Stats & Info: John Perrotto

BP: The truth about Clay Buchholz

June, 3, 2010
6/03/10
2:58
PM ET
Three of the best young pitchers in baseball all pitch in the American League East, and all three of them are in the midst of what some would call "breakout seasons." After seven shutout innings last night, the Rays' David Price now leads the AL with eight wins. Meanwhile, Phil Hughes of the Yankees is 7-1 and Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox is 7-3.

But not all of these guys are pitching as well as it appears.

At age 24, Price is having the type of season that everyone expected last year as a rookie after he starred for the Rays in relief during the 2008 postseason. Price was 10-7 with a 4.42 ERA in 2009 and he really isn't pitching all that much better this season as his 4.31 SIERA is little more than two runs higher than his 2.29 ERA.

SIERA is Skills-Interactive Earned Run Average, Baseball Prospectus' newest metric to judge the effectiveness of pitchers. SIERA estimates ERA through walk rate, strikeout rate and ground ball rate while the eliminating the effects of park, defense and luck.

Price's strikeout-walk ratio and walks per nine innings are both slightly better than last season, but not markedly improved, and his strikeouts per nine innings mark has dropped from 7.2 to 6.4. Where Price has made his gain is on ground-ball rate, as the number of batted balls hit on the ground against him has risen from 41.5 percent last season to 46.3 percent this year. Another good sign is that he is throwing 66 percent of his off-speed pitches for strikes in 2010. Price has taken a step forward, but his peripherals suggest that he's been quite a bit fortunate this year on balls in play, and his BABIP is an absurdly low .248. He can't keep that up. Expect his ERA to be closer to his SIERA the rest of the way.

Buchholz's SIERA is 4.25, indicating that he is also not pitching quite as well as his 2.73 ERA would indicate. The 25-year-old set the bar very high by pitching a no-hitter in his second major-league start in 2007. Still, there are negative indicators, particular that his strikeouts per nine innings has dropped from 8.5 in 2008 to 6.8 this season, and that he has gone to three-ball counts in 25 percent of the plate appearances against him this year. Buchholz has considerable talent and should have a good career. However, he won't become a true star until he regains his ability to overpower hitters while throwing more strikes.

Phil Hughes has made manager Joe Girardi look like a genius for choosing him as the fifth starter in spring training after he worked primarily in relief last season. Hughes, just 23, has been outstanding as he is giving up just 0.6 home runs per nine innings (four in 63 2/3 innings) while throwing 72 percent of his fastballs and 67 percent of his first pitches for strikes. Joba Chamberlain has gotten all the New York-style hype among the Yankees' young pitchers in recent seasons. However, Hughes' 3.29 SIERA isn't that far out of line with his 2.54 ERA, an indication his performance is real and he is on his way to an outstanding season. Of the trio, he's the best bet to maintain his dominance this year.

John Perrotto is editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus.

BP: Zambrano is a changed man

May, 5, 2010
5/05/10
11:58
AM ET
Carlos Zambrano is weary of discussing his surprising conversion from ace of the Chicago Cubs' starting rotation to late-inning reliever. Moving a pitcher making nearly $18 million this season into a setup role has been the talk of Chicago for more than two weeks, and Zambrano is talked out.

"There is nothing left to say," Zambrano said. "I'm in the bullpen. It's where my team needs me, and I'll do the best job I can until they trade for somebody to take my place and I go back to starting." However, Zambrano was willing to give a simple explanation of how he approaches his new job. "I know I'm only going to be in the game for an inning or two, so I just let it go and try to get everybody out," he said Tuesday night after the Cubs lost 3-2 to the Pirates.

Zambrano has made just three relief appearances thus far, but the stats show his approach out of the 'pen has been drastically different.

According to Pitch f/x, Zambrano is throwing his four-seam fastball 57.9 percent of the time as a reliever as opposed to just 16.5 percent of the time in his four starts this season.

Further breaking down Zambrano's pitch selection as a reliever, he has thrown 17.1 percent sinkers, 11.8 percent changeups, 7.9 percent cut fastballs and 5.3 percent sliders. As a starter, Zambrano was more concerned about pitching to contact, as he threw 33.3 percent sinkers and 26.6 percent changeups with 16.5 percent four-seamers, 15.0 percent sliders, 5.5 percent cut fastballs and 3.0 percent split-finger fastballs. After relying heavily on his off-speed stuff as a starter, he has basically shelved his breaking pitches out of the bullpen. Considering he doesn't have to worry about pacing himself, Zambrano is also throwing a tick harder, as a reliever as his four-seamer is averaging 91.7 mph, compared to 90.7 mph as a starter.

Zambrano has allowed one run in four innings in his three relief appearances after going 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA as a starter. More notable is that the Cubs are 8-5 since moving him into the bullpen after starting the season 5-9. Furthermore, the Cubs have won all three games in which Zambrano has appeared as a reliever.

"It's seemed to have given our entire team more confidence since we put Z in the eighth-inning role," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We feel like we're going to win the games we should win now, and that means a lot. Just check our record. You don't make a move like this lightly. You do it because you think it gives you the best chance to win games, and it's working out very well for us."

John Perrotto is editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus.

BP: Can the Braves recover?

April, 30, 2010
4/30/10
12:36
PM ET
The Braves' rallying point in 2010 is to send beloved manager Bobby Cox, who plans to retire at the end of the season, out in style. They hope to at least get back to the playoffs after a four-year absence and ultimately win their first World Series since 1995.

The outlook for that is not looking so good. The Braves lost their ninth straight game Thursday, dropping their record to 8-13. Bill James once wrote about the phenomenon of "signature significance," which basically states that if a player does something incredibly dominant (such as a pitcher striking out 15 batters in a game) it shows a unique level of skill, and the player probably has the ability to be great. This got us thinking about the Braves. A nine-game losing streak is bad, but is it bad enough that it contains some signature significance? In other words, is a nine-game skid so bad that it proves a team is not a playoff contender? The answer is yes … and no.

In the wild card era, there has only been one team to make the playoffs that had a nine-game slide at any point during the season, and that was the 2007 Rockies. And if you remember, Colorado had to win 14 of its last 15 games just to make the postseason. If the Braves lose to the Astros today, that will put their streak at 10. And no playoff team since 1995 has had a losing streak that long.

However, there is some "good news" for Atlanta. There have been 11 clubs that got to the postseason despite suffering eight-game losing streaks. They are the 1996 Padres, 1999 Mets, 2000 Giants, 2000 Mariners, 2001 Astros, 2003 Twins, 2004 Dodgers, 2005 Padres, 2006 Cardinals, 2006 Dodgers and 2008 Dodgers.

Just three of those teams were even close to being as offensively challenged as the Braves have been through their first 21 games. They are 15th in the NL in runs scored with an average of 3.67 a game, ahead of only the Astros (3.30), and also 15th in the league with 12 home runs, again ahead of just Houston (eight). Of the aforementioned dozen, just three finished in the bottom half of the NL in runs scored. The 2004 Dodgers (ninth) and the 2005 Padres and 2008 Dodgers (13th).

The Braves are going to need to start scoring more runs. That seems likely because the Braves have been hitting in some bad luck with a .275 BABIP, 25 points below the NL average of .300. Among those not getting many balls in play to drop are center fielder Nate McLouth (.212), shortstop Yunel Escobar (.221), left fielder Melky Cabrera (.233) and catcher Brian McCann (.240).

The bottom line is that the Braves are coming up against some unchartered territory. No team in the wild card era has suffered a losing streak as long as 10 games and gone on to make the playoffs. So if the Braves lose tonight and still get to October, they'll be making history.

John Perrotto is editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus.

BP: The deepest '11 free agent position

April, 29, 2010
4/29/10
10:54
AM ET
Free agent watchers are already looking ahead to the offseason after next.

The biggest names are the three superstar first basemen currently in line to reach the open market following the 2011 season: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez. And with Ryan Howard's recent $125 million contract extension, there is already speculation that the salaries for this trio of free agents could go through the roof. However, there could be another bumper crop of free agents just one position over from the coveted first basemen during that same offseason. This group may not boast the star power of the first basemen, but it's a deeper bunch.

Following the 2011 season, a plethora of second basemen could be open for bidding, including Robinson Cano, Aaron Hill, Kelly Johnson, Brandon Phillips, Dan Uggla and Rickie Weeks. There's also Jose Lopez, but the Mariners have been playing him at third base of late.

The Yankees hold a $14 million club option on Cano for 2012 and the Reds have a $12 million option on Phillips. Even if those options are exercised, there would still be a number of quality second basemen available, none older than Uggla, who will be 32 at the start of the 2012 season.

Many things could happen between now and 15 days after the final out of the 2011 World Series when eligible players can begin filing for free agency. However, in the spirit of it never being too early to look ahead, let's take a peek at what kind of seasons PECOTA projects for the potential crop of free-agent second basemen in 2012 along with their MORP (Marginal Value Above Replacement Player), a Baseball Prospectus metric modeled on the behavior of recent free-agent markets and which accounts for non-linearity in the market price of baseball talent.


It's hard to imagine the Yankees won't extend Cano, but there will still be plenty of options on the free-agent market. The Brewers need to be careful, because not only might they lose Fielder, they could also lose Weeks, who finally appears to be coming into his own. But with so many players at the same position on the market at the same time, don't be surprised if there are some bargains to be had.

John Perrotto is editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus.

BP: Can Pelfrey keep this up?

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
11:19
AM ET
Mike Pelfrey's performance Sunday night was far from a masterpiece.

The Mets right-hander allowed eight of the 23 batters he faced to reach base, five on walks and three on hits, as he struggled to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters. Yet on a night when he failed to retire two-thirds of the Braves' hitters, Pelfrey showed why he is one of the biggest early-season surprises in the major leagues and kept Atlanta off the board. However, a closer look at his performance shows that Mets fans should temper their expectations a little bit.

Whereas he would often cave under pressure in the past, the big right-hander was able to bob and weave his way through five scoreless innings as the Mets blanked the Braves 1-0 in a game called due to rain in the sixth inning. It was certainly an adventuresome five innings for Pelfrey on Sunday. He needed to throw 106 pitches to get his 15 outs, an average of 21 pitchers per inning. Pelfrey survived, though, by holding the Braves hitless in three at-bats with runners in scoring position, two of which ended when Jason Heyward and Troy Glaus grounded into inning-ending double plays.

Pelfrey joined the Phillies' Roy Halladay, the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez and the Giants' Tim Lincecum as the major leagues' only four-game winners while lowering his ERA to a 0.69, which is the lowest in baseball. Not bad for a guy who was 10-12 with a 5.03 ERA in 31 starts last season and one of the many reasons the Mets finished 70-92.

The biggest key for Pelfrey this year has been his performance with men on base. Foes are just 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position so far, and their batting average on balls in play is .077 in those situations. Last year it was .325. Little wonder Pelfrey told reporters after Sunday's game, "I must be living right."

That .077 BABIP with runners in scoring position is unsustainable (league average BABIP is around .290), but there is still reason to be optimistic about Pelfrey's performance this year. He's incorporated a split-fingered fastball, and his strikeout rate sits at a career-best 6.6 per nine. More notable is that he has yet to give up a home run, and keeping the ball in the park has been the key to his success in the past. When he posted a 3.72 ERA in 2008, Pelfrey allowed just 0.5 homers per nine, which was fifth best in the NL.

Pelfrey is not as good as his 0.69 ERA indicates, but there is every reason to believe that the 26-year-old will be the workhorse he showed he could be in 2008, and maybe a little bit more.

John Perrotto is the editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus.

BP: Reasons to like Ike

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
10:06
AM ET
If the Mets' marketing people are smart, "I Like Ike" T-shirts will be on sale tonight at the Citi Field souvenir stands. The Mets might as well capitalize on one of the few bits of good news they have had in recent seasons.

First baseman Ike Davis made his major league debut Monday night and helped the Mets to a 6-1 victory over the Cubs by going 2-for-4 with an RBI after being called up from Triple-A earlier in the day. It was something to excite Mets fans who have suffered through a lot the past couple of years.

The book on the 23-year-old son of former major league reliever Ron Davis coming into spring training was that he would need a full season at Buffalo learning to hit off-speed pitches and hanging in better against left-handers. (He had a .672 OPS against minor league southpaws in 2009.) However, the left-handed hitter showed in spring training and during the first two weeks of the International League season that he was making rapid progress. Thus, the Mets did not hesitate to call him up Monday, and Davis showed an ability to hit non-fastballs and lefties in his debut.

In his first plate appearance Davis saw a slider, a changeup, a sinker and another change from Cubs starter Randy Wells before getting his first fastball, which he took for a ball. Davis then flared a soft single into right field on a 2-2 change.

Wells refused to challenge Davis during his second time up in the fifth inning, as he threw a sinker and then a slider that resulted in a routine fly out to left field. Wells came with a first-pitch fastball an inning later, though, and Davis nearly made him pay by hitting the 89 mph pitch to deep right-center field, where right fielder Xavier Nady ran it down. It would have been a home run in many other major league parks, but not in cavernous Citi Field.

Davis faced his biggest challenge in the seventh inning, when Cubs manager Lou Piniella brought in left-hander Sean Marshall to face the rookie with runners on first and third. Marshall started the at-bat with three straight curveballs, falling behind 2-1 before Davis laced a slider into center field for a single and his first career RBI.
In all, Davis saw 13 pitches and only two were fastballs. Yet he managed a pair of hits on non-fastballs, making for a solid debut for Davis and good news for the Mets, whose first basemen had combined for the second-worst OPS (.516) in the National League before Monday, ahead of only the Pirates (.391).

More nights like that and the Citi Field denizens will have plenty of reasons to like Ike.

John Perrotto is editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus.

BP: Sample-size superstars

April, 15, 2010
4/15/10
11:22
AM ET
We're just halfway through the second week of the season and Nelson Cruz has six home runs and 12 RBIs. At this pace, he will finish the season with 108 homers while driving in 216 runs.

Placido Polanco is hitting .486 with 12 runs scored. Scott Podsednik has a .457 batting and six stolen bases.

So the questions can begin: Will Polanco unseat Albert Pujols as the National League's Most Valuable Player? Will the voters go with Cruz's power or Podsednik' speed in selecting the American League MVP? Ah, the beauty of small samples sizes. It is very likely that Polanco, Cruz and Podsednik will all be far from the MVP discussions come September.

However, since these are the only statistics we have to this point of the season, the figures stand out and thrust some rather anonymous players into the early-season spotlight. If these types of numbers were posted over a 10-day stretch in, say late June, nobody would say anything more than Cruz, Podsednik and Polanco are on hot streaks.

All we have to do to understand that any player is capable of at least one unconscious stretch over the course of a six-month season is look back to 2009.

The player who had the highest OPS over any 10-game span last season with a minimum of 35 plate appearances was Orioles designated hitter Luke Scott. Scott is a decent power hitter on a bad team who has never received an MVP vote and likely never will. Yet Scott had a Ruthian 10-game stretch from May 3-30, which was sandwiched around a disabled list stint for a sprained left shoulder, as he posted an otherworldly 1.783 OPS with eight home runs during that span, sparked by back-to-back two-homer games against the Tigers on May 28-29.

Scott finished the season hitting .258/.340/.488 with 25 home runs in 128 games. Take away those 10 very merry days in May and his season totals would have been a pedestrian .240/.324/.428 with 17 homers.

More likely candidates to have a torrid stretch ranked second and third on the list as Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman compiled a 1.705 OPS from July 29 through August 8, and Pujols had a 1.682 mark from June 11-21.

Yet there were plenty of other run-of-the-mill players like Scott who went crazy for a week-and-a-half. Braves second baseman Martin Prado, fueled by 10 doubles in 39 at-bats, had a 1.409 OPS from September 16-27. Angels shortstop Erick Aybar went 22-for-39 (.564) from July 5-21 to boast a 1.406 OPS in that time. Prado's season OPS was .822 and Aybar had a .776 mark.

That is why those MVP ballots are distributed in early October rather than the middle of April. And while 10-game hot streaks to start the season are fun to follow, don't read much into them.

John Perrotto is editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus.

BP: Garza is in control

April, 13, 2010
4/13/10
3:30
PM ET
Seemingly every scout who covered the teams who train on Florida's Gulf Coast this spring predicted that Rays righthander Matt Garza was ready for a breakout season. They felt Garza, who has always possessed good stuff, was showing more determination and better poise on the mound. Garza has certainly been proving the scouts right in the early days of the 2010 season. He turned in a sparkling effort Monday night in pitching the Rays to a 5-1 victory over the Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Garza allowed one run and six hits in eight innings with three walks and five strikeouts while throwing 64 of 103 pitches for strikes. Manager Joe Maddon said he would have allowed Garza to finish if not for wanting to get closer Rafael Soriano an inning of work. Monday night's outing, coupled with his stifling of the Orioles last week at Tropicana Field, makes Garza 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA and .179 opponents batting average allowed through two starts.

Maddon was pleased with some signs of maturity from the 26-year-old. Garza gave up a leadoff home run to Felix Pie in the bottom of the first inning then walked Pie and Nick Markakis in the third before inducing Miguel Tejada to ground into an inning-ending force out.

"In the past, giving up the home run and walking the two guys in the one inning would have really bothered Matt and those innings could have turned ugly," Maddon said. "Tonight, he shrugged both of those things off and got people out. You're watching a pitcher grow up before your very eyes when you see that kind of stuff."

Garza, rather surprisingly, was bothered by his performance. "I know the linescore looks good and everyone will say I pitched a good game but walking three guys is ridiculous," Garza said. "It really bothers me to walk that many guys. I can't just put guys on base. I'd rather give up a solo home run than just giving the guy the base. It's not acceptable."

OK, it might not have been a Maddux-esque performance but Garza threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 31 batters he faced and has issued just five bases on balls in 16 innings in his first two starts. That's a fairly impressive turnaround for a pitcher who was tied for second in the American League in walks last year with 79, behind only the Yankees' A.J. Burnett (97). In 2008, Garza walked 2.9 per nine and had a 3.70 ERA. Last year, his walk rate shot up to 3.5 and his ERA rose to 3.95. If he can maintain his current rate (2.8), expect another drop in his ERA. Of course, he won't face the Orioles every time out, but Rays fans have to be encouraged by what they've seen so far from Garza.

John Perrotto is the editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus.

BP: Target Field's foul territory is key

April, 12, 2010
4/12/10
11:31
AM ET
The Twins will move into uncharted territory Monday afternoon when they open Target Field by hosting the Red Sox. The Twins will become the first team in major league history to move from a partially or totally covered stadium back to a completely outdoor stadium, as they spent their past 28 seasons at the climate-controlled and quirky Metrodome. Thus, there is no data to draw upon for teams making this transition and even very little anecdotal evidence from the two exhibition games the Twins played against the Cardinals at Target Field earlier this month.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said he felt the $565 million facility played fair, as it neither helped nor hurt the pitchers or hitters much. Three home runs were hit in each of the two exhibition games, and there were 23 runs and 40 hits combined. In the first game, which was played at night on April 2 with a game-time temperature of 65 degrees and the wind blowing out to left field at 15 mph, the teams combined for 3 homers, 12 runs and 17 hits. The next afternoon, it was 55 degrees with a 19 mph wind blowing out to right field at the start of the game, and there were 3 homers, 11 runs and 23 hits. As FanGraphs notes, weather will be a major factor in Minny.

Target Field, like so many other stadiums that have opened during baseball's building boom, seems to be built with the idea of favoring left-handed hitters, which is not a bad idea in the short term with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in the middle of the Twins' lineup. The dimensions are 328 feet down the right-field line, 365 to right-center, 403 to dead center, 411 to the deepest point in left-center, 377 to the left-center gap and 339 down the left-field line. These are almost identical to the dimensions at the Metrodome. The big difference, however, is the foul territory. The Metrodome had 30,244 square feet of foul territory, while Target Field has just 22,042 square feet. When people talk about modern ballparks being smaller, it's not just that the outfield fences are closer. Less foul territory means more balls into the seats, which means more home run chances for Mauer and Morneau. This could offset the impact of weather, which will hurt power numbers.

John Perrotto is editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus.

BP: Holy smoke, it's Billy Wagner

April, 8, 2010
4/08/10
11:14
AM ET
As soon as teams could begin negotiating with free agents from other clubs last November, Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz, general manager Frank Wren and manager Bobby Cox paid a visit to Billy Wagner's alpaca farm in Virginia to express him how badly they wanted him to become the new closer in Atlanta.

That was enough for the Braves to get their man as Wagner signed a contract that guarantees him at least $7 million and could be worth $13.5 million if he finishes 50 games this season, which would automatically trigger a club option for 2011. While the lefthander had 385 saves and six All-Star Game appearances on his resume entering 2010, his days as a dominant closer seemed to be behind him. He is 38 years old and had been limited to a combined 62 2/3 innings in the previous two seasons because of Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. It was a contract that caused more than a few eyebrows to be raised around major league front offices. However, if Wagner pitches like he did Wednesday night in closing out the Braves' 3-2 victory over the Cubs, he will end up being a bargain.

It was as if Wagner turned back time in striking out the side during a scoreless ninth inning for his first save of the season after Chipper Jones' two-run home run in the eighth had put the Braves ahead.

Marlon Byrd led off and Wagner blew him away on three pitches, fastballs that registered 97, 98 and 97 mph.

Alfonso Soriano then lined a single to left but not without seeing plenty of heat as Wagner threw fastballs at 98, 97 and 96.

Xavier Nady was next and Wagner set him down on three pitches. After starting off with a 97-mph fastball, Wagner went to the slider for the first time and it was of the wipeout variety. The first was clocked at 85 and the second at 82 as Nady went down flailing.

Up stepped Geovany Soto and Wagner blew him away, too, throwing heaters at 96, 98 and 98 before getting a called third strike on an 83-mph slider to end the game.

In all, Wagner threw 13 pitches. Ten were fastballs that averaged 97.2 mph and the other three were sliders that resulted in two called strikes and one swinging strike. From 2002 through 2006, Wagner's average velocity never dipped below 96.3 mph in a season. In the last three seasons, it never surpassed 94.6. It remains to be seen whether Wagner has the durability to be as overpowering as he was last night for the rest of the year. However, Wednesday night's outing couldn't have been more encouraging for the Braves.

John Perrotto is the editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus.

BP: Five Opening Day storylines

April, 6, 2010
4/06/10
10:50
AM ET
Now that we've had some time to digest the events of Monday's first full day of the baseball season, here are five thoughts on Opening Day.

1. David Wright's opposite-field home run, a two-run shot in the first inning that got the Mets started on their way to a 7-1 victory over the Marlins, was important in two ways.

One, it signaled that Wright is on track to regain his power stroke after his home run total fell from 33 in 2008 to 10 in 2009. Two, it might go a long way in the Mets' overcoming their phobia of Citi Field in their second year in their home ballpark, as they amazingly hit only one oppo homer in 81 games there last season.

2. Roy Halladay had zero adjustment problems in making the transition from the American League to the National League as he held the Nationals to one run and six hits in seven innings of the Phillies' 11-1 victory, walking two and striking out nine.

Granted, the right-hander was facing a team that has lost at least 100 games each of the past two seasons. However, Halladay was everything the Phillies hoped for when they decided to trade three prospects to the Blue Jays for him this winter and then made him their unquestioned ace by shipping left-hander Cliff Lee to the Mariners for three prospects.

PECOTA projects Halladay to go 16-8 with a 3.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 218 innings. Lee is tabbed for a 12-9 record, 3.44 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 183 innings. However, Lee is on the disabled list with an abdominal strain after having his start to spring training delayed following foot surgery. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has been criticized heavily for trading Lee and giving free-agent infielder Placido Polanco a three-year, $18 million contract during the offseason. So, how did Polanco do on Opening Day? He was 3-for-5 with a grand slam. Maybe Amaro just has the Midas touch.

3. Jason Heyward really could be too good to be true, as the Braves rookie right fielder hit a three-run home run in his first career plate appearance and went 2-for-5 with four RBIs to lead a 16-5 rout of the Cubs. The 20-year-old is projected to hit .274/.344/.462 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with 19 home runs by PECOTA. If Opening Day is any indication, he'll do much better than that.

4. Joel Zumaya turned back time as he threw 10 pitches in relief for the Tigers, eight of which were strikes and one of which was clocked at 103 mph as he worked one scoreless inning in a 6-4 victory over the Royals. Zumaya burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2006, and had a 1.94 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 83 1/3 innings while helping the Tigers win the AL pennant. Since then, he has been plagued by shoulder problems, and has pitched just 88 innings in the major leagues with a 4.30 ERA and 1.61 WHIP. A healthy Zumaya obviously would go a long way in solidifying the Tigers' bullpen.

5. Albert Pujols is still pretty good, as the reigning two-time NL MVP went 4-for-5 with two homers to spark the Cardinals to an 11-6 victory over the Reds. Yes, one game does not a season make, but you get the sense that PECOTA's projection of .322/.429/.572 with 35 home runs is on the light side for a guy who is shaping up as one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. As of now, he's on pace to hit .800 with 324 home runs. Can he keep it up??? Probably not, but at this point you should underestimate Prince Albert at your own risk.

John Perrotto is editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus.

BP's projected NL standings: Rox in, L.A. out

April, 2, 2010
4/02/10
8:00
AM ET
With Opening Day a few days away, let's look into Baseball Prospectus' equivalent of a crystal ball, a projection system called PECOTA, to predict the National League standings. For the AL projections, click here.

NL EAST

The Phillies are picked to win their fourth consecutive NL East title with an 89-73 record, and the second-place Braves are expected to grab the wild card with an 85-77 mark.

The Phillies should again have a potent lineup with first baseman Ryan Howard blasting 38 home runs and driving in 117 runs, right fielder Jayson Werth adding 31 homers and second baseman Chase Utley hitting .286 with 26 homers. Newcomer Roy Halladay will lead the pitching staff with 16 wins, a 3.23 ERA and 184 strikeouts, while left-hander Cole Hamels will return to his 2008 form with a 14-win season.

The Braves will get to the playoffs even though PECOTA does not think rookie right fielder Jason Heyward will make it look as easy as he has in spring training, projecting him for a .274 batting average and 12 homers. Despite his spring struggles, center fielder Nate McLouth should be the top threat with 24 homers and 23 steals.

Rounding out the division will be the Marlins (80-82), Mets (78-84) and Nationals (74-88). The middle infield of shortstop Hanley Ramirez (.312, 29 homers, 30 steals) and second baseman Dan Uggla (32 homers) will again shine for the Marlins, big-ticket free-agent left fielder Jason Bay will hit .260 with 29 homers for the Mets and the greatest pitching prospect ever, Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals, will be called up in time to make 17 starts and go 6-7 with a 4.45 ERA and an eye-popping 138 strikeouts in 117 innings.

NL CENTRAL

The Cardinals are projected to have the largest margin of victory of any division winner, going 88-74 and finishing nine games in front of the Cubs (79-83) in the NL Central. The Astros (78-84), Brewers (78-84), Reds (77-85) and Pirates (71-91) will all fall on the wrong side of .500.

The Cardinals are expected to lead the majors by allowing just 655 runs as Adam Wainwright wins 14 games, Chris Carpenter wins 13, Kyle Lohse wins 11 and Brad Penny wins 10. First baseman Albert Pujols will have another banner season by hitting .320 with 36 home runs and 116 RBIs, but right fielder Matt Holliday might prove to be a bit of a disappointment after signing a $120 million contract, as he is projected to hit just 22 homers.

Other significant performances expected in this division are Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder (42 homers, 117 RBIs) and left fielder Ryan Braun (35, 110) combining for 77 home runs and 227 RBIs. Astros center fielder Michael Bourn should be good for 55 stolen bases.

NL WEST

PECOTA believes the tightest National League race will be out West, where the top four teams will finish .500 or better with five games separating them. The Rockies (86-76) are picked to win and be followed by the Diamondbacks (83-79), Dodgers (82-80) and Giants (81-81). The Padres will trail the pack at 73-89.

Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is expected to lead a balanced Rockies attack with a .293 average and 25 home runs. Ubaldo Jimenez (13 wins, 176 K's) and Jorge De La Rosa (12, 187) will form a potent righty-lefty duo by combining for 25 wins and 363 strikeouts.

Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton is pegged for another All-Star season with a .273 average and 26 homers. Third baseman Mark Reynolds is expected to hit 29 homers and cut his strikeouts all the way down to 159. Right-hander Dan Haren has the look of a Cy Young candidate with projection of 16 wins and 202 strikeouts.

Center fielder Matt Kemp will be the Dodgers' star with 23 homers and 28 steals. Right-hander Tim Lincecum's 16 wins and third baseman Pablo Sandoval's .314 batting average will make the Giants formidable. Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is expected to belt 38 home runs to again shine on a last-place club.

So, there is no need to patiently wait until Oct. 3, the final day of the regular season. We've already told you what's going to happen in 2010.

John Perrotto is the editor-in-chief at BaseballProspectus.com.

BP's projected AL standings: Yanks in third

April, 2, 2010
4/02/10
8:00
AM ET
With Opening Day a few days away, let's look into Baseball Prospectus' equivalent of a crystal ball, a projection system called PECOTA, to predict the standings in the American League. For the National League, click here.

AL EAST

PECOTA pegs the New York Yankees to go 90-72. While that record would be good enough to win any of the other five divisions in the major leagues, it will get the Yankees only a third-place finish in the AL East behind the Boston Red Sox (95-67) and wild-card-winning Tampa Bay Rays (91-71). Thus, the Yankees will go home in October, a year after winning it all.


PECOTA loves Boston's depth, particularly on offense. In fact, it projects everyone in the lineup to reach double-digits in home runs, starting with first baseman Kevin Youkilis (25) and continuing with designated hitter David Ortiz (24), center fielder Mike Cameron (22), catcher Victor Martinez (20), right fielder J.D. Drew (20), second baseman Dustin Pedroia (18), third baseman Adrian Beltre (18), left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (11) and shortstop Marco Scutaro (10). Throw in 56 stolen bases by Ellsbury and a .314 batting average from Pedroia, and it's easy to see why the Red Sox are expected to score 847, second in the majors and eight less than the Yankees.

The Rays are projected to eke out one more win than the Yankees for the wild card. The middle of the order is pegged for 93 homers with third baseman Evan Longoria hitting 34, first baseman Carlos Pena belting 33 and second baseman Ben Zobrist reprising his "Zorilla" role with 26. Add in 46 stolen bases by left fielder Carl Crawford, 37 steals by center fielder B.J. Upton and 14 wins by James Shields, and the Rays should win a lot of games.

The Yankees' only problem will be having the misfortune of playing in the AL East. The lineup will again be power packed withAlex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson all expected to hit at least 27 homers. Javier Vazquez and CC Sabathia are expected to pace the team with 14 wins apiece, and Mariano Rivera can be marked down for another 40 saves.

The Baltimore Orioles (78-84) and Toronto Blue Jays (72-90) will reprise their roles as AL East also-rans, although designated hitter Adam Lind is pegged as a 30-home run man for Toronto.

AL CENTRAL

The AL Central won't have any juggernauts but should provide a wildly entertaining race with all five teams projected to finish within four games of each other. The Twins are pegged to become the first team to win a division with a nonwinning record at 81-81, putting them two games ahead of the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers -- all tabbed for 79-83 marks -- and four games in front of the Kansas City Royals (77-85).



Joe Mauer is expected to come back down to earth after his phenomenal 2009 season but still lead the way for the Twins by hitting .322 with 20 home runs. First baseman Justin Morneau should be good for 31 homers and 110 RBIs while Matt Guerrier (18 saves) and Jon Rauch (16 saves) should effectively combine to make up for the loss of closer Joe Nathan to season-ending elbow surgery.

Other top performances to expect in the AL Central include a 15-win, 3.19 ERA season from Royals ace Zack Greinke, a 38-homer year by Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, a 30-homer season from White Sox right fielder Carlos Quentin and 48 stolen bases from Sox left fielder Juan Pierre.

AL WEST

One-game playoffs to determine either a division title or wild-card spot have become annual occurrences recently, and PECOTA sees a tiebreaker being needed in the AL West after the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners tie for first at 83-79, only one game ahead of the Texas Rangers (82-80) and five in front of the three-time defending division champion Los Angeles Angels (78-84).



PECOTA has high hopes of the A's Kurt Suzuki blossoming into one of the league's top offensive catchers by hitting .278 with 13 home runs. Brett Anderson's 11 wins will lead a rotation in which five pitchers notch at least nine victories while reigning AL rookie of the year Andrew Bailey is pegged for 33 saves.

Ichiro Suzuki's .317 batting average and new second baseman Chone Figgins' 41 stolen bases will highlight the Mariners' offense. Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee are projected for 14 victories each atop the rotation.

Right fielder Nelson Cruz's 32 home runs are expected to top a Rangers lineup that will have five 20-homer men while rookie center fielder Julio Borbon is tabbed for 31 steals. Angels first baseman Kendry Morales will prove his 2009 breakout season was not a fluke as he goes deep 32 times.

John Perrotto is the editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus.

SPONSORED HEADLINES