The Hanging Curve – Baseball Opinion Blog with MLB Analysis that won’t Bend or Break

AL Divisional Breakdown

Now that the AL is beginning play, here are my predictions. I will add commentary later, but for now, here’s the breakdown:

AL West

  1. Oakland Athletics
  2. Los Angeles Angels
  3. Texas Rangers
  4. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners.  I mean, what can I say?  They’ve started out the season with Russell Branyan hitting cleanup.  The Rangers have a potent lineup of young hitters, but I don’t think this is the year for them.  Salty still needs some “seasoning” and Kinsler will have to show he can stay healthy all year, and I don’t think their pitching is quite ready for a playoff run.  The Rangers’ bullpen is mostly full of scrubs with 6+ ERAs last season, and their rotation contains Kris Benson, who never was good and is now on his first season back from surgery.  I believe the Angels will slip from last year.  They swapped Tiexeira and Rodriquez for Abreu and Fuentes, neither of which were ridiculous downgrades, but they didn’t exactly move forward.  Their lineup now centers entirely on Vlad Guerrero, who is good but appears to be on the decline the last few years.  Plus, they start the season lacking a couple of their key starters.  Oakland I think kind of wins this division by default.  Billy Beane is a good GM and I think a standard Beane team beats the other teams in this division.  He picked up probably the best hitter from the National League to go with his usual mix of cheap youngsters and aging or mishapen players that no one else wants (see Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Giambi).

AL Central

  1. Minnesota Twins
  2. Cleveland Indians
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Kansas City Royals
  5. Chicago White Sox

The Chicago White Sox I believe will fail miserably.  I’m sorry, there is just not too much fear struck in my heart by the likes of Jermaine Dye, Carlos Quentin and Paul Konerko.  I could be wrong, since this team somehow always seems to pull three to four extremely good pitchers out of a heap of pitching shit.  The Royals have a decent mound of good young talent, including a pretty good rotation, but they also have the likes of Jose Guillen and Tony Peña Jr.  I really don’t have too much to say about the Tigers here.  Galaraga looks good, their lineup is OK, but they are going to be feeling that HUGE payroll for years now.  Where’s Sheffield by the way?  I don’t think the Indians are the second best team in this division, but they’ve always seemed to come out pretty good the last few years.  Cliff Lee is not going to pitch anywhere NEAR 22-3 2.54 ERA.  Try more like 4.75.  Maybe.  Finally, I think the Twins will come away with this division, but I don’t think they will next year.  Their new batch of youngsters (Gomez, Span, Casilla) don’t seem to be up to the par of what the Twins usually farm up, but with a pretty well rounded team I think they take the division.

AL East

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. Tampa Bay Rays
  3. New York Yankees
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. Baltimore Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles.  These guys might race the Mariners for the worst record in baseball.  Their rotation has been plundered of everyone but Jeremy Guthrie, who would actually probably have a good record and such on a decent team.  Barring Markakis, Roberts to an extent, and Wigginton, who actually puts up some pretty decent stats for any team not named the Pirates, their lineup is stone cold barren.  Opposing pitchers could walk these three every time they come up and just take their chances with the rest of the lineup.  And they would probably win.  It’s a shame the Blue Jays are in the AL East.  Any other division they could probably compete very well, they have a pretty athletic and solid lineup, but with the loss of Burnett and Marcum on the DL recovering from “Tommy John” surgery, I don’t think they’ll challenge the Yankees for third this year.  The Yankees have the most godawfully high payroll and a new godawful stadium to play their mercenary ball in, but baseball is about more than money.  At least I hope it still is.  The Rays have a sweet young team and should challenge for the division every year of the next four or five.  The Gabe platoon is the only real hole they have in the lineup, and their pitching is scintillating, with a couple different pitchers who could make a run at the Cy Young.  However, I think the Sox will blast their way to the division, with the Rays picking up the wild card.  Finally, the Red Sox, with probably the best lineup in baseball, although the Dodgers are pretty close.  They’ve started the season with Jason Bay hitting sixth.  I know that no one in the civilized baseball world realized he existed untill last year, but the guy has slugged .520 over his career and he’s batting sixth?  THAT is a deep lineup.

Now, for some awards:

MVP

Probably deserves it: Josh Hamilton
Dark horse: Jason Bay
Will end up being: Mark Teixeira

Cy Young

Probably deserves it: Roy Halladay
Dark horse: Scott Kazmir
Will end up being:CC Sabbathia

Batting Champion

Probably deserves it: Kevin Youkilis
Dark horse:
Will end up being: Someone out of left field like it always is

Most Improved/Bounceback Season

Probably deserves it: David Ortiz
Dark horse: Hideki Matsui
Will end up being: Derek Jeter, regarldess of how poorly he plays

Rookie of the Year

Probably deserves it: Matt Wieters
Dark horse: Jeff Niemann
Will end up being: Matt Wieters

Pirate Booty

It has been nearly a month since the Pirates completed their foray into the 2008 trade market (they were also able to send Bautista to Toronto past the deadline) with the big-splash, three-team deal sending Bay to the Bay City.  Here’s a breakdown of how all the bits and pieces of the various deals have fared, starting with the players that have departed from the Bucs.

  • Xavier Nady has continued his career year without pause.  He has already blasted eight long balls in 27 games with the Yankees, boosting his slugging percentage and OPS while his average and OBP have barely budged.  I find this pace unlikely to continue into next season, especially in the average/OBP side of things, he does have pretty good power though.  Even with Matsui back, Nady has remained a constant fixture in left field, Matsui moving into DH to help keep him healthy.
  • Dámaso Marte has not fared too well with the Yankees.  In 12 games he has a 8.68 ERA with seven walks in 9.1 IP.  He does, however, have 14 K, and four of his earned runs came to a walk of Byrd grand slam shortly after donning his pinstripes.  I think the Yankees have the wrong idea about Marte: I think he does better as a full-inning setup man (as I’ve said before) than as a lefty specialist.  The Yankees have pitched him less than an inning in half his appearances.
  • Jason Bay hit the ground running in Boston.  He has hit .333/.385/.529 with 20 R, 4 HR, 18 RBI and 3 SB in 21 games.  Plus, he has already compiled three outfield assists prowling the MUCH smaller Boston left field.  His first game with the Sox he tripled and scored the winning run in the bottom of the 12th.

Now, for the booty the Pirates plundered, starting with the Yankees deal:

  • Jeff Karstens’ first two games with the Pirates were brilliant.  He pitched six scoreless innings his first outing, following up with a game in which he lasted 7.2 perfect innings, and ended up giving up two hits in a CG shutout.  Since then, he has sparkled a bit less, but still his overall Pittsburgh stat-line is 3.48 ERA, 12/9 K/BB and a 2-3 record in 31.0 IP.  His problem so far has been 5 HRs in the last three starts.  I like Karstens because he has some pretty decent stuff, with absolutely no fear as a pitcher.  He pounds the strikezone like a redneck does his wife, which will in the end make him prone to up and down outings.  He has been, by far, the most efficient Pirate pitcher in recent memory (although Maholm has been pretty good about this).
  • Ross Ohlendorf has pitched six games for the Pirates AAA Indianopolis, going 3-3 with a 3.24 ERA and an exquisite 35/8 K/BB ratio in 41.2 IP.  He hasn’t shown much at the major league level yet, but Ohlendorf projects as third to fifth starter.  With the recent revelation that only Maholm is a lock for the 2009 rotation (I heard this on last night’s broadcast), he should at best be in the rotation and at worst help light a fire under some guys to get THEM into the rotation.  Both Snell and Gorzellany obviously have some offseason work to do…Snell needs to do some film study and mental work, Gorzo probably just needs to get back to being healthy after getting ravaged by Jim Tracy last year; but you can never be too sharp mentally.
  • Daniel McCutchen–hearing a McCutchen was being involved in this trade made my heart skip two or three beats.  By far the best prospect in the Pirates system for the last couple years has been Andrew McCutchen and for a second I thought the new management shipped off our best hope for success in the next few years, but instead it was a McCutchen we would be receiving.  He has pitched at AAA Indy for 6 games as well, going 2-2 with a 4.62 ERA.  This ERA may be a little unfairly inflated because he has a 1.14 WHIP and a pretty good 27/7 K/BB, so perhaps he has just had a little bad luck, or perhaps it’s the 8 HR he has already given up.  Again, this guy hopefully either enters the rotation or pushes some guys into a good healthy competition and at worst he becomes pitching depth in an organization that (before Huntington did so much work this year) was absolutely devoid of anything that could be claimed as a pitching prospect besides recovering Brad Lincoln and possible burnout Daniel Moskos (he was a stretch when drafted, but still has been puzzlingly bad compared to the solid first-round talent most teams pegged him as).
  • Jose Tabata is the most exciting thing to come out of these trades, at least prospect-wise.  He was listed behind Joba Chamerlain and Ian Kennedy as the Yankees’ third-best prospect.  He turned 20 two weeks ago and had to wait for a couple weeks or so after the trade to get started with AA Altoona because of a wrist injury.  Some have compared him to a young Manny Ramirez, but comparisons aside, he rehabbed in the Rookie League GCL Pirates for four games with an eye-popping (as it should be) .455/.538/1.091 (yes that’s AVG/OBP/SLG, not OPS) with 4 R, 2 HR and 7 RBI.  In AA Altoona he hasn’t slowed down much with .369/.423/.569 and 13 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI, and 6/6 in SB attempts.  Considering that having barely turned 20, his power has likely not developed very much (escpecially since he is coming off a wrist injury), a .569 slugging average for such a young player in AA is very impressive.  I will definitely keep you posted on how he is doing.

And now on to the Bay deal:

  • Craig Hansen.  Ugh.  He has not performed well with the Pirates thus far.  There is no doubting the kid’s electric stuff.  He has a mid-90’s fastball and a tight, late-breaking slider that is just devastating.  When it’s in the strikezone.  For that matter, he has to get his fastball in the strikezone just so he has a CHANCE to throw his slider.  As was being rumored, he has been optioned to AAA Indy to work out some kinks in favor of 25-year-old reliever Jesse Chavez.  His outing last night in a bizarre (but at that point tight) game was a microcosm of his struggles.  He came into a tight game (Russel feels he has nothing to lose throwing the young guy into the fire at this point in another likely losing season), could not get the ball over the plate and ended up walking in two runs in a row to give up the lead and blow the save opportunity.  The other two runs he “earned” were inherited by the next pitcher.  His line is 0-2, 8.10 ERA, 3/12 K/BB (shudder) in 10 IP.  He has earned a save.  Last year and early this year have been encouraging that this kid can turn it around.  Hopefully the Pirates minor league coaching staff does more good than harm with him (not guaranteed by any means) and he’ll be the closer-in-waiting setup man for a few years to come.
  • Bryan Morris was the only prospect the Pirates received in this deal who wasn’t major league ready or close to it.  He missed 2007 with Tommy John surgery and pitched well so far this year with a 3.20 ERA and 72 K in 81.2 IP before the trade.  With the Class-A Hickory team, he has gone 0-2 with a 5.04 ERA and 11/12 K/BB in 14.1 IP.  HIs record is meaningless as the ‘Dads are 20-43 this year, but the walks are a little worrisome.  He managed to keep them to a not terrible 3.42/9 IP with the Dodger’s affiliate, but last year in rookie ball his walk rate was not good.  Something to keep an eye on for sure.  He has two good pitches and a changeup is in progress; he could go up or down from here.
  • Andy LaRoche was a very interesting piece to this trade.  His minor league numbers have been pretty impressive (.294/.380/.517 with 95 HRs over six years) but the Dodgers never really gave him a chance and instead opting to trade for Casey Blake to man third while plugging in Nomar Garciaparra at SS (shudder).  So far he has been pretty bad for the Pirates, only batting .125 while currently mired in an 0-for-20-something slump, but he does have a couple of dingers and 6 walks in 64 ABs.  I would wager that walk rate beats anyone who is currently on the Pirates excluding McLouth.  While showing great HR power even in the minors, some argue that his power ceiling is already met, evidenced by his lack of doubles in the minor leagues.  Time will tell:  he will be given a far better chance to succeed than he got with the Dodgers; Neil Walker is not ready offensively or defensively (but still quite young at 22) and Scott Boras, agent of first round pick Pedro Alvarez, has decided to play more games with the Pirates, after they defeated him in signing negotiations.
  • Brandon Moss has been the sole performer out of this deal so far.  Only batting .247 at the moment, he has an impressive 4 HR, 5 2B and 10 BB in his 81 ABs so far.  He’s patroled both corner spots well, more often playing the huge LF area vacated by Bay and turned in 2 double plays with 3 outfield assists already.  As opposed to LaRoche, Moss hit a decent number of homies in the minors with a prodigous amount of doubles, so that bodes well for his developing power.  Expect the 2009 Pirates outfield to be McLouth, McCutchen, Moss/Pearce–either in Platoon or whoever wins the job.  Expect him to be a fixture for a few years to come, perhaps being a centerpiece on the next competitive Pirates team.

Well, that’s how the Pirate booty has fared so far.  I’ll keep you informed.