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Posts Tagged ‘Shin Soo-Choo’

As good as the AL East is, the opposite may be true of the AL Central. I don’t project any of the five teams to win 90 games – and two could lose more than 100. This is a division that is loaded with teams filled with mediocre talent. In fact, the most interesting team to watch may be the Royals, if only because they may actually have days where they start 9 rookies.

The best of the worst is, once again, the Minnesota Twins. Projected to win the Central by three games, they’ll win based on sound fundamental play, two star players (Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer) and because they’ll be able to bottom feed on 36 games with two of the worst teams since the St. Louis Browns. The starting rotation is suspect, featuring the injury prone tandem of Francisco Liriano and Carl “Strained Buttocks” Pavano. The strongest element of last year’s division winning team, the bullpen, was wracked by free-agent defections – meaning this year’s pen relies on the much-traveled Matt Capps and a not-quite-healthy Joe Nathan. In fact, injury carry-overs from last year could get the Twins out of the gate slowly, as nobody is quite sure if Morneau is sufficiently recovered from last season’s concussion to play first full time yet. If they do start slowly, the crown my well fall to Chicago.

The White Sox made quite a splash this off-season, re-signing Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski and landing Adam Dunn as their new DH. Unfortunately, they would have been better off looking for a starting 3rd baseman and a couple of outfielders, because the current line-up may be one of baseball’s worst group of defenders we’ve seen in a while. Which is a shame, because the Pale Hose have the makings of an outstanding pitching staff – perhaps the best in baseball. If Jake Peavy returns to form after his pectoral tear, they’ll have 6 quality starters and a bullpen that features a bevy of quality (if not nationally known) arms. But the offense will once again be a classic three-outcome type, as typified by Dunn: walk, strike-out or homer. Don’t expect much in the way of sustained rallies or guys flying around the bases at US Cellular Field.

The Tigers look destined for a distant third place finish. The best thing going for this team is that they’re managed by future Hall-of-Famer Jim Leyland. But the star player, Miguel Cabrera, is turning into baseball’s version of Charlie Sheen. Actually, Detroit’s middle of the order could feature some good players, with the addition of Victor Martinez joining Magglio Ordonez. The rest of the supporting cast, though, is supect, featuring such luminaries as Brandon Inge. The back of the bullpen could be solid, if Joaquin Benoit can prove last year wasn’t a fluke, Joel Zumaya can stay healthy and Jose Valverde can stop his decline. But both the starting rotation and middle relief corps are a mess. Aside from Justin Verlander, the Tigers are relying on converted relievers, reclamation projects and prayers.

The youth movement is in full swing in Kansas City. After their farm system was ranked #1 by Baseball America, they might as well give the kids a shot – nothing else has worked for the past 20 years. Yes, they traded away Zack Greinke and made a couple of curious signings in old friend Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francouer. But KC’s real aim this year is to see if youngsters Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Kila Ka’aihue and Eric Hosmer are ready for prime time.

Bringing up the rear is the Cleveland Indians. Once again, the Tribe is looking more like “The Mistake by the Lake” instead of a major-league team. They do have a bona-fide star in Shin-Soo Choo and a star in the making in catcher Carlos Santana. But otherwise, Cleveland is hoping Grady Sizemore shows enough that he can become a viable trade chip. I’m pretty sure Cleveland fans have to be wondering what they’ve done to deserve the Cavaliers, Browns, and this abomination of a baseball team.

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One of the highlights of the early off-season is MLB’s handing out of various post-season awards. This year, several Yankees have taken home some hardware. Robinson Cano, as befitting his MVP candidate status, laid claim to his first Gold Glove and second Silver Slugger awards. Joining Robbie as Gold Glove recipients for 2010 are Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. It’s Jeter’s fifth selection and Tex’s fourth.

As usually happens when these things are handed out, there’s been quite a bit of hew and cry that these are merely fan favorite awards and don’t really represent the best player at that position. I have to admit, as much as I love Jeter, his Gold Glove award this year surprised me. I certainly didn’t think Jeter had his best year defensively, nor did I think he was the best defender I saw during the course of the season. But these awards are voted on by managers and coaches, so…

Is there a chance the voters got this wrong? Unfortunately, baseball hasn’t really come up with a defensive metric that can really measure a player’s defensive contributions. UZR comes close, but it takes 3 seasons to come up with an accurate measurement – sort of a rolling measurement that is useless in determining a single-season award. Old school fans still cling to fielding percentage, even though it cannot account for a player’s range. For infielders, FP cannot account for errant throws that are converted into outs by an exemplary first baseman. So, a player like Jeter gets a big lift – while Cesar Izturis of the Orioles gets penalized for playing on a bad team with a substitute first sacker for most of the year.

Perhaps the best defensive metric we can use is the defensive portion of WAR – Wins Above Replacement. The theory is this: a player’s true value is best measured by comparing him to the mythical league average player and determining how many wins (or losses) his individual effort contributed. As part of the calculation, a player’s defensive statistics are measured, not only fielding percentage, but also things like range factor and runs prevented, then compared to the league averages in each category. (You can read much more about the calculation process here). Is it perfect? No, but it may be the most accurate method for determining defensive ability in a given season.

So I charted the defensive WAR for players at each position. I specifically selected players with a minimum of 1000 innings played at that position, which works out to 8 innings over 125 games (I dropped the innings requirement to 960 for catchers, or 120 games). I did this to avoid the Alvaro Espinoza syndrome (before you ask, Espinoza was a defensive whiz who turned that ability into a 13 year career, but was only a full time starter on 3 really awful Yankee teams in the late 80’s). Here’s the results for the top 5 at each position:

Catcher

First Base

Second Base

Name dWAR   Name dWAR   Name dWAR
Wieters (Bal)

0.7

  Barton (Oak)

1

  Cano (NYY)

0.8

Mauer (Min)

0.4

  Teixeira (NYY)

0.7

  Hill (Tor)

0.4

Kendall (KC)

0.3

  Overbay (Tor)

0.7

  Hudson (Min)

0.2

Pierzynski (ChW)

0.1

  Butler (KC)

0.1

  Kendrick (LAA)

-0.4

Buck (Tor)

0.1

Konerko (ChW)

-0.4

Figgins (Sea)

-0.7

               
Shortstop*

Third Base

Outfield**

Name dWAR   Name dWAR   Name dWAR
Pennington (Oak)

1.2

  J. Lopez (Sea)

1.8

  Pierre (ChW)

1.9

Al. Ramirez (ChW)

0.9

  Longoria (TB)

1.5

  Gutierrez (Sea)

1.6

Izturis (Bal)

0.6

  Inge (Det)

0.8

  Choo (Cle)

1.5

Andrus (Tex)

0.2

  Beltre (Bos)

0.6

  Gardner (NYY)

1.4

Scutaro (Bos)

0.1

Kouzmanoff (Oak)

0.5

Ichiro (Sea)

1.1

*Gold Glove, Derek Jeter (NYY): dWAR -1.1

**Gold Glove, Carl Crawford (TB): dWAR 0.1

The players highlighted in gold represent the Gold Glove winners at each position. A difference under .5 between players is probably negligible, given that amounts to 3 innings over the course of the season – not likely to affect much more than a manager’s intake of Rolaids. That being said, a difference greater than 1 is significant – it means an average player at that position would have contributed at least 1 more win. In that light, the voters seem to have basically gotten things right at C, 1B, 2B and 3B. But at short and in the outfield, it seems they voted purely on reputation, since neither Jeter nor Crawford finished in the top 5 in dWAR at their respective positions. In fact, Jeter finished dead last among AL shortstops and 1.3 wins behind Cliff Pennington. Crawford finished 11th among AL outfielders, 1.8 wins behind the league leader and 1.4 behind 3rd. Ichiro’s gold glove, in fact, is borderline on reputation. It’s not that he had a bad year defensively – a dWAR of 1.1 is excellent – but he did wind up in 5th place among outfielders. Net-net: Pennington, Shin-Soo Choo and Juan Pierre fans have a good reason to wail a bit about the Gold Glove awards this year. (Personally, I really like Choo. I just have no idea where the Yanks would play him. But that’s another post for another day.)

So, what do you think? Did the voters get the Gold Gloves basically right? If not, to who would you have given the award?

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