24 April 2011

Syracuse Sicilians Preview

The Syracuse Sicilians returned to the playoffs last year, making that 4 appearances in 5 years (including 3 Divisional Championships) under the current GM.

The Sicilians have perennially found their strength in pitching and defense, while they have struggled to find a consistent offense. In Year 19 they did show improvement at the plate, however, finishing 7th in the league in runs scored. This followed 4 years where they finished 14th, 14th, 12th and 14th in the same category. The Sicilian pitching staff stumbled slightly and gave up the 6th fewest runs in the league in Season 19. This followed 4 seasons where they were 3rd, 1st, 3rd, and 3rd in runs allowed. During the past 5 seasons the boys from Syracuse have flashed spectacular glove-work, finishing 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd and 1st in fielding percentage.

As a new Opening Day approaches Syracuse fans are optimistic that their teams pitching and defensive strengths will remain just that and that their offensive improvement will continue.

Pitching Staff

With a Top of the Rotation trio of Mario Hyers (Career .533 pct/3.87 ERA), Buzz Andrews (.606/3.41) and Manny Huang (.600/3.86) the Sicilians sport one of the league's best threesomes. Gray-beard Vernon O'Rourke can still miss bats, shown by his Year 19 13-7 record and 3.62 ERA. Young gun and future ace Everth Cantu rounds out the rotation. He had a rocky run after he came up last season but impresses all with his poise, stuff and cerebral pitching approach. Expect a breakout season from him.

After 12 MLB seasons Julian Furcal still sports one of the league's elite bullpen arms and will again lead a productive set of relievers. Cy McDowell had a fine rookie campaign in the closer role. After a rough initiation upon callup he finished with 19 saves in 23 chances and he was unscored on in 3 Post-Season appearances. Yorvit Sanchez returned to form last year but vet Jin-Chi Shinjo struggled badly. He was eventually set down to AAA to find his form. He responded there with an ERA of 1.26 in 7 starts. He carries that confidence forward into the new season. Shinjo is vying with rookie lefty Roger Shave for one of the pen positions. After a promising stint in Year 18, Tomas Borbon struggled some in season 19, but still went 6-3 with 7 saves. He will primarily appear as a LR again. Veteran Eric Rakers was a FA aquisition this spring. He won 20 games with Cinncinati as a fulltime starter over the past 2 seasons but will be a swingman with the Sicilians and adds an experienced, professional approach. Much is anticipated of rookie Peter Shin, who is penciled in as one of the primary set-up throwers, along with Furcal. Shin has terrific stuff, a very lively arm and a bit of wildness. Batters dig in at their own peril against Shin but as closer in AAA he surrendered only .98 WHIP. He should be fun to watch.

Lineup

1B: The Sicilians employed a platoon arrangement at 1B in year 19. It worked wonderfully well! Veteran Tyler Buhner manned the position against righties. He ripped away at a .328 clip with a .395 OBP and a .488 slg%. He also proved to be a terrific mentor for rookie Will Lee, who started against lefties. Lee hit 25 homers in 257 AB's and slugged .615. The Dynamic Duo is no longer Batman and Robin, but Buhner and Lee!

2B: FA aquisition Lonny Martin is a polished and experienced veteran. He will hold down 2B early in the season. However, it is expected that rookie Jim Darwin will get an early call-up and take over the position. Darwin brings a slick glove and plenty of pop for a MIF. He is penciled in as the Season 21 Sicilian SS. It is possible that he and Martin may platoon at the position after his callup, with Darwin getting the RHP starts. Expect 20 homers from Darwin.

3B: Rolando Lee was handed the 2B position in year 19 and responded with .300 avg. and slick glove work in his first season manning a position full-time, after 4 campaigns where he was used in a utility role. Lee is shifted back to 3B this season where his quick reactions and powerful/accurate arm are well suited. Lee brings little power but is a terror against lefties. Another season in the .300 neighborhood is highly probable.

SS: Cesar Cornejo is one of the league's premier defenders and won the Gold Glove at SS in Season 19. It was his second GG award. He also whacked out a career high 15 homeruns. He's back to suck up nearly everything hit on the left side of the infield. Veteran Ken Hodges backs him up and also sees time at 2B, 3B and CF. He also brings first-class leather work along with his shaky bat.

LF: Former rookie sensation Josias Terrero slipped a bit in year 19. His .768 OPS was a career low. His 22 homers were also far below the 33 and 32 he had hit in his first two seasons. But he still totalled 65 extra-base hits, 113 runs and stellar LF play. A bounce-back year is widely expected from him. If so, look out.

CF: Veteran Fred Redding has appeared in at least 160 games in each of his 4 full Syracuse seasons. His 21 homeruns and .225 BA were his Sicilian lows but he again patrolled CF with grace and speed. Redding is the clubhouse leader for this squad and is expected by all to return to his former numbers. Expect 25+ taters and a .250+ average.

RF: Donn Newman is also one of the games premier defenders. He won his 2nd RF Gold Glove last season and also had his best season at the plate, hitting career highs in avg. (.281), homers (21), OBP (.351) and slugging (.450). He is a fan favorite for his clutch hitting and his headlong crashes into OF walls!

Utility OF: Wilfredo Hernandez was a disappointment in Season 18, when he manned 1B fulltime. However, as the 4th OF in year 19 he was very productive. In 202 AB's he hit 13 homers, slugged .550 and had an OPS of .892! He will fill that role again this year, as well as being a primary PH'er.

C: Clayton Rollins is one of the league's supreme catchers. Last year he hit .329, had an OBP of .394, and slugged .482, all while getting in a career high 560 AB's. In his 4 fulltime seasons he has made three All-Star teams. Rollins is, in short, a stud. He was helped last year by the presence of veteran defensive wizard Alex Brito. Brito managed the late-inning duties, aided the pitching staff with his vast experience, and managed to hack out .304 average in his 102 AB's. While he probably won't hit that well again this season he will still bring all those other intangibles.

Ladies and gentlemen, please give a hand for your Season 20 Syracuse Sicilians!

HOF: Menechino vs. Wilson

A few days ago we were treated to mfahie's exhaustive recap of all the HOF candidates, including his comments on a crowded field of first basemen. Mfahie pointed out the merits of Henry Menechino, Trenidad Prieto, Alexander Henry, and - to a lesser degree - Don Wilson. He ranked them in that order, singling out Menechino as a top-tier candidate and designating Wilson as a borderline case and the 22nd most deserving candidate.

Crickett13 subsequently responded with a spirited promotion of Don Wilson's candidacy and has garnered some support for Wilson in the World Chat.

We'll try to compare each player's career here. In a crowded field with a number of worthy HOF contenders, it is likely that an owner's ballot might contain room for only one of these contenders. For counting stats, we'll compare per 600 plate appearance to try to smooth out some of the issues with playing time. And finally, we'll provide the stats for two other comparable candidates.

Games1B: 1465
DH: 39
1B: 2240
DH: 10
1B: 1966
DH: 91
1B: 1879
DH: 220
AwardsAll-Star: 4
Gold Glove: 2
Silver Slugger: 2
MVP: 1
All-Star: 4
Gold Glove: 1
Silver Slugger: 3
MVP: 0
All-Star: 4
Gold Glove: 1
Silver Slugger: 3
MVP: 1
All-Star: 4
Gold Glove: 1
Silver Slugger: 1
MVP: 0
AB5790896179598151
Runs / 600PA105869199
Hits / 600PA165175170168
2B / 600PA25302929
3B / 600PA2122
HR / 600PA47213434
RBI / 600PA12395105112
BB / 600PA79656765
SO / 600PA50786957
SB / 600PA1001
AVG.318.327.320.314
OBP.410.403.398.390
SLG.644.507.573.567
OPS1.054.910.971.957


The results show that Henry Menechino was a slugging first basement with an average season of .318, 47 HRs and 123 RBI. Don Wilson projects as a different kind of player, averaging .327, 21 HRs and 95 RBI. An argument could be made that Wilson was more a table setter as opposed to a middle of the lineup force, but with a lower OBP than Menechino and their comparable results on the basepaths, its easy to make the argument that Menechino would have also played that role better.

Making the Case:
Harry Menechino was the superior slugger and is the superior candidate. More walks, less strikeouts, comparable with the glove and on the basepaths. Then add 25 homers and 30 RBIs per year.

Don Wilson's slight edge in batting average is cancelled out by Menechino's similar edge in OBP. His five extra doubles per year are overwhelmed by Menechino's 25 home runs. His sole advantage is his career longevity and, even then, he doesn't compare all that favorably to other candidates like Alexander Henry and Trenidad Prieto.

23 April 2011

Monterrey Campéones Season 20 Preview

After making their 3rd consecutive ALCS appearance, and celebrating 8 straight AL South division titles, Monterrey is back to compete for the title again. Monterrey said goodbye to two more of their longtime heroes, but hope with some new faces to make another deep run in the playoffs.

Infield:

Perennial All-Star Alfonso Cortez is back after signing a lucrative contract to anchor the Campéones infield. Vinny Holmes returns to man the hot corner. The right side of the infield is brand new, with defensive wizard Lance Plant at second, and rookie Juan Brogna at first. Veteran professional hitter Stan Lee will take time out from his budding career as a comic book artist to play some first base and help mentor Brogna. Ralph Daniels will hope to rebound from a very disappointing year last year, while Orlando Javier brings his stellar defensive skills and occasional pop back for another year. Ivan Soriano comes over from Madison to back up any and all positions. Javier Leon still owns a catcher's mitt, but is expected to mash homers from the DH spot again this season.

Outfield:

Fans used to seeing Al Maurer patrol right field for the home team will have a new look this year as Al has headed on to the West Coast. Marshall Allen, Jim Heathcott, and Seth Knowles will all see time in the side outfield spots, while Alejandro Gutierrez will continue his stellar play in center field.

Rotation:

Livan Lee got a big payday to head north, leaving a sizable hole in Monterrey's rotation. Enos Garciaparra assumes the nominal ace role, but he, Rock McCarty, and Desi Martin will combine to present a formidable Big Three in the rotation. Albie Alvarez and Haywood Melton will round out the rotation.

Bullpen:

Several signings and trades have bolstered the bullpen, making it one of the elite crews in the league. Fireman of the Year Taylor Bowie returns to own the ninth inning. Melvin Hernandez signed a big contract to bring the heat in a setup role for the next five years, while former closers Victor Martin (Louisville) and Kevin Sodowsky (Los Angeles) will patrol the middle to late innings. Youngsters Cutter Boudreau and Ahmed Ford will round out a deep and powerful pen.

Outlook:

Fans demand nothing less than continued playoff success, and with continued good play from the top of the order and continued good health, this team will look to deliver the goods once again. The farm will be very busy this summer, with several big bats ready to come up and contribute with the big club if events warrant.

Cleveland Spiders S20 Preview

The S19 Cleveland Spiders did what had previously seemed impossible and brought a World Series title to the much beleaguered city of Cleveland. The "Mistake by the Lake" is now - if only temporarily - "The Town with a Crown". After three World Series losses and four straight, unconsummated 105+ win seasons, the Spiders won 107 games and topped the Louisville Redbirds in a six-game series.

The question now is: Can they repeat?

Most of the World Series roster returns intact, but the payroll has dropped from $107 million to $93 million. Unlike last season, where a slow start and some defensive issues were handled by acquiring Yorvit Guiterrez, there is no money in the budget for a pricey mid-season acquisition. Some help exists in the minors, but this is a talented team of veterans with little depth and they'll only go as far as their health allows.

Starting Rotation
S19 Cy Young runner-up Rick Christensen won 21 games.

The rotation continues to be anchored by Rick "Bridesmaid" Christensen. Despite the finest statistical year of his career (263.2 IP, 21 wins and a 2.63 ERA), he finished as the runner-up in the AL Cy Young balloting for the fourth time. This time, however, the ring certainly serves as a sufficient consolation. The rest of the rotation has question marks. Dan Darwin's fragile left arm has recovered from three different catastrophic injuries to make him an effective six-inning pitcher, but last year's 4.22 ERA was troubling. 36-year-old Luis Herrera stumbled after four straight "ace" quality seasons and went 10-13 with a 4.55 ERA. David Hernandez and Del Martin also regressed with ERAs in the mid-4s. This rotation is locked in for this year and next, so the Spiders will sink or swim with this group.

Bullpen
Jin-Che Chang is the linchpin of the of relief corps, topping 70 appearances and 140 innings for the fifth straight year. Swingmen Cliff Sheets and Sammy Johnson continue to do yeoman's work and a bevy of young, short relievers will rotate through AAA and the back of the ML bullpen as their durability permits. Newly acquired Harry Mendoza will do mop-up work. This 'pen is talented and cheap but there is no true shutdown closer.

Catcher
This is a position in flux. 24-year-old Brandon Grabowski did the majority of catching last season and managed an OPS of 894 along with 26 bombs, but his lack of receiving skills has been blamed for the poor performance of much of the starting rotation. Rule 5 pick Ricardo Manto was acquired to serve as a defensive replacement and provide occasional rest for Grabowski against lefties. Joe Puffer waits in the wings in case anyone falters.

Infield
In S19, 2B Enrique Astacio hit 50 homers for the second time.

For the fifth consecutive season, the regular starters are expected to be Esteban Lee at first, Enrique Astacio at second, Omar Olivares at short and the captain, Michael Dransfeldt, at third. Olivares's contract is up at the end of the year and his contract demands combined with his declining range mean that it is probably his last season in Cleveland. Dransfeldt had an abysmal first half last year, with an OPS in the 600s, but he recovered to hit 6 homers and sport an OPS of 904 in last year's playoffs.

Outfield
Things are much more in flux in the outfield. Kelvin Torres came up at mid-season to rescue a faltering outfield and will play his first opening day. Newly-signed Glenn Strauss and his 1 yr/$5.3M deal are the bridge to prospect Davey Pedroia. Veteran RF Rico Mendoza's career has mixed two seasons as an MVP finalist in with a few more pedestrian campaigns. He'll be making a contract push this year.

Overall
If the Spiders' training staff can keep the injuries at bay and the rotation rebounds to S18 levels, this team is primed to win 100+ games and make another deep run in the playoffs. Anything less will be considered a disappointment. The future is now for the Spiders, but there are a few impact prospects in the system and this is a team whose window isn't closing any time in the immediate future.

A Look at S20's HOF Nominees

The following are my views on this season’s nominees. I’ve put them in 5 categories: No Doubt, Good Chance, Borderline, Short Career, and No Chance. With only 5 votes, it’s very hard to determine who exactly to vote for. And for those who don’t vote for 5, think about players like Alberto Sosa, who has 550 HR’s and is about 15th in line (and won’t ever get in). Voting for 5 doesn’t guarantee that 5 get in, just that people have a chance.

No Doubt
Brett Tracy – Should have a category all to himself. One of the greatest players ever in all of HBD, his 303 W and 3.09 ERA show that he deserved his 10 Cy Young Awards. Not much discussion needed here.

Dennys Yamakazi – The numbers might not be staggering, with 190-133 W-L and a 3.89 ERA, but he was clearly the best pitcher not named Tracy in the early years of the league. No real-life pitcher won 3 CYA’s and isn’t in the HOF. His career ERA+ of 133 makes him comparable to Whitey Ford. He’s a HOFer.

Henry Menechino – Others might find his career too short, but 500 HR and a 1.054 OPS are enough for me, even from a 1B. Not to mention his back-to-back 80 HR campaigns. Don’t forget he’s an MVP with 2 Gold Gloves as well.

Diego Santana – 8 All Star games and an MVP for our greatest catcher yet. He slugged 475 HRs, including hitting 60 in a season twice, and had a .950 OPS. The definition of a HOFer.

Good chance

Desi Rodriguez – Gold Glove winning SS who went to 7 All Star games and hit over 500 HR. Sounds like a HOF lock! His .850 OPS hurts him a bit, but the huge contracts handed out to SS this offseason remind us how important this position is.

Harry Pascual – 4 All Stars, 4 Silver Sluggers and a .939 OPS from a 2B. Despite only 10 full seasons, it’s hard to say he doesn’t belong.

Julio Johnson – 2-time MVP and 6 All Stars, plus a .941 OPS, while playing 2B and LF. Also only 10 seasons, not quite as defensively valuable as Pascual, but 2 MVPs speak loudly.

Mikey Tatum – Lfer who went to 9 All Star games, won 4 Silver Sluggers and 4 Gold Gloves. With 300 HR, almost 600 SB, nearly a .900 OPS and 1500 R, he’s easy to vote for.

Trenidad Prieto – 500 HR, 1700 RBI and 1500 R. A .957 career OPS. HOF numbers for sure. Only 4 All Stars and 1 Silver Slugger though, and at 1B in this league you have to MASH. He’d be a sure thing if he played another position, as it is… he’s not a bad choice.

Alexander Henry – 500 HR, 1500 RBI, .971 career OPS. 4 All Star games and an MVP. Another 1B with HOF numbers, but how many can you take. Tough choices here.

Clinton Anderson – This RF hit an enormous 667 HR, drove in over 1800, and scored over 1600. His .921 OPS is very good but does not elevate him from this group. He won an MVP, but only went to 2 All Star games.

Nerio Miller – 9 All Stars, 6 Firemen and a CYA. 2.93 career ERA and 487 Sv. The fact that he pitched less than 1000 IP keep him out of the sure thing category for me. That, and I don’t think a reliever should be the first pitcher in the HOF.

Ron Quantrill – I still haven’t figured out how to rate pitcher’s careers. 176 W and a 3.87 ERA aren’t mind blowing, but there are so few pitchers with those numbers that I think it’s much harder than it seems. 6 All Stars and over 2800 IP.

Diego Ozuna – 196 W and a 3.98 ERA. Over 2500 IP and 9 All Star games. Would have won a CYA if not for Brett Tracy.

Borderline

Ringo Weston – Played CF, SS and 3B, got over 2300 H and 1300 R, with an OPS of .845. Excellent all-around player, maybe not quite HOF quality.

Anthony Gipson – This excellent 3B went to 6 All Star games, won a Gold Glove and 4 Silver Sluggers. His 399 HR and .899 OPS ironically echo his HOF status: Not Quite.

Mel Barfield – This 2B went to 7 All Star games, won a Gold Glove and 4 Silver Sluggers. Sound familiar? Hard to complain about 300 HR, 500 SB and an .885 OPS, but with the difficulty of getting in, he probably won’t see the HOF.

Geronimo Ordaz – Almost made it to 3000 H as a SS and compiled an .850 OPS. He compares in some ways to Desi Rodriguez, but never won a gold glove and only went to 3 All-Star games. One step below.

Alberto Sosa – Hard to argue against players with 550 HR, but this RF is going to come up a hair short with his .890 OPS, and the fact he only played in 2 All Star games.

Clyde Unroe – 500 HR and 1500 RBI for someone who played 2B/LF is always good. Only 2 All Star games and an .895 OPS make me think twice.

Julio Iglesias – Played 3B and SS, went to 6 All Star games and won 3 SS and a GG. 300 HR and almost 300 SB, with a .903 OPS. I think he’s just below the HOF.

Don Wilson – Has the magic .300/.400/.500 mark, but just barely, registering a .910 OPS. Went to 4 All Star games, and was an excellent hitter. Too much competition here for him though, with Prieto and Henry in front of him.

Tyler Henderson – With 444 Saves and a 3.47 ERA, 6 All Stars and 2 Firemen, he’s a poor man’s Nerio Miller. Not quite enough.

Matthew Torres – Made 4 All-Star games and 1 Fireman, pitched a lot for a reliever, racking up over 1600 IP, 108 W, and 208 saves. His 3.72 ERA keeps him out of the elite reliever discussion.

Short Career

Ryan Parrish – RFer Parrish was a masher, compiling a .991 OPS with over 300 HR, but with only 8 full seasons it’s probably not quite enough for the HOF.

Dustin Scott – Also a RFer, put together a .940 OPS and 250 HR. His 8 seasons were not quite enough.

Walter Webb – Had some massive seasons early as a C, but was too old. Finished as a DH with fewer than 300 HR.

T.J. Smart – Another early C with huge seasons, but a too short career. Has a massive .998 OPS, but fewer than 1000 H and only 175 HR.

No Shot

Marvin Bryant – This 2B/SS was a nice player, but an .851 OPS with no speed will not get you a HOF spot.

George Brow – He played a nice CF and came to play every day, and contributed with a .293 AVG. Not a real HOF candidate though.

Henry Sullivan – Awards don’t tell the whole story, but the fact that in 8 seasons this 3B didn’t win any probably tells enough.

Peter Mitchell – Did some catching, but mostly a DH. Put up a huge .423 OBP, but the rest of the numbers are not enough for a pure hitter to make it.

Shawn Morton – HOF voters have to remember how hard it is to pitch in this league. A 3.78 career ERA is very good. I just don’t think his 108 W and 1800 IP are enough.

John Kennedy – Won a CYA and has a 3.87 ERA. Again, I think 109 W and 1500 IP don’t cut it.

Zachrey Cohen, Esteban Tejera, Tony Hodges – Do not belong on this list.

Seattle Picards S20 Preview

The Picards stumbled out of the gate in S19, not even making it to .500 until the all-star break and then getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs. The team's struggles persuaded management to trade off some veterans and go with younger players. This season, Seattle will try to walk the tightrope of rebuilding with youth while still competing for a playoff spot. Will they be able to do it?

Pitching
Since coming over in a trade with Monterrey three seasons ago, David Armas has turned into the staff ace, posting sub-3.00 ERA's in back-to-back season. In the rotation, he's capably followed by Junior Funaki, Che Hasegawa and Denny Martin. Groundball specialist D'Angelo Rojas holds down the SP5 spot. Phenom Junior Hernandez is still a year or two away.

Seattle was unable to land a lights-out RP over the offseason, so they will go with veterans Slash Clay and Rolando Diaz in the late innings; along with youngsters Harry Hammond, Willie Seguignol and Pat McCullough.

Catcher
Julio Concepcion and Blade Odonnell have so far survived the team-wide youth movement. Both return for their 10th season as platoon mates. Concepcion brings the solid bat while Odonnell provides excellent pitch calling skills and defense.

Infield
1B Hayes Corino won his second NL MVP last season as he put up eye-popping numbers once again. However, the rest of the infield is unproven. 2B Virgil Canseco needs to show he can handle the leadoff spot. He struggled in his rookie year last season and his weak glove is a concern. 22 year old Aramis Granados looks to bounce back from serious injury last season and cement himself as Seattle's long-term answer at 3B. Shortstop will be platooned by all-glove no-hit Tony Lopez and S19 Rule 5 pick Jolbert Olivo. Veterans Willie Oconnor and George Casian give Seattle a flexible and defensively strong bench.

It remains to be seen how much the team will miss former blue chip prospect Willie Ueharra, who was traded away this off-season for 19 year old Junior Hernandez.

Outfield
S19 silver slugger RF Cesar Pulido moves to the cleanup spot this season. He's hit at least 40 HR in five straight seasons and Seattle fans hope he continues. LF Raul Costilla struggled mightily in the first half last season, but recovered to put up solid numbers. Speedy CF Matthew Wilson had a successful rookie campaign last season. Late free agent signee Felix Stuart will platoon with him in CF.

Overall
Much will depend on how well the kids play. If Seattle's young infield and bullpen gel together, the Picards might be able to extend their playoff streak to five seasons in a row. However, if the youth falter, it might be a long S20 in Seattle.