Wednesday, March 5, 2014

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why Promoting Cobb, and keeping Davis in the pen, makes sense for Rays

While Jeff Niemann’s numbers thus far this season (2-3, 3.38 ERA) might not look gaudy, they do not bare out the success he’s had, particularly in his most recent start in New York, where he went 7 solid innings giving up just 1 ER to a powerful Yankee lineup, but was on the hook for a loss until the Rays 9th inning rally en route to a 4-1 win got Niemann a no decision. His BAA and K to BB ratio were more solid, if not excellent (.221, 30 Strikeouts, 12 Walks) and in particular, his BAA to RHB was a gaudy .132. Nonetheless, while Niemann’s early season successes shouldn’t come as a shock, nor should his latest injury, albeit fluky and unrelated to past injuries, Jeff is the only Rays starter that consistently has been unable to remain healthy throughout an entire season. So why Alex Cobb? Why not just promote Wade Davis back to what he admittedly coveted in the spring and always has, a role in the starting rotation? There are several reasons. For one, Davis, despite being less than thrilled about not getting a starting job to begin with, has adapted to his role quite well, and the numbers bear that out. Wade not only possesses a 2.04 ERA, but he’s been asked to take over in several high leverage situations (most notably, inheriting two runners on with nobody out in Texas, striking out the always dangerous Mike Napoli, and being victimized by a Longoria error). Davis proceeded to hustle and cover home off of a wild pitch to erase Nelson Cruz and never backed down against the tough Elvis Andrus, finally retiring him on a fly ball to center after an 11 pitch at bat. To expect Alex Cobb to be able to perform that well under such circumstances (and that is just one example in which Davis has done such this season) would be asking a lot out of anyone, let alone the far less experienced Cobb. Although Alex has, by the numbers, not faired all that well in Durham (1-4 with a 4.14 ERA in 8 starts) the numbers are somewhat skewed by two bad outings, in which he gave up 6 and 7 ER, and went just 1.2 and 4 innings, respectively. Otherwise, Cobb has given up no more than 2 ER in his other 6 starts, and gone no less than 5 IP in any of them. His K to BB ratio is a strong 44-18. When you couple what he has done in Durham, coming off of his strong stint in the majors pre-injury (3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in 9 starts, including his initial poor outing in which the Rays determined he was tipping pitches), accentuated by the fact that he gave up no more than 3 ER in all but one of his ensuing starts after being re-called back from AAA to tweak his initial issues, and Cobb is undoubtedly deserving of his second opportunity to pitch at the Major League Level. While it is unfortunate that it will come due to Niemann’s injury it’s worth nothing that Cobb likely would have been called up at some point this season anyhow, but likely thrust into a relief role in which he is unaccustomed to, or just for an occasional spot start. Ergo, Niemann’s injury further illustrates the luxury the Rays have with a surplus of quality starting pitchers and why, perhaps, they have been leery about trading any arms away. Maybe in the future, after getting another extended look at Alex Cobb on the big league level, and more of Wade Davis in his unnatural, but successful stint as a reliever, they’ll maximize on their biggest asset to acquire another bat. Until then, the Rays are in good hands, and arms, with Cobb, Davis, and the rest of their starters.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Where will Pujols sign? - odds for each team

One of the biggest things coming in the 2011 offseason is the impending free agency of Albert Pujols. He looks to command the biggest contract in MLB history, even corralling 30 million dollars a year. But who will pay him that kind of money? Let's go through the teams and see what the odds are for each team signing Pujols.

No chance

30. Rays

The Rays need help at first base, but considering they couldn't re-sign Carl Crawford or Carlos Pena, how in the world would they sign Pujols? Even if they have a small payroll and there's no chance they'll commit over half their 2012 salary to one player. There's a zero chance Pujols goes to the Rays.

Odds: 1 in 4,000,000,000

29. Royals

The Royals have a tiny payroll and Eric Hosmer as their first baseman of the future. The Royals don't need to make a big splash in free agency with the top prospects coming, and even if they did, they don't have anywhere near the money to sign Pujols. Pujols will not be going across the state of Missouri to Kansas City in 2012.

Odds: 1 in 1,000,000,000

28. Pirates

When was the last time the Pirates signed a big free agent? They just don't have the payroll. Lyle Overbay (arguably their biggest free agent signing of the 2010 offseason) isn't the long-term answer at first base, but the Pirates will have to look to the farm system or lower-tier free agents because Pujols will not be a Pirate (although I could see the headline now: "Pujols a Pirate").

Odds: 1 in 90,000,000

27. Blue Jays

The Jays couldn't even sign their own big impending free agent, Roy Halladay. How in the world would they sign Pujols?

Odds: 1 in 75,000,000

26. Diamondbacks

They haven't had a big signing in quite a while. Prospect Brandon Allen is the first baseman is the future, and he's certainly not a sure thing, and also the D-backs made a run at Paul Konerko, but they just don't have anywhere near enough money to make a run at Pujols.

Odds: 1 in 60,000,000

25. Brewers

If the Brewers had the money to sign Pujols, they would have extended Prince Fielder. Also, they just signed Ryan Braun to a huge deal.

Odds: 1 in 50,000,000

24. Padres

Ditto Brewers, but for Adrian Gonzalez. They haven't signed anybody to a big extension, but they have never had a lot of money to begin with.

Odds: 1 in 45,000,000

23. Reds

The Reds have a player they can build around in Joey Votto at first base, and they're a small-market team anyway.

Odds: 1 in 35,000,000

22. Indians

The Indians are playing out of their mind right now and you would think that they just need to continue adding fuel to the fire to keep contending. But, they have a good combination of veterans and young players right now, and they would certainly extend Grady Sizemore before signing Pujols. Not to mention that they don't have the money to sign Pujols anyway.

Odds: 1 in 20,000,000

21. Twins

The Twins have Justin Morneau at first base, and it's unlikely that they'll be able to afford another high-priced player.

Odds: 1 in 10,000,000

20. Giants

The Giants have Aubrey Huff and Brandon Belt, and we know they don't have 30 million dollars lying around.

Odds: 1 in 8,000,000

19. White Sox

The White Sox have some money, but they have both Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn. They're not signing Pujols.

Odds: 1 in 7,500,000

18. Mets

The Mets have had cash in the past, but we know that the Wilpons are cash-stricken and looking to add a minority owner. Even if they did somehow get the money, they'll be much more worried about signing Jose Reyes anyway. And of course, they have a promising player in Ike Davis at first base.

Odds: 1 in 5,000,000

17. Astros

They're getting a new owner, so you never no what their payroll would be, but they have Brett Wallace at first base, and the new owner wouldn't want to commit most of his payroll to Pujols.

Odds: 1 in 3,000,000

16. Athletics

The A's don't have the money, but I feel like Billy Beane could pull off a crazy sign-and-trade or something.

Odds: 1 in 2,500,000

15. Mariners

The Mariners have signed a couple of big free agents in recent years, but they don't appear to be contending anytime soon, and they have Justin Smoak, who should be manning first base for years to come.

Odds: 1 in 2,000,000

14. Marlins

The Marlins want to make a splash as they're moving into their new stadium, and they did spend a bit more money in the 2010 offseason, but 30 million dollars is a ton of money, and unless Pujols gives the Fish a "hometown discount" because they're the closest MLB team to the Dominican public, the Marlins won't be able to sign him.

Odds: 1 in 1,000,000

Probably not

13. Phillies

The entire baseball world is hoping that the Phillies don't scrape together enough pennies to sign Albert Pujols. I'm sure Ryan Howard is hoping too.

Odds: 1 in 10,000

12. Braves

The Braves have Freddie Freeman at first, and they don't have limitless funds, but they've made runs at big players in recent years.

Odds: 1 in 7,500

11. Tigers

Maybe the Tigers have money, but they have Miguel Cabrera, and they would have to catch Victor Martinez more often to fit in Pujols at DH. They'd also have to convince Pujols to play left field on an irregular basis (he did play most of 2003 in left field, but he hasn't played there since).

Odds: 1 in 5,000

10. Rockies

The Rockies have extended Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Is there any money left?

Odds: 1 in 3,500

9. Angels

The Angels made runs at Adrian Beltre and Carl Crawford this past offseason, but failed to sign either of them, and they traded for the pricey Vernon Wells. The Angels don't have quite enough money to sign Pujols, and they also have two promising first baseman in Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo.

Odds: 1 in 2000

9. Red Sox

The Red Sox might have the money, but with Adrian Gonzalez at third, David Ortiz at DH, and even Carl Crawford in left field, the Red Sox would have to convince Pujols to play right field. Pujols did play 39 games there in 2001, but he has had some elbow problems since, and playing right field could kill his elbow and endanger his career. It's not impossible, but it's certainly a long-shot.

Odds: 1 in 1000

Don't completely count them out

7. Dodgers

They've spent quite a bit of money in the past. If they ever get that FOX TV deal signed, and their ownership situation resolved you never know what will happen, but the chances are certainly against Pujols being a Dodger.

Odds: 1 in 100

6. Orioles

The Orioles are starting to spend some money, and Derrek Lee was signed to just a one-year contract, but 30 million dollars is seemingly too much.

Odds: 1 in 75

5. Rangers

The Rangers have been spending money lately, but they already have a ton of money on the books and a logjam of players playing first base/DH including Mike Napoli and Michael Young. They theoretically could sign Pujols, but they probably will decide not to.

Odds: 1 in 60

4. Nationals

The Nats signed Jason Werth this past offseason and Adam LaRoche is coming off the books after the season, so you never know for sure.

Odds: 1 in 40

3. Yankees

You may think I'm crazy, but Pujols going to the Yankees is a semi-realistic possibility. It would be the same of situation as the Red Sox above with Mark Teixeira at first base, but the Yankees would certainly move Brett Gardner to give Pujols time in left field, and if they could sign Pujols, they would certainly be willing to trade Jesus Montero to give him time at DH as well.

Odds: 1 in 20

Contenders

2. Cubs

The Cubs have new owners, the Ricketts, and are dying to make Pujols a part of their team. They might actually be able to offer Pujols a 10 year, 300 million dollar contract. But would Pujols leave St. Louis?

Odds: 2 in 5

1. Cardinals

The Cardinals have been Pujols' team the past 11 years. They won a championship with him and have built a solid team around him. Why should he leave? But will the Cardinals offer him the 30 million a year?

Odds: 12 in 25

Results

Cardinals- 48% chance of re-signing Pujols

Cubs- 40% chance of signing Pujols

Yankees- 5% chance of signing Pujols

Nationals- 2.5% chance of signing Pujols

Rangers- 1.7% chance of signing Pujols

The field- 2.7% chance of signing Pujols

It's Cubs-Cardinals for the rights to have Pujols with the Yankees, Nationals, and Rangers having outside chances and every other team barely being involved if part of the picture at all. This should be interesting.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Can Montero play left field?

Yankees top prospect Jesus Montero has been dealing with a bit of a groin problem, but it's hard not to like his current stats at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre. He's hitting .375 with 4 doubles, a homer, 4 RBI, a .484 SLG, and amazingly a .369 OBP (no walks, out trying to stretch once) in 15 games. He's going to need to get back into games, get his OBP up, and show some more power, but we know he's capable of doing all of those. How long can the Yankees keep this guy in the minors? But where could they play him? Russell Martin is destroying the AL to the tune of a .290/.364/.594 line. Jorge Posada at DH has just a .131/.231/.391 line, but he has 6 home runs, and the Yankees aren't going to easily bench a player who's making 13.1 million dollars this season. 1st base isn't an option with Mark Teixeira there, so all the regular positions that catchers play are out of the question. But, if Montero is still hitting .370 in a month, how could the Yankees possibly keep him in the minors? What could the Yankees do?

Well, you have to at least give a look to the left field and right field positions. Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher both had nice games Thursday, but they're still hitting .169/.229/.385 and .237/.351/.303 respectively. Gardner has 7 extra-base hits, 3 homers, and driven in 6 runs, but he's been successful on just 4 of 7 stolen base attempts, while Swisher has just 3 extra base hits, 1 homer, although he has driven in 12 runs. Couldn't Montero be better than either of them right now? Who in the world wouldn't think that Montero could at least put up at least a .275/.340/.400 line in the majors right now? Gardner and Swisher are nice players, but how could you leave one of the best hitters in professional baseball stranded at Triple-A? Brian Cashman could probably trade either Gardner or Swisher within a couple of days. Why won't he?

First of all, there's the obvious question of defense. Gardner is the best defensive left fielder in baseball, and replacing him with Montero would be an enormous defensive downgrade. Swisher has worked hard defensively, and he had a positive UZR in 2010 (and so far in 2011). Even replacing Swisher with Montero would be a big downgrade defensively. Or would it? Earlier in Yankee history, the Yankees had another case where they had two good catchers. From the mid-1950's to the mid-1960's, the Yankees had both Yogi Berra and Elston Howard. So what did they do? They had both Berra and Howard play some left field and right field. Berra played 260 career games in the outfield while Howard played 265. And while Berra and Howard weren't Gold Glove-caliber defensively, they certainly were good enough. Berra posted a .972 Fld% and a 2.08 RF/9 in 149 career games in left field. The league averages were a .973 Fld% and a 2.03 RF/9. He certainly was an average fielder in left. In 166 games in right, Berra wasn't as good, posting just a .966 Fld% and a 1.65 RF/9 compared to the league averages of .974 and 1.97, but even in that case, he survived defensively. Howard was pretty solid in 228 games in left, posting a .982 Fld% and a 1.98 RF/9 compared to the league averages of .979 and 2.13. (Keep in mind that Berra and Howard did not play the outfield in all the same seasons.) Howard played just 42 games in right, but he actually was a plus defender, posting a .987 Fld% and a 2.33 RF/9 compared to the league average compared to the league averages of .979 and 1.99. Could Montero put up similar numbers?

Even if he could, Montero would have to start learning the new position, and that could take away from his focus on hitting, which wouldn't be good for him in the long run. Also, Gardner and Swisher play important roles for the Yankees. Gardner is the Yankees' only legitimate 30-stolen base threat (although if he gets on base, he could steal 50), and Swisher is great in the clubhouse, so the Yankees shouldn't panic and hinder Montero's development. Unless Posada or Martin gets hurt, the Yankees should allow Montero to keep working defensively at catcher in Triple-A until September, when he'll get his first cup of coffee in the big leagues. Then, next year, he'll be ready to take over at DH and backup catcher when Posada retires and use his bat to the best of his ability. Yankee fans, don't panic about the struggles of Gardner and Swisher.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

2011 Season Outlook: Baltimore Orioles

After a resurgence late in 2010 after Buck Showalter took over as manager, the Baltimore Orioles are no longer a laughing stock in the AL East. Will they be able to take their performance to the next level and actually compete for the division crown?

Catcher:

Matt Wieters was supposed to be the next great catcher. What happened? Wieters, who will turn 24 in May, hit just .249 in '10 with 22 doubles, 11 homers, 55 RBI, and a .319 OBP in 130 games. He did miss 12 games with a hamstring strain in July, but that obviously was not the root of all of his problems. Why didn't he live up to expectations? This is a player who hit .343 in the minors! How did he hit just .249? The simple answer is that he had a .287 BAbip (batting average on balls in play) in '10 compared to .370 in the minors. (The MLB average was .297 in 2010.) But since there's not much 'batted ball' information for minor league stats, I can't give a better answer. But we can use Wieter's 96-game debut in '09 as a means of comparison. In '09, Wieters hit .288 with 15 doubles, 9 homers, 43 RBI, and a .340 OBP. Obviously, Wieter's BA (that's the abbreviation I use for batting average) and OBP were much higher in 2009 than in 2011. Why? First of all, Wieters had a .356 BAbip in 2009 that was much more similar to his BAbip in the minors. But why was that? Unless a player is incredibly lucky, his BAbip is going to have a lot to due with how many line drives he hits. In 2009, Wieters had a 20% LD% (line drive percentage among balls in play) compared to the MLB average of 19%. In 2010, his LD% free-fell to just 14% (so he was very lucky in terms of BAbip in 2010). Meanwhile, his GB% (ground ball percentage) went up from 42% to 46%. The craziest part of this is that according to Fangraphs' batted ball data, Wieters hit just 5 more line drives in 130 games in '10 than in 96 games in '09. He clearly wasn't making as much solid contact. So what can we expect from Wieters this season? You have to expect a rebound. Wieters had an off-year, but he's a great player. He should live up to expectations in 2011. But how do we know that?

The proof is a little bit deeper into the same data we looked out before. Why did Wieters hit so many fewer line drives? When he was getting behind in the count, rather than fouling pitches off until he got a pitch to hit, he was content with just putting the ball in play at all or just taking pitches in order to have a chance to reach base (on a hit or a walk). There are multiple sources for this reasoning. There are no stats like F/Str, S/Str, and L/Str (percentage of strikes fouled off, percentage of strikes from swings-and-misses, and percentage of strikes looking) for specific situations (in this case, it would be two strike situations) that are available to the public, but on the season, Wieters' F/Str fell from the 29% it was in '09 to 27% (27% is the MLB average). (That's a big difference because he fouled off 331 strikes compared to the 355 he would have if fouled off if he was at 29%.) Meanwhile, his S/Str shot down from 18% to 13% and his L/Str jumped up from 25% to 31%. Wieters' I/Str (percentage of strikes put into play) went up from 28% to 29%, but his AS/Str (percentage of strikes swung at) went down significantly from 75% to 69%. All this adds up to 29% of Wieters' strikeouts in 2010 coming via the backwards K (if you're not in the know, when you're scoring a baseball game, a backwards K connotes a strikeout looking). He wasn't anywhere as aggressive with 2 strikes. But, you could argue back that the data isn't specific enough to prove anything. However, there is some amount of 2-strike data available to prove this point. In 2010, Wieters had just a 50% IP% (in-play percentage; league average 69%) compared to the 69% IP% he had overall on the season. In 2010, his 2-strike IP% was 52%. He did strike out in 38% of his 2-strike at-bats and walk 10% of the time in '10 compared to 41% and 6% respectively in 2009. (The 2010 stats don't add up to 100% because Wieters was also hit-by-pitches 1% of the time and because of rounding error.) While those trends seem fine overall, there's still one more key stat to mention: BAbip. In 2009, Wieters had a .333 BAbip with 2 strikes. In 2010, his BAbip dropped to just .266. Using the fact that MLB players had a .297 BAbip in '10 with an 18.8% LD%, you can estimate that Wieters had approximately a 21% LD% (among balls in play) with 2 strikes in '10. Using that same estimating tool, Wieters had aprroximately a 17% LD% with 2 strikes in '10. (Those percentages might be off because if you used this estimating tool to estimate Wieters' LD% for the entire season, it would be 18%. But, if nothing else, Wieters had the equivlent of a 17% LD% in terms of luck [he had the equivlent of an 18% LD% overall in '10 in terms of luck].) Even without knowing exactly what his LD% was with 2 strikes, it's clear that Wieters was able to hit a higher percentage of line drives in 2-strike situations in '09 than in '10. Considering that 51% of Wieters' plate appearances in his career entering 2011 were 2-strike plate appearances, those line drive percentages had a lot to do with Wieter's LD% and BAbip on the year. If Wieters can be more aggressive overall in 2011, and find a happy medium of aggressiveness with 2 strikes, he'll have a much better season. Wieters is a great hitter, and there's no reason to think that he won't get his LD% back to 20% in 2011.

And somehow I've written two enormous paragraphs about Wieters' LD%, and I haven't even mentioned his power. Wieters hit 27 homers in 2008 between High-A and Double-A in 530 plate appearances, but he has hit just 20 homers in 884 major league plate appearances entering 2011. What's going on with that? Well, Wieters has posted just a 6.3% HR/FB (percent of fly balls to the outfield that go for homers; league average) in both of his major league seasons compared to the league average of 7.7%. I think that he still has the power, but he just hasn't been completely comfortable in the big leagues yet. Once he's hitting .280, he can worry a bit more about hitting homers. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he hits 20 homers in 2011. Defensively, Wieters was outstanding in 2010, posting a .994 Fld% compared to the AL average of .990, and a 31% CS%. Maybe focusing on his defense cost him a few line drives with the bat. Wieters is hitting .241 entering Thursday with a homer, 4 RBI, and a .333 OBP thus far in 2011. Matt Wieter struggled through an awful sophomore slump in 2010, but expect him to finally become the great catcher we all expected him to be in 2011.

Wieters will be backed up by Jake Fox. Even though I saw him 18 times last year in the AL East, I actually had no idea that Fox was a natural catcher. Fox has become a great utility player for the Orioles, considering he can catch and play all four corner positions (he's average defensively at catcher and awful at the other four positions). Fox also has decent power, considering he has hit 18 homers in 467 major league appearances. He hit .217 in '10 with 10 doubles, 7 homers, 22 RBI, and just a .261 OBP (his real problem) in 77 games between the A's (who obviously traded him because of his low OBP) and the Orioles. Fox is 0 for 7 so far in 2011. Jake Fox is a pretty good backup for the O's because of his versatility.

First base:

Derrek Lee, signed by the Orioles this offseason to a 1 year, 7.25 million dollar contract, has seemingly been around forever. Really, he's only been around since '97. Lee, 35, had somewhat of an off-year in '10 between the Cubs and Braves, hitting .260 with 35 doubles, 19 homers, 80 RBI, 80 runs, and a .347 OBP in 148 games. Did Lee really have an 'off-year', or is he beginning to decline? Maybe it could be the former. Lee had a .309 BAbip in '10 even though he had a 22% LD% and just a 6% IF/FB (percentage of fly balls that are popups on the infield). He had the luck of a player with a 20% LD%. If his luck improves, he could certainly get back to his .282 career BA. Also, in terms of hitting homers, Lee had just an 8.1% HR/FB compared to his 11.5% career HR/FB. He also had 64% IP% that was exactly the league average. He just got unlucky in terms of his fly balls going out. Or was he? Lee had a 37.6 FB% (fly ball percentage among balls in play), which was a bit lower than his 38.8%. But, how could that affect his HR/FB? If he hit less fly balls, it shouldn't make too much of a difference for his HR/FB. So what's going on here? Well, as I've keep running into in these posts, there's a discrepency in the stats between the two sites I've been using for these stats, baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com. (The links are to Lee's pages for hitting stats on the two websites. You'll have to scroll down to 'Ratio Stats' on baseball-reference.com, but the Fangraphs link should go straight to 'batted ball'.) Baseball-Reference counts line drives as fly balls, while Fangraphs counts them separately. Baseball-Reference defines HR/FB as percentage of fly balls to the outfield including line drives that go for home runs. Fangraphs defines HR/FB as 'home run to fly ball ratio'. Looking at the actual recorded numbers of hit type (Lee hit 157 fly balls and 94 line drives in '10), that means that Fangraphs does not count line drives. According to Fangraphs' version of HR/FB, Lee had a 12.1% HR/FB compared to the league average of 10% and his career average of 16.5%. So now we're all confused (I'm going to use Baseball-Reference's HR/FB going forward), and what did we prove here? Well, we did actually learn something, even if you didn't realize initially because you were so confused. It was good that Lee hit more line drives, but Fangraphs' HR/FB shows us that Lee's increase in line drives led to a decrease in home runs. Lee was trying to hit the ball hard every single swing, but most of those times he lined a single, a double, or even lined into an out. He didn't lift the ball very well even when he got a pitch to hit. He hit most of his fly balls when he missed a pitch, and although a decent amount of them went out, he was worrying about being a hitter first and a homer hitter second. That reminds of a stat I made up almost exactly a year ago, HR/H% (percentage of hits that went for homers. It's a spin-off of X/H%, percentage of hits for extra bases, but the purpose of HR/H% is to determine whether a hitter is pure hitter or a decent hitter with some power (as explained further in that post if you want to click the link). I defined that if less than a fifth of a player's hits are homers, he's not a power hitter. If anywhere from 20% to 30% of his hits are homers, that player is a decent hitter who also happens to have great power. Over 30% is a pure power hitter. Lee's HR/H% has greatly varied in his career. Lee's career HR/H% is 17%, so he isn't really a power hitter. But, the line graph of Lee's HR/H% is pretty crazy.


From 1997 to 2002, Lee wasn't a power hitter at all, posting a 16% HR/H% and 15% if you take out a fluke 2000 season in which he had a 21% HR/H% due to a 17.3% HR/FB. But from 2003 to 2005, he had a 21% HR/H%, including 23% in his 46-homer 2005. What happened is that Lee's HR/FB went up from 11.3% from '97 to '02 to 14.4% from '03 to '05. '03 to '05 were Lee's age 27, 28, and 29 seasons, so it makes sense that he became more of a power hitter. But from 2006 to 2008, his HR/H% shot down to just 12% (keep in mind that he played in just 50 games in '06 to do a radius-ulna fracture in his right forearm). His HR/FB shot down to just 8.5%. Then all of a sudden, Lee showed some power again in 2009, posting a 21% HR/H%. He had a 14.1% HR/H% that mirrored his '03 to '05 HR/FB. But then in '10, Lee's HR/H% went back down to 13%, just like '06 to '08. Clearly, 2009 was a fluke and Lee won't really be a power hitter at all the rest of his career according to these trends. (Lee did have a 25% HR/H% in 2011 entering 4/8/11 when I did this graph, but that was 1 homer among 4 hits.) Lee should be a decent offensive player for the Orioles in '10, probably hitting .280, but don't expect him to hit 30 homers or even close to that. Defensively, Lee is still a decent defender, considering he posted a .993 Fld% in '10 that was exactly the league average with a 2.1 UZR. Lee is hitting .194 with a homer, 2 RBI, and a .293 OBP to this point in 2011. Lee will be backed up by starting left fielder Luke Scott, starting third baseman Mark Reynolds, and Jake Fox. Derrek Lee should be a good player for the Orioles in '10, but don't expect very many homers.

Second base:

When healthy, 33 year old career Oriole Brian Roberts is an outstanding player. In 2009, Roberts hit .283 with a league-leading 56 doubles, 16 homers, 79 RBI, 110 runs, 179 hits, 30 stolen bases (7 CS), and a .356 OBP in 159 games. But in 2010, he appeared in just 59 games because of an abdomen strain, although he did play pretty well when he did get into games, hitting .278 with 14 doubles, 4 homers, 15 RBI, 12 stolen bases, and a .354 OBP in 59 games. How will Roberts do if he stays healthy in 2011? From '08 to '10, Roberts posted a 22% LD% each season. Yet, his BA went down from .296 to .283 to .270. What happened? Well first of all, Roberts' BAbip went down from .341 in '08 to .318 and .319 respectively in 2009 and 2010. If it wasn't LD%, what made Roberts' BAbip go down that much? Well, hitters had a .235 BAbip on groundballs in '10 compared to just .137 on fly balls. Roberts' GB% went down from 40% in '08 to 36% and '09 to 34% in '10 while his FB% went up from 36% to 42% to 45%. Roberts has become a bit more of a fly ball hitter. That caused his HR/FB to go up from 3.2% to 5.4%, but he was very unlucky in 2010, as his HR/FB went back down to 3.4%. These are not a good trend for Roberts, and unless he changes them, he will continue to decline. Maybe those trends won't change. Thus far in 2011 Roberts had posted a 55% FB%, although he does have a crazy 30% LD% so far. Even though those stats mean nothing because it's only been 6 games, it's not a good sign for Roberts. Roberts is still a good offensive player, but appears that he'll experience another decline in 2011. It might be relatively slight , but there will be a decline. (My best guess would be a .275 BA, 35 doubles,10 homers, 60 RBI, 80 runs, 25 stolen bases, and a .340 OBP- sort of similar to ZiPs' projection.) Defensively, Roberts' Fld% at second base has gone from .989 in '08 to .984 in '09 to .987 in '10 (.987 is the average of the league averages in those 3 seasons), so he's been at least decent defensively, and his UZR has gone from -0.8 to -2.9 to positive 1.8. This is from a player who posted a 30.1 UZR from '03 to '06. Sort of sad, but that's what happens. Roberts is hitting .214 with 3 homers, 10 RBI, and a .233 OBP in his first 10 games in 2011. Brian Roberts is a still a pretty good player, but he's beginning to decline.

Roberts will be backed up by Cesar Iztruis and Robert Andino. Iztruris, 31, managed a -0.5 WAR (wins above replacement) as the Orioles' starting shortstop in '10, hitting .230 with 13 doubles, 1 homer, 28 RBI, 11 stolen bases, and just a .277 OBP in 150 games. Iztruis did post an outstanding .985 Fld% defensively (league average .973), and a 5.1 UZR. He's a great defender, but he can't hit. He owns a .989 Fld% and a 0.9 UZR at second base, but he hasn't played their since '06. Izturis is hitting .167 with an RBI, and a .375 OBP (2 walks) in 4 games in 2011. Because of his great defense, he should be a good backup.

Andino, who will turn 27 on April 25th, couldn't even hit well at Triple-A, hitting just .264 with 30 doubles, 13 homers, 76 RBI, 72 runs, 16 stolen bases, and just a .302 OBP in 132 games. He posted just a .975 Fld% with below-averange range at second base, and just a. 946 Fld% with below-average range at short. He did hit .295 in the majors- in 16 games, but he still managed just a .950 Fld% in 7 games at shortstop (1 error), although he was perfect in 14 combined games at second base at third base. He had a 0.7 UZR at third, 0.6 at second, and 0.0 at short. He's a bad player, but he'll be fine as the Orioles' second utility infielder. Andino is 0 for 11 with a walk in 3 games in 2011. The Orioles have decent depth behind Roberts, but he better not get hurt again.

Third base:

Mark Reynolds is a strikeout machine. Good thing he has so much power. On his career, Reynolds has a reasonable 25% HR/H%. But, that was because of just a 19% HR/H% his first two seasons in 2007 and 2008. But, his HR/H% shot up to 29% in 2009, and then 32% in 2010, when he hit 32 homers compared to just 99 hits. Overall in 2010, Reynolds, now 27, hit just just .198 with 17 doubles, 32 homers, 85 RBI, 2 triples, 79 runs, 7 stolen bases, and a .320 OBP in 145 games. Reynolds nearly managed more extra-base hits than singles (51 compared to 48). He had an incredible 52% X/H% (percentage of hits for extra bases) compared to the league average of 34%, but his 8.6% XBH% (percentage of plate appearances that ended in an extra-base hit) wasn't so far above the league average of 7.8%. Reynolds had just a .257 BAbip because of a 13% LD%. He had just a 44% IP%, and we all know why. He led the majors in strikeouts for the third consecutive year with 211. That was OK when he hit 44 homers in 2009, but much less so in 2010. Reynolds' HR/FB was a bit down from '09 to '10, from 21.3% to 19.6%, but he just didn't put the play in play enough (his IP% went down from 47% to 44%) to take advantage of high high HR/FB either way. His FB% (among balls in play) actually went up from 47% to 55%. Will Reynolds have some sort of rebound in 2011? Well, there's one area where Reynolds has realistic room for improvement- LD%. Reynolds had a .343 BAbip from '07 to '09 with a 19% LD%. He hit .257 over that time period. When Reynolds posted just a 13% LD% in '10, he posted just a .257 BAbip and accordingly, just a .198 BA. If Reynolds can hit more line drives when he doesn't hit the ball out, he should be able to hit at least .220, and that will help his self-esteem. Marcel has him hitting .233 and ZiPs has him hitting .222, and Reynolds should hit around there. He has hit .241 thus far in 2011, thanks to a 35% LD%. Strangely, he's posted just a 6.7% HR/FB. Defensively, Reynolds made huge strides in 2011, posting a league-average .951 Fld% and a 2.2 UZR, the first positive UZR of his career. He'll be backed up by Jake Fox. Reynolds is what he is. Reynolds is hitting .273 so far in '10 with 5 doubles, 1 homer, 8 RBI, and a .351 OBP through 10 games. He's a pure power hitter who strikes out a ton, but will become a fan favorite if he can keep his average above .200 while hitting his 35+ homers and making some dazzling plays defensively.

Shortstop:

J.J. Hardy, acquired by the O's this offseason for a couple of minor league pitchers. Well, Hardy's better than Izturis, but not by as much as you would think. Firstly, Hardy is an injury risk. He missed nearly all of May and June in '10 with a wrist injury. When he was on the field, Hardy didn't play well anyway, hitting .268 with 19 doubles, 6 homers, 38 RBI, and a .320 OBP in 101 games. He only had 375 plate appearances, but even if he made 500 plate appearances, he was on just an 8-homer pace. This is from a player who not once, but twice, hit 24 or more homers in a season, as recently as 2007 and 2008. What happened? Well, Hardy's HR/FB's in his 24 homer seasons were 10.4% and 11.9% respectively. Hardy had just a 4.7% HR/FB. And it's not like Hardy was unlucky. Hardy was already in decline in 2009, posting just a 7.1% HR/FB. What happened was that Hardy started hitting more ground balls and less fly balls. Hardy's FB% went from 36% in '08 to 40% in '09 to just 34% in '10 while his GB% went from 48% to 46% to 49%. Maybe he got frustrated after his awful '09 (.229 BA, 11 homers). Hardy has never hit a lot of line drives (16% career LD%), and when the fly balls stopped going out, he became an average offensive player at best. There's no real reason to think that Hardy will ever hit 20 homers again even though he's entering his prime at age 28. Even if he hits 15 homers (as ZiPs predicts), he can't hit for average offensively and he has no speed. Hardy is still a great defender in terms of range (8.1 UZR), but even so, he managed just a .976 Fld%. His defense does not offset his offense. Making matters worse, he will miss at least 3 weeks with an oblique strain, setting up a temporary starting job for Andino. Hardy was hitting .200 with 3 doubles, 2 RBI, and a .294 OBP when he got hurt. Hardy will be backed up by Andino and Izturis once he comes back. J.J. Hardy will be just a decent player for the Orioles in '11 even if he does get healthy.

Left field:

Luke Scott finally broke out in 2010 at age 32. Scott didn't have his rookie season in the majors until he was age 28 in 2006, when he hit .336 with the Astros with 19 doubles, 10 homers, 37 RBI, and a .426 OBP in 65 games. But from '07 to '09, Scott was a disappointment, averaging a .257 BA, 28 doubles, 22 homers, 69 RBI, and a .342 OBP per season. He was OK, but certainly nothing special. While Scott didn't all of a sudden become a superstar in 2010, he took a big step forward, hitting .284 with 29 doubles, 27 homers (a career-high), 72 RBI, and .368 OBP in 131 games. Was there any reason for Scott's sudden improvement? Well, from '07 to '08, Scott had a .286 BAbip and in 2010, his BAbip was .304. From '07 to '09, Scott had a 17% LD%. In 2010, his LD% was 19%. He also set a career-high with a 14.8% HR/FB, obviously leading to his career-high in homers. Can he keep those trends up? Well, it's troubling that the last time he had a jump in LD% (23% in 2006), he went down to just 17% in 2007. But, he played in just 65 games in '06, and because of the small sample size, he couldn't have been depended on to repeat such a performance. The LD% might not be such a problem. But, his 14.8% HR/FB was compared to his 12.7% career HR/FB and his 13.8% HR/FB with the Orioles (entering 2011). He should have a worse year because he should hit a few less homers. Defensively, Scott owns a .992 career Fld% in left field, but with a 7.5 UZR, but he has a combined -2.2 UZR the past two seasons. Scott is currently being bothered by a groin strain, but he has not gone on the DL, although he has struggled to begin 2011, hitting .188 with a double and a .350 OBP (3 walks) in 5 games. Luke Scott should be a pretty good player for the O's in 2011, but he won't be as good as he was in 2010.

Scott will be backed up by Felix Pie, 26. Pie hit .274 as a backup for the Orioles in '10 with 15 doubles, 5 homers, 31 RBI, 5 triples, 5 stolen bases, and a .305 OBP in 82 games. He was a bit lucky to post a .316 BAbip despite an 18% LD%. He posted an outstanding .994 Fld% in 70 games in left field, but he actually posted a -3.6 UZR, so that's a problem. Pie posted a combined 1.000 Fld% in 11 combined games between centerfield and right field, posting a combined 1.7 UZR. Pie has hit .357 in 9 games filling in for Scott, but he has no walks and all of his hits have been singles. Felix Pie is a fine backup, but a below-average player overall.

Centerfield:

Adam Jones had another good offensive season for the Orioles in 2010. Jones, a 25 year old outfielder who was acquired back in 2008 in the Erik Bedard trade, hit .284 in '10 with 25 doubles, 19 homers, 69 RBI, 5 triples, 7 stolen bases, and a .325 OBP in 149 games. Jones had a .328 BAbip compared to his .319 career BAbip, but he actually had a 17% LD% compared to his 18% career LD%. Maybe he was a bit lucky in 2011, so you would think that maybe his BA will go down towards hit .272 career BAbip. But, he did improve his IP% to 72% compared to his 70% career IP% so he was able to take advantage of his above-average BAbip more so than he has in the past so his BA should stay about the same. Jones is a good offensive player. However, Jones was awful in centerfield, posting a below-average .984 Fld% with a -5.0 UZR. That's a bit of a problem. Even so, Jones is a pretty good player overall. Jones is hitting .189 through 9 games in 2011, but with 2 homers, 5 RBI, 2 stolen bases, but just a .205 OBP. Jones will be backed up by Pie. Adam Jones is a pretty good player for the Orioles.

Right field:

Nick Markakis has been a star even since he came to the majors at age 22 in 2006. In 2010, Markakis, now 27, hit .297 with 45 doubles, 187 hits, 7 stolen bases, and a .370 OBP in 160 games. But Markakis, who has twice hit 20 homers and driven in over 100 runs, hit just 12 homers and drove in just 60. He also scored just 79 runs after scoring 94 or more each of the past 3 seasons. In '06 to '09, Markakis had a .470 slugging percentage. But in 2010, he slugged just .436. What has happened to Markakis? Markakis' .331 BAbip in '10 was right around his career BAbip of .328, but his LD% was at 18% compared to his 19% career LD%. Markakis did have a 75% IP% compared to his 72% career IP%. But, Markakis posted just a 4.5% HR/FB compared to the 7.3% HR/FB he has posted thus far in his major league career. His 36% FB% in '10 was exactly his career average. Is there any hope for Markakis to hit 20 homers and by extension drove in 100 runs again? The truth is that Markakis isn't really a power hitter at all. Markakis owns just a 10% career HR/H%, and even when he hit a career-high 23 homers in '07, he still had a 12% HR/H%. His HR/H% was just 6% in '10, but he still had a good year overall. Markakis has averaged 18 homers and 84 RBI per season. How has he driven in so many runs without so many homers? A career .303 BA with runners in scoring position. Markakis' BA with RISP was actually .338 in '10. He simply didn't have enough opporunities to drive in runs in '10 (despite being the Orioles' number 3 hitter in the lineup). Also, among Markakis' 12 homers, just 3 of them (25%) came with runners on base. In his career, 46% of his homers have come with runners on base. When that evens out, Markakis should certainly be able to drive in at least 75 runs in 2011, assuming that he receives enough opportunities with runners in scoring position. But, Markakis has gotten into some kind of funk defensively. Markakis, who posted a 12 UZR in right field in 2008, Markakis has posted a -11.2 UZR the past 2 seasons. Markakis' .991 Fld% in '10 was actually above his .990 career average, but he posted just 7 outfield assists. Markakis posted 13 outfield assists in '07, 17 in '08, and 13 again in '09. The Orioles have to hope that Markakis rebounds defensively, and after seeing the early going this season (a great catch at the wall to save a game against the Orioles), he should be fine. Markakis is hitting .222 with 1 double, 1 homer, 3 RBI, and a .310 OBP in 10 games in '11. He'll be backed up by Felix Pie. Expect Nick Markakis to drive in more runs and rebound defensively in 2011.

Designated hitter:

Coming into 2010, Vladimir Guhttp://www.fannation.com/blogs/create_post?blog_id=988095-11-or-nothingerrero was a question mark. He had played in just 100 games in 2009 with the Angels because of calf and pectoral strains. He signed with the Rangers in the offseason on a 1-year deal worth "just" 5.5 million dollars. But Guerrero, now 36, stayed healthy and came through in 2010, hitting .300 with 27 doubles, 29 homers, 115 RBI, 83 runs, 178 hits, and a .345 OBP in 152 games. Even after he hit just .220 in the playoffs, Vlad had completely reestablished his value and he was able to sign a 1-year, 8 million dollar contract with the Orioles. Can the Orioles expect a similar performance in 2011, or was 2010 Guerrero's last hurrah? Well, Guerrero could all of a sudden fall of a cliff because of age, but statistically, Guerrero wasn't lucky in 2010. He posted a .292 BAbip because of a 19% LD%. His 79% IP% was his highest since 1997. Vlad didn't hit 30 or more homers because he was unlucky in terms of HR/FB. His HR/FB was 11.4% compared to his 13.9% career HR/FB. Vlad should be able to have another solid season in 2011 as long as he stays healthy. Vlad is hitting .268 with 1 double, 1 homers, 3 RBI, and a .268 OBP (0 walks) in 10 games to begin 2011. Vladimir Guerrero appears to still have another year or two of solid performance left in the tank, and he should prove to be a good signing for the Orioles.

Starting rotation:

Jeremy Guthrie has been a solid pitcher for the Orioles the past 4 seasons. Guthrie, who turned 32 on April 8th, posted a 4.06 ERA from '07 to '10 from the Orioles. Will he be able to step up and be better than that as the Orioles fight to stay in contention? After his nice 2010, you want to say yes. Guthrie went just 11-14 in '10, but with a 3.83 ERA, 119 K's, and 50 walks in 32 starts and 209.1 IP. He allowed 193 hits, an 8.3 H/9, and 25 homers, a 1.1 HR/9. His 4.44 FIP (fielding-independent equivalent of ERA) was the second best of his career behind 2007, and his 74.1% LOB% (left-on base percentage, also known as strand rate; league average 72.0%) was right around his career 74.0% LOB%. But, was Guthrie lucky in another way? Well, Guthrie allowed a .255 BAbip compared to the .269 career BAbip against him. But, he allowed a 16% LD% compared to his 18% career LD% against him. Guthrie allowed a pretty good 42.3% GB% in 2011 as well. He did allow a high 76% IP% compared to his career average of 74%. Guthrie wasn't lucky in terms of hits allowed- he just pitched pretty well. He also allowed a 7.4% HR/FB that was right around the league average. But, it was significantly below his career average of 8.4%. Guthrie will experience some sort of digression in 2011, but he still should be a pretty good pitcher, probably posting an ERA in the low-4.00's. Guthrie is 1-1 with a 0.64 ERA after two starts in 2011. Jeremy Guthrie is a true ace by any means, but he should be a pretty good pitcher for the Orioles in 2011.

The Orioles might have a problem with stud left-hander Brian Matusz currently out with a strained left intercostal muscle. The 24 year old southpaw was a 10-game winner in '10, going 10-12 with a 4.30 ERA, 143 K's, and 63 walks in 32 starts and 175.2 IP. He allowed 173 hits, an 8.9 H/9, and 19 homers, a 1.0 HR/9. And if Matusz gets back on track when he comes back, expect him to be as good as ever. Matusz allowed a .295 BAbip in '10 despite allowing a 17% LD%. Matusz is a fly ball pitcher, and accordingly he allowed just a 36% GB% against him, 17% of the fly balls against him were popups, and he had a 6.8 HR/FB. Matusz did allow his homers (1.0 HR/9), but it shouldn't be too much of a problem for him long-term. Matusz also had a 71.6% LOB% in '10, so that shouldn't be a problem either. A good fly-ball pitcher can manage a better BAbip against than a groundball pitcher because groundballs are more likely to drop in for base hits. Batters hit .235 in '10 on ground balls compared to .137 on fly balls. Matusz is a good fly ball pitcher. If Matusz can get his H/9 closer to 8.0 while maintaining everything else, he should certainly be able to get his ERA under the low-4.00's or high-3.00's. We'll have to see how things play out, but Matusz has a chance to be a great pitcher for the O's for a long while. Brian Matusz's statistical trends look good, but we'll have to wait until he comes back from an injury to see if he will be as good as the stats say he will.

Jake Arrieta, who turned 25 in March, broke in to the majors with the Orioles in 2010, going 6-6 with a 4.66 ERA, 52 K's, and 48 walks in 18 starts and 100.1 IP. He allowed 106 hits, a 9.5 H/9, and 9 homers, a 0.8 HR/9. Arrieta allowed a .292 BAbip because of a 19% LD% and a decent 42% GB%. He was unlucky in terms of stranding runners, posting a 69.5% LOB%, but he was very fortunate to have a 5.3% HR/FB. Arrieta was somewhat lucky in 2010, yet he still had a bad year. Arrieta is just a bad pitcher. But can his minor league stats provide any insight? Arrieta posted a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts and a relief appearance at Triple-A in '10. Does that mean anything? No, because he had a .237 BAbip and an 82.7% LOB%. Accordingly, Arrieta has an 8.68 ERA after two starts in '10. Jake Arrieta is a decent pitcher at best for the Orioles.

Another lefty, Zach Britton, took the place of Matusz, and he's certainly opened up eyes, going 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA in his first 2 major league starts. Britton, 23, went 10-7 between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in '10 with 124 K's and 51 walks in 26 starts, 1 relief appearance, and 153.1 IP. He allowed 139 hits, an 8.2 H/9, and just 7 homers, a 0.4 HR/9. And he did all this while allowing a .289 BAbip and a 70.5% LOB%. Britton also posted a 3.23 FIP. Britton was awfully good in the minors in '10, and while he won't post an ERA under 1.00 all year, he certainly has a chance to post an ERA in the high-2.00's or low-3.00's and contend with Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays for AL Rookie of the Year. Rookie Zach Britton might end up being the best pitcher in this Orioles rotation in 2011 and beyond.

Chris Tillman, who turns 23 on Friday, was one another one of the players that the Orioles acquired in the Erik Bedard trade. Tillman split 2010 between the majos and minors for the second consecutive year. In the majors, Tillman went 2-5 with a 5.87 ERA, 31 K's, and 31 walks in 11 starts and 53.2 IP (less than 5 innings per start). He allowed 51 hits, an 8.6 H/9, and 9 home runs, a 1.5 HR/9. Tillman was actually lucky in terms of hits allowed, giving up just a .253 BAbip. Check that- he's the luckiest player in baseball because he allowed a .253 BAbip while allowing a 23% LD%. He did allow a 43% GB%. Tillman was unlucky in terms of strand rate, stranding just 65.3%, so that canceled out with his BAbip. He wasn't really lucky or unlucky in terms of hits allowed, but he was unlucky in terms of homers allowed, as opposing batters posted a 10.0% HR/FB against him. Overall, Tillman was pretty unlucky, but even so, how did he manage to be as awful as he was? I can't answer that. At Triple-A, Tillman pitched a lot better, going 11-7 with a 3.34 ERA, 94 K's, and 30 walks in 21 stats and 121.1 IP. He allowed 120 hits, an 8.9 H/9, and 10 homers, a 0.7 HR/9. Tillman allowed a .301 BAbip, but he had a 73.9% LOB%. Strand rate is the key stat for Tillman in '11. Tillman could have at least managed an ERA in the 4.00's if his LOB% was much closer to the 72.0% league average. We'll have to see how that plays out. But even when he had a 76.8% LOB% in the majors in 2009, he posted a 5.40 ERA, so go figure. ZiPs has him posting a 5.28 ERA, and I'll believe ZiPs until Tillman proves me wrong. After allowing 6 runs in 1.2 IP against the Yankees on Wednesday night, Tillman has a 7.30 ERA through 3 starts. We'll have to see what happens, but based on what has happened so far in his career, things aren't looking good for Chris Tillman in 2011.

Chris Jakubauskas, 32, has worked exclusively out of the bullpen so far in 2011, but with Matusz hurt, he's probably going to have to make a start. Jakubauskas made 1 start for the Pirates in 2010, posting a 27.00 ERA. He pitched 0.2 innings before a liner by Lance Berkman hit him in the head and put him on the DL with a concussion. He didn't appear in another major league game all year, and he posted just a 5.09 ERA in 8 minor league starts and 3 relief appearances. In Jakubauskas' ony full major league season, in 2009, he went 6-7 with the Mariners with a 5.32 ERA, 47 K's, 27 walks, and 3 holds in 27 relief appearances, 8 starts and 93 IP. He allowed 91 hits, an 8.8 H/9, and 115 homers, a 1.5 HR/9. In 2009 Jakubauskas allowed just a .254 BAbip because of just a 15% LD%, but he had just a 60.6% strand rate and a 10.3% HR/FB. If Jakubauskas could allow a 15% LD% while his strand rate and HR/FB return to neutral, he could be a pretty good reliever for the O's. But by no stretch of the imagination is he a sure thing. Jakubauskas has an 8.53 ERA in 2 relief appearances so far in '11. Chris Jakubauskas could be a decent pitcher for the Orioles in 2011, but a limited major league sample size and the fact that he's coming back from an injury make him a complete wild card.

Bullpen:

Koji Uehara, 36, went through an injury-riddled season in '10, missing time because of a hamstring strain and a flexor pronator strain in his elbow. But he was healthy, he was outstanding, going 1-2 with a 2.86 ERA, 55 K's, just 5 walks, 6 holds, and 13 saves in 43 relief appearances and 44 IP. He allowed 37 hits, a 7.6 H/9, and 5 homers, a 1.0 HR/9 that was his only fault. Will Uehara be as good if not better as the Orioles' setup man in 2011? Uehara actually allowed a .296 BAbip despite a 17% LD%, but Uehara, a fly ball pitcher, did allow just a 24% GB%, so his BAbip did make sense. He also posted a 77.1% LOB% and allowed just a 6.8% HR/FB. Marcel has Uehara posted a 3.86 ERA, and that certainly makes sense. He's standing on precarious ground considering that he was lucky in LOB% and HR/FB in '10. But, Uehara did have a 2.40 FIP in '10, so how bad can he be? Uehara does have a 0.00 ERA through 3 relief appearances, so maybe he can manage to hold everything together. It was also his first year as a full-time reliever, and he appeared in high pressure situations for the first time in his career (he posted a 1.2 aLI [average leverage index- average amount of pressure a player is under per appearance; 1.0 average]). There's certainly room for Uehara to improve in other aspects, and if he does that, his stats should remain relatively similar. Maybe Uehara won't be as incredible for the Orioles in 2011 as he was in 2010, but he should be a pretty good pitcher at the very least and certainly be an important part of the bullpen as long as he can stay healthy.

Before the 2010 season, the Orioles signed lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez, then 31, to a 2-year, 12 million dollar contract to be their closer. At the beginning of 2010, Gonzalez made 3 relief appearances, on April 6th, April 8th, and April 9th, saving 1 game and blowing 2 while posted a horrible 18.00 ERA. After the April 9th appearance, Gonzalez had an MRI on his shoulder, and the Orioles found out what was going on- Gonzalez had suffered both a torn rotator cuff and a frayed labrum in his left pitching shoulder. Gonzalez quickly went on the 60-day DL and missed until late-June. After Gonzalez came back, he relinquished the closer role, but he was effective as a setup man, going 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA, 28 K's, 10 walks, and 10 holds in 26 relief appearances and 22.1 IP. Gonzalez allowed 13 hits over that span, a 5.2 H/9, and just 1 homer, just a .4 HR/9. He also did that while posting a 1.5 aLI (he actually had a 4.5 aLI before the injury, but he owns a 1.5 career aLI) Gonzalez allowed just a .240 BAbip after coming back, primarily due to just a 12% LD% against him. (I calculated 12%, but Baseball-Reference said 13%. Either way, it was outstanding.) But, he allowed a ton of fly balls (55% of all balls in play), and was lucky that just 1 of them went out for a homer. (He had a 3.0% Baseball-Reference HR/FB on the year, but that includes the no homers he allowed in his first 3 appearances before getting hurt. I can't determine how many of the line drives he allowed went to the outfield. Depending on how many of the 5 line drives he allowed went to the outfield, Gonzalez's HR/FB was somewhere between 3.6% and 4.0%.) Gonzalez was certainly very lucky in terms of homers allowed, even if he wasn't in terms of hits allowed. Gonzalez did have a reasonable 74.1% LOB%. Gonzalez has a 6.75 ERA and 1 hold after 3 relief appearances in 2011. You have to expect somewhat of regression from Mike Gonzalez from his numbers after he left the closer role, but he should still be a good reliever for the O's.

Hard-throwing right-hander Jim Johnson also dealt with injury problems in 2010. Johnson, who will turn 28 on June 27th, missed from early-May to late-August with a UCL sprain in his right throwing elbow. When he was healthy, he did OK, going 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA, 22 K's, 5 walks, 11 holds, and 1 save in 26 relief appearances and 26.1 IP. He allowed 32 hits, a 10.9 H/9, and 2 homers, a 0.7 HR/9. Johnson allowed a .357 BAbip, primarily because he allowed a 25% LD%, but he did allow a good 51% GB%. He posted a 77% strand rate, and he also allowed a 4.8% HR/FB. It would seem that Johnson got pretty lucky in 2010, but really those numbers aren't too far off from his career averages. Johnson owns a career 5.6% HR/FB against him and a 75.5% LOB%. Johnson also had a 3.08 FIP in '10, which is great. He's not a great reliever, but he's certainly a solid one. Maybe Johnson's ERA will jump back up to his 3.71 career ERA, but probably no higher. The worst case scenario for Johnson (other than injury) would probably be the 4.11 ERA he posted in '09. Johnson is 1-0 with a 5.79 ERA and 1 hold in 4 relief appearances so far in 2011. Jim Johnson is a good reliever for the Orioles, but he has to stay healthy.

In 2007 at age 25, Jeremy Accardo was a dominant closer for the Blue Jays, going 4-4 with a 2.14 ERA, 57 K's, 24 walks, and 30 saves in 64 relief appearances. But just 3 seasons later, at age 28 in 2010, Accardo spent nearly all of the season at Triple-A. After posting an 8.10 ERA in 5 relief appearances for the Blue Jays in April, Accardo never saw major league action the rest of the year and ended up making 42 appearances at Triple-A Las Vegas, going 3-2 with a 3.48 ERA, 26 K's, 15 walks, and 24 saves in 42 relief appearances and 44 IP. He allowed 52 hits, a 10.6 H/9, and just 1 homer, a 0.2 HR/9. He was lucky in terms of homers allowed, but he did allow a .336 BAbip and post just a 68.7% LOB%. It was a good year, but nothing compared to his outstanding '07 in the majors. The Orioles signed Accardo for a 1-year deal with just 1.08 million dollars, and they could get a steal if he shows any flashes of his previous form. Accardo hasn't been the same since missing nearly all of '08 with a right forearm strain. But, Accardo has shown flashes, including a 2.55 ERA, 4 holds, and 1 save in 26 relief appearances in '09. He's looked good so far in 2011, posting a 2.45 ERA in his first 3 relief appearances of the season. Jeremy Accardo is a huge uncertainty in the Orioles' bullpen. But if he pans out, he could be a very important part of the Orioles bullpen.

Jason Berken was an awful starter for the Orioles in 2009, posting a 6.54 ERA in 24 starts. But, the 27 year old came back in 2010 as a reliever, and the results were much better. Berken went 3-3 with a 3.03 ERA, 45 K's, 19 walks, and 7 holds in 41 relief appearances and 62.1 IP. He did blow all 4 save opportunities that he received. Berken allowed 64 hits, a 9.2 H/9, and 5 homers, a 0.7 HR/9. Berken actually allowed a .314 BAbip even though he allowed just a 13% LD% and a 47% GB%. But, that was evened out by a 77.6% LOB%. But, Berken did allow a 5.6% HR/FB. Berken is also coming off a shoulder injury that ended his season in mid-August. Even though Berken was good, he had just a .9 aLI, so he may never be more than a long reliever. Berken has a 0.00 ERA in 3 relief appearances so far in '11, recording 1 hold. If healthy, Jason Berken should continue to be an effective long reliever for the Orioles in 2011, but if he's forced into a larger role, he will likely struggle.

With Brian Matusz hurt, 28 year old righty Josh Rupe is on the Orioles' 25-man roster. Rupe spent most of '10 at the Royals' Triple-A Omaha, going 2-4 with a 2.92 ERA, 49 K's, 23 walks, and 10 saves in 40 relief appearances and 52.1 IP. He allowed 49 hits, an 8.4 H/9, and 5 homers, a 0.9 HR/9. But while Rupe did allow a .297 BAbip, he had a 82.9% strand rate. Rupe started the season in the Royals' bullpen, posting a 5.59 ERA. But, he was actually used in pressure situations, recording 5 holds and ending up with a 1.7 aLI. The Orioles are using Rupe as a long reliever for the time being, and under less pressure (just a .3 aLI), he's done well, posting a 2.70 ERA. Maybe that could be a good role for him. Rupe is competing with Jakubauskas for the 25th spot on the roster with the loser of the competition being designated for assignment or sent down to the minors. Josh Rupe may not be that great of a pitcher, but he could be an important mop-up man in the Orioles' bullpen.

Closer:

New O's closer Kevin Gregg has four 20-save seasons under his belt, but he's never really been dominant. Gregg, signed to 2-year, 10 million dollar contract this offseason, has saved 121 games the past 4 seasons but has posted just a 3.79 ERA. In 2010, Gregg, who will turn 33 on June 20th, set a career high with 37 saves, but his numbers weren't really so great, considering he went 2-6 with 3.51 ERA, 58 K's, and 30 walks in 63 relief appearances and 59 IP. He allowed 52 hits, a 7.9 H/9, and just 4 homers, a 0.6 HR/9. His problem was walks- he walked 4.6 batters per 9 innings. Gregg allowed a .300 BAbip because of a 20% LD%. He wasn't lucky in that regard. But, he posted a 76.2% LOB% and just a 5.1% HR/FB. He was lucky to put up the numbers he did. Gregg is a questionable closer. He'll normally get his saves, but he could just implode like he did in 2009 (4.72 ERA). Entering Thursday, Gregg had a 0.00 ERA and 1 save in 3 relief appearances, but he blew the save on Thursday against the Yankees on a solo homer by Jorge Posada. Kevin Gregg should save 30 games for the Orioles in 2010, but he's certainly no sure thing at the back of the bullpen.

Overview:

The Orioles have a pretty good offense, but it pales in comparison to the offenses of the Yankees and Red Sox. Their defense is solid, but questionable in left field and centerfield. Their rotation is filled with potential, but a combination of the injury to Matusz and inexperience will hold them back for at least one more season. The Orioles also have a good bullpen, but they lack an overpowering closer to shut the door. The Orioles were just 66-96 in 2010. They'll be an improved team, but they're not quite ready to be serious contenders in the AL East.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

2011 MLB Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

After winning the AL East in 2010 and 2008, the Rays' run atop the AL East appears to be coming to a close after losing Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Rafael Soriano among others, to free agency. Will this new group of Rays be able to shock the world and bring down the Yankees and Red Sox to win the AL East crown?

Catcher:

John Jaso is not your average big league catcher. Although the Rays don't run a Moneyball scheme, Jaso is the perfect Moneyball catcher. The 27 year old hit .263 in '10 with 18 doubles, 5 homers, and 44 RBI in 109 games. Defensively, Jaso was league-average at best, posting a .992 Fld%, just a 23% CS%, and 7 passed balls, the third most in the AL. (He did have an 8.02 RF/9 [range factor per 9 innings], second in the AL.) So what made Jaso a good player for the Rays? His .372 OBP. Even at Triple-A, Jaso hit .271 with 10 homers in 138 games, but he had a .356 OBP. Will we see any signs of improvement from Jaso in 2011? If so, only subtle signs. Jaso had a .282 BAbip (batting average on balls in play) in '10 compared to the league average of .297. He had a 19% LD% (line drive percentage among balls in play), which was exactly the league average, so you could think that maybe if that causes his BAbip to even out, he could hit .275. But, while his LD% was average, his hit way too many ground balls, posting a 46 GB% (ground ball percentage among balls in play). He also posted a 15% IF/FB (percentage of fly balls on the infield [i.e. popups] among balls in play) compared to the league average of 13%. His .282 BAbip was right around where it should have been. In terms of hitting homers, Jason had just a 3.5% HR/FB (percentage of balls hit to the outfield that go for homers) compared to the league average of 7.8%, so you would think that he could hit as many as 15 homers in 2011 if he gets sufficient at-bats. But, that's simply not the case. Jaso just isn't a power hitter. He sacrifices power for contact. Jaso's 74% IP% (percentage of plate appearances that end with a ball in play) compared well to the league average of 69%, but he sacrificed power for contact. Not only did he have just a 3.5% HR/FB, but also he had just a 6.4% XBH% (percentage of plate appearances ending in an extra-base hit), and a 29% X/H% (percentage of extra base hits among the total amount of hits) compared to the league averages of 7.8% and 33% respectively. He's just a contact hitter with no power. Jaso would be lucky to hit 10 homers in 2011. Jaso doesn't strike out at all (9.7% of his plate appearances compared to the league average of 18.0%), and he walks a ton (14.6% of his plate appearances compared to the league average of 8.7%), but that's all he'll ever be. He's an on-base guy. It's nice to have a player like Jaso, but he's the kind of player that will probably never be an All-Star. Purely because of his OBP, John Jaso is a pretty good player for the Rays.

Jaso will be backed up by Kelly Shoppach. At his best, you could argue that Shoppach is better than Jaso. In 2008, Shoppach hit .261 with 27 doubles, 21 homers, 55 RBI, and a .348 OBP in 112 games for the Cleveland Indians. But, that was not the case in 2011. Shoppach, who will turn 31 on April 29th, hit just .196 in '10 with 8 doubles, 5 homers (as many as Jaso!), 17 RBI, and a .308 OBP in 63 games. He missed from mid-April to early June because of a knee surgery that really derailed his season. Shoppach had a career low 12% LD% (somehow he had a .313 BAbip) along with just a 44% IP%, but I'm hoping we can blame those problems on the knee injury. Defensively, Shoppach actually posted a .994 Fld% (7.63 RF/9) and allowed just 2 passed balls, but he posted just a 17% CS%. Shoppach's upside at this point in his career is somewhere close to his spring training numbers. He hit just .238, but he hit 7 homers and drove in 22 RBI in 17 games. He could provide great power as a backup catcher whenever he has an opportunity to make a start, and he could be a pinch-hitter late in games. At worst, he's an awful backup catcher who's a bad hitter and a worse fielder who would be immediately be cut and replaced by a younger backup. The most likely scenario lies somewhere in the middle. Kelly Shoppach should provide good depth behind John Jaso in 2011.

First base:

It's finally Dan Johnson's time to shine. Johnson, who turned 31 this past August, came up with the Oakland A's and had a good rookie season in 2005, hitting .275 with 21 doubles, 15 homers, 58 RBI, and a .355 OBP in 109 games. But after hitting .234 in '06 and .236 in '07, Johnson was supplanted at first base by Daric Barton, and he ended up being put on waivers and being claimed by the Rays. After spending nearly all of 2008 at Tampa's Triple-A Durham and spending '09 in Japan, Johnson returned to America in 2010, and after hitting .303 with 30 homers and 95 RBI at Durham, he was given another chance in the big leagues. Johnson hit just .198 in 40 games, but he hit 7 homers, including 5 against the Yankees and Red Sox, drove in 23 RBI, and posted a .343 OBP. How will Johnson do with an opportunity for a starting job in 2011? Throughout his career, Johnson has been very unlucky. Johnson has just a .243 career BA, but that's because of just a .250 career BAbip despite a 19% career LD%. When that evens out, Johnson should certainly hit .275 again. In terms of hitting homers, you know that Johnson is a power hitter, and accordingly he owns an above-average 9.9% career HR/FB. He should certainly hit 20 homers in 2011. Johnson probably won't be a great player for the Rays in 2011, but he should be solid. Defensively, Johnson is an average first baseman, owning a .995 Fld% with average range (9.53 RF/9 compared to the league average of 9.49). Johnson will be backed up by starting right fielder Ben Zobrist and starting second baseman Sean Rodriguez. Finally given a second chance, Dan Johnson should be a good player for the Rays in 2011.

Second base:

Sean Rodriguez, who will turn 26 on April 26th, had a nice first full season in the majors in 2010 (it was not his rookie season), hitting .251 with 19 doubles, 9 homers, 40 RBI, 13 stolen bases (3 CS), and a .308 OBP in 118 games. Like Zobrist and Elliot Johnson, Rodriguez plays everywhere, but at his primary position, second base, Rodriguez posted a league average .984 Fld% with average range (4.78 RF/9 compared to the league average of 4.80). Rodriguez posted an 1.000 Fld% at first base, shortstop, third base, left field, centerfield, and right field, including above-average range at the corner positions. We know what Rodriguez is defensively, but can he improve offensively in 2011? At first glance, you might have to be fearful of a worse year for Rodriguez in 2011. He managed a .324 BAbip despite just a 17% LD%. But, you have to realize how big a factor speed is in BAbip. A faster runner who consistently makes contact can reach base more than the average player because of infield hits and bunt hits. Rodriguez had 14 infield hits and 7 bunt hits. Removing his infield hits and bunt hits from the BAbip equation, Rodriguez had a .300 BAbip. Rodriguez should not be in danger to hit below .250 in 2011. In terms of Rodriguez's 9 homers, he had a 7.6% HR/FB that was right around the league average. But, Rodriguez hit 29 or more homers twice in the minors, so he certainly has above-average pop. While Tropicana Field might negate a bit of Rodriguez's power, expect his HR/FB to go up in 2011 and for him to hit a few more homers. Also, keep in mind that Rodriguez received just 378 plate appearances in 2011. I would not be surprised if Rodriguez hits .265 in '11 with 15 homers, 75 RBI, 20 stolen bases, and a .320 OBP if he receives regular playing time. Sean Rodriguez might not be a great player, but he's certainly a very productive player for the Rays, and he'll be even better in 2011.

Rodriguez will be backed up by Zobrist and Elliot Johnson. Johnson, a 27 year old utility player, had his best overall season in the minors in 2011, hitting .319 with 24 doubles, 11 homers, 56 RBI, 5 triples, 72 runs, 30 stolen bases (6 CS), and a .375 OBP in 109 games. He played second base, shortstop, right field, and left field. He played a very good second base, posting a .987 Fld% with a 4.81 RF/G. (There are no minor league records for innings played by a fielder, so there's no RF/9 I can state. The AL average for RF/G was 4.75 in '10.) Johnson had an unbelievable spring, hitting .341 with 1 homer, 5 RBI, and a .449 OBP. Oh yeah, and 12 stolen bases, easily the most on the team, without being caught a single time. Johnson seems like he can be a decent hitting and fielding backup that could certainly steal some bases when he gets on. He'll also be used as a pinch-runner. Johnson could be the next good utility player the Rays have in the mold of Ben Zobrist. He'll be a good backup. The Rays have good depth at second base.

Third base:

It's always nice to have one of the best players in the majors on both sides of the ball on your team. The Rays look like complete geniuses for signing Evan Longoria to a contract extension even before he made it to the big leagues (it was announced after he came up). Longoria, now 25, had another great season in 2011, hitting .294 with 46 doubles, 22 homers, 104 RBI, 5 triples, 96 runs, 15 stolen bases (5 CS), and a .372 OBP in 151 games. The .294 BA, 46 doubles, 5 triples, 15 stolen bases, and .372 OBP were all career-highs. However, the 22 homers was a career-low. What happened? Well, in order to understand that, let's start with his BAbip. Longoria had a career-high .336 BAbip despite a career-low 20% LD% Why was that? Longoria set a career-high with 16 infield hits. It's not like Longoria became faster, so it must have been that Longoria had more opportunities to beat out grounders. Why was that? Well, everyone first guess must be that he hit more ground balls than ever before. Yet according to Fangraphs, Longoria hit more ground balls in 2009 than in 2010. His 37% GB% in 2010 was actually the lowest of his career. Since that first guess was wrong, I would like to propose a different solution: .that Longoria was more ready to beat out ground balls than before. What I mean is that with 2 strikes, Longoria started looking more for contact rather than trying for contact, but still waiting for a pitch he could drive. Longoria hit a career-low .186 with 2 strikes in '10 with 8 homers. In 2009, Longoria hit .214 with 14 homers in two strikes. He also had just a .289 BAbip with 2 strikes in '10 compared to .333 in '09. Longoria actually had the lowest IFH% (infield hit percentage among ground balls) of his career, according to Fangraphs. So what happened? Well, according to Fangraphs, Longoria only had 12 infield hits in '10. But I told you above that he had 16! Well, that was according to Baseball-Reference. Why is there the discrepancy? Well, line drives can also remain on the infield. Maybe Longoria wasn't quite ready for a few pitches he should have slammed, and rather than hitting those pitches to the outfield as line drives, he hit soft liners to the infield. Four of them had to end up as singles. Longoria sacrificed some power for some additional contact. He had a career-high 66% IP% in '10 compared to 62% in '09 (it was only a 4% increase because the trends that I'm talking about were with two strikes), and a 78% contact percentage (percentage of swings in which he made contact) in '10 compared to 75% in '09. This increase in contact came along with a decrease in power. Longoria's 8.5% HR/FB was easily the lowest of his career, compared to 15.2% in '08 and 12.8% in '09. Longoria's HR/FB is somewhat diluted by some of the weak fly balls he hit because he was just trying to make contact with two strikes. So what can we expect from Longoria is 2011? I would expect an adjustment from Longoria with two strikes in '10 and while his BA might go down a few points, he'll certainly hit 30 home runs. Defensively, Longoria won his second straight Gold Glove, posting a .966 Fld% compared to the league average of .956 and a 2.74 RF/9 compared to the league average of 2.67. Longoria will be backed up by Ben Zobrist, Dan Johnson, Elliot Johnson, and Sean Rodriguez. Evan Longoria had a great season for the Rays in 2010, but expect him to be even better in 2011 as he makes an adjustment to his two-strike approach.

However, Longoria will miss at least the first couple weeks of the season with an oblique injury. That could certainly limit his stats and possibly his production when he returns. You have to hope that Longoria will be OK when he comes off the DL, but we can't know for sure.

While Longoria is hurt, Felipe Lopez will have a big league job. Lopez hit just .233 between the Cardinals and Red Sox in '10, one year after hitting .310, with 18 doubles, 8 homers, 37 RBI, 8 stolen bases, and a .311 OBP in 113 games. Lopez's BAbip fell from .358 to .273 from '09 to '10 due to a decrease in LD% from 22% to 19%. Also, his FB% shot up from 26% and 34%, and since Lopez isn't a power hitter (5.8% career HR/FB, 5.6% in '10), that was a huge problem for him. In addition, Lopez struck out in 18.4% of his plate appearances in 2010 compared to just 14.7% in '09. Lopez had an awful season in 2011 without being lucky, and at age 31 there was no guarantee that he was going to rebound, so he only received a minor league deal from the Rays. (Elliot Johnson beat him out for a roster spot before the Longoria injury). Defensively at third base, Lopez posted just a .920 Fld% with a 2.37 RF/9 in 60 games, and just a .970 Fld% at shortstop with a 3.59 RF/9 compared to the league average of 4.31 in 25 games. But, he did post a perfect 1.000 Fld% at second base with a 5.16 RF/9 in 25 games, and he was also perfect in 2 games at first base. In 1 game each in right field and at pitcher, he received no fielding chances. Speaking of the pitching performance, he actually pitched a scoreless inning against the Mets in a 20 game on 4/17/10, but unfortunately for Lopez, the lineups in the American League are a lot harder. Lopez should be a decent backup as long as he's on the big league roster.

Shortstop:

Reid Brignac had an opportunity in 2010, and he took advantage. The 25 year old middle infielder received playing time with Jason Bartlett struggling, and he certainly played just as well as Bartlett if not better, hitting .256 with 13 doubles, 8 homers, 45 RBI, and a .307 OBP in 113 games. Brignac actually had a .317 BAbip, primarily because of a 23% LD%, but his BA was still around .250 because he strikes out a lot for a hitter with average power (23.6% of his plate appearances). Speaking of his power, he had a below-average 6.7% HR/FB, but there was a clear reason for that. He hit 8 homers against righties compared to none against lefties. Brignac, a lefty batter, hit just .227 against lefties in '10. He could lose some starts against lefties. Defensively, Brignac was pretty significantly below-average defensively at second base, posting a .976 Fld% and a 4.76 RF/9, but he while his .976 Fld% was above-average, although his 4.33 RF/9 was a bit below the league average of 4.40. But, it was a small sample size as he played in just 50 games at the position, so maybe he'll be better in 2011. Still, Brignac is a decent player overall for the Rays. He'll be backed up by Zobrist, Elliot Johnson, and Sean Rodriguez. Reid Brignac might be as good of a player as Jason Bartlett, but apparently that isn't saying very much.

Left field:

Johnny Damon is still around even at age 37, but coming off his worst season in the big leagues, the Rays were able to sign him for a bit of a reduced price, 5.25 million dollars on a 1-year contract. Damon hit .271 with the Tigers in '10, with 36 doubles, 8 homers, 51 RBI, 5 triples, 81 runs, 11 stolen bases, and a .355 OBP in 145 games. Damon had a .312 BAbip in '10 thanks to a 21% LD%, and he took full advantage with a 72% IP%. So how did he hit just .271? In 2009, he hit .282 with a .305 BAbip! The difference was home runs. Damon's BA was higher in 2010 because he hit 24 home runs. In 2010, he hit just 8, and although he had a lower strikeout rate, it counted more because he had less at-bats (11 less to be exact). How will Damon do offensively in 2011? Well, he's bound to hit a few more homers moving from Comerica to Tropicana, and maybe he could hit .280. He certainly won't be the great player he used to be, but he'll still be a pretty good player. Defensively, Damon DH'd 98 times, and rightfully so because he was awful defensively, posting just a .964 Fld% compared to the league average of .984, and a 1.99 RF/9 compared to the league average of 2.07. At this point of his career, Damon is just a pretty good player for the Rays.

Damon will be backed up by Sam Fuld in addition to all the utility players. Fuld, acquired in the Matt Garza trade, hit .299 in 63 games as a backup for the Cubs in 2009, but spent almost all of 2010 at Triple-A Iowa, hitting .272 with 15 doubles, 4 homers, 27 RBI, 9 triples, 21 stolen bases, and a .383 OBP in 112 games. Defensively, Fuld was outstanding posting a .996 Fld% with a 2.58 RF/G that was just above the NL average of 2.58 for centerfielders. At age 29, Fuld isn't really a prospect anymore, but he profiles well as a backup outfielder. He should be fine in his first full season as a backup.

Centerfield:

B.J. Upton never became THAT player. Upton had the potential to be a great 5-tool player, but that just didn't happen. In 2010, Upton, now 27, hit .237 (no average tool), 38 doubles, 18 homers, 62 RBI (just decent power), 89 runs, 42 stolen bases (fine, he's fast), but 9 CS, and just a .322 OBP in 154 games. Defensively, Upton posted a .988 Fld% compared to the AL average of .990, although he did post a 2.77 RF/9 compared to the 2.73 average. He posted just 3 outfield assists. Will Upton ever show signs of being more than a base stealer with a little pop? Well, Upton had a .304 BAbip, but he owns a .334 career BAbip, so that's pretty low for him. He had a 19% LD% that was just below his career average of 20%, but he posted a 59% IP% that was his lowest since 2007. In terms of his 18 homers, Upton was actually lucky to hit that many, posting a 9.2% HR/FB compared to his career average of 7.9%. Upton is a pretty good player, but he'll never be more than a speedster. Upton will be backed up by Fuld and the utility players. B.J. Upton is a pretty good player at best for the Rays.

Right field:

As you've seen throughout this post, Ben Zobrist plays everywhere, but his native position in 2011 will be right field. Zobrist, who will turn 30 on May 26th, certainly had a down year in '10 in comparison to his outstanding 2009 season, hitting just .238 with 28 doubles, 10 homers, 75 RBI, 77 runs, 24 stolen bases (3 CS), and .346 OBP in 151 games. In 2009, he hit .297 with 28 doubles, 27 homers, 91 RBI, 91 runs, 17 stolen bases (6 CS), and a .405 OBP in 152 games. If there was one stat to contrast the two seasons, it's slugging percentage. Zobrist's slugging percentage went into a free-fall from .543 to just .353. What the heck happened? Simply, his homers stopped coming. His HR/FB fell from 12.7% all the way down to 4.7%. To figure out why, we're going to have to look at everything. Zobrist had a .326 BAbip in 2009 compared to .273 in '10, causing the significant drop in BA along with the decrease in homers. The cause for the drop in BAbip was obviously his LD%. Zobrist managed an incredible 24% LD% in 2009, but that fell to just 18% in 2010, while his IF/FB went up from 9% to 13% and his GB% went up from 41.5% to 44.1%. Zobrist's IP% did go up from 62% to 67% and of course his stolen bases went up from 17 to 24, but obviously the decrease in homers and line drives ruined his season. Zobrist may not be a power hitter, but he has to make solid contact rather than just any contact. Zobrist is going to be the leadoff hitter for the Rays in '10. While a leadoff single to start off an inning is nice, an extra-base hit is even better. Zobrist needs to get back to that in 2011. Zobrist hit 4 homers in spring training and hit a homer off of Jim Johnson on Opening Day. He doesn't need to hit 30 homers, but he has to get back on track in terms of hitting the ball better. You have to think that with Crawford and Pena gone, Zobrist is going to step up and maybe not post his 2009 numbers, but certainly have a much better season that 2010. Defensively, Zobrist was perfect in 103 games in right field, posting a 2.26 RF/9 compared to the league average of 2.10, and he was also perfect at first base and in centerfield (with below average range). However, he was decent at best at second base, posting a .984 Fld% that was exactly the league average and a 4.61 RF/9 compared to the league average of 4.80. But, he did post an 11.5 UZR (ultimate zone rating), so he was certainly doing something right. Zobrist also played limited time at third best and left field, posting a .500 Fld% at third (1 error in 2 chances), and not even having a chance in left. He's not only a versatile fielder, but a good one as well. Ben Zobrist had an off-year in 2010, but expect him to come back strong in 2011 and be one of the Rays' offensive leaders.

Zobrist will be backed up by Matt Joyce, Sam Fuld, Elliot Johnson, and Sean Rodriguez. Joyce, 26, had a pretty good season as a backup for the Rays in 2010, hitting .241 with 15 doubles, 10 homers, 40 RBI, and a .360 OBP in 77 games. Joyce actually had a .273 BAbip despite a 19% LD%, but whatever evening out his BAbip will do will be canceled out by his strikeout rate (21.1% in '10), and that he doesn't put many balls in play anyway (59% IP% in '10). He did have a 10.8% HR/FB in '10, but that's expected from a hitter with his pop. Joyce posted a great 2.34 RF/9 in right field with 4 outfield assists, but he posted just a .972 Fld%. Maybe he could take advantage of his range more in 2011. If Joyce plays well, he'll take away some starts from Sean Rodriguez as Zobrist moves to second base. He'll also get some at-bats at DH. The Rays have some nice depth in right field for whenever Zobrist needs a day off or moves to another position.

Designated Hitter:

Manny Ramirez will turn 39 on May 30th, but his 1 year, 2 million dollar contract with the Rays will be a steal if he remains motivated. Not only was Manny unmotivated in 2010, but he also could not stay healthy, missing time with a nagging calf injury and a hamstring stain. When he did play, Manny did OK, hitting .298 with 16 doubles, 9 homers, 42 RBI, and a .409 OBP in 90 games between the Dodgers and White Sox. Manny did that in 320 plate appearances. Let's say Manny stays motivated and relatively healthy and makes 500 similar plate appearances. Projecting his 2010 stats over 500 plate appearances, Manny would hit 25 doubles and 14 homers while driving in 66 runs. That would be just decent production. But in '10, although Manny had a 23% LD% that was right around his career norms, he had just an 8.3% HR/FB, his lowest since 1993. He career HR/FB is 15.7%. Maybe Manny wasn't 'motivated' enough to hit home runs. Let's say his HR/FB returns to the 11.9% that it was in 2009. And of course, Manny also had a low XBH% by his standards (7.8%) and a low X/H% (32%) so let's say those go back up to Manny's 10.4% XBH% and 44% X/H% from 2010. And, let's assume that these additional extra base hits cause Manny to drive in more runs, and his AB per RBI ratio goes from the 6.3 it was in '10 to the 5.6 it was in '09. Now Manny hits 19 doubles, 20 homers, and assuming he walks in 18.5% of his plate appearances as he has so far in his career, 72 RBI. The Rays would certainly take that. The expectations can't be for Manny to have a ridiculous season, but if he's motivated Manny could certainly hit 20 homers and drive in 70 runs. Will Manny do that? I would doubt it, but Manny he could hit 17 homers and drive in 65 or something along those lines. As long as the Rays keep Manny motivated, he should be fine. In case you were wondering (which you shouldn't be), the reason Manny will be playing almost exclusively DH is because he's a completely liability defensively, considering he posted just a .959 Fld% in left field in '10 with a 1.75 RF/9. Manny will have some of his DH at-bats taken away by Johnny Damon and Matt Joyce. If the Rays can keep Manny Ramirez motivated, he should be a pretty good DH for them.

Starting rotation:

In 2010, Price finally became that dependable ace that he was supposed to be ever since he was the number 1 overall pick in the 2007 MLB draft. The 25 year old lefty went 19-6 in '10 with a 2.72 ERA, 188 K's, and just 79 walks in 31 starts, a relief appearance, and 208.2 IP. He allowed just 170 hits, a great 7.3 H/9 (hits per 9 innings ratio), and 15 homers, a 0.6 HR/9 (home runs per 9 innings ratio). Was 2010 just the beginning for Price, or should we expect a regression? Well seeing that Price allowed a .272 BAbip in '10, your first thought would be to have some amount of trepidation. But, Price should be fine in terms of hits allowed. In 2010, Price allowed an 18% LD, a 14% IF/FB and a 44% GB%. Maybe his BAbip will go up to around .280 in 2011, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem for Price. He also allowed a 66% IP%, so not that many balls were put in play against him anyway. But, Price did have a 79% LOB% (left on-base percentage- percentage of baserunners allowed that did not score; also known as strand rate) compared to the league average of 72%. LOB% is a lot of luck especially relating to homers. If you allow a walk than a homer, then you allow 2 runs, but if you allow a homer than a walk and than get out of the inning, you only allow 1. Price might also regress in terms of homers allowed in 2011. Price allowed a 1.2 HR/9 in 2009, but that was cut in half to 0.6 in 2010. But, the cause for that drop was a significant drop in HR/FB from 8.4% to 5.4%. Price will take a bit of a step back in 2011. As his H/9 goes up to say 7.7, his LOB% approaches 72%, and his HR/9 goes up to 0.9, his ERA should sneak to right around 3.00. That would still be a great year, but he won't finish second in the Cy Young award voting again in 2011. David Price is a great pitcher for the Rays, but his outstanding 2010 may have set expectations just a bit too high.

James Shields is coming off his worst season in the big leagues, yet he's still slotted as the Rays' number two starter. He better make the Rays confidence in him pay off. Shields, who turned 29 on December 20th, went just 13-15 in '10 with a 5.18 ERA, but 187 K's compared to just 51 walks in 33 starts, 1 relief appearance, a 203.1 IP. He had an outstanding 3.67 strikeout to walk ratio, but his problems were that he allowed 246 hits, a 10.9 H/9, and 34 homers, a 1.5 HR/9. The 246 hits and 34 homers allowed were the most in the AL, and he also led the AL in earned runs allowed with 117. Will Shields rebound in 2011? Well, Shields certainly didn't have an awful season with average luck. That theory seems easily supported because Shields allowed a .344 BAbip in '10. But, he did that while allowing a 22% LD% that was significantly above the league average, a below-average 10% IF/FB, and a 41% GB% that was right around the league average. His BAbip also hurt him more because he allowed a league-average 69% IP%. Shields' BAbip certainly wasn't that far off from what it should have been. Shields had an off-year from his .310 career BAbip, rather than .297 or less. Considering he set a career-high for LD% against him and a career-low for GB% against him and his IF/FB was his lowest since 2010, maybe it does make some amount of sense that he allowed a .344 BAbip. So did he have an awful season or is he just a bad pitcher? Shields is not a bad pitcher. He allowed a 10.0% HR/FB in '10 compared to his career average of 8.8% and a 68.4% LOB% compared to his career average of 71.3%. When everything evens out, Shields should allow less homers and strand more runners. But how will those stats even out? How do these ratios magically return to neutral? While there is some amount of luck in baseball, nearly all improvements are made by adjustments. If Shields worked hard with pitching coach Jim Hickey, he'll have a better season, and if not, he won't. But, knowing Shields, we know that he put the work in, and pending injury, he'll have a much better season in 2011. Will he be able to post the 3.56 ERA he put up in '08? That's doubtful, but the 4.14 ERA he posted in '09 is certainly within reach. (ZiPs has Shields posting a 4.38 ERA, and that might be a bit more likely than Shields than a 4.14 ERA.) James Shields isn't a great pitcher, but he's a motivated one. Expect a rebound in 2011.

Wade Davis received a 4 year, 12.6 million dollar contract extension following his rookie season. Not too shabby. The 25 year old right-hander went 12-10 in '10 with a 4.07 ERA, 113 K's, and 62 walks (a bit off a 2.0 K/BB) in 29 starts and 168 IP. He allowed 165 hits, an 8.8 H/9, and 24 homers, a bad 1.3 HR/9. Davis led all AL rookies in wins, and finished second in strikeouts, and he also led all qualifying AL rookies (162 IP minimum) in ERA. It was a good rookie season, but he will be able to be a good major league pitcher over the next 4 years? Well, it has to worry you at least a little bit that Davis posted a .274 BAbip in 2010. And despite that BAbip, Davis still allowed an 8.8 H/9! Davis' BAbip might not be that far off what it should be, considering he allowed just a 17% LD% and a 15% IF/FB. However, he allowed just a 39% GB%. Davis is an extreme fly ball pitcher (allowing a 44% FB% [fly ball percentage]), and he just allows a lot of hits. Making matters worse, Davis actually had a 78% LOB%. He wasn't unlucky to allow an 8.8 H/9, but he was lucky to strand the amount of baserunners he did. But at least he was unlucky in terms of homers allowed. He allowed an 8.7% HR/FB. But even when that evens out, he'll still probably allow a 1.0 HR/9! Bill James and Marcel have Davis posting an ERA's of 4.09 and 4.01 respectively, but I'll have to agree with ZiPs, who has Davis posting a 4.52 ERA. Unless he has an uncanny ability to strand runners on base, Davis is not a good enough pitcher to post a low-4.00's ERA. He allows too many hits and too many homers. FIP (fielding-independent pitching equivalent of ERA) is a stat that is calculates an ERA for pitchers while only regarding the aspects of baseball that the pitcher can control- strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches, and homer allowed. The final result of the calculation looks like an ERA. Despite his 4.07 ERA in '10, Davis had a 4.79 ERA. His lack of a 2 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio along with the large amounts of homers he allowed still give him a bad FIP while disregarding his 8.8 H/9. The Rays better hope Davis makes an adjustment in 2011 or does have that uncanny ability to strand runners, or Davis could be a disappointment and even post an ERA around the 4.79 FIP that he posted in 2011. You have to assume that the Rays know something I don't in signing Davis to the 4-year extension, but it's certainly worth asking whether Davis can be a good major league pitcher. Based on the data available, it's hard not to think that Davis will suffer a bit of sophomore slump in 2011.

Maybe Davis' sophomore slump in 2011 will be similar to Jeff Niemann's sophomore slump that he went through in 2010. Niemann, who turned 28 on February 28th, finished 4th in the 2009 AL Rookie of the Voting after going 13-6 with a 3.94 ERA, but went 12-8 in '10 with a 4.39 ERA, 131 K's, and 61 walks in 29 starts, 1 relief appearance, and 174.1 IP. He allowed 159 hits, an 8.2 H/9, and 25 homers, the same bad 1.3 HR/9 that Davis posted. But something very strange happened to Niemann from '09 to '10- his BAbip actually went down from .302 to .266. He cut his 21% LD% to just 15%, and he increased his GB% from 41% to 44%. His LOB% even stayed about the same, going down slightly from 73.7% to 73.4%. So why did he do worse? Well first of all, he wasn't able to take advantage of the lower BAbip as much because he decreased his IP% from 72% to 69%. But that's not the real reason. Niemann's HR/9 jumped from 0.8 in '09 to 1.3 in '10 because his HR/FB shot up from 6.0% to 10.0%. So how will Niemann do in 2011? Well if he can allow a 15% LD% again, causing a BAbip around .270 again while his HR/FB evens out to around 8.0%, causing his HR/9 to go down to around 1.0, Niemann should be able to put up an ERA under 4.00 again. Jeff Niemann made a big adjustment in 2010, only to let unlucky in another regard. If everything evens out for Niemann in 2011, he'll certainly have the best season of his career.

Jeremy Hellickson excited the baseball world from the moment he came up, going 7 innings in his major league debut against the Twins on August 2nd, earning the win as he allowed just 2 runs on 3 hits, and struck out 6 while walking just 2. Hellickson, who will turn 24 on April 8th, made 4 major league starts for the Rays, and he was just as dominant if not more so, going 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA, 25 K's, and just 4 walks in 26.1 IP. He did allow just a .209 BAbip, but he allowed just a 13% LD%. Hellickson did post a 7.20 ERA in 6 September relief appearances, but he was filling an unfamiliar role. Hellickson has the potential to be as good as he was in those four August starts. Maybe that won't be this year, but nevertheless, Hellickson is one of the front-runners for Rookie of the Year. Will he be good enough to win it? First, let's take a look at his gaudy minor league stats. Overall in the minors, Hellickson went 49-16 with a 2.71 ERA, a 9.8 K/9 (strikeouts per 9 innings ratio), and a 2.1 BB/9 (bases on balls [walks] per 9 innings ratio). He held batters to a 7.4 H/9 (.290 BAbip), and a 0.7 HR/9. Takings his outstanding 7.4 H/9 out of the picture, Hellickson still managed a 2.91 FIP. But, talking his whole minor league career obviously encompasses the lower levels in the minors, where an outstanding prospect in Hellickson dominating the competition. Hellickson actually owns his third-best ERA at any level in the minors at Triple-A (2.47), but he did post a 2.43 ERA at SS-A and a 2.67 ERA at Low-A. Let's look at Double-A, where Hellickson struggled the most (3.27 ERA) among all the levels in which he played 5 or more games (he had a 6.00 ERA in 4 games at Rookie ball in 2005), and then Triple-A. At Double-A, Hellickson made 24 starts over 2 seasons, which isn't that far off from how many games he'll start for the Rays in 2011. He went 7-5 with a 3.27 ERA, 141 K's (9.6 K/9), and 29 walks (2.0 BB/9) in 132 IP. He allowed 125 hits, an 8.5 H/9 (.313 BAbip), and 19 homers, a 1.3 HR/9. The 8.5 H/9 and 1.3 HR/9 were the second-worst of his career at any level, again trailing only Rookie ball. He posted a 3.71 FIP. That might be the worst case scenario for Hellickson, pending injury. He's that good. At Triple-A, Hellickson basically pitched as much as he will for the Rays in 2011, making 30 starts. He went 18-4 with a 2.47 ERA, 193 K's (9.9 K/9), and 50 walks (2.6 BB/9) in 175 IP. He allowed 134 hits, just a 6.9 H/9 (.231 BAbip), and just 9 homers, a 0.5 HR/9. He managed an outstanding 2.71 FIP. We probably won't see another FIP like that from Hellickson until if and when he wins the AL Cy Young. The most likely scenario for Hellickson's FIP in 2011 certainly isn't his 2.91 career FIP in the minors- it's much more similar to the 3.21 FIP that's the average between his 3.71 FIP at Double-A and his 2.71 FIP at Triple-A. How will that FIP translate into an ERA for Hellickson? Well, looking at the FIP's and ERA's of the Rays 5 starters in 2010 (the 4 pitchers listed above plus Matt Garza), they averaged a .24 decrease from FIP to ERA. But, taking out James Shields, who had a .94 increase from his FIP to his ERA, they averaged a decrease of .54. That would put Hellickson's projected ERA somewhere from 2.67 to 2.97. Let's adjust that to 2.77 to 3.07 because of the defensive downgrade from Carlos Pena to Dan Johnson and from Carl Crawford to Johnny Damon. Because of Hellickson's great strand rates in the minors (77.8% career LOB% in the minors, 81.0% at Double-A, 77.3% at Triple-A) let's put him at the lower range of that. I would project Hellickson's ERA in 2011 to be around 2.87. (That doesn't mean that Hellickson necessarily deserves that ERA- it's just that the Rays play great defense and he plays in a pitchers' park.) Would that win him Rookie of the Year? It would certainly place him in the top two or three players in the voting if the Rays can score him some runs and win him some games. It was also put him on the outside edge of the Cy Young conversation. That would be pretty ridiculous, considering it would be the best ERA among starting pitchers on the team according to what I've said in this post. But Hellickson is just that good. He has the ability to post a 5 to 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing just 7 homers every 90 innings. Expect a grand entrance for Jeremy Hellickson in his rookie season in the big leagues.

Bullpen:

If you've read any of my other previews, you know that immediately after the 'bullpen' section of my previews, I put a 'closer' section. However, the Rays are going with a closer by committee approach. I'm just going to group all 7 Rays relievers in this section and give my opinion about if and how each reliever relates to the closer role.

Saying Kyle Farnsworth has a bad rep is an understatement. Farnsworth, signed to a one year, 2.7 million dollar contract by the Rays this offseason, with an option for a second year, has always had the 'stuff'. He has a 100 MPH fastball and an unhittable slider, but no command. Farnsworth not only has given up 3.9 walks per 9 innings, but he has allowed 1.3 homers per 9 as well, and even allowed an 8.6 H/9. He owns a 4.39 career ERA that's mediocre at best. But in 2010, Farnsworth, who will turn 35 on April 14th, appeared to finally make some sort of breakthrough. After posting a 2.19 ERA and saving 16 games in 2005, Farnsworth posted just a 4.55 ERA from '06 to '09. But in 2010, Farnsworth was able to stop the bleeding and have a pretty good year, going 3-2 for the Royals with a 3.34 ERA, 61 K's, just 19 walks, and 9 holds in 60 relief appearances and 64.2 IP. He allowed 55 hits, a 7.7 H/9, and just 4 homers, a 0.6 HR/9. But, you had to notice that Farnsworth only recorded 9 holds. Farnsworth has averaged 15 holds per season since 2001. (A hold is when a reliever retains a team's lead in a save situation without actually recording a save.) So why did he appear in less save situations? Of course, because he appeared in games with less pressure. aLI is a stat that registers the average amount of pressure a player is under per appearance, with 1.00 being average. In 2010, Farnsworth had just a .87 aLI, compared to his 1.1 career aLI. Under less pressure, Farnsworth was able to succeed, but what about when he returns to regular pressure with the Rays in 2011? In 2010, Farnsworth allowed just a .204 BAA in low leverage situations, and .188 in medium leverage situations, but .333 in high leverage situations. He'll be facing a lot more high leverage situations for the Rays, so if those numbers hold true again, he'll be awful. But also, in reality, Farnsworth wasn't even that great in low and medium situations. He allowed just a .252 BAbip in those situations. There's only one reason to have any amount of hope in Farnsworth- this is his final chance to be that relief pitcher, that unhittable lockdown closer who blew by every hitter. If Farnsworth fails, he may never get another opportunity to pitch anywhere where he has an opportunity to close. He 2005, Farnsworth allowed a .159 BAA in 102 high leverage plate appearances. Can he do that again? You wouldn't normally think so, but with the right motivation, and with the right opportunity, you never know. (Prediction: Farnsworth posts a 3.50 ERA even while pitching in high leverage situations and saves double-digit games for the first time since '05.)

Joel Peralta is a relatively similar pitcher to Farnsworth. Peralta, signed by the Rays this offseason to a one year, 9.25 million dollar contract, turned 35 on March 23rd, and had his best season in the majors with the Nationals in 2010, going 1-0 with a 2.02 ERA, 49 K's, just 9 walks (4 of which were intentional), and 9 holds in 39 relief appearances and 49 IP. He allowed 30 hits, a 5.5 H/9, and 5 homers, a 0.9 HR/9. Peralta forced the Nats to call him up in late June after an outstanding half-season in the minors, going 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA, 38 K's, just 7 walks, and 20 saves in 28 relief appearances and 33.1 IP. Is Peralta going to be a productive big league reliever from here on out? You would up so, but there are some obvious red flags. First of all, Peralta allowed just a .203 BAbip in '10. He allowed such a low BAbip despite allowing a barely better than average 18% LD%, and just a 26% GB%. He allowed a crazy 56% FB%. However, many of those fly balls were really popups- Peralta allowed an amazing 20% IF/FB. Nevertheless, he was certainly at least somewhat lucky in terms of BAbip. He also allowed a bit too few homers, considering he had a 6.8% HR/FB. But the good news is that even if his ERA jumps .75, he would still post a 2.77 ERA. But, Peralta managed just a 3.02 FIP and a 3.43 xFIP (what Peralta's FIP would have been if he allowed a league average HR/FB), so maybe an ERA under 3.00 is a bit too optimistic. In addition, just like Farnsworth, Peralta didn't pitch in too many high pressure games, ending up with a .72 aLI that was significantly lower than even Farnsworth's aLI in '10. However, maybe Peralta isn't as much of a risk under high pressure as you would think he would be. Peralta allowed a .204 BAA in low leverage situations and a .057 BAA in medium leverage situations, but he still allowed a .179 BAA in 30 high leverage plate appearances against him. Peralta certainly won't be as great as he was in 2010, but he can certainly manage a low-3.00's ERA. Maybe he'll even get a chance to save a few games. Joel Peralta was a great sign for the Rays, and he should be a good reliever for them.

Considering that J.P. Howell saves 17 games for the Rays in 2009, you would think that he would be a favorite for the Rays' closer job in 2011. But, Howell missed all of 2010 with a shoulder surgery on his left, pitching shoulder. Howell, who will celebrate his 28th birthday on April 25th, expected to be out until at least mid-May in 2011. Could he be the Rays' closer after he comes back? Obviously, if he's healthy and pitches well, then of course, and if he struggles some other player will close. There's honestly no point of mentioning his '09 stats for the Rays, because you never know how Howell will pitch when he comes back. J.P. Howell is the X-factor in the Rays bullpen. He could be anywhere from an effective closer to a non-factor for the Rays 2011.

Andy Sonnanstine was a pretty good starter on the 2008 AL Champion Rays winning 13 games, but after posting just a 6.77 ERA in 2009, Sonnanstine was demoted to the bullpen in 2010, and although he was certainly better than he was in '09, he didn't impress anybody, going 3-1 with a 4.44 ERA, 50 K's, 27 walks, not a single hold, but 1 save in 37 starts, 4 relief appearances, and 81 IP. The 28 year old right-hander allowed 83 hits, over a hit per inning at 9.2 per 9, and 11 homers, a 1.2 HR/9. Is he going to do any better in his second season as a full-time reliever? Maybe he'll make an adjustment, but there's no proof from the stats that that's going to happen. Sonnanstine had a .277 BAbip in '10 compared to his .310 BAbip despite posting a 19% LD% that was exactly his career average. He did post a career-high 45% GB% and a 15% IF/FB. Maybe you could argue that his BAbip was right around where it should be, but he certainly wasn't unlucky. In terms of homers allowed, he allowed an 8.5% HR/FB, so he was just a bit unlucky. Maybe when that evens out, he'll have a 1.0 HR/9. He also managed all these stats while posting just a .51 aLI. Sonnanstine's career-best in ERA is 4.38 (from when he was a starter in '08). Why should we expect him to be any better than that? Unless Sonnanstine all of a sudden starts thriving out of the bullpen, he won't be any better than a halfway-decent reliever for the Rays in 2011.

24 year old lefty Jake McGee had an outstanding 8-relief appearance major league debut in 2010, posting a 1.80 ERA. McGee should make his full-season debut in 2011, as long as he pitches well. McGee posted a 3.57 ERA with a 10.2 K/9 in 19 minor league starts, but once he was promoted to Triple-A and became a full-time reliever, he was outstanding, posting a 0.52 ERA and a 14.0 K/9 in 10 starts and a relief appearance. However, he had a ridiculous 91.7% LOB%. But, there weren't that many runners on to begin with as he allowed just a 4.7 H/9 and a 1.6 BB/9. But, the back-and-forth continues as McGee didn't allow a single home run. McGee has electric stuff (94 MPH fastball, 77 MPH slider with nice bite), but we'll have to see whether he has the poise to be an effective big league reliever. A 0.75 ERA in 10 spring training relief appearances was certainly a good sign. Jake McGee has the potential to a great middle reliever for the Rays, even a closer, but we'll have to see whether he can handle big league hitters in his rookie season even without the good luck he had in the minors.

Adam Russell, who will turn 28 on April 14th, has 51 major league relief appearances under his belt (including 2 in 2011) but has never been able to stick on any big league club. Russell was drafted and made his major league debut with the White Sox, but then he was traded to the Padres in the Jake Peavy trade. Just a year and a half later, the Padres traded him to the Rays in the Jason Bartlett deal. Russell owns just a 4.53 major league ERA despite just a .50 aLI. In the minors, Russell owns just a 3.93 ERA, 3.83 in the past 3 seasons at Triple-A, where he's pitched exclusively in relief. He has recorded 23 saves, 14 of which came in 2010. In 2010, Russell went 4-9 with a 4.88 ERA, 51 K's (8.9 K/9), 32 walks (5.6 BB/9), and the aforementioned 14 saves in 50 starts and 51.2 IP. He allowed 58 hits, a 10.1 H/9, and 4 homers, a 0.7 HR/9. However, he did allow a .351 BAbip. He has the ability to be a decent major league reliever. If Mike Ekstrom wasn't so awful in spring training (10.13 ERA), there's no chance that Russell would have made the Rays with a 6.30 ERA. Still, he's on the team, and maybe with a legitimate opportunity, he'll pitch OK. Adam Russell should be a decent reliever for the Rays in 2011.

Cesar Ramos, a 26 year old lefty also acquired in the Bartlett trade, was awful in 14 big league relief appearances for the Padres in '10 (11.88 ERA), but he did pretty well at Triple-posting a 3.28 ERA, although he struck out just 63 (5.9 K/9) and walked 43 (4.0 BB/9) in 15 starts, 15 relief appearances, and 96 IP. He allowed 90 hits, an 8.4 H/9, and 7 homers, a 0.7 HR/9. He allowed a .289 BAbip, although he did have a 78.3 LOB%. Ramos somehow has persevered through not being to strike out very many batters to be a decent minor league relief pitcher. But, it makes a lot of sense why he has a 6.00 career major league ERA in 21 appearances. He's a lefty, so it was worth giving him another chance, but also considering he had a 6.17 ERA, it's hard to expect anything better than a halfway-decent season from Ramos if he even lasts the whole year in the bullpen. Cesar Ramos is a decent reliever at best for the Rays.

In 2008, Juan Cruz had an outstanding season with the Arizona Dimaondbacks, posting a 2.61 ERA. But, considering he was a Type-A free agent (the team that signed him would have to forfeit their first round draft pick unless they were one of the worst 15 teams in MLB the previous season), and he had posted just a .88 aLI and 8 holds in '08, every team neglected to go after him until the Royals finally signed him on February 28, 2009. However, after posting a 5.72 ERA in '09, he was released in April of '10 and didn't pitch in professional baseball the rest of the season after undergoing right shoulder surgery to remove a cyst. But, the Rays signed Cruz to a minor league contract this past offseason, and after posting a 0.90 ERA in 9 relief appearances, Cruz made the big league roster. How will he do? Well, if his shoulder is fully healed, maybe he could return to being that pitcher who struck out over a batter per inning from '01 to '08. But even during that time period, he had 4.00 ERA, mostly because of a 4.6 BB/9 and a 0.9 H/9. If he's healthy, Cruz should put up similar numbers. Juan Cruz should be a decent reliever for the Rays in 2011.

Overview:

The Rays have a pretty good offense, a solid defense, and a very good rotation, but their bullpen is going to really hold them back. They have no proven closer, and at least three of their relievers are unknown commodities. In order for the Rays no contend, the bullpen needs to be solid, and that doesn't appear to be in the works. Andrew Friedman (the Rays' GM) better find some relievers in trades, or the Rays could have one of the worst bullpens in the big leagues. Whether through career-years or trades, the Rays need a solid bullpen to contend with the Yankees and Red Sox, but that's going to be awfully tough.

(For my AL East previews, I'm not going to list a prediction for the standings because obviously I'm biased.)