SweetSpot: Logan Morrison

AL's defensive winter moves

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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Today, Buster Olney rated the top defensive teams in the majors. We thought we’d take the time to look at the offseasons for each team from a defensive perspective. Here’s our American League look.

AL East

Blue Jays: The transition from J.P. Arencibia to Dioner Navarro behind the plate is likely a wash and there hasn’t been much of an overhaul to this team other than the departure of Rajai Davis (who did have a decent amount of defensive value).
Ryan Goins
Goins
The most interesting thing for the Jays will be how Ryan Goins fares as a regular second baseman. Goins racked up a hard-to-believe 12 Defensive Runs Saved (backed up on video review by 21 Good Fielding Plays and only a pair of Defensive Misplays & Errors) in a 32-game stint last season.

Orioles: The biggest issue on defense for the Orioles will be dealing with the loss of Manny Machado’s major-league leading Runs Saved, at least until he returns from injury. Baltimore did make one positive move that should upgrade its outfield defense, getting David Lough from the Royals for utilityman Danny Valencia.

Rays: The Rays made a long-term commitment to James Loney, which bodes well from a defensive perspective, and also made one to catcher Ryan Hanigan, who is considered one of the best base-stealing deterrents and pitch-framers in the sport. He’ll give them a solid alternative to Jose Molina.

Red Sox: Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts will likely step into everyday roles and fill the shoes of Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew. The Red Sox will also have a new catcher, though there isn’t much of a defensive difference between A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Both rate below-average statistically.

Yankees:There have been some pretty notable changes on the defensive side. Brian McCann’s pitch-framing rates well, but he’s not the baserunning deterrent that Chris Stewart was. Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts could split time at second base but neither is the Gold-Glove-caliber glove that Robinson Cano was. Johnson could also wind up full-time at third base, a position at which he’s barely played more than 100 innings, if Alex Rodriguez gets suspended.

The Yankees should be great in center and left with an Ellsbury/Brett Gardner combo. Carlos Beltran has less ground to cover in the Bronx than he did in Busch. That could benefit his achy knees and help his defensive rating.

One smart thing the Yankees did: Hire Brendan Ryan to be their “shortstop closer” for the next two seasons and as much as it will pain Derek Jeter to leave games, it will be for the good of the team to let Ryan finish close games.


AL Central

Indians: The Indians tried to make a right fielder out of center fielder Drew Stubbs in 2013 and it didn’t work. They got themselves an upgrade in free agent David Murphy who rates adequate enough (5 Runs Saved in about a season’s worth of innings in right field) that his D could be a one-win upgrade by itself.

Royals: The best team in baseball, as it comes to Defensive Runs Saved, tinkered a little bit, swapping out Lough for Norichika Aoki in the outfield, which probably rates as a push (they’re both good … fair warning to Royals fans, Aoki likes to play a deep right field), and making an offensive upgrade by getting Omar Infante to fill the hole that was second base.

The one thing the Royals got from their second basemen last season was good defense (18 Runs Saved from the collection of Elliot Johnson, Chris Getz and others). Infante isn’t at that level, but he rates above average more often than not (he did by UZR, but not Runs Saved in 2013) and his offensive work should make up for any drop-off.

Tigers: The Tigers' defensive overhaul has been the biggest of the offseason as the team’s opening-day infield will be entirely different from 2013. Ian Kinsler is a definite upgrade at second base and we’ll see if Jose Iglesias’ wow plays add up over a full season (he has seven Runs Saved in just under 800 career innings at short).

Going from Prince Fielder back to Miguel Cabrera should actually be a slight upgrade.

The big question will be third base where the scouting reports on Nick Castellanos’ defense don’t inspire confidence. But even so, conservatively, the Tigers should be about 25 Runs Saved better in 2014, which takes them from being a lousy defensive infield to an average one.

Twins: The Twins made the career-preserving move of shifting Joe Mauer from behind the plate to first base and signed Kurt Suzuki, who has a good statistical history at the position. Suzuki has rated better than Mauer over the course of his career in Runs Saved, though he’s not as good at throwing out basestealers.

I asked Doug Glanville to assess what Mauer’s challenge will be in making the move to first:

“He is a super athlete and I am sure he will be fine. It will be tough to not be as involved with the game in every single moment. No one can compete with catchers in the leadership it requires to play that position and the need for constant vigilance. He has to sharpen his focus to deal with new lulls in time. I am sure he will.”

White Sox: The White Sox had the third-worst Defensive Runs Saved total in the majors in 2013 and they’ve been overhauled all over the place. Their worst position last season was center field (-19 Defensive Runs Saved in 2013) and they’ll have a new look there with Adam Eaton.

They’ll also be much different at first base with Jose Abreu, whose hitting has been compared to Ryan Howard's (but if his defense is, that’s not good) and third base with adequately-rated Matt Davidson, whom they got for Addison Reed. Will different equal better? They better hope so.

Al West

Angels: The aging of Albert Pujols will continue to be an issue both on offense and defense. Last season broke a run of eight straight seasons in which Pujols ranked in the top five among first basemen in Runs Saved.

Pujols will have a familiar teammate working at the opposite corner with the addition of third baseman David Freese, who had a dreadful season in 2013 per both Runs Saved and UZR, ranking third-worst in the former and second-worst in the latter. That’s something that will need to be dealt with.

Astros: The Astros traded away their second-best defender stats-wise from 2013 in Brandon Barnes to get Dexter Fowler from the Colorado Rockies. Fowler has less ground to cover in the gaps of Minute Maid Park, but has a deeper center field (and Tal’s Hill) to worry about. Fowler has posted a negative Runs Saved rating in four of his six seasons, but has fared well at handling balls hit to the deepest parts of the park.

Athletics: The Athletics made two moves that should definitely help their defense in 2014.
Craig Gentry
Gentry
By adding Craig Gentry in a trade from the Rangers, they’ve obtained one of the game’s premier outfield defenders and one who could fit in well both in left field (to make Yoenis Cespedes a DH) and center (to give Coco Crisp a breather) very well.

The Athletics also added a valuable utility piece in Nick Punto, who could start at second base (ahead of Eric Sogard) or close games at shortstop (replacing Jed Lowrie, who rates as a poor defender). Either way, he’s a big upgrade over what they had.

Mariners:The Mariners now have a Gold Glove-caliber defender at second in Cano. He’ll need to cover more ground to his left than he did in New York, because the Mariners’ first-base options (Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison and Corey Hart) do not rate well. Morrison is going to present an issue wherever they put him. He’s not quite at the level of Michael Morse, but his ratings historically have been poor.

Rangers: The difference between Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland at first base is a sizable one, potentially 15 runs over the course of a season, so if the Rangers do decide to hang on to Moreland, they'd be best off playing him at first base and having Fielder DH. The Rangers could use a good defender at first, since Jurickson Profar is basically going to learn on the job at second base. Texas will also have some outfield concerns with Shin-Soo Choo having limited experience in left field and the team no longer having the security blanket of Gentry (traded to Athletics).

Thank you for showing up, Boston Red Sox.

There are mini tests throughout a baseball season -- a series that maybe in the big picture is just another three games of 162, but hold revelations about a ballclub.

The Red Sox entered their weekend showdown with the Washington Nationals facing a challenging test against the three best starters on the best pitching staff in the National League. They were 29-28 and while they were in fifth place in the AL East, they were just three games out of first place. Despite the slew of injuries to hit their lineup, the Red Sox had scored the third-most runs in the majors.

Behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals left Fenway with a sweep as the Red Sox hit .208, struck out 30 times and went 3-for-26 with runners in scoring position. The frustrating weekend concluded with Bobby Valentine getting ejected in the top of the ninth inning after Roger Bernadina had doubled home Bryce Harper with two outs for the winning run. (Harper, in case you haven't noticed, goes first-to-home like a lightning bolt.) Valentine felt Bernadina should have been called out on a 2-2 pitch.

"Good umpires had a real bad series this series -- a real bad series -- and it went one way," Valentine said after the game. "There should be a review."

Valentine is staring at a fine after those comments. Even worse, he's now staring at a six-game deficit as the first-place Tampa Bay Rays swept the Miami Marlins in the battle of Florida.

The Marlins failed in their own test in front of their home fans, as the Rays outscored them 22-7 in the sweep, hitting .302 and drawing 14 walks. This is not the way to get more fans out to the new park. After clawing back from 8-14 to start to reach 31-23, the Marlins have now lost six in a row, are five games behind the Nationals and have a season run differential of minus-28 that is tied for fourth-worst in the National League.

It makes the series starting on Monday between the Red Sox and Marlins the most intriguing series of the week. It's time for the Red Sox to stop blaming the umps and start pitching better; it's time for the Marlins to start hitting and playing with more consistency.

A few things to watch in the series:

1. Boston's defensive alignments.

David Ortiz played first base in two games in Boston's only previous road interleague series this year in Philadelphia, so presumably he'll be back there. But a defense with Ortiz at first, Adrian Gonzalez in right, Kevin Youkilis and third and Scott Podsednik or Ryan Sweeney in center is a liability, especially with all the space in Miami's outfield. The Red Sox entered Sunday ranked second in the American League in defensive runs saved at plus-35 (second in the majors to the Blue Jays), although they rank just 19th in defensive efficiency (percentage of balls in play turned into outs). Either way, a Ortiz/Gonzalez alignment makes them a much worse defensive team.

2. Marlins at the plate.

The Marlins are 12th in the NL in runs scored and 12th in OPS -- and it's not all because their new park is a difficult place to hit. In fact, that has nothing to do with it. The Marlins are last in the NL in road OPS. The main culprits? Marlins catchers are hitting .188, their first basemen (Gaby Sanchez returned Sunday after a 19-game demotion to the minors) are hitting .197, their center fielders have a .346 OBP but a .312 slugging percentage. Sanchez needs to hit but the other middle-of-the-order bat struggling is Logan Morrison, with a .227/.315/.349 line. Benched Friday and Saturday for a mental break, Morrison returned to the lineup on Sunday and went 3-for-4 with two doubles. He has battled a bad knee all season, but the Marlins may have to make a decision soon on Sanchez and Morrison. You can't afford to keep punting offense at first base and left field.

3. Josh Johnson.

The Marlins' ace draws the start in Monday's ESPN telecast against Josh Beckett. After getting knocked out in the third inning on May 4 against the San Diego Padres, Johnson's ERA stood at 6.61 and opponents were batting .359 against him. In six starts since, he has 2.95 ERA and .252 average allowed, with his BABIP dropping from an extreme .448 to a more normalized .302. It wasn't just bad luck early on, however; he was getting hit. His season line-drive percentage is still 26 percent, which ranks second-worst among major league starters to Mike Leake.

Anyway, key for Johnson is his fastball location versus left-handed batters. Check out 2012 versus 2011, when he dominated for nine starts before landing on the disabled list.

Josh Johnson heat mapESPN Stats & InformationJohnson has been hit hard by left-handed batters in 2012. The heat map shows why.
There's a reason he has been hit hard this year: He's not hitting that outside corner like he did previously. He held lefties to a .209 average in 2011 (.258 BABIP) but they're hitting .331 off him in 2012 (.405 BABIP). Johnson's stuff is close to what it was; he overpowered the Braves at times in his most recent start with some high heat. But what do they say? Location, location, location. It's been better lately; let's see how he does against the Boston left-handed hitters on Monday night.

4. Is Clay Buchholz back?

Buchholz starts Tuesday versus Mark Buehrle and he has been terrific his past three starts, giving up four runs in 24 innings, including a four-hit shutout against Baltimore in his most recent start. He has a 19/4 strikeout/walk ratio after struggling with a 27/27 ratio through his first nine starts. The key to Buchholz's resurgence has been his changeup. "My grip was a little off," he told the media after his win over the Baltimore Orioles. "I was able to free that up a little bit. It’s been a pitch that we tried to work on for a long time and I noticed it wasn’t the same grip I had in past years and it’s coming back."

Indeed, over his first nine starts, batters hit .375 off his changeup; in the three starts since, he has thrown the pitch 69 times and batters are 1-for-10 with five strikeouts.

So watch Buchholz's changeup and watch this crucial mid-June series. Maybe it's just another three games. Maybe it's a big three games.

My bet? The Red Sox don't have to face Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmermann in this series. Beckett and Buchholz, who can be prone to the home run, should enjoy Marlins Park. The Red Sox take two of three as the AL East continues to show its superiority over the NL East (it went 9-6 this past weekend without any help from the Red Sox) and the Marlins will have to head to Tampa Bay next weekend with another big test to face.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Martin MaldonadoBenny Sieu/US PresswireMartin Maldonado thoughts on called K's? Where there's a whiff, there's a win.
Welcome to another Opening Day! SweetSpot blogger Dave Schoenfield and I joined forces for Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast, talking not only about the Cardinals beating the Marlins, but looking ahead!

1. Wow, is that a big ballpark in Miami or what? Dave and I talk about Josh Johnson, Kyle Lohse and how the Marlins seem ill-fitted for their new stadium.

2. Another day, another bit of news concerning the Boston Red Sox closer situation. By the way, producer Jay Soderberg doesn’t like the team’s chances this year.

3. The Washington Nationals demoted John Lannan to the minors. While we applaud the move, do veteran players deserve a team’s loyalty?

4. Other email questions dealt with where Albert Pujols should bat in the order, Starlin Castro’s future contract, and an entirely new way to build pitching staffs.

5. We look ahead to Thursday’s action, with Clayton Kershaw facing off against a potentially rejuvenated right-hander in San Diego, and whether we should be worried about Matt Kemp's poor spring training.

So download and listen to Thursday’s excellent Baseball Today podcast, because baseball is awesome and you can’t get enough!

There are few events in baseball more exciting than Opening Day. Or Opening Night. Er … let’s just go directly to some observations from the Cardinals’ 4-1 victory over the Marlins, ushering in Marlins Park in disappointing fashion for the home crowd onlookers.

  • Kyle Lohse was brilliant, of course, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning and reminding everyone of Bob Feller's Opening Day no-hitter. Lohse said after the game that the no-hitter "probably did cross my mind after the fifth inning." He doesn’t throw hard, keeping hitters off-balance with a little slider and a changeup that he kept at the knees at night. Lohse had the best season of his career in 2011, although there was some luck built into it: He allowed a .269 average on balls in play, well below his career mark of .302. There’s nothing in the numbers that suggests he was doing something different -- his ground-ball rate matched his career and his line-drive rate was actually 1.1 percent higher than his career mark. Everyone expects some regression in 2012, but his first start was more 2011. No walks on the night and through six he threw a first-pitch strike to 13 of the 18 batters he faced. Hitters should know Lohse will come right after them when the bases are empty. He walked only 10 hitters last season in 469 plate appearances with nobody on; with runners, he walked 32 in 306 plate appearances.
  • Josh Johnson allowed 10 hits for only the second time in his career. While a few of the hits were bleeders and bloopers, he did leave some pitches over the middle of the plate. We can’t read too much into the start other than that he threw 91 pitches, avoided the blister issue that popped up in spring training and has his first start under his belt. Undoubtedly, he was pumped up pitching the first game in the club’s new park in his first start since last May. There's no reason not to expect better results moving forward.
  • There was miscommunication in the early innings between Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes as both pulled up on Carlos Beltran’s little trickler, allowing the ball to roll into left field. In the sixth inning with two runners on and Lohse up in a bunt situation, Johnson made sure to step off the mound and talk with Ramirez. That stuff will sort itself out, but the Marlins’ defense is an issue to keep an eye on. The Cardinals legged out two doubles to Logan Morrison in left field on balls that weren’t really even in the gaps. As Orel Hershiser said during the broadcast, "A lot of scouts are writing notes down about the arm of Logan Morrison." It doesn’t help that Morrison is still battling a sore knee that kept him out most of spring training, but he was a liability out there in 2011 even when healthy. According to the defensive runs saved metric, Morrison was 26 runs worse than the average left fielder -- the worst mark in the majors (only Raul Ibanez was in the same vicinity) and a whopping 46 runs worse than Brett Gardner’s majors-leading 23 DRS. There is a lot of ground to cover in deep left-center and center in the new park. In Emilio Bonifacio, the Marlins have an inexperienced center fielder (only 29 games started there in his career entering the season). Chris Coghlan, their other center fielder, rated minus-13 runs in 2011, the worst figure in the majors.
  • [+] EnlargeKyle Lohse
    AP Photo/Lynne SladkyOpening night of the 2012 season found Kyle Lohse (26) looking a lot like his 2011 self.

  • Giancarlo Stanton found out about those center-field dimensions, hitting two deep balls out there that were caught, a towering fly to the warning track in the fifth inning and a deep fly to right-center in the seventh that Jon Jay made a nice running catch on. It’s obviously too early to report on how the park will play, and it might play differently when the roof is open versus closed.
  • Jason Motte threw some 99 mph smokebombs to finish it off. A bit of a step up from Ryan Franklin.
  • For a while, Lohse had us thinking about the best Opening Day starts. Via Baseball-Reference.com, here are the best Game 1 starts since 1918:
    Walter Johnson, Senators, 1926: 111 (15 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 K)
    Lon Warneke, Cubs, 1934: 96 (9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 13 K)
    Bob Veale, Pirates, 1965: 95 (10 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K)
    Mel Harder, Indians, 1935: 95 (14 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K)
    Johnny Vander Meer, Reds, 1943: 91 (11 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 3 K)

    Six pitchers scored a 90: Bob Feller twice (including his 1940 no-hitter in which he walked five and struck out eight), Tom Glavine, Bob Gibson, Clint Brown and Johnson again with a 13-inning effort in 1919. The best recent effort was Felix Hernandez striking out 12 in eight shutout innings in 2007. Camilo Pascual holds the Opening Day record with 15 strikeouts for the Twins in 1960. Randy Johnson twice fanned 14 for the Mariners.

  • Opening Night down. Opening Day up next. Good times have arrived.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
  • One of the big stories of spring training -- or perhaps most overblown -- has been the velocity of Michael Pineda's fastball. Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com has the report on Pineda's Thursday start, in which his fastball clocked 90-92 mph but his changeup looked impressive.
  • The Phillies released Dontrelle Willis, who struggled in three spring appearances (five runs allowed in 2 2/3 innings with four walks and no strikeouts). I'm a little surprised the Phillies pulled the plugged so early, as Willis seemed liked a good gamble to fill the LOOGY role out of the bullpen after holding lefties to a .127 average last season with the Reds. Willis had a sore arm and certainly didn't pitch well but he's still only 30 years old. He'll surface somewhere.
  • Our own Christina Kahrl has an excerpt from the new Baseball Prospectus book "Extra Innings" up at the BP site. Christina looks at the effects of the increase in strikeouts. The book is due out in early April and you can pre-order it from Amazon.
  • The Royals signed defensive whiz Alcides Escobar to a long-term extension. Craig Brown of Royals Authority weighs in. Even if Escobar doesn't improve with that bat, his value in the field should turn this into a good contract for the Royals.
  • Logan Morrison had his knee scoped in December and it's still giving him trouble. He's made one spring training appearance but is now back on the bench. The Marlins need a big year from Morrison so this could be the little spring training injury story that actually means something if the knee doesn't improve. It doesn't help that Giancarlo Stanton may be out another week with his own knee inflammation.
  • Speaking of injuries, Chien-Ming Wang tweaked a hamstring and may be out a couple weeks. This is why you don't trade John Lannan. Every team needs six or seven starters. Speaking of which, ESPN Insider Eno Sarris has a piece on which contenders have the most and least starting pitching depth.
  • Who should start at shortstop for the Red Sox? Chip Buck examines the issue. Is there a right answer? (I'm with Chip: I think you go with Mike Aviles, even if Nick Punto and especially Jose Iglesias are the superior glove men.)
  • Jon Shepherd is running a series of posts at Camden Depot examining the value of each "slot" in starting rotations, division by division. In other words, what is the caliber of a No. 3 starter or No. 4 starter and so on. Here he examines the NL East.
  • This is from the other day, but Joey Matschulat of Baseball Time in Arlington wrote of the Yu Darvish debacle in his second spring training start.
  • Speaking of the Rangers, ESPNDallas.com's Jean-Jacques Taylor profiles Ian Kinsler -- the man who ignites the Texas offense.


JohnsonRonald C. Modra/Getty ImagesAfter making just nine starts in 2011, the Marlins are hoping for a full season from ace Josh Johnson.
I like to do a rough estimate of a team's strength by starting off with their 2011 totals for runs scored and runs allowed, adding and subtracting for new players and projected performance, and see where we end up. Here is an estimate I a did a couple weeks ago on the Washington Nationals. With the Miami Marlins playing the Red Sox on ESPN this afternoon, and Tristan Cockcroft asking how Hanley Ramirez will bounce back , I thought I'd tackle the Marlins.

For all the hype around the Marlins, they won just 72 games a season ago. They scored 625 runs and allowed 702, which creates an estimated win-loss record of ... 72-90. Obviously, the Marlins move into a new park this year. Some believe it will be a better hitter's park than the old place. We haven't factored this into the numbers below.

Catcher: John Buck, Brett Hayes
Buck carried one of the heaviest workloads of any catcher in 2011, starting 129 games. I'd suggest the heat and humidity of the Florida summer caught up to him, but he hit just as poorly in the first half as the second half, and his .687 OPS was a fry cry from the .802 OPS he posted with the Blue Jays in 2010, when he made the AL All-Star team. Of course, 2010 was his career-year, his OPS+ of 87 essentially matches his career mark of 89. In other words, expect more of 2011, not 2010. No change.

First base: Gaby Sanchez
Sanchez made the 2011 NL All-Star team, which I think says more about the state of first base in the National League than Sanchez's abilities. He did hit .293 in the first half, but slumped to .225 in the second half, leaving his overall numbers pretty similar to what he posted as a rookie in 2010. While you might normally project growth for a third-year player, Sanchez is already 28; he's not likely to get better. He is what he is. No change.

Second base: Omar Infante
After hitting .309 from 2008 to 2010 in part-time role with the Braves, Infante was exposed a bit as an everyday player and hit just .276. He played a good second base, and I do believe he can do a little better with the bat as his BABIP was .298, down from .343 over the previous three seasons. Let's give an extra five runs here.

Third base: Hanley Ramirez
Marlins third basemen weren't a complete disaster in 2011, hitting .260/.315/.347, but with just six home runs and 44 RBIs. Believe it or not, that OPS was 12th in the NL. Anyway, a healthy Ramirez will obviously be a huge upgrade. For all the concern about Ramirez handling the move to third base, the other part of the equation is Ramirez has fallen off the plate the past few seasons, from .342 to .300 to .243. Most of the projection systems have Ramirez creating 90 to 100 runs, about what he produced in 2010 (97), but fewer than 2009 (122). Let's give 100 runs created here. Last season, Marlins third basemen created about 69 runs, so that's a 31-run improvement.

Shortstop: Jose Reyes
While Ramirez struggled at the plate in 2011, Emilio Bonifacio did a nice job filling in when Ramirez was injured. Marlins shortstops created about 87 runs. Reyes created about 105 runs a year ago -- in 126 games. Of course, he hit a career-best .337, which led to career-bests in on-base percentage and slugging percentage as well. The projection systems estimate Reyes around 80 to 85 runs created in a similar amount of playing time -- hitting about .300 with a .350 OBP. Let's give him 85 runs created and a few more for his substitute, giving 105 overall, an 18-run improvement. Certainly, that's probably conservative. Maybe Reyes stays healthy for 150 games and creates 115 runs.

Left field: Logan Morrison
Marlins left fielders (mostly Morrison) created 92 runs in 2011. Morrison is certainly capable of improving upon his .247/.330/.468 line, especially in the on-base department. I'm looking for a 15-run improvement.

Center field: Emilio Bonifacio
Chris Coghlan, Mike Cameron and Bryan Petersen each started at least 35 games in center a season ago. None exactly tore it up, and Marlins center fielders posted a collective .317 OBP with 14 home runs, worth about 76 runs created. Bonifacio, serving as a full-time utility guy, hit .296/.360/.393 and swiped 40 bases. He doesn't have any power, and the .360 OBP might be a little over his head, so the projections systems are a little down on him. All told, some combination of Benifacio, Coghlan and Petersen should do a little better. I'll call for an additional nine runs.

Right field: Giancarlo Stanton
Stanton hit .262/.356/.537 with 34 home runs as a 21-year-old. He could explode on the league this year (in fact, I like him as a sleeper MVP selection). I'm going plus-13 runs, and I believe that's a safe prediction.

Leaving aside pinch-hitting and pitchers' hitting, that adds up to a 91-run improvement. That would take the Marlins up from 625 runs (11th in the NL) to 716 runs (seventh in the NL, based on 2011 figures, but just 19 behind No. 2 Cincinnati and Colorado).

Now to the pitching. In 2011, Marlins starters allowed 486 runs in 944.1 innings or 4.6 per nine. Ace Josh Johnson went down after nine starts, but the Marlins received 29-plus starts from four other pitchers. Let's break down the rotation into five slots:



And here's how the rotation stacks up for 2012, using estimates based on various projection systems:



Old guys: 162 starts, 944.1 IP, 486 runs
New guys: 154 starts, 958 IP, 430 runs

Now, you can argue that's too optimistic, getting 154 starts from five pitchers -- after all, Johnson made 33 starts in 2009, but just 37 over the past two seasons, and Zambrano's durability is also an issue -- but that's what we're going with for now. Obviously, you can do your own adjustments if you don't believe Johnson will make 30 starts. Anyway, add in eight more starts at 40 innings and 25 runs (a low estimate of 5.6 runs per nine) and you end up with 998 innings and 455 runs allowed, a 31-run improvement.

The Marlins bullpen was pretty effective in 2011, allowing a 3.44 ERA, sixth in the NL. The big addition was bringing in Heath Bell as the closer to replace Juan Oviedo, currently on the restricted list after it was discovered he wasn't Leo Nunez. I view this as a minor upgrade; Bell has been one of the game's best closers the past three seasons, but he's also a flyball pitcher who benefited from the deep dimensions of Petco Park. His strikeout rate also took a serious plunge in 2011 (11.1 per nine to 7.3), so that's another red flag. I like some other Marlins relievers -- Steve Cishek is a sidearming groundball machine who was effective against both sides of the plate; Michael Dunn is a power lefty; Edward Mujica is a control guy who throws strikes, but can give up some home runs. If Oviedo returns, it should be a pretty deep pen. Overall, I'm going to project the Marlins' pen as being the same as 2011, when it pitched 515 innings and allowed 216 runs. Since we project more innings from the starters, we'll take some away from the bullpen, leaving it with 461 innings and 195 runs -- 21 fewer runs.

So we end up with:

Offense: +91 runs, for new total of 716 runs
Pitching: +52 runs, for new total of 650 runs

We haven't factored in defense, where the major changes will be Reyes replacing Ramirez at shortstop, and Ramirez replacing Greg Dobbs and others at third base. Baseball Info Solutions rated Marlins shortstops at minus-16 runs a year ago; Reyes rated minus-11 and hasn't rated above average on defense since 2007. At third base, the Marlins rated minus-10; we don't know how Ramirez will show at third, but I have to think he has a chance at improving on that. In center, the Marlins could also show a slight improvement, as Coghlan got the most innings out there in 2011 and he's a below-average center fielder. Overall, the Marlins could see slight improvement from their defense. Let's say 15 runs, knocking their runs allowed down to 635 runs.

This gives them an expected winning percentage of .530 -- or 86 wins.

Note: I screwed up the math in the original piece. 716 runs scored and 635 runs allowed translates to a winning percentage of .555, or 90 wins.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

SweetSpot's NL players to see

February, 17, 2012
2/17/12
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First the SweetSpot network took on the AL teams. Now they look at the NL. Which players are bloggers most excited to watch this season, and why?

Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton
Diamondbacks
Upton was finally healthy for an entire season in 2011, and met all the lofty expectations placed on him in the second year of a six-year, $51.25 million contract signed when he was 22. He set career highs in homers (31), RBI (88) and stolen bases (21, caught nine times), while compiling a .289/.369/.529 line. Through their age-23 season, there have been only four others to match Upton’s 91 homers, 62 stolen bases and 119 OPS+: Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco, Ken Griffey Jr. and Orlando Cepeda. Pretty elite company, and Upton still has time to mature as a player and team leader. I’m looking forward to watching this multifaceted young man do his thing again in 2012. -- Diane Firstman, Value Over Replacement Grit

Atlanta Braves: Jason Heyward
Braves
A healthy Heyward has to be the player Braves fans are most excited to see this season. Through injuries, bad habits developed while playing injured and benchings, just about everything that could have gone wrong for such a talent did go wrong last year. Despite all of that, Heyward never hung his head or complained and actually managed to produce slightly above-league-average value in right field. Heyward has reportedly straightened his swing out this offseason and has really worked hard to get his game back on track. If Heyward can get a little more elevation on his swing, while maintaining the other aspects of his rookie performance, Braves fans could once again witness a once-in-a-generation talent leading the team to a successful season. -- Franklin Rabon, Capitol Avenue Club

Chicago Cubs: Travis Wood
Cubs
In 2010, Wood made his big league debut for the Reds in an outing against the Cubs. He was brought in this offseason as part of the deal that sent Sean Marshall packing. For some, that was a disappointment considering Wood’s ERA last year was 4.84, but if we look beyond that we see that Wood posted a FIP ERA of 4.06, and Bill James projects him for an ERA of 3.75 in 2012. Also factor in that Great American Ballpark is a tough place to pitch; Wood had a 5.30 in the Gap vs. 3.58 on the road. Wrigley is not the hitters’ park we’ve all been told it is, primarily due to the wind blowing in often early in the year. The move from Cincinnati should do a lot toward boosting Wood’s production and confidence. -- Joe Aiello, View From the Bleachers

Cincinnati Reds: Mat Latos
Reds
Anticipation is building steadily for Latos' debut in a Cincinnati uniform. At 24 years of age and with a couple of excellent seasons already under his belt, the sky is the limit for him. For Reds fans, there is the hope that the club will have a legitimate ace at the top of the rotation for the first time in a couple of decades. Yes, there is reason for legitimate excitement in the Queen City. -- Chad Dotson, Redleg Nation

Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki
Rockies
It’s a debate in my mind between Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Both have tremendous gloves, bats and arms. Tulo trained this offseason with Jason Giambi in Las Vegas, and one could extrapolate some motivation from Dan O'Dowd's offseason acquisitions and trades. (O'Dowd believes the team needs leaders and better clubhouse guys, so what does that say about Tulo who plays the most important position on the field, is signed through 2020 and the face of the franchise?). What will Tulo do this year? I think 30 homers, Gold Glove-level defense and solidifying his place as the best player in baseball is a sure bet. Are the playoffs a sure bet for the Rockies? MVP for Tulo? I can't wait to see! -- Travis Lay, Blake Street Bulletin

Houston Astros: Jordan Lyles
Astros
With all of the changes, everyone seems to have forgotten that Lyles was recently the Astros’ top prospect. How quickly a young player that showed real promise last year has become overlooked in Houston. He's only 21 years old and had a number of very promising starts last year, posting a fair 4.41 ERA through July before running out of gas and getting shelled in August and September. He clearly needs to continue to build his stamina and strengthen himself to last the entire season. I'm interested to see how he continues to progress and if we can see him grow into the kind of player that can withstand the rigors of an entire major league season. I don't know how the Astros faithful have forgotten about Lyles so fast, but I think they'll be quickly and pleasantly reminded why he was considered a top prospect. -- Austin Swafford, Austin’s Astros 290 Blog

Los Angeles Dodgers: Kemp and Kershaw
Dodgers
Heaven knows it's hard not to be excited about the return of Juan Uribe or the potential of having Juan Rivera for a full season. But even so, there's a small, small part of me that is intrigued by these fellas named Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. They made a bit of an impression last year, and I can't say I'm not going to be, well ... OK, hanging on their every swing and pitch. But to avoid being too reliant on last year's stars, the new Dodger Roadrunner, Dee Gordon, will also be an exciting player to watch. -- Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts

Miami Marlins: Logan Morrison
Marlins
The player I'm truly most excited to see don a Marlins uniform this season is Logan Morrison. Following a splendid sophomore season in 2011, Morrison enters the new season as one of the game's top outfielders in the National League. With a solid approach and some power, a full season from Morrison could result in at least five additional wins for the Fish -- assuming Morrison can remain healthy. -- David Gershman, Marlins Daily

Milwaukee Brewers: Zack Greinke
Brewers
Last season, the Brewers didn't even get to see their prized acquisition participate in spring training, as Greinke broke a rib playing pickup basketball and missed all of spring and the first month of the season. This season, no basketball for the former Cy Young award winner. He'll be there through spring training and Brewer fans hope to avoid the slow start he suffered through last season. Greinke posted just a 5.63 ERA despite an 80:12 K:BB ratio in May and June last season (mostly thanks to eight home runs) before calming down in the second half. Greinke finished strong, posting a 2.80 ERA thanks to a .233/.293/.373 line allowed in July, August and September. -- Jack Moore, Disciples of Uecker

New York Mets: David Wright
Mets
After a winter of discontent for Mets fans, it’s hard to be excited about anyone in particular. The team is in desperate financial straits, is slashing payroll at record rates, and appears destined to finish in last place. Wright, the one player for whom I reserve excitement, may not even be on the team after July 31. Still, I’m highly anticipating his 2012 performance, because after two disappointing seasons I’m convinced that Wright has too much pride to have a third. For the first time in his career, the Mets are “his” team -- he’s the de facto leader, the man who sets the example for everyone else. Chances are, Wright is determined to have a career year, and will pound opposing pitching with a savage vengeance -- all in the name of leading the Mets to a less-than-90-loss season. -- Joe Janish, Mets Today

Philadelphia Phillies: Antonio Bastardo
Phillies
It was easy to be impressed by the sustained excellence of Atlanta's Jonny Venters last season, but Bastardo was quietly in the same neighborhood. Bastardo had a monster 2011 in which he struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings and held opponents to a .524 OPS. If he can even approach his 2011 performance, Bastardo, along with Jonathan Papelbon and the Phillies' army of young guys who throw hard (Mike Stutes, Justin De Fratus, David Herndon and so on), gives the Phillies' bullpen the potential to be one of the best in the National League. -- Michael Baumann, Crashburn Alley

Pittsburgh Pirates: Pedro Alvarez
Pirates
While Andrew McCutchen remains eminently exciting, we have a firm grasp on his star-level capabilities. I’m more excited to see whether Alvarez can rebound from his terrible sophomore season and get back to where his debut left off. The Pirates have a chance at a bright future, but all of their elite prospects are several years away. If there is any hope to be a competitive team in 2012, Alvarez has to give McCutchen and Neil Walker some help offensively. He has barely played a full season of games (169), and there is still time for him to meet the expectations that come as a No. 2 overall pick. Hey, Alex Gordon finally did. -- Paul Sporer, Pitt Plank

St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright
Cardinals
Despite losing everyone's perennial favorite player to watch to free agency, the defending champs have several captivating players in 2012. Partly because fans haven't seen him in a year and partly because he throws one of the most entertaining curveballs in the game, Wainwright will be a sight for sore eyes as he comes back from Tommy John surgery. But the player with whom Wainwright will forever be linked in fans' memories, Carlos Beltran, also figures to be a pivotal and exciting addition to the post-Pujols roster. -- Matt Philip, Fungoes

San Diego Padres: Carlos Quentin
Padres
The acquisition of Quentin brings energy, excitement and more total bases (210 in 2011 with the White Sox) and home runs (24) than any Padres player had last year. The Padres now employ two hitting coaches -- a model just a few MLB teams use -- as Phil Plantier and Alonzo Powell help with the workload hitting instruction requires. Quentin plays hard and he will help change the dynamics in the clubhouse. With the Padres' deep farm system and strong pitching, Quentin just might be the player to add the much needed spark of power in the middle of the order. -- Anna McDonald

San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey
Giants
I think I can speak for Giants fans everywhere when I say the player that I'm most excited to see play this season is Posey, and it's not even close. His injury in 2011 was a black mark on a year that we'd all like to forget. Beyond the numbers, Posey has quickly become the face of the Giants. He's young, energetic, talented and -- for us fans -- we hope healthy. Regardless of what happens, I'll be happy to see him back on the field in 2012. -- Chris Quick, Bay City Ball

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg
Nationals
How could it be anyone but Strasburg? When healthy, the most hyped pitching prospect in over a decade has delivered some fabulous pitching performances, and yet it feels like he is just scratching the surface of what he can do. He's as equally likely to blow guys away for a double-digit K performance as he is to shut a team down and let just two guys reach first over eight innings. He looked so good at the end of last year that the feeling is the only thing that can stop him in 2012 are the limits imposed by his own team to protect his recovering arm. -- Harper Gordek, Nationals Baseball
DALLAS -- The most important player for the Miami Marlins may not be Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez or even Albert Pujols.

No, it's the guy Mets manager Terry Collins referred to on Monday as "the big horse."

In the first few weeks of the 2011, Josh Johnson may have been the most dominant pitcher in the majors. In his first nine starts, he gave up 13 runs, allowed zero runs or one run in six of those starts, held opposing hitters to a .185 average and just two home runs and memorably outdueled Roy Halladay in a 2-1 victory on May 10. One start later, he developed a strain shoulder. He was supposed to return in August, but was eventually shut down for the season.

Johnson's importance to the Marlins is vital. With the departure of free agent Javier Vazquez (who may retire), the rotation is thin behind Johnson and Anibal Sanchez. Ricky Nolasco continues to be a tantalizing talent, but the fact is his ERA over the past three seasons is 4.76 and his strikeout rate has declined the past two seasons. Chris Volstad remains a sinkerball pitcher who gives up too many home runs.

That's why, along with pursuing Albert Pujols, the Marlins have been in on C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle. They need to strengthen the depth of a rotation that posted a 4.23 ERA that ranked 12th in the National League. But the success of the rotation will begin with the health of Johnson.

Collins said as much on Monday: "If they can get that big horse out there 30 times, they're going to be something."

Jose Reyes was officially introduced Wednesday and as team president Larry Beinfest said, "This is a lot more pleasant than facing him 18 times a year." Beinfest pointed out the speed and energy the Marlins will now have at the top of the order with switch-hitters Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio. Beinfest quickly addressed alleged reports of Hanley Ramirez being unhappy about a move to third base, saying "Hanley is a key to our team. He has been and he remains a unique talent. ... We think they'll be the best left side of the infield in baseball."

[+] EnlargeTBD
AP Photo/David J. PhillipPrince Fielder had a WAR of 5.2 last season, just a shade under Albert Pujols' 5.4.
Hanging over the Reyes news conference, of course, is the unresolved situation with Pujols. But as the Marlins wait for Pujols to decide on their reported 10-year, $220 million offer, you wonder if that money wouldn't be better spent in another direction: Why not go after Prince Fielder and Buehrle instead of shelling out so much for a player -- as great as Pujols is -- who would be 41 years old by the end of the contract?

Based on speculation and reports, it may be possible to get Fielder for something like seven years and $160 million, plus a team option (just under $23 million per season). For Buehrle, a guaranteed fourth season may be the winning solution and he could come in around four years, $60 million.

Just going by 2011 numbers, Pujols had a 5.4 wins above replacement (WAR) value. Fielder was at 5.2 and Buehrle 3.7. Even if Pujols rebounds to a slightly higher level, it's unlikely he's going to be a nine-win player over the next four seasons. As big a splash as Pujols would make in Miami, the wiser baseball decision may be to go after Fielder and Buehrle.

After all, a lineup headlined by Reyes, Ramirez, Fielder, Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison is still imposing. And a rotation with a healthy Josh Johnson and Buehrle looks more imposing as well.
ESPN.com's very own Jerry Crasnick joined us on Thursday's Baseball Today . Some of the items we discussed:

1. Here come the Angels! But should the Angels start Jered Weaver on three days' rest? Jerry and I disagreed.

2. Will Alex Rodriguez's injury issues in recent years affect Albert Pujols' contract?

3. Logan Morrison is back with the Marlins ... not that any fans showed up to see him.

4. More Hall of Fame discussion. Can't get enough Hall of Fame!

5. What do Cy Young and Sandy Koufax have to do with today's pitchers?

Plus: The NL West, user emails, Kirk Gibson's influence and more, all on Thursday's Baseball Today.
Unlike Dan Uggla's memorable hitting streak, Baseball Today continues onward and upward for a Monday edition ripe with topics that Mark Simon and I discussed, including:

1. We congratulate the Atlanta second baseman for his unlikely accomplishment, while also praising his Chicago Cubs foe that stopped it.

2. We do not congratulate Chicago Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano if this was indeed the last time he will pitch this season, but we offer thoughts on his future team.

3. Prince Fielder and the Brewers are rolling along, but as Mark points out, the team’s -- and individual’s -- work at home is carrying the day.

4. If it’s Monday, it’s time for Power Rankings, and the Brewers move up in mine. Check out the interesting back of the top 10 for each of us.

5. Many seem unhappy that Florida Marlins outfielder/master tweeter Logan Morrison was demoted to the minors. Why did it happen?

Plus: Excellent emails, the excellent Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen, the excellent Peter Bourjos, the Curtis Granderson kryptonite, ejections, A.J. Burnett and much more on Monday’s Baseball Today podcast!
A quick preview of the week ... and a little confusion over what the Marlins are trying to accomplish by sending Logan Morrison down to the minors.

SERIES OF THE WEEK

Rangers at Angels, Monday through Thursday

Monday: Alexi Ogando (11-5, 3.22) vs. Garrett Richards (0-1, 10.80)
Tuesday: Derek Holland (10-4, 4.30) vs. Tyler Chatwood (6-8, 4.07)
Wednesday: C.J. Wilson (11-5, 3.28) vs. Ervin Santana (9-8, 3.10)
Thursday: Colby Lewis (11-8, 4.01) vs. Jered Weaver (14-6, 2.13)

The Angels are now four games behind the Rangers after a tough series in Toronto -- Jered Weaver got battered for eight runs, the first game he'd allowed more than four, and then Jordan Walden blew his eighth save on Sunday and the Angels lost in extra innings. It's desperation time and they begin the series with hard-throwing Garrett Richards, making just his second major league start. They follow that up with ... another rookie. As for the Rangers, they lead the AL in road ERA at 3.09. One of their secret weapons has been former Angel Mike Napoli, hitting .288/.386/.583. Think the Angels could have used that production?

PITCHING MATCHUP OF THE WEEK

Ian Kennedy (15-3, 3.12) vs. Vance Worley (8-1, 2.85), Diamondbacks at Phillies (Thursday)

In what could be a playoff preview, Arizona travels to Philly for an interesting series beginning Tuesday. The series finale is the best matchup as Kennedy takes his seven-start win streak (2.44 ERA, .211 average allowed during that stretch) against the Phillies' rookie. Worley got hit hard his previous start but the Phillies are 12-2 in games he's started.

THREE SWINGS

1. After hitting two home runs on Sunday, rookie Brandon Belt might have finally earned a place in the San Francisco lineup. Question is: Did Bruce Bochy waste too many weeks (months?) waiting for his veterans to come around. And if Belt goes 0-for-4, will he back on the bench? The Giants might have the second-best ERA in the majors, but unless Belt hits and Carlos Beltran returns soon from his hand injury, this team won't score enough runs to win the NL West. They have a four-game series in Atlanta to start the week, but then play 12 games against the Astros, Padres and Cubs before meeting Arizona in early September. They need to play well in Atlanta and over those next 12 games to stay close to the Diamondbacks.

2. It would seem the Marlins sent Logan Morrison down to the minors to send a message about his tweeting, more so than for his production. While his .249 batting average is a disappointment, his overall line of .249/.327/.464 with 17 home runs still makes him much more productive than the average National League hitter. His .791 OPS is actually better than All-Star first baseman Gaby Sanchez's .787 mark -- and second-best on the team. The problem: the Marlins didn't say they're sending him down because of his tweeting and other organizational criticisms (Morrison criticized the team when hitting coach John Mallee was fired in June and teammate Hanley Ramirez for missing a photo session), but for his .249 average. But the Marlins are either (A) lying; (B) being disingenuous; or (C) unable to properly evaluate hitters. They certainly have the right to tell Morrison to keep certain topics inside the clubhouse, but their public stance smacks of dishonesty and of a front office that doesn't want to put its best team on the field.

3. One of the most disappointing results of the season has been the results from the Orioles' young rotation. The problems started in spring training with Brian Matusz and his intercostal strain that affected his ribs; he never seemed to recover, was terrible in six starts and is now back in Triple-A. Jake Arrieta was 10-8 but with a 5.05 ERA before he had season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow. Zach Britton had a 3.10 ERA through June 17 but gave up 45 hits in 23 innings over his next six starts and was finally put on the DL with a left shoulder strain, although he could return shortly. Chris Tillman just hasn't developed as many projected. While all have been disappointments, some of the blame goes to the Baltimore defense, which various defensive metrics rate as the worst in the majors. The Orioles will undoubtedly count on all four youngsters again next season, but right now they look the same old Orioles, a long way from fielding a winning ballclub.

RANT OF THE WEEK

Dan Uggla's hitting streak was exciting and unexpected and while it helped salvage his wreck of a season, it doesn't completely salvage his season. The streak raised his average from .173 to .232, but his on-base percentage is still below .300 at .297. He's not a good fielder and FanGraphs rates him as the 19th-best second baseman in baseball. The Braves are paying Uggla $9 million this season -- but $13 million a season through 2015. That's a lot of coin for a low-OBP, poor fielding second baseman, even if you do hit 30-plus home runs.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
Myself and Keith Law had plenty of things to talk about on Wednesday's Baseball Today podcast , including:

1. The disaster in St. Louis. What the heck was Tony La Russa thinking in the eighth inning?

2. Whether or not Logan Morrison and Ricky Romero were wrong for calling out their teammates. Speaking of: What does Keith think of Hanley Ramirez's future?

3. Max Scherzer lost, but he's still 9-3. But how good is he and how good will he be?

4. What would a hard slotting system in the baseball draft mean?

5. Keith talks about some prospects he saw Tuesday night in Staten Island.

Plus: Maikel Cleto's 100-mph fastball, a College World Series preview of Vanderbilt-North Carolina, David Price versus Shaun Marcum and much more!

Are teams playing better defenders in left?

June, 8, 2011
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One popular notion in some sabermetric circles these days is that defense in the outfield corners is getting better, proof positive that teams are taking defense much more seriously. It’s an interesting theory, and fits with the preconceived notion that certain defensive metrics have descriptive value. Accept the data and you can accept the result.

That’s all easy enough to believe, especially if you want to discover a new trend, but what if the data isn’t reliably reflected across the various defensive metrics? And what if it flies in the face of what we see in terms of who it is that teams are actually playing in left field?

[+] EnlargeRyan Braun
AP Photo/Morry GashRyan Braun's play in left field has improved since he moved there in 2008.
Consider who was playing in left field last season in the National League. To belabor the obvious, the NL doesn’t have the DH, so there’s an automatic incentive to take a defensive hit and get a bopper’s bat in the lineup from the position that winds up seeing fewer chances than infielders or center fielders do. Looking at everyone who played 500 or more innings in left last season, do these sound like the “better fielders” that have been advertised?
Not that there’s a direct-causal relationship, but it’s more than a little amusing to note that three of the league’s playoff teams last year were starting Burrell, Ibanez, and Gomes -- players not usually associated with their defensive contributions, and three guys who have had to spend good chunks of time as designated hitters after moving away from their initial positions as prospects.

Admittedly, the outfielders who stayed as outfielders make for an interesting crew. Milledge, Parra, Smith, Tabata and Bay all got chances as center fielders early on in their careers, either in the minors or even briefly in the majors. But none of them were ever expected to stick in center and were corner-bound early on. They’re also not all good outfielders, mind you; Bay hasn’t graded out as any better than mediocre in any of several venues via several metrics. But Parra, Holliday and Tabata all offer positive value afield, and Parra and Tabata are recent enough arrivals to represent some form of validation for a “recent defensive improvement” theory.

Among the ex-infielders, Braun, however athletic he was as a college shortstop once upon a time, proved to be a bad third baseman, had a rough first year in left in 2008, but seems to have become a better left fielder in the past season-plus, at least according to Total Zone, Plus/Minus and Fielding Runs.

It’s everyone else where you start running into problems. Ibanez, Lee and Soriano would probably be DHs in the AL if their contracts didn’t keep them planted in left field for their respective ballclubs. All three provide awful defense. Willingham grades reliably poorly, as does Gomes. Morrison is a big galoot and giving left field his best shot, but it would be hard to call him an obvious success. If you want to be generous, you can compare his move to left to Willingham’s, or perhaps to the Rockies’ success with their decision to move Brad Hawpe to right field to get his bat in the lineup earlier in the decade. That was a defensive hit the Rockies were willing to take for the offensive boost; it was an idea that helped get them a pennant, but that doesn’t sound much like a better brand of defense getting played in the outfield.

[+] EnlargeRyan Ludwick
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesRyan Ludwick is a steady presence in left field for the Padres.
If you want to get really skeptical about the data, you might note that Burrell has done extremely well for the Giants according to several metrics, which probably seems strange after three bad years in left for the Phillies, which preceded the Rays’ signing him to DH. To my way of thinking, that just goes toward how much confidence we can invest in any interpretive defensive metric -- the information is suggestive, but not conclusive. What is incontrovertible is that one of the so-called “smart” teams, the Rays, as performance analysis-aided as anybody in the industry, took one look at Burrell and said “DH.” Does this mean the Rays were dumb? Of course it doesn’t, especially when the Rays get -- and deserve -- credit for doing so much to improve their defense between 2007 and 2008 to aid their massive turnaround as a franchise.

So, maybe things changed for the better in 2011, right? Coghlan moved to center, while Milledge moved to the International League. You can add Ryan Ludwick of the Padres to the latest list of regulars -- he fits into the outfielders-playing-outfield group, and does it well. The Braves moved Martin Prado out of the infield because of his bad glove; according to Total Zone and Fielding Runs he remains a liability as a left fielder, while UZR and Plus/Minus think he’s just fine out there. That doesn’t sound conclusive one way or another, but it’s early yet. Maybe he’ll be the next Braun, or the next Soriano.

In the absence of any compelling trend, what might be especially interesting is that for all the talk of improvement, one thing has been damnably consistent over the past decade. Per Baseball-Reference.com, in 1990, left fielders were catching 48 percent of all fly balls. In 2000, they were catching 47 percent of all fly balls, and in 2009 they were catching 47 percent of all fly balls. Last year, with all this improving going on, left fielders caught 46 percent of all fly balls hit in their direction. So far this year it’s at 49 percent. And all of this while there are fewer balls in play as the strikeout rates keep going higher. Maybe it’s just me, but maybe the teams like the Giants and Reds and Phillies and Marlins, and perhaps now the Braves, have gone for a bat in left field, maybe they’re the ones onto something elegant and classic: putting boppers in a bopper’s slot.
Miguel CabreraAP Photo/Christine CotterMiguel Cabrera suprisingly didn't get picked in the first round of ESPN.com's franchise player draft.
OK, we had so much fun with the first round of the mock "franchise player draft" that we decided to conduct a second round -- primarily because we were shocked that Miguel Cabrera went unselected.

So we decided to see who the next 30 players might be. Now, the owners below didn't draft the players, but we included the names since the first-round pick may have affected the second-round pick. Dave went first and made all the odd picks, while Eric made the even selections.

31. Doug Glanville (Wilson Ramos): Miguel Cabrera -- Best hitter on the board, could have easily gone in the top 10. Not much defensively or in the car, but he can rake.

32. Tristan H. Cockcroft (Justin Upton): Adrian Gonzalez -- How are these great offensive monsters slipping so far? Tristan would have his 3-4 hitters for a while.

33. Barry Larkin (Roy Halladay): Jay Bruce -- Roy says he wants a big power bat for the middle of the order. And Bruce is a solid defender as well and just 24.

34. Buster Olney (Michael Pineda): Ryan Zimmerman -– It’s good to have strong defense at the hot corner, and Zimmerman brings that. Hopefully he brings more health, but he’s only 26.

35. Jonah Keri (Jose Bautista): Jered Weaver -- This team is in win-now mode with Bautista, so we’ll go with Jered Weaver, the best ace left on the board.

36. Tim Kurkjian (Clayton Kershaw): Tommy Hanson -- Why stop with one ace? Timmy would have the best one-two rotation punch in baseball!

37. Jayson Stark (Carlos Gonzalez): Jose Reyes -- We thought about the appropriately named Jayson Nix, but we’ll take a 28-year shortstop having his best season.

38. Rick Sutcliffe (Neftali Feliz): Elvis Andrus -- One Texas Ranger isn’t enough, and while Reyes is terrific, Andrus is 22 and has a lot of growing to do. Someday soon, he could be Reyes.

39. Kevin Goldstein (Stephen Strasburg): Eric Hosmer -- KG is a prospect hound so let’s give him Hosmer, who could be the best hitter in the game in a couple of years ... and the next decade after that.

40. Mark Mulder (Mike Stanton): Cole Hamels -- Gotta love the lefties! You say Weaver is the best ace on the board … I beg to differ!

41. Matt Meyers (Hanley Ramirez): Andrew McCutchen -- At least Eric didn’t give Mulder Ryan Howard. I’ll take the five-tool center fielder to go with our five-tool shortstop.

42. Jerry Crasnick (Starlin Castro): Matt Kemp -- Well, I had McCutchen all ready to go there, but Jerry profiled Matt Kemp back in March, and I got the feeling he believed a rebound season was coming. Kemp is, after all, only 26.

43. Christina Kahrl (Buster Posey): Colby Rasmus -- You can have Kemp. I'll take the center fielder with good on-base skills, power, good defense and is two years younger.

44. Jason Churchill (Carlos Santana): Jeremy Hellickson -- Jason’s catcher needs someone to throw to him. Hellickson might end up the AL Rookie of the Year, and there’s no reason he can’t keep improving.

45. Steve Berthiaume (Justin Verlander): Dustin Pedroia -- Off to a slow start, but he's a good hitter and fielder at a premium position. Plus, Steve is a big Sox fan.

46. Jim Caple (Joe Mauer): Prince Fielder -– At least one of Caple’s players should be durable and possess power. Fielder certainly can hit home runs. And when he moves Mauer from behind the plate, it wouldn’t be to first base, anyway!

47. Aaron Boone (Robinson Cano): CC Sabathia -- With Cano on board, Boone wants to win now, so it's the big, workhorse lefty who still has 7-8 more good years in. Or maybe 15 if he goes to Bartolo Colon's doctor.

48. Jim Bowden (David Price): Manny Machado –- Jim does love the prospects, and why do I (Bryce Harper) and Jason Grey (Mike Trout) get all the fun of choosing minor leaguers? Machado is an easily projectable shortstop and I’m sure Jim would agree he is worth waiting until 2013 for.

49. Jason Grey (Mike Trout): Brett Anderson: Jason is crushed by the Machado pick, but Anderson is a nice consolation prize.

50. Orel Hershiser (Jon Lester): Brian McCann -- I knew Grey would have wanted Machado! Orel probably scoffed at that and myriad other picks. He wants to win right now. McCann is arguably the best offensive catcher (with power) in the game, and he’s 27. Orel would love this pick!

51. Mark Simon (Ryan Braun): Drew Stubbs -- Mets fan Simon can't pull the trigger on David Wright and takes Stubbs and his 30/30 potential and terrific range in center.

52. Eric Karabell (Bryce Harper): Mat Latos -- Hey, it’s actually my pick! I’d better get my ace here. I considered Zack Greinke, but Latos is four years younger, and even if my home ballpark is small, I think Latos could overcome it. Plus, I’ll get him more run support.

53. Enrique Rojas (Albert Pujols): Carl Crawford -- Obviously, we're banking on both Pujols and Crawford just having slow starts. They'll bounce back ... right???

54. Jorge Arangure Jr. (Jason Heyward): Matt Wieters -- Jorge said he chose Heyward because he wanted a gifted offensive force for another 15 years. Enter Wieters, who will hit and head to many All-Star games.

55. Chris Singleton (Josh Johnson): Asdrubal Cabrera -- Nice grab on Wieters there, EK. I'm a believer in Cabrera, who is just 25 and pounding the ball so far this season. Even if he fades, we're talking about a switch-hitting shortstop with 15-20 homers and solid D.

56. Amy Nelson (Tim Lincecum): Logan Morrison -- Amy has her freaky ace, now she gets a young on-base machine developing power quicker than most thought. Plus, Amy and Logan will be Tweeting about their franchise 24/7. It’s a win-win.

58. David Schoenfield (Felix Hernandez): Pepe Frias -- HA! I control Schoenfield’s pick here! He gets the late-1970s shortstop that slugged .290 in his career, with one home run (off John Candelaria, no less) and he’s 62 years old. OK, he can have Shin-Soo Choo. We know he’s got power and good years left.

59. Keith Law (Evan Longoria): Brian Matusz. C'mon, EK, you know I'd take Terry Harmon over Pepe Frias. Give Klaw Matusz, a future Cy Young winner ... with the Yankees.

60. Karl Ravech (Troy Tulowitzki): Mark Teixeira -- All the things that Karl mentioned on his first overall pick make sense here. Consistent power, contract is set, winning organization ... Karl’s gonna score some runs! Plus, with the 61st pick in the franchise draft, he could always get some pitching ... wanna keep going?
Here are five reasons why you will really enjoy Thursday's Baseball Today podcast with me and draft expert Keith Law:

1. The Cardinals have to deal with losing a top hitter and a surprising starting pitcher to the DL. Which loss is easier to overcome?

2. Ubaldo Jimenez looked awesome Wednesday and obviously Kyle Drabek did not. We discuss the future for these right-handers.

3. Goodbye, Dice-K! He says he wants Tommy John surgery, but the Red Sox just want him gone, we think.

4. Logan Morrison's tweeting: Is it really a problem? Maybe it can fix Hanley Ramirez.

5. Lots of draft stuff as the big day approaches, including strong emails. Speaking of the minors, check out the New Britain Rock Cats. I did on Thursday; Law enlightens me on the relevant starting pitchers I saw as well as the 5-foot-3 shortstop who pitched!

Plus: Excellent emails, Starlin Castro's interesting defense, the Cardinals bullpen, when to go see Bryce Harper play, a guy named Bubba and we dissect Thursday's schedule, including a duel of last season's and perhaps this season's Cy Young Award winners ... all on Thursday's Baseball Today!

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