SweetSpot: Omar Infante

Was Royals' Shields-Myers deal worth it?

August, 31, 2014
8/31/14
12:17
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Are you a Kansas City Royals fan? Perhaps the better question is, did you remain a Royals fan over the past few decades? If so, this season’s been pretty happy for you, and Saturday night’s action might even have seemed a bit fortuitous for you, despite the Royals’ eventual loss to the Indians. That’s because two pieces involved in the signature trade that helped make the Royals the AL Central leaders they are today were in action.

If you’re not a Royals fan, here’s a bit of background. After a mediocre 2012 season for the Royals, in which the fruits of their vaunted farm system spoiled to a 72-90 record, there was pressure to unseat GM Dayton Moore. Keeping the faith with his plethora of position prospects, Moore addressed the teams’ pitching needs by acquiring starters James Shields and Wade Davis from the Rays for a package of prospects including highly rated outfielder Wil Myers, first baseman Patrick Leonard and pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery. There were quite a few detractors on the Royals’ side of the return; Myers was one of the more highly rated hitting prospects in the game, while Shields would only be under team control for another two years. But by making such a move, Moore had made it clear he believed the Royals had a window for contention in 2013 and 2014. Remembering 2012, skeptics wondered if the Royals could put together such a swing in such a short time.

[+] EnlargeJames Shields
AP Photo/Colin E. BraleyWill "Big Game James" Shields deliver big games for the Royals in October?

It’s been just shy of two years since that big trade. Sure, there were other actions Moore took to make the Royals contenders, including the successful promotions of pitchers Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura while building a shutdown bullpen. But it was that trade that made headlines and got second-guessed, so let’s focus on that.

For starters, “Big Game James” Shields has performed as advertised and provided an average of 6 2/3 quality innings per start since his acquisition. He led a rebuilt pitching staff in 2013 to improve the Royals on the run prevention side of the ledger where as a team they allowed 145 fewer runs in 2013 than in 2012. Finishing 2013 with a record above .500 for the first time since 1994 was a feather in Moore’s cap. Shields has similarly pitched very well in 2014, as evidenced by his seven-inning, one-run performance Saturday against Cleveland.

Davis, however, did not perform as advertised in 2013. When he wasn’t walking more than a handful of batters, they were teeing off on him. In September, the Royals returned him to the relief role the Rays had converted him to, and he has been lights-out since then. Against the Indians, he came in for an inning in relief of Shields and promptly struck out the side. Among relievers in 2014 with at least 20 innings pitched, he is in the top five in baseball in strikeout rate and top 10 in WHIP, and he has allowed less than a baserunner per inning.

The problem with the Royals the past few years has been with their undeveloped offense. Despite drawing nine walks against Cleveland on Saturday, they lost 3-2 in extra innings, including missing an opportunity to score with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the 10th. That issue could get worse in the playoffs because among the various American League playoff contenders and wild card aspirants, they have scored the fewest runs. And as much as the Royals’ run prevention has improved, they are still worse than every other contender in the non-Tigers category. Yes, they might make the playoffs, but their chances to go far aren’t all that good.

The Royals attempted to address their offense in the offseason by acquiring Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki to provide some on-base skills while hoping their young position players would develop. Unfortunately, Aoki’s 2014 showing is a career low, while Infante hasn’t missed being on base this much since 2005. Further complicating issues is that aside from Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain, virtually every Royals hitter has been more blah than bland.

Although Myers did not disappoint in 2013 for the Rays on his way to win the American League Rookie of the year, his injury-riddled and generally slow 2014 would still be comparable to Aoki’s production -- for a million dollars less. It is also arguable Odorizzi could have provided similar production to Shields and for quite a few more million dollars less. On that note, Odorizzi threw seven innings of one-hit, no-run baseball against the Red Sox this same Saturday night, which bettered Shields’ performance.

The Royals might end up achieving their goal of reaching the playoffs in 2014, but with the offensive prospects failing to develop, it’s reasonable to wonder if their chances are good to get to the World Series. In hindsight, perhaps keeping Myers and Odorizzi and planning for contention in 2015 would have been wiser and cheaper. On the other hand, I imagine Dayton Moore is just happy the Royals are on the verge of their first playoff appearance in a generation. The question then becomes: “Just how long will Royals fans remain happy?”

Richard Bergstrom writes for Rockies Zingers, a SweetSpot network blog on the Colorado Rockies. You can follow him on Twitter at @RockiesZingers.

Braves end their infield Uggla-ness

July, 18, 2014
7/18/14
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A few quick takeaways from the Atlanta Braves' accepting the inevitable and finally cutting Dan Uggla loose, because releasing the veteran second baseman not only means the Braves eat the money they owe him, it also means admitting that they effectively lost the trade for him in the first place.

Uggla is no loss, even with the kind of money the Braves will have to eat by cutting him, since he's owed $13 million this season and next. The job at second base already belongs to Tommy La Stella, and there’s not much use for a second-base-only reserve who can’t hit or field. At least they get the roster spot back to use on a pinch-hitter or yet another pitcher or even just to keep Christian Bethancourt around for a while after they reactivate Evan Gattis from the DL. Anything to spare us from another eight-man bullpen.

[+] EnlargeDan Uggla
Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesDan Uggla long since hadn't shown much at the plate, so you can accept the Braves' willingness to cut him loose after he showed up late.
Even if you’re optimistic enough to think that Uggla might have something left despite a sub-.500 OPS this year after last year’s epic .179/.309/.362 season, there’s also the question of why you’d invest the time to find out. After he earned a one-game suspension for showing up late to a game at Wrigley Field last week, he was the veteran ballplayer in the clubhouse who wasn’t winning friends and influencing people as a reserve. The only guys older than Uggla on the Braves are journeymen Aaron Harang and Gerald Laird. Can you blame the Braves for deciding that enough was enough when they’re contending with the youngest lineup in the NL at 27 years old on average?

And don’t the Marlins look that even smarter still now? When the Fish dealt Uggla to the Braves before the 2011 season, they had one year of contractual control left before he hit free agency. By almost anybody’s standard, they made a tremendous offer to keep Uggla around: four years, $48 million. Even after four straight 30-homer seasons in Florida, he wasn’t an ideal choice to give a huge multiyear deal: He’d already turned 30 and was a slow slugger with a questionable defensive future. But he’d served the Marlins in good stead after they fished him out of the D-backs’ farm system via the Rule 5 draft. Uggla said no thanks, and the Fish decided -- as they had with so many other guys awaiting expanding paydays via arbitration and free agency -- to convert him into what value they could get, which was Mike Dunn and Omar Infante.

At the time, there was a ton of the usual shrieking about how this was yet another indication that the Marlins weren’t a serious operation, as Jeffrey Loria and his minions nickel-and-dimed their way to cheap, pointless self-perpetuation. But now that we’re four years beyond the trade, we have a better perspective on how it worked out.

The Braves granted Uggla a five-year, $62 million deal (avoiding arbitration), but he hasn’t really been a good player since 2011 (his last 30-homer season) -- the last year the Marlins could have controlled him. His power slipped in 2012, when his walk, strikeout and swinging-strike rates all started spiking, then he stopped making good contact last year as his strikeouts climbed even higher. And now he’s truly got bubkes to offer. The Braves are still on the hook for another $13 million next year, when he’ll still be done.

So who won the trade? Well, one way of looking at it is that Uggla did, because he and his agent successfully leveraged his situation into a trade that generated $16 million more than the Marlins were willing to pay him, while putting him on a contender. And another napkin-level guesstimate way of looking at it is via WAR, because against the 2.5 WAR Uggla generated for the Braves in his three and a half years, the Marlins have gotten 1.9 WAR out of Dunn (and counting) and another 4.2 out of Infante in less than two seasons before they dealt him to the Tigers for Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly and Brian Flynn. And they don’t owe Uggla a red cent.

And the Braves? They would have been better off trying to keep Infante for a lot less than they had to pay Uggla, and used that money on something else. Which is easy enough to say in retrospect, but even after trading for Uggla, they didn’t have to give him the kind of money he was asking for, and that would have worked out better for them.


Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.

Notes on D: Shifts, Tigers, leaping Lough

April, 30, 2014
4/30/14
1:17
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Take a look at the spray chart on the right.


Omar Infante provides an interesting dilemma for teams that like to shift.


It is the profile of a right-handed hitter, Kansas City Royals infielder Omar Infante, with an extreme tendency to pull groundballs. He’s hit 26 this season and only two have been hit to the right of the second base bag (we’ll tell the story of one in a second).

Do you shift him or do you defend him straight up?

This is a fascinating topic of discussion.

If you watched last Thursday’s "Baseball Tonight," you know where Eduardo Perez stands on the issue.

Perez, who was the Astros bench coach and was in charge of shifting last season, said that he would not shift Infante because Infante’s bat-control ability negated anything that might come from his spray chart.

"He’s too good of a hitter," Perez said.

This year, the Astros and their coach in charge of defensive positioning, Pat Listach, put on a full shift for Infante, the first team documented to do so (the Pirates and Rays have tried partial shifts against him for a combined total of six times).

Sure enough, in his second at-bat against the Astros this season, Infante adjusted and punched a base hit through the hole on the right side (the hits in the image are in light blue).

Expect to see "The Omar Infante Dilemma" play out with hitters across the major leagues (Jackie Bradley Jr. being shifted by the Yankees and Jimmy Rollins being shifted by the Mets in past years are other examples). We’ll try to report on this from time to time in this space.

For now, we’re curious. Would you shift against Infante? We find both sides of the debate to be compelling.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Tigers D not so grrrreat
Last week we wrote about the defensive struggles of Torii Hunter, who currently has the worst Defensive Runs Saved total in the majors.

What we didn’t detail is how the Tigers have fared as a team. They’re currently at -21 DRS.

We bet you wouldn’t be able to guess the team leader in DRS. It’s none other than first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who has fared adequately in his move back to first. His three Defensive Runs Saved are tied for the second-most of any first baseman.

Double your (dis)pleasure
As one who regularly writes about the Mets, we’ve become sensitive regarding the turning of double plays, mainly because the Mets have struggled at it this season. They’re tied for second the majors in a stat tracked by Baseball Info Solutions called Double Play Misplay & Errors, with five (the Padres lead the majors with eight).

If you’re wondering what the difference is between a shortstop who rates well at turning a double play and one who rates poorly, a couple of examples work well.

Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy has been either the fielder or pivot man on 21 groundballs with a man on first base and less than two outs this season. He’s turned 19 of them into double plays.

That 90 percent conversion rate is the best in baseball, and as you can imagine, it’s atypical for end-of-season numbers (the major-league average is 63 percent and Pete Kozma was the leader at shortstop last season at 75 percent).

The two shortstops who rate worst in baseball this season are Yunel Escobar of the Rays (nine of 24) and Ruben Tejada of the Mets (seven of 21).

Among second basemen, Josh Wilson of the Rangers (nine of 10) and Danny Espinosa of the Nationals (12 of 14) rate best and Eric Sogard of the Athletics (six of 19) rates worst.

Last season’s leader was Ryan Flaherty of the Orioles (77 percent) and the major-league average was 65 percent.

Lough before you leap
In scouring video for the best plays made recently, we noticed a trend -- David Lough of the Orioles and his penchant for leaping catches.

Lough made three of them in left field in an eight-day span from April 20 to 27, robbing A.J. Pierzynski, Jose Bautista and Jarrod Dyson of base hits.

Amazingly, Lough has the third-most Defensive Runs Saved among left fielders over the last two seasons (a position in which you typically play your third-best outfielder) despite having only played a little more than 200 innings there in that span.

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).
1. Rays and James Loney agree on a three-year, $21 million contract.

I'm a little surprised Loney wasn't able to get a little better contract after a solid 2013 -- two years and $20 million or three years and $30 million, something like that -- but Loney remains a bit of an enigma and he doesn't give you the power you'd like from a first baseman, so teams hate to spend money on a guy like him. Still, I'd rather have Loney for three years at $7 million per season than Justin Morneau for two years at $6.25 million per season (as the Rockies gave him).

While Loney hit .299/.348/.430 in 2013 and plays good defense, he also hit .249/.293/.336 in 2012. The fear is that he may be more 2012 than 2013. But as Tommy Rancel pointed out over at The Process Report:
Perception aside, there appears to be little wrong with this arrangement. Loney is an average -- or slightly better -- player being paid at what appears to be market rate. The comparison to Casey Kotchman will be made, but that is rather lazy. Some will quickly point out Loney’s disastrous 2012, and sudden rebound as too positive of a correction, but looking at each season in which he has logged over 300 plate appearances, it is 2012 and not 2013 that jumps out as more of the outlier.

Season by wRC+
2007 – 137
2008 – 102
2009 – 103
2010 – 97
2011 – 110
2012 – 70
2013 – 115


Loney isn't a great player but he's durable and, at 29, three years younger than Morneau, and plays better defense. For a team like the Rays, it's a safe investment.

2. Royals and Omar Infante agree to four-year, $30 million deal.

Infante has had an interesting career. A regular in the big leagues at 22 with the Tigers, he had a bad season at age 23 and the Tigers turned him into a utility player, eventually trading him to the Cubs (for Jacque Jones, who hit .165 in 24 games with Detroit). The Cubs immediately traded him to the Braves. From 2006 through 2009 he averaged just 250 plate appearances a season. I'm pretty sure at that point Infante never imagined he'd be signing a $30 million contract. Anyway, he was a controversial All-Star in 2010 for the Braves, traded to the Marlins for Dan Uggla and then traded with Anibal Sanchez back to the Tigers in 2012.

He's been a good player the past four seasons, averaging 2.7 WAR per year as a good contact hitter who plays a reliable second base. But those were his age-27 to age-31 seasons. The Royals are banking him being productive from ages 32 to 35. The Royals have now handed $62 million to Infante and Jason Vargas, which probably sounds more ridiculous than it is. Both are average-ish players, but Kansas City is banking on strong aging curves from both. While it's easy to criticize both moves, these are the types of players a team like the Royals are going to land in free agency.

Infante hit .318 with a .345 OBP in 2013 (he doesn't walk much, obviously) so had value on offense; but he hit .276 in 2011 and .274 in 2012 and didn't have as much value. The Royals needed a second baseman so Infante will help; it's just a question of how much he'll help.

3. Rockies reportedly agree with Boone Logan on a three-year, $16.5 million contract.

In his past three years with the Yankees, Logan averaged 45.1 innings per season while posting a 3.51 ERA. So the Yankees viewed him as a LOOGY, although he's not really a dominant LOOGY; lefties hit .238/.300/.404 off him with 10 home runs in 302 at-bats over those three years. Among lefty relievers with at least 100 innings over the past three years, he's 33rd in OPS allowed against left-handed batters. He's not a bad pitcher and he's good enough against right-handers that his role could potentially be expanded, keeping in mind that Joe Girardi used him very carefully.

The issue with giving Logan $16.5 million is simple: Why spend your money on relief pitching? OK, the Rockies had the worst bullpen ERA in the National League at 4.23. But some of that is pitching in Coors Field and some of that is that Rockies relievers had to throw more innings than any other team. The Rockies claim they have a limited payroll and decided to spend their new TV money on: (A) a first baseman who has regressed into a barely league-average hitter; (B) a starting pitcher (Brett Anderson) who has made 24 starts the past three seasons; (C) a LOOGY.

I've been critical of the Rockies, although I will say they went 74-88 while the bottom of the rotation was beyond horrible. With better starting pitcher, they could suddenly morph into contender status. I don't see it, but you never know.

 
For all the consternation over Jose Valverde, part of the Detroit Tigers' late-inning woes has been the failure of the offense to deliver big hits late in close games.

So when Victor Martinez walked leading off the bottom of the ninth Thursday and Jhonny Peralta hit a 1-2 pitch from Boston's Andrew Bailey over the fence in left field for the dramatic two-run, game-winning home run, part of it was that the Tigers were simply due.

Entering the contest, the Tigers had lost four games they led going into the ninth inning. But they had rallied to win just one game they had been trailing. They were also 2-7 in extra-inning games. The bullpen has been getting the blame, but check out some of the offensive numbers before Thursday's 4-3 victory:

  • In so-called "late and close" situations -- plate appearances in the seventh or later when the batting team is tied, ahead by one run, or the tying run is at least on deck -- the Tigers had been hitting .199 with two home runs in 372 at-bats (by Omar Infante and Alex Avila).
  • Miguel Cabrera was hitting .128 without an extra-base hit in 39 at-bats in late-and-close.
  • Prince Fielder was hitting .214 in 42 at-bats.
  • In extra innings, the Tigers are hitting .198 with no home runs in 86 at-bats.

In other words, when the going gets toughest the Tigers have wilted. Valverde has simply been the easy target, but it's not like Cabrera and Fielder have been doing anything in the late innings of close games.

So Peralta's home run arrives at a time when the offense needed to come through. It was a great piece of hitting. After Peralta took a slider for a strike, fouled off another slider and then took a fastball up for a ball, Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway put his target low and away, and Bailey delivered a slider low and away -- maybe up an inch or two higher than he wanted, but not a terrible pitch -- and Peralta guessed right and pulled it into the bullpen.

Give credit also to Drew Smyly for escaping a two-on, none-out jam in the eighth to keep the game close and to Tigers manager Jim Leyland for keeping his best reliever in the game for two innings. Joaquin Benoit might get the next save opportunity, but Smyly is going to get a lot of big innings late in games.

The Red Sox are now facing a little ninth-inning combustion of their own. It was Bailey's fourth blown save, and he's allowed home runs in four of his past five appearances. Maybe the Tigers won't be the only team looking for late-inning help.
 
Peralta pitch locationESPNAndrew Bailey's fourth pitch to Jhonny Peralta caught the outside corner -- and Peralta didn't miss it.


SAN FRANCISCO -- This was the Madison Bumgarner Giants fans saw most of the season: the pitcher with impeccable control, the ability to get inside on right-handed batters, generate ground balls and change speeds. This was the pitcher who had become one of the best young left-handers in the game, not the guy who had struggled in recent weeks.

Bumgarner justified manager Bruce Bochy’s faith in choosing him to start Game 2 over Tim Lincecum or Ryan Vogelsong, leading the Giants to a 2-0 victory and sweep of the first two games. He threw seven shutout innings, an efficient 86 pitches with eight strikeouts and just two hits allowed, one of those being an infield single. It was a dominant effort.

Amazingly, the day before, Bumgarner himself didn’t seem to know what to expect. Through his first 25 starts he had a 2.83 ERA and had allowed a .218 opponents' average. But he had struggled since an August start against the Dodgers when he threw 123 pitches. Since then he’d posted a 6.85 ERA. His fastball velocity had dipped and he appeared fatigued in his previous playoff start, against the Cardinals. Batters had feasted off his fastball, hitting .400 against it his past nine starts.

Before Game 1, he hesitantly suggested he and pitching coach Dave Righetti had resolved his issues. “I think we were going through some mechanical issues that -- just some small things that might have affected my arm and made it more difficult to throw, and I think that’s really all it was,” he said. “I think we’ve got it fixed. Like I said before, there’s no way to tell 100 percent until you get out there and get going game speed.”

I think we’re 100 percent sure now.

* * * *

Doug Fister -- despite taking a line drive off his head in the second inning -- matched Bumgarner zero for zero through six innings, albeit with one caveat: not with the same efficiency.

That set up the key decision of the game. With Hunter Pence leading off the bottom of the seventh, Fister had thrown 108 pitches. Pence hits right-handed, followed by three lefties. Jim Leyland had right-hander Octavio Dotel and rookie lefty Drew Smyly warming up. If Leyland brings in Dotel -- probably his best option against right-handed hitters -- it’s probably for just one hitter with the string of lefties due up.

Leyland decided to leave in Fister for one more batter; he’d thrown more than 108 pitches seven times, so it wasn’t uncharted territory. Pence had flied out twice against him and has looked feeble most of the postseason. There were certainly cries on Twitter suggesting Leyland should have pulled Fister. I see it both ways. I can certainly see Leyland’s desire to hold back Dotel to possibly face Marco Scutaro and Buster Posey later in the game. It's easy to criticize Leyland since the decision didn't work out and in this day and age few managers want to lose game when a starter is over 100 pitches.

[+] EnlargeGregor Blanco
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAYThis little thing -- Gregor Blanco's bunt staying fair -- led to the only run the Giants needed in Game 2.
On his 114th pitch, Fister left a 2-2 slider over the middle of the plate and Pence grounded a base hit past Miguel Cabrera.

That brought in Smyly, who walked Brandon Belt on a 3-2 slider up out of the zone. Gregor Blanco then placed a bunt down the third-base line, the ball rolling to a stop on the dirt between the grass and the baseline. Catcher Gerald Laird had no option but to let the ball go; it was just a perfect bunt by Blanco. Brandon Crawford grounded into a double play but that scored the game’s first run.

Leyland did have another option there. Use Phil Coke instead of Smyly. Coke, of course, had defaulted into the closer's role after Jose Valverde's postseason implosion and pitched well in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. Normally, the seventh inning -- especially against the left-handers -- would have been Coke's inning, followed by Joaquin Benoit and Valverde. Instead, Leyland trusted a rookie with little experience pitching in relief. Coke did finally get into the game -- in the eighth, with the Tigers now trailing 2-0.

"Probably if Valverde was ready, probably would have had Coke in that situation, but Smyly did fine," Leyland said. "He got a little bit wild there, but he got a couple big outs. He got the double-play ball and gave us our shot at it."

A 114th pitch. A slider meant to be a few inches outside left over the plate. A perfect bunt. The little things.

* * * *

One more little thing that can matter: sliding. In the top of the second with none out, Prince Fielder was hit by a pitch and Delmon Young doubled just inside the third-base bag. As the ball bounced away from left fielder Blanco, third-base coach Gene Lamont waved home Fielder. First, the wave. With nobody out, you had better be pretty sure Fielder is going to score. In fact, you had better be just about absolutely sure Fielder is going to score.

According to sabermetrician Tom Tango’s run-scoring matrix, an average team would be expected to score about 2.05 runs with runners at second and third and no outs; with a runner on second and one out, the average run production is about 0.7 runs. That data is from 1993 through 2010, so the run-scoring environment is a little lower now, and of course you would have to adjust based on upcoming hitters and so forth. Still, Lamont’s decision was about a 1.3-run decision. Fair or not, he made the wrong one.

Blanco’s relay throw actually airmailed shortstop Crawford, but Scutaro -- him again! -- was backing up and threw home to catcher Posey, and replays showed he tagged Fielder on his shoe and/or rump just before he slid across the plate. If Fielder had slid to the back part of the plate, he probably would've been safe, as Posey would have had to stretch to make the tag. That’s asking a lot from Fielder, however; he's not paid to slide expertly into home plate. Yes, the next two Tigers hitters popped out and struck out, so maybe Fielder wouldn’t have scored, but it’s kind of like time travel: That play changes everything that potentially comes after.

Then, in the top of the fourth, Omar Infante was picked off first and caught at second. With a better slide -- he dragged his foot behind him -- he might have been called safe.

Those two plays exemplified the first two games of the series: The Giants made plays and the Tigers didn't. Pablo Sandoval snagged a Cabrera line drive; Cabrera didn't have the range on Pence's base hit. Scutaro made the relay, Fielder didn't make the slide. Smyly couldn't execute the 3-2 slider that he walked Belt on, Fielder grounded into a 1-6-3 double play after Cabrera had led off the seventh with a walk.

Right now, like Bumgarner's pitches on a perfect San Francisco October evening, everything is working for the Giants.


More baseball!

On a day that featured a quadruple-header of baseball playoff action, a game in which a starting pitcher who didn’t win a game all season gets a W, a game with a demoted former two-time Cy Young winner coming out of the bullpen for a clutch relief outing, an once-in-a-lifetime performance by Raul Ibanez (and I mean all of our lifetimes), the Oakland A’s completed the night with a bottom-of-the-ninth three-run rally to beat the Detroit Tigers 4-3 to keep their American League Division Series alive and force a fifth game.

It also gives us a fourth game on Thursday.

More baseball? Yes, please.

Justin Verlander in a decisive game? The frenzied A’s crowd with one more game to cheer on their heroes? Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder? Coco Crisp doing Coco Crisp stuff? The A’s swinging from their heels? I can’t wait.

Where did this rally come from? It appeared that Joaquin Benoit had snuffed out the last-gasp Oakland rally in the bottom of the eighth when he struck out Brandon Moss on a lovely, low-and-away changeup with two runners on.

In the bottom of the ninth, Jim Leyland turned to his closer, Jose Valverde. We remember his perfect season a year ago, when he seemingly walked the tightrope in every save situation but always managed to escape. Well, he fell off a few times this year.

The A’s had led the majors with 14 walk-off wins during the regular season, so even though Benoit had just pitched through Yoenis Cespedes and Moss in the order, you know the A’s believed. Why wouldn’t they? It’s a magical season in Oakland.

[+] EnlargeCoco Crisp
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezPlating the winning run got Coco Crisp a face full -- to say nothing of another game Thursday.
Josh Reddick pulled a base hit into right field past a diving Omar Infante. Josh Donaldson crushed a first-pitch, four-seam fastball off the wall in left-center for a double. When he’s on, Valverde throws 92-95 mpg and then goes to his splitter to put hitters away. That fastball registered 90. The four pitches to Reddick clocked 90, 91, 91 and 92. Seth Smith stepped in and took a ball, swung through a high-and-away fastball, then drilled another fastball away into right-center. The game was tied and, even though Austin Jackson cut the ball off before it got to the wall, Smith beat the throw for a double.

The three pitches to Smith: 92, 92, 92. Valverde didn’t have his good heat on this night and he had to throw an off-speed pitch. Valverde throwing 95 is a major league reliever. Valverde throwing 90-92 without a wrinkle is batting practice.

George Kottaras then pinch-hit and Bob Melvin eschewed the sacrifice bunt and let Kottaras swing away. According to conventional wisdom, the situation called for a bunt -- heck, I’m pretty sure even Earl Weaver would have bunted there -- but given the A’s propensity to strike out, I understand Melvin’s strategy: Give the A’s three chances to get the hit.

Kottaras popped out to Cabrera on the first pitch, a 93-mph fastball.

Cliff Pennington struck out on four pitches, taking a splitter for a called strike on a pitch that registered a bit outside.

Up came Crisp. Game 2 goat. Game 3 hero. Valverde throws a first-pitch splitter. Hard ground ball pulled past Infante into right field, and when Avisail Garcia couldn’t pick up the ball (with his strong arm, he might have had a shot to get Smith if he comes up with it cleanly), the A’s had the win.

More baseball.

Leyland, after the game: "This is baseball. This is why this is the greatest game of all. ... You get tested all the time in this game and this is a good test."

Before the ninth inning, the A’s had been hitting .185 in the series (22-for-119). They went 4-for-6 in the ninth. Valverde had not allowed four hits in an appearance all season. He had allowed three runs just twice.

Before the series, I suspected the key element in the series might end up being the Tigers' bullpen. When Benoit blew a lead in Game 2 -- only to see the A’s bullpen lose the lead when Detroit scored runs in the eighth and ninth -- I figured the A’s had lost their chance to steal a win. You may get one late-inning comeback in a short series, but it’s hard to get two.

But the A’s got this one. A fifth game. They’ll get Verlander and you have to suspect the over/under on his pitch count might be 150. If you’re Leyland, do you want to give the ball to Valverde again with a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth? Next time you think you can manage a major league team, put yourself in that possible situation.

The A’s will send rookie Jarrod Parker to the mound. On paper, the edge still goes to the Tigers, with the best pitcher in baseball on the mound.

In the postseason, paper means nothing.
The Oakland A’s didn’t really know what to expect from Brett Anderson, who hadn’t pitched in 20 days since suffering an oblique strain.

But here’s the one thing about Anderson: He can roll out of bed and throw the ball over the plate. He returned from last summer’s Tommy John surgery Aug. 21 and made six starts before the oblique injury. In those six starts, he walked just seven batters, displaying the control the 24-year-old had shown since reaching the big leagues at age 21.

Manager Bob Melvin was hoping to get five innings from Anderson on Tuesday. Anderson delivered six shutout frames, throwing 80 pitches and allowing just two hits. His final two pitches might have been his best: a 2-1 slider to Miguel Cabrera that broke sharply into the strike zone for a called strike, and then a 2-2 slider that dove down and in and on which Cabrera swung over the top.

Asked what his expectations were after Oakland’s bullpen locked down the 2-0 win, Anderson said, "Just go out there and give us a chance to win," citing the performances of Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone in the first two games of the series with the Tigers. "You couldn’t really script it, but it worked out. ... Coco [Crisp] robbing the home run sort of set the tone. You can’t say enough about the defense," he said.

On a day when we had two games and saw a combined total of 16 hits, pitching did rule the day. And instead of two games Wednesday, now we get four. Good for everyone (except maybe Reds and Tigers fans).

[+] EnlargeBrett Anderson
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezIn his first start since September, left-hander Brett Anderson pitched six shutout innings.
A few other thoughts:

  • Crisp’s second-inning robbery of Prince Fielder is one of the greatest postseason catches I can remember, right up there with Willie Mays, Kirby Puckett in the 1991 World Series, Devon White in the 1992 World Series and Endy Chavez in the 2006 National League Championship Series. Fielder got robbed again when Yoenis Cespedes made a diving catch of his liner in the seventh. When the ball was hit, it looked like a sure single and maybe a double in the gap; it hung up just long enough for Cespedes to appear from nowhere. Josh Donaldson also started a nice 5-4-3 double play off Omar Infante’s hard smash to end the third.
  • I loved the way Melvin handled the seventh and eighth innings, first using Ryan Cook and then Sean Doolittle, even though he usually uses Doolittle and then Cook. He brought in Cook to face Fielder, when he could have either left in Anderson for one more batter, brought in Doolittle or brought in Jerry Blevins, who had been warming up in the sixth. I think he wanted to give Fielder a different look than a third shot at Anderson, so he brought in the hard-throwing Cook. That meant Cook would also face right-handers Delmon Young and Jhonny Peralta (who did single), and Melvin wouldn't waste Blevins for one batter. But it also meant Doolittle faced rookie Avisail Garcia and catcher Gerald Laird in the eighth. If Cook had pitched the eighth, Jim Leyland would have pinch hit lefty swingers Quintin Berry and Alex Avila, a better duo than Garcia and Laird.
  • It’s going to be difficult for the Tigers to go all the way with Young batting fifth. Only Josh Hamilton swung at a higher percentage of pitches outside the strike zone among qualified batters this season. Yes, Young hit five home runs in last year’s postseason. He also hit .133 in the American League Championship Series. He had 112 strikeouts and 20 walks this year. He is not good. As a No. 5 hitter for a team aspiring to win a title, he’s a joke.
  • Strong outing by Anibal Sanchez. Seth Smith turned on an inside fastball for his fifth-inning home run to dead center, but the Tigers couldn't have asked for more than the 6.1 solid innings he gave them.
  • Cabrera singled with one out in the ninth, bringing up Fielder against Grant Balfour as the tying run. Balfour got a break on the first pitch, a fastball outside called a strike by plate ump Dana DeMuth. After a fastball outside, Balfour threw a tough 94 mph heater at the knees that Fielder took for strike two. Another fastball, this one at 95, and Fielder grounded into a 6-3 double play. Guess which team led the AL in double plays grounded into?
  • Max Scherzer versus A.J. Griffin in Game 4. Scherzer left a start Sept. 18 after two innings due to a sore shoulder and returned Sept. 23 but then didn't pitch again until Oct. 3, when he pitched four scoreless innings against the Royals. If he's healthy, he's certainly capable of dominating, after ranking second in the AL in strikeouts to his teammate Justin Verlander and posting a 2.69 ERA in the second half. Following a great run, Griffin struggled in three of his final four starts, with 26 hits and 15 runs in 17.1 innings. Look for a quick hook.

The last few innings won’t exactly go down as textbook October baseball, but the Detroit Tigers will happily take the 5-4 walk-off win over the A’s, the 2-0 series lead and the plane ride to Oakland knowing they need to win only one of three games.

It was a game in which some of Detroit’s little guys stepped up: Omar Infante had two key hits, Don Kelly delivered the winning sacrifice fly and backup shortstop Danny Worth made a nice play in the ninth.

In the end, the A’s have nobody to blame but themselves. Tommy Milone, after looking like he wouldn’t last past the third inning early on, settled down and allowed just one run over six innings. When the A’s took a 2-1 lead in the seventh off Doug Fister, Bob Melvin had the game exactly where he wanted: The chance to hand the ball to his final three relievers with a lead.

Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour had been dominant down the stretch for the A’s when they surged to win the division title. Check out their numbers:

Doolittle since Sept. 7: 15 IP, 8 H, 3 BB, 13 SO, 1.80 ERA, .154 AVG
Cook since Sept. 7: 15 IP, 8 H, 1 BB, 16 SO, 0.00 ERA, .154 AVG
Balfour since Sept. 14: 11 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 14 SO, 0.00 ERA, .086 AVG

It’s worth noting that Melvin pushed all three hard in the final week -- Cook and Balfour each appeared in the final five games and Doolittle the final four. None had appeared in more than three consecutive games all season prior to that. The A’s had three days off since clinching and all three had excellent velocity, but you do wonder how much they have left in the tanks.

The key play came with Doolittle pitching in the seventh. After Austin Jackson and Infante singled, Miguel Cabrera hit a fly ball to somewhat shallow center field. Coco Crisp, playing in Saginaw, got a late jump and then tried to Willie Mays it, but dropped it, and two runs scored on the error. It wasn’t that difficult of a play, even from where Crisp started. You can’t make errors like that and win postseason games.

But the A’s actually took the lead in the eighth when Yoenis Cespedes created a run all by himself, singling, stealing second and third and scoring on a wild pitch. When Josh Reddick then lofted a 3-2 changeup from Joaquin Benoit over the right-field fence to make it 4-3 (batters had previously hit .174 off Benoit’s changeup, with 47 strikeouts and three walks), the A’s once again looked good.

But in the bottom half, Delmon Young and Jhonny Peralta singled off Cook and Andy Dirks laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. Pinch-hitter Quintin Berry struck out, but Cook then threw a pitch in the dirt, catcher George Kottaras made an unsuccessful backhand stab and pinch-runner Kelly scored the tying run.

In the ninth, Al Alburquerque relieved Phil Coke with two runners on and got Cespedes on a bouncer back to the mound to end the threat. Balfour, the hyper Australian, came on in the bottom of the ninth having retired the previous 26 batters he faced. But Infante singled to right with one out, Cabrera dumped a flare into center to send Infante to third, and after Prince Fielder was intentionally walked, Kelly lofted an 0-1 pitch to right, easily scoring the winner.

Despite the back-and-forth nature of the game, there weren’t too many managerial moves to question. I’m not a fan of loading the bases since it forces the pitcher to throw strikes, but you can’t argue with putting on a hitter such as Fielder to pitch to Kelly. Fielder did ground into 17 double plays, but Balfour is a fly-ball pitcher and Kelly was hitting .186 (although his strikeout rate of 17 percent isn’t terrible). All things considered, you’re much more likely to get a strikeout there than a double play with Fielder.

I did think Melvin missed a chance to get power-hitting Chris Carter in the game when Leyland brought in Coke to start the ninth to face Kottaras. Melvin instead pinch-hit his other catcher, Derek Norris, who struck out.

Melvin also chose not to sacrifice bunt with Stephen Drew in the third inning after the first two batters reached. I didn’t have a problem with that. Even though the score was 0-0 at the time, Milone had been shaky, escaping a bases-loaded jam in the second, so Melvin was correct in thinking he should go for a big inning instead of one run. Drew struck out and the A’s scored just one run, as the Tigers ended the threat when rookie Avisail Garcia gunned down Crisp at home plate with a perfect throw from right field.

So it's a huge win for the Tigers and a frustrating loss for the A’s. The one clear advantage Oakland had going into the series was the bullpen, and now the 'pen has a mark on the wrong side of the ledger. The A’s do head home, where they’ve won eight of nine, but even if they pull out the next two games, you know who is staring down at them for a possible Game 5: Justin Verlander.
With numerous trades to discuss and Power Rankings to reveal, Mark Simon and I gathered for Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast , and, yes, we also got a little bit ridiculous!

1. Mark likes the Ichiro Suzuki trade and I think he’s pretty much shot as a hitter. Who’s right? Can’t we both be right?

2. The Tigers clearly upgraded in their deal with the Marlins, but how much? And will they eventually miss Jacob Turner?

3. As for the Power Rankings, the hottest team in baseball didn’t find its way into either of our top 10s, which is a bit surprising. Who made it?

4. Our emailers wanted to discuss Yadier Molina as an MVP candidate, lineups containing all alphabet letters, candy bars, Yankees All-Stars and batters hitting their weight. Interesting day!

5. Tuesday’s schedule features the amazing R.A. Dickey but also a quality matchup in St. Louis, Oakland hits the road and is this it for Zack Greinke as a Brewer?

So download and listen to Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast because the word “done” can refer to a lot of things, but our fine show is thankfully not one of them.

Podcast: Power rankings debate

April, 16, 2012
4/16/12
3:43
PM ET
Monday’s Baseball Today podcast was taped with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays playing a morning game in the background, but the big story in Beantown wasn’t the game, as Mark Simon and I discussed.

1. What was Bobby Valentine thinking calling out Kevin Youkilis? You know, I still can’t figure it out, but it doesn’t bode well for the future. Plus, we analyze the Jacoby Ellsbury injury and Cody Ross filling in. Can the Red Sox overcome?

2. It’s Power Rankings day! Are the Red Sox in the top 10? Are the Phillies? And where will Mark jump the streaking Los Angeles Dodgers?

3. How can the San Francisco Giants lose an All-Star closer and still be contenders? We explain, but we believe.

4. Mark gets us going with the first Leaderboard of the Week segment discussing an unlikely power source pacing the league in well-hit average.

5. Our emailers want to talk about the best announcers, Miguel Cabrera and the chalk line, and intentional walks!

So download and listen to Monday’s excellent Baseball Today podcast, and get ready for another fine show on Tuesday!

Leaderboard of the week: Omar Infante

April, 16, 2012
4/16/12
11:45
AM ET
Inside Edge, which does video tracking for us, has a stat it likes to promote called "well-hit average," which is the percentage of balls that were "hard hit" (based on observation by their video-tracking group).

The MLB leaders in this stat are typically the best hitters in baseball -- Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer, etc. Ryan Braun led the majors with a .327 well-hit average last season, four points better than Cabrera.

The fun of small samples is that early in the season you might get an unusual leader. In this case we do -- Marlins infielder Omar Infante. Through nine games, Infante is hitting .343 with four home runs, six RBIs and one strikeout (in other words, he’s on pace to finish with 72 home runs, 108 RBIs and 18 strikeouts).

Infante has only hit double figures in home runs once in 11 seasons. He had 16 home runs for the 2004 Tigers. His well-hit average has trended upwards over the past few seasons, but never to this level.

One of the keys for Infante is that he’s only struck out once in 35 at-bats. Infante entered this season averaging a strikeout for every 6.2 at-bats. He struck out nine times in 52 spring-training at-bats.

I reached out via email to Marlins hitting coach Eduardo Perez for a quote on Infante’s performance.

"His hands are a bit lower and he is staying tall throughout his swing," Perez said. "He also has less movement at the plate. Plus he is swinging at strikes."

Perez is correct about Infante's patience. Our Inside Edge video tracking has Infante chasing only 24 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. Last season, his chase rate was 31 percent.

Omar Infante: Well-hit average since 2009
2009 -- .187
2010 -- .197
2011 -- .230
2012 -- .371

Highest well-hit average 2012
Omar Infante: .371
Elvis Andrus : .361
Alex Avila: .360
Giancarlo Stanton: .343
Ian Kinsler: .341
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.

The Ugh-Stars

July, 8, 2011
7/08/11
5:30
PM ET
Reggie JacksonAP Photo/David BreslauerReggie Jackson's best days were behind him when he was named an AL All-Star in 1983.
Last Sunday the hue and cry went up, as it always does around this time of year. The subject? As ever, the topic was the All-Star Game's rosters, and as ever, they were cause for noisy complaint from people angry about the latest fading all-time great tacked onto the roster -- Chipper Jones this time around -- but also those exasperated with the fans voting Derek Jeter onto the team. And the oversight of Andrew McCutchen? Ludicrous, obviously.

The thing is, every July there are people who are going to declaim that the All-Star roster is a travesty or a crime, a horror visited upon earnest fans, undeserving players, and the (usually spotty) history of the Midsummer Classic. But this year's selections also serve as a useful reminder that we've seen worse -- much, much worse -- among the ranks of All-Stars selected all time.

Figuring out the worst All-Stars of all time can involve a good amount of special pleading or special disdain, and it really depends on which elements of the selection process you want to call out, as well as who you want to slather your particular brand of grief upon. Maybe you want to make the point that fans are stupid, because they voted in Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1991 when he'd been injured a good chunk of the time, and he was hitting just .241/.287/.305 when he was healthy, but in fairness, Alomar was the Rookie of the Year in 1990, and catching was fairly thinly spread (Pudge Rodriguez had only just arrived on the scene).

At least Alomar had something going for him in terms of recent notoriety and position scarcity to help explain why he was voted in. But when you get to the selections made by the industry's working professionals, it isn't like their track record's all that admirable either. Sticking with catchers, what can you say about the inclusion of first-ever Padre All-Star Chris Cannizzaro, a 31-year-old journeyman, on the 1969 team? Cannizzaro hit .220/.290/.297 that year, and that wasn't out of character. But of course he wasn't the first and wouldn't be the last example of unhappy selections made because of the rule that you have to have somebody from every team.

Or say you want to complain about the frequently repeated gesture of including a great player on the way out. This usually doesn't seem that egregious to me, at least back in the time when the game was purely an exhibition. Luis Aparicio in 1971 or 1972, for example, or Cal Ripken Jr. in 2001 -- no, they didn't really belong on merit alone, getting in on career achievement.

Even so, it's fun to mull who the all-time worsts might have been. Usually, these take the shape of top 10 lists, but let's give a full lineup a shot, while leveling the field to include choices of every stripe, those made by fans or by baseball professionals:

C: While Alomar in '91 and Jason Varitek in 2008 represent low points in fan selection history, let's face it, catcher has a ton of alternatives to offer. For example, if you're A's fan you might remember that Jeff Newman was your team's token All-Star in 1979, although he did hit 22 home runs -- and .231/.267/.399 overall. But because I'm of a “pox on all your houses” frame of mind when it comes to pointing the finger at odious choices made by every method for selection, I think we have to go with Chris Cannizzaro of the '69 Padres here, as a great example for why the expectation that every team “must” have an All-Star can be something of a bad joke, and one made worse in expansion seasons, as 1969 was.

1B: While dishonorable mention can go to Ron Coomer of the '99 Twins or Pat Tabler of the '87 Indians, I think the worst possible choice from among first basemen might be Ken Harvey from the 2004 Royals. While he was the K.C. token (as Tabler was the token Indian and Coomer the token Twin in their seasons), what's disgraceful about Harvey's selection is that he was a terrible hitter for a first baseman, offering negligible power and patience, and immobile defense -- he was bulky singles hitter. His .305/.353/.452 line at the break might have seemed promising, but his lack of value at a hitter's position helped make sure his big-league career had just 225 plate appearances left in it. What made his choice especially egregious is that Mike Sweeney (.279/.335/.490) would have at least been defensible, since he'd been a Royals All-Star in each of the previous four seasons, and would be again in 2005.

2B: I'm going with Carlos Garcia of the 1994 Pirates, because hitting .267/.307/.332 at the break is hardly a line worthy of a purported All-Star. Garcia never did make a repeat appearance, even with the advantage of a token Pirate being a necessity -- something that would help Tony Womack a few short years later. But even from this edition of the Bucs, shortstop Jay Bell would have been a better middle-infield choice, having hit .260/.343/.448 at the break. There might still be folks outraged over fans voting in Mark Loretta over Robinson Cano in 2006 -- point taken, but at least Loretta was someone you could argue belonged in the game.

SS: Frankie Zak of the '44 Pirates usually gets mentioned on these sorts of lists, because of the, “Who?” factor, but I sort of look at that oddity as a product of war-time baseball -- the game was at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field that year, and although there were already other Pirates on the roster, using Zak as a reserve saved money at a time when everything was in short supply, including baseball talent. That leaves us with a choice. On the one hand, we have accidental All-Star Alfredo Griffin of the 1984 Blue Jays. The former Rookie of the Year of 1979 was apparently in San Francisco anyway, so when Alan Trammell came up with a bum arm, plugging Griffin in despite a .250 OBP was an easy solution. It was Griffin's only All-Star appearance. But then there's also Cesar Izturis' selection in 2005 -- his only appearance as well. Going with B-Ref's sOPS+ (or OPS adjusted for league's split), Griffin's 60 is lower than Izturis' 78, making this gun-to-your head choice easier: Griffin it is.

3B: Lots of choices, especially since this is usually a chance for people to wail about Scott Cooper from the '93 and '94 Red Sox, while Vance Law of the '88 Cubs -- on a team that featured Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg -- is also cause for disdain. But let's give anti-props to Ken Reitz of the 1980 Cardinals. Reitz was hitting .282/.311/.381 with four homers at the time, outstanding by his lights, and he came with a great rep as a fielder. But an All-Star? Even as a token for his team? C'mon, that's silly. Reitz was close to done, as well, since he was off the Cardinals in '81 (in a trade to the Cubs), and got little more than a whiff of java in '82 before disappearing.

Utility: I know, it isn't an official position, but people like to rail on Omar Infante or even Ty Wigginton from last year, which always reminds me of the ridiculous selection of Mike Sharperson as the token Dodger in 1992, when leadoff star Brett Butler was available. Maybe Butler wanted the days off, but at least he would have put the “star” in his selection as an All-Star.

OF: I'll make a point of picking a center fielder to give us one -- Jerry Mumphrey of the 1984 Astros, because he wasn't much of a center fielder, and didn't have a lot of justification being on the team as the token Astro ahead of the Astrodome's most famous victim, the sweet-swinging Jose Cruz. For one outfield corner, I'll go with Robert Fick of the 2002 Tigers, an embarrassing enough selection, but one made worse by the fact that he wound up getting a couple of at-bats in the infamous tie game. Picking a token Tiger was no easy task, but would it have killed Joe Torre to have selected long-serving Tiger vet Bobby Higginson instead? Higginson was at least a good player on several bad Tiger teams, where Fick was a catcher who couldn't catch well enough to play there, or hit well enough to last in the outfield.

And for the last corner? Part of me would like to nominate Reggie Jackson from the '83 Angels, because Reggie had a bad first half that turned into an even worse second half, and the fans were voting for celebrity, not production, and shame on them being impressed by that. On the other hand, there's the semi-embarrassing spectacle of Willie Mays' inclusion on the 1973 All-Star team, when he was clearly done and on his way out of the game. That said, it was Willie Mays, and he'd literally been in every All-Star Game for a generation (1954-1972). Let's bang on Reggie a bit by picking him, noting that the fans should care a little bit about a player's actual performance in making their selection.

Which gets us down to the pitching, which I'll limit to two. For a starting pitcher, there are lots of options, from Roger Pavlik ('96 Rangers) with his 11-2 record despite a 4.82 ERA (5.16 when he was actually selected), thanks to a ton of run support, or the inexplicable choice of Steve Rogers in '74 (10-11, 4.63 ERA at the break). If ultimate anonymity is your preference, Jayson Dickson of the '97 Angels or Tyler Green of the '95 Phillies might do. But I think I'll go with Mark Redman of the 2006 Royals, because 6-4 with a 5.16 ERA at the break representing the good half of his season, and after a 5-15 season with a 4.90 ERA for the Pirates in 2005, it wasn't like Redman had recent achievement going for him. While you had to have a Royal, did picking a pitcher who wound up tied for sixth on the staff in WAR -- this from a team with a 5.65 team ERA -- make any kind of sense? This is the sort of choice that makes you wonder if the Royals couldn't have activated George Brett for a day, Minnie Minoso-style, to at least preserve some form of franchise dignity.

For relievers, again, with an easy “who and why” name in Lance Carter of the 2003 then-Devil Rays, but the real anti-hero of All-Stars all-time has to be Mike Williams of the 2003 Pirates. Williams was selected solely because of his saves tally (25), despite five blown saves, a 6.44 ERA, or 67 runners allowed in 36 1/3 IP. All-Star or not, the Pirates had had their fill of him, dumping him on the Phillies a few weeks later instead of keeping him around for a bobblehead day or whatever other fan-inspiring goodies are supposed to be part of having an All-Star player. The performance was no joke -- Williams was for all intents done, and never pitched in the majors again after this season, so at least he could state as a positive fact that he left the game as an All-Star. But rarely do you get to see so transparent an example of saves being mistaken for value as this.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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