of these I will complete before the end of the regular season, let's harken back to my old practices and start with the players still on the club.  Starting with perennial All-Star Albert Pujols, even though there's not much I can say about his greatness that hasn't already been said... including the possibility of him leaving the team next year via Free Agency.  (To me, it doesn't seem likely, but I've been wrong before.)  Then there's also perennial All-Star Yadier Molina, the center of this team where heart and grit are concerned.  Skip Schumaker made the transition from OF to 2B three years ago, but his offensive production hasn't really justified him starting in either position.  And Jon Jay gets the backup outfielder spot, although it could just have easily gone to Allen Craig (they were ranked precisely two spots away from each other according to MLB's pre-season projections).  Incidentally, both have had very good years, although Jay has seen more at-bats.

On the mound, the only starter to remain with the team is Jaime Garcia (who, incidentally, shares a birth day and date with your humble narrator, the only current major leaguer to do so... probably shouldn't have said that, for identity-theft protection reasons... but it's a nice piece of trivia).  Out of the bullpen, we've got McClellan, who's making his bid to contribute as a swingman; righty-righty combo Boggs and Motte; and the kid who unexpectedly got a chance to close for the Redbirds, Fernando Salas.  (On a side-note, what is it about pitchers of Mexican descent who became surprise closers this year?  Not only has Salas been extremely effective, with a WHIP under 1 and a strikeout per inning, but Javy Guerra (although he was born in Texas) has put up an ERA under 2 while amassing 20 saves for the Dodgers.  Something to think about...)

Where's the beard!?
As far as players who have struck out on their own, we've got the ever-solid Dan Haren... about whom everyone scoffed when Billy Beane acquired him for Mark Mulder back in 2004, but just you go ahead and compare the careers of those two pitchers after the trade.  J.D. Drew has struggled recently, his fall to mediocrity occurring as fast as his rise to stardom was supposed to be meteoric.  Placido Polanco started the All-Star game at 3B this year (due in large part to a non-competitive field of players at the hot corner), but he remains one of the game's premier contact hitters.  Speaking of premier players, Coco Crisp is right up there in the stolen base category: he trails only Brett Gardner in the AL and Michael Bourn in the NL.  He's also not bad with the glove.  But the most heralded defender on the team has to be Brendan Ryan, who's currently at SS for the Mariners.

Also on the Mariners are my backup infielder (Adam Kennedy) and his runner-up (Jack Wilson).  Wilson is renowned for his glove, but I felt that Kennedy has more versatility and could contribute more coming off the bench.  Also with him on the bench is pitcher-turned-outfielder Rick Ankiel.  Nope, he hasn't gone back to pitching.  Nope, he also doesn't routinely post OBP's well above .300.  Brett Wallace was supposed to hit big starting at 1B for the Astros, but his individual performance has been roughly as disappointing as his team's as a whole.  We know Luke Gregerson has talent setting up for Heath Bell, but we'll see if the righty gets a chance to close if/when the big guy hits Free Agency this winter.

A couple of players started the year with the Cardinals, but found themselves on the way to Toronto at the trade deadline.  These are CF Colby Rasmus (whose relationship with manager Tony LaRussa supposedly played him off the team) and pitcher P.J. Walters (who has struggled in the minors as a starter for both clubs).  Speaking of struggling in the minors as a starter, that statement also accurately describes Clayton Mortensen, who rounds out a cringe-worthy bottom 40% of the rotation.  As for #3 starter Chris Narveson, what he lacks in name recognition, he makes up with almost exactly league-average statistical output.

Well, there you have it!  I have written a developed team profile for every team now currently in the hunt for the playoffs, and then some.  I don't know what exactly these findings tell us about these teams' chances of making the playoffs or how they'll fare therein, but I do hope they are as fun to read as they were to write.  Next up:  profiles of the developed rosters of the WORST teams around the league.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Developed Teams 2011: Tampa Bay Rays

Remember way back in the beginning of September when the Rays trailed the Red Sox by upwards of 7 or 8 games in the Wild Card race? Well in the recent weeks, they've pulled to within 2 games, and are in very real danger of making the playoffs. In celebration of their upstart success, here's a team made up of players developed by the Tampa Bay Rays:

Hamilton, during his "working
through some issues" phase
This is one of the most solid top two-thirds of a lineup you'll find anywhere, real or fantasy. We all remember what Carl Crawford was capable of doing just one year ago - i.e. serving as one of the most electric table-setters in modern leadoff history. B.J. Upton has developed into a legitimate power/speed threat after finally settling into a position. We all know about Josh Hamilton's MVP award, batting title, and former career-threatening drug habits. Evan Longoria hits home runs and does commercials (he's a double threat!). Aubrey Huff has slowed down a bit, but let's not forget (let's not forget, Dude) how he all-but carried the meager offense of the world champs last year. And Delmon Young took a few big steps back after a potential breakout season last year, but hopes of heading back to the playoffs after a trade has seemingly put some bounce back in his step.

The glut of outfielders makes for a somewhat imbalanced bench, but there really wasn't anything else to choose from. All the developed infielders are on the field in the starting lineup, with the exception of another first baseman, which doesn't help anybody. It's cool to have an established power hitter in Gomes and a future star in Jennings, but I'm sure any fantasy developed manager would like to have a little more versatility out there. But remember that this team has only been around for 13 years, so it's impressive they have such a star-studded roster as it is.

Speaking of stars, check out that rotation - every member of which still pitches for the Rays today. It includes rookies and All-Star starters, and includes some of the best young pitching talent under 30. The bullpen has a few question marks, including the role of closer, which is occupied by the rookie who was projected to close until the acquisition and subsequent rebirth of Kyle Farnsworth. But Wheeler is a veteran presence and Veras has proven his adequacy. But then there's the corps of spot starters, all of whom seem to have settled nicely into that role in real life, after tasting slight success in major league rotations.

Overall, this is one of the most well-rounded teams out there. If there was such thing as a Developed Team Tournament (hint hint for those friends of Rob Neyer who put together the virtual showdowns between those various All-Time Teams), I'd definitely put the Rays among the top contenders. That is, if every member of the infield stays healthy and the bench depth isn't tested at all. That could prove problematic. But in terms of top-shelf talent on paper, these youngsters will be hard to beat.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Developed Teams 2011: San Francisco Giants

Last week, I profiled a developed team of the AL Champion Texas Rangers.  So what better time to introduce their opponents (and eventual defeaters) in the 2011 World Series, the San Francisco Giants:

An offense that earned the nickname "Torture" last year does not improve much when we look at players the Giants have developed, with only two offensive threats gracing the field.  Conversely, the pitching staff excels across the board, whether it's the starting staff (featuring two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and the exact staff who backed him in the 2010 post-season) or the relief corps ("Fear the Beard" indeed...).  It's especially interesting that all the Developed Giants' best players are still with the team, so it's not as if they're bringing lots of talent through the minors and letting it get away.  The best player on this squad who left for greener pastures is undoubtedly Joe Nathan, despite the fact that he spent all of 2010 recovering from Tommy John surgery.  He joins two other capable closers in the Giants bullpen: Brian Wilson and David Aardsma (who, incidentally, hasn't pitched at all in 2011 due to hip/Tommy John surgery).

But where to go from here?  The more I try to write about this lineup, the more depressing it looks.  I mean, look at that infield.  Ishikawa may be good with the glove, but he's far below replacement level at first (or would be if he were even in the majors at this juncture).  Pedro Feliz is a proven veteran, but one who's spent most of his time at third (a spot occupied by Pablo Sandoval, one of the two aforementioned threats).  Emmanuel Burriss has good speed on the basepaths and Matt Downs has swung the bat pretty well for Houston, but neither are what you'd call top shelf talent.  Kevin Frandsen has spent all of 2011 in AAA, where he hasn't exactly put on a show.  Cody Ransom has put on a show in AAA... but it's led to just 12 sad games in the majors so far.

The outfield isn't much better: Fred Lewis never really developed into anything special, Nate Schierholtz profiles as more of a late-inning defensive replacement, and John Bowker hasn't yet shown that he can hit in the majors.  Eugenio Velez is only on the roster because he was the only other player who had played in the outfield.  Strangely enough, the position at which the Giants have the most stability is catcher, with Buster Posey and Yorvit Torrealba both having spent time as well-qualified starters for good teams.

But, ah, that pitching staff.  We all know about the top four guys, all of whom played key parts in the Giants' World Series title last year.  Cain is right there behind Lincecum, Sanchez has been bit by the injury bug, and Bumgarner still has his best years ahead of him.  And while Kevin Correia has struggled a bit, despite his All-Star appearance, he's actually pretty decent for a fifth starter.  In the 'pen, the quality doesn't drop off even beyond the three guys who've made their living closing games: Sergio Romo's ERA is so miniscule you'd have trouble finding it and Scott Linebrink has contributed to one of the league's best relief staffs on the Braves.  If pitching and defense really is the key to winning championships, this club has the late-inning hardware to deal with the low-scoring games that come with that strategy.

Next week, in my effort to profile all the 2011 playoff contenders before the 2011 playoffs begin, I'll be looking at the Tampa Bay Rays, who are doing their best to edge out the Wild Card leading Red Sox.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Developed Teams 2011: Texas Rangers

Back to Baseball!  After a long hiatus due to Burning Person, work travel, and the shock of returning to the de-fault normal world, I'm finally ready to resume filling the pages of the Internet with the wealth of statistical knowledge I have stored in my head and on my lists.

I now see that it would be foolish to try and complete a developed list of all 30 teams by the end of the season, but I can at least finish all the teams likely to make the playoffs.  To that end, here's a developed team of the AL West-leading Texas Rangers:

This team has a lot of two things - namely first basemen and starting pitchers - and not a lot of anything else.  To start from a position of strength:  Mark Teixeira is clearly one of the elite hitters of the last decade, possibly even of his generation.  What's more, he played the majority of his career for the Rangers (his first 4+ seasons, soon to be eclipsed by the Yankees).  Carlos Pena, on the other hand, played only 22 games in Texas before bouncing around to five other teams - and most people in baseball were surprised that that number didn't become six at this year's trade deadline.  Mitch Moreland, the Rangers' current starter at 1B, has played some games at 3B, right? Oh, wait, that was Chris Davis, who didn't make the team.  Moreland played some RF... but sometimes you have to take the non-traditional path to make these types of projects work.

And those are only the first basemen to make the starting lineup.  We've also got the Indians' starting (but injured) DH Travis Hafner (who played one more game for Texas than did Pena) and the Mariners' starting 1B Justin Smoak (acquired in the Cliff Lee deal just last year).  Not a very versatile infield bench, but believe me, if there were any better choices, I would have made them.  I submit as evidence the starting SS Joaquin Arias and the only player developed by Texas actually listed as a 3B (Mike Lamb), neither of whom has played in 2011.

If you look closely, you'll notice someone else who hasn't played in 2011 at the top of the order.  But look at what Scott Podsednik did last year with the bat, split between KC and LAD.  The veteran, who stole more bases than his advanced age last year, got a deal with Toronto, but missed making the roster due to injury.  Julio Borbon hasn't played much this year, after being slotted as the starting CF, but on the other side of the field, Laynce Nix has swung the bat very well for Washington.  On the bench, I chose to go with the proven speed of Jason Bourgeois rather than the potential power of John Mayberry Jr.

Now let's check out the starters.  We all know about John Danks's struggle to win games earlier this season, and Colby Lewis has been so-so.  But C.J. Wilson has brilliantly followed up his first season as a starter with an All-Star appearance, 16 wins, and an ERA just north of 3.  Edinson Volquez started on Opening Day for the Reds, but has struggled so much with his command that manager Dusty Baker sent him to AAA for 13 starts in 2011.  R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball have led to good peripherals, but the Mets haven't been able to win him many games.  And that's just the starting rotation.

Alexi Ogando has been a great starter since following Wilson's lead in moving from the bullpen this season (although his stamina over a full season is still something he needs to work on).  Derek Holland's moustache has brought success to the lefty, who currently is sitting on 14 wins.  And Aaron Harang has taken the first step towards turning his career around with 13 wins for San Diego after three straight seasons of 6 wins apiece in Cincinnati (moving from a hitter's park to a pitcher's park might have something to do with that...).  Not included in this roster:  former playoff pitcher (and more recent trade bait) Tommy Hunter, former 17 game winner (and current minor league fodder) Scott Feldman, and of course veteran Doug Davis.

There was talk of moving Neftali Feliz to the rotation, but when Ogando cut in front of him, Feliz was forced to remain the closer.  He hasn't been as dominant as in his Rookie of the Year season, which also included a trip to the World Series, but quite frankly a club could do a lot worse.  Joaquin Benoit has shown almost equal flashes of brilliance and mediocrity as a setup man, and in 2011 he's been about on par with workhorse Nick Masset.  Darren Oliver is with Texas now, and he was developed by Texas, but he's had a circuitous route back to his original team - one that's taken the veteran through seven other clubs, plus an additional stint with the Rangers in the early part of the Millennium.

The only two key players from this roster I haven't mentioned by name are former star Ivan Rodriguez and current star Ian Kinsler.  In my opinion, these two players perfectly bridge the gap between the successful Rangers in the end of the 1990s and the successful Rangers in the start of the 2010s - except this current team also includes a competent pitching staff and a front office led by one of the team's and the game's most famous pitching legends.  We'll just have to wait and see if they can repeat last year's long and deep trip into the post-season.