Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Walk in the Park Pt. 2

After a long weekend camping in Canada, I'm back with Pt. II of my look around the majors. Today, I'm examining the National League team-by-team. I covered the AL on Thursday.

NL East

Best Player- Dan Uggla. The Marlin 2nd baseman, already one of the best power-hitters at his position, has added even more thump in 2008. He has set the Marlin record for HR in a month in May and has compiled 36 extra-base hits so far. Much like fellow 2B Jeff Kent, he got a late start to his career, but has not wasted any time establishing himself as an All-Star.
Best Pitcher- Andrew Miller. As surprising as this may be, Miller has become the Marlins' ace. While Scott Olsen and Mark Hendrickson have better ERAs, their low K totals forecast an eventual downfall. Miller, though, has done nothing but improve since the season began. In his four May starts, Miller has averaged 6+ K, 1 run, and 4 hits allowed in 6+ innings a start. In fact, he struck out 9 in his last start against Arizona.
Biggest Disappointment- Cameron Maybin. Yes, he's in the minors, but Florida has been so successful in the majors, there are not any true disappointments. But, Maybin's performance in AA has to be disheartening to Marlins' personnel execs. He's struck out 67 times in 181 AB and his only hitting .249. I discussed this a couple weeks ago, but Maybin has done little to improve since then.  

Best Player- Chipper Jones. Was there really any doubt? Jones has put this team on his back, putting them a game behind Florida in the division. His .416/.490/.674 line is near Bonds-ian. It may be premature to discuss a run at .400. But, Jones's tendency to miss a few games here and there may help his case. By giving him fewer at-bats, Jones may be able to qualify for the batting title near the minimum total; thus, Jones will have less chances to make outs. At age 36, it's remarkable he's hit this well for even two months.

Best Pitcher- Jair Jurrjens. With Glavine continuing his age-related decline and Smoltz getting hurt, Jurrjens and Tim Hudson have stepped up to lead Atlanta. However, Jurrjens has been slightly better. To get him and OF prospect Gorkys Hernandez for Renteria has been a steal thus far for the Braves. Jurrjens still walks too many people, but his high K totals have compensated nicely.

Biggest Disappointment- Jeff Francoeur. His 2005 rookie year set everyone's expectations far too high. By hitting 14 HR in 257 AB and basically hitting everything thrown to him, Francoeur looked like the next big thing. Yet, once pitchers recognized his horrible plate discipline, Francoeur's play has been very below-average. An on-base % under .330 and a SLG under .450 for an everyday RF is unacceptable. He seemed to have made some gains last year, but he has given them back in his 4th year, showing less power and making too many outs. 

Best Player- Chase Utley. Easily the best 2B in the league, Utley leads the Phillies in all major hitting categories. See the sidebar for more on Utley.
Best Pitcher- Cole Hamels. Only 24, Hamels has been a solid major-league starter for 3 years now. His ERA has gone down every year, while his K totals have gone up. Pitching at Citizens Bank Field, his HR total will always be high. But, he compensates by rarely walking hitters. With the struggles of Brett Myers and inevitable retirement of Jamie Moyer, Hamels will have to continue to throw like this for Philly to stay competitive.

Biggest Disappointment- Ryan Howard. He has started to heat up recently, but he will still have a hard time replicating anything close to his career numbers. He's currently on pace for 229 Ks, which would easily top his 199 from last year. At 28 years old, Howard doesn't project to get any better than this. His 58 HR peak of 2006 may not be seen again. It's likely Howard follows Adam Dunn's career path with a better AVG and lower OBP.

New York
Best Player- David Wright. I'm still quite amazed Wright isn't more popular. Playing so well in New York both offensively and defensively should garner more attention. He has consistently put up Hall of Fame type numbers since he came into the league. You can't blame Wright for the Mets struggles when Delgado, Beltran, Reyes, and Castillo have failed to live up to their reputations.

Best Pitcher- Johan Santana. While he hasn't been able to get back to his 2004-2006 peak, Santana is still one of the league's best pitchers. Unfortunately, his HR total went up by about 10 last year. He is on pace to match that again in 2008. Those extra homeruns are the only thing keeping his ERA above 3.00.

Biggest Disappointment- Mike Pelfrey. We've seen Delgado on the decline for a couple years now. And we all knew Pedro would get hurt again. But, Pelfrey's continued struggles has to be worse for Mets fans. Their former top pitching prospect, Pelfrey has now started 26 games over 3 years with New York. His ERA sits at 5.48 with a 81/75 K/BB ratio. Why fire Willie Randolph when the front office can't find 3 healthy, effective pitchers to slot in behind Santana and John Maine? 

Best Player- Cristian Guzman. Another default selection here. Guzman is on pace for his best full season since 2001, but that still doesn't mean he should be your team's best player. He doesn't have the speed anymore, but he has adjusted by striking out less and hitting a few more HR. Nevertheless, Ryan Zimmerman should be ashamed.

Best Pitcher- John Lannan. The rookie from New York has led the no-name Nationals staff in 2008. 

Biggest Disappointment- When Zimmerman came into the league in 2005, many thought he and David Wright would battle for 3B supremacy for years. While Wright has improved his stats yearly, Zimmerman has seen his drop each year. He has walked only 9 times this year while slugging just .427. His excellent defense is keeping him afloat, but much more was projected for him. 

NL Central

Best Player- Geovany Soto. This one was incredibly tough, considering the terrific production the Cubs have gotten on offense. Soriano, Lee, Ramirez, DeRosa, and Fukudome have all played well, but Soto has the team's highest OPS along with playing superb defense. At catcher, Soto's production is most valuable because of the physical demands. He'll have to battle Russell Martin and Brian McCann for the All-Star nod, but, at the very least, he's a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year.

Best Pitcher- Carlos Zambrano. Not many pitchers possess Zambrano's combination of hitting and pitching. Even though he constantly sits among the league leaders in innings pitched, he's shown no signs of slowing down. Who would've thought back in 2003 that Prior would be in the minors, Wood in the bullpen, and Zambrano still among the league's best?

Biggest Disappointment- Felix Pie. The Cubs' top OF prospect has failed to deliver the past 2 years. His .222/.286/.286 line deservedly gave way to Reed Johnson, who hasn't hit much better. But Pie's combination of youth/speed/power was supposed to translate well. Pie's poor plate discipline has rendered him ineffective.

St. Louis
Best Player- Ryan Ludwick. The career minor leaguer has come out of nowhere to lead the Cards in OPS. He's outslugging Pujols by 130 points and has managed to secure an everyday job in the Cardinals' crowded outfield. He's always been known as a power hitter in the minors, but teams didn't think he had the secondary skills or defense to play full-time. Yet, here he is, along with former pitcher Rick Ankiel, giving St. Louis two solid OFs.

Best Pitcher- Adam Wainwright. The Braves rarely trade away good pitchers, but they let one go in Wainwright. He is putting together another solid campaign. Along with Todd Wellemeyer, Kyle Lohse, and Braden Looper, Wainwright and the Cards have been a surprising hit on the mound. I would only bet on Wainwright for long-term success however.

Biggest Disappointment- Troy Glaus. If healthy, Glaus is one of the game's most powerful 3B. Therefore, I have to think something is wrong with Glaus. He has just 2 HR in 174 ABs. If the Cards are to overtake Chicago, they will need Glaus to hit like he is capable of. He's still getting on base, but his lack of power is disconcerting.

Best Player- Lance Berkman. Year in and year out, Berkman carries the Astros offensively. This year they've simply replaced poor hitters Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus with Michael Bourn and J.R. Towles. Either way, Berkman is the one constant through it all. Though he has moved defensively to first base, he's shown no signs of a drop-off on offense.

Best Pitcher- Wandy Rodriguez. He's only started 4 games due to injury, but the Astros' staff has struggled. Shawn Chacon, Brandon Backe, and Roy Oswalt have combined to give up 36 HR in 190 innings. Rodriguez had 24 Ks in his 23.1 innings and was looking like the pitcher he was projected to be 3 years ago. Injuries and poor control derailed his train, but hopefully this is his year.

Biggest Disappointment- Roy Oswalt. We may be seeing the decline of little Roy Oswalt. His K totals have dropped for 4 years as his walks have risen. He's also been giving up more homers. That shows he is losing speed on his fastball and hasn't adjusted by locating better. His small frame was bound to break down quicker than bigger pitchers, but to come at age 30 is tough to take.

Best Player- Nate McLouth. I really could have picked any of the Pirates OFs as Jason Bay and Xavier Nady are raking as well. But, McLouth has played the best. He leads the team in almost every offensive category in his third year. The Muskegon native is doing everything from taking walks to stealing bases. Now, if only Pittsburgh could get some production from its infield.

Best Pitcher- John Grabow/Matt Capps. The quartet of young starters in the Pirates' rotation (Duke, Maholm, Snell, Gorzelanny) have started slowly. But the back end of the bullpen has been stellar, particularly Grabow and Capps. Grabow, a lefty, strikes out 8.5 per 9 and leads the team with 25 appearances. Capps, a big righty, closes with 10 saves.

Biggest Disappointment- Freddy Sanchez. After 3 solid years, including 2006 where he hit .344, Sanchez has dropped down to .245/.275/.320. Granted, second base is a position where you can get away with lower numbers. But, that line isn't going to cut it at any spot. Sanchez was supposed to be the one Pirate that could be counted upon. Yet, he's struggled while Nady and McLouth have come through on their potential.

Best Player- Ryan Braun. There has been the requisite decline for a second-year player. Teams have gotten more knowledge on him and pitched him tougher. Yet, he's still hitting .281/.309/.557. The on-base % concerns me, but unlike another young OF Francoeur, Braun hits with a high enough average to make up for that. So far, Alfonso Soriano has done the same thing. Braun is young and has time to adjust, but if he doesn't he should still be an above-average OF.

Best Pitcher- Ben Sheets. He's yet to have a major injury, knock on wood, but there are always concerns with his fragility. Nevertheless, Sheets has HOF ability when healthy. He has a 2.93 ERA and 55 Ks already in 2008. His HR totals are high, but he has never walked enough people for that to be a concern. While the team's other four starters have struggled, Sheets has cruised through his first 10 starts looking like a Cy Young candidate.

Biggest Disappointment- The Brewers Infield. Fielder, Weeks, Hardy, and Hall were expected to form one of the game's most productive infields. Yet, here we are at the end of May and all four are under their career norms. Fielder has been heating up recently and should be back to normal soon. However, as more time passes, it looks like we may never see the full potential of Hardy or Weeks. 

Best Player- Adam Dunn. The man may not possess the most graceful of baseball skills, but all he does is get the job done. He once again has a .400 OBP and .550 SLG. The Ks are ugly and so is his lumbering defense. But, when you're always on base and helping your team score runs, you can overlook that stuff. He may have to move to the AL soon with Joey Votto grabbing the first base job, but for now, I hope Reds fans appreciate Dunn's talents.

Best Pitcher- Edinson Volquez. Once a top prospect for the Rangers, Volquez failed in 3 different stints with the big league club. Traded to Cincy in the offseason, Volquez has established himself as a bona fide starter at age 24. He has an incredible 1.31 ERA with 76 K in only 62 innings. He's also given up just 1 home run in 31 innings at his launching pad of a home field. Combined with Aaron Harang and Johnny Cueto, the Reds have done a fine job building a rotation.

Biggest Disappointment- Ken Griffey, Jr. Currently sporting a sub-.400 slugging % for the first time in his career, Griffey still bats near the top of the Reds lineup. Dusty Baker continues to give him every chance to heat up, yet Griffey has done virtually nothing thus far. Most aging hitters will compensate for declining power by walking more. But Griffey has walked less and his continually porous defense hurts Cincy's young pitchers. I'm really surprised considering his 2007 line (.277/.372/.496) suggested nothing was wrong.

NL West

Best Player- Stephen Drew. Conor Jackson has slightly better numbers, but Drew is doing his defensive work at shortstop, making him the more valuable player. Drew was nothing short of horrible in 2007, but Arizona let him work through his problems on the field. Those 600 PAs of experience no doubt helped him improve his game for 2008. With 24 extra-base hits already, Drew symbolizes the growth of the D'Back offense, especially youngsters Upton, Young, and Jackson.

Best Pitcher- Brandon Webb. With apologies to prodigy Max Scherzer, who may soon be the face of this franchise, Webb is putting together another Cy Young season. Though he has twice failed to secure his 10th win, his 64 Ks and 3.01 ERA are nothing to sneeze at. As long as he's throwing that powerful sinker, Webb will be tough to beat.

Biggest Disappointment- Eric Byrnes. Though he was recently given a large contract extension, I didn't think Byrnes would be able to fulfill the deal. He's already 32 and plays a haphazard style that doesn't lend itself to longevity. Therefore, it doesn't surprise me to see him struggling in 2008. His .219/.285/.388 line is ugly to look at and doesn't inspire confidence in a comeback.

Los Angeles
Best Player- Rafael Furcal. Before he got hurt, Furcal was putting together his best ever season. Any surprise that it's coming in a contract year? Yea, I'm not too shocked, either. Furcal is mashing to the tune of .366/.448/.597. At age 30, he still has the major's best infield arm along with the speed to leg out triples. Plus, he has added power as he's aged, making him a very complete player. (And one who should command mega money this offseason)
Best Pitcher- Chad Billingsley. He tends to get overlooked between the veteran presence of Derek Lowe and Brad Penny and the 20-year-old prodigy Clayton Kershaw. But, Billingsley has become an integral part of the Dodger rotation at age 23. In 58.2 innings, he has struck out 67 men while allowing only 3 HR. That type of production is rarely seen. He has been saddled with bad luck, resulting in a 4-6 record. But, if he continues to mow down hitters at this rate, it shouldn't be long before that gets turned around.

Biggest Disappointment- Andruw Jones. This could two years in a row that Jones has disappointed his employers. Challenged to redeem himself with a two-year contract, Jones has responded extremely poorly. He's hitting just .165/.273/.271. It's incredible that he has fallen to these depths just two years after hitting 41 HR and three years away from 51. Yea, he's been getting fatter and he's never been able to hit a slider, but how did has happen so suddenly? Can we chalk it up to the difficulty that is hitting a baseball? Is this one of those Knoblauch/Wohlers deals where he suddenly loses all skills? Whatever it is, for one of my favorite Braves, it's sad to watch.

Best Player- Matt Holliday. Firmly established as a MVP candidate now, Holliday has not wavered one bit. Some players will back a bit from an MVP year, but Holliday has gone right back to the same. He recently went on the DL, but I don't see that affecting him too much. Unlike a Dante Bichette, Holliday is still somewhat productive on the road and his lights-out at Coors. A true team leader, Holliday is the face of this current Rockie squad. You can't blame him for the pitching coming back to earth.

Best Pitcher- Aaron Cook. The stars of last year's postseason run, Morales, Jimenez, Corpas, and Francis have all fallen off last year's stats in 2008. Cook, though, has been the one to improve. He even has a 2.33 home ERA with only 2 HR allowed. That type of success at Coors is hard to sustain, but Cook has the talent and sinkerball to do so.
Biggest Disappointment- Jeff Francis. Manny Corpas has also seen a large decline, but he didn't have the previous success that Francis has had. I thought Francis had found a secret to success at Coors. But, apparently that is short-lived. His ERA has jumped 2 runs up to 6.18. I'm more worried about 6.47 road ERA. He won 17 games last year and had been improving since he came into the league. This setback reeks of complacency after the World Series run.

San Francisco
Best Player- Bengie Molina. Batting cleanup and playing solid defense behind the plate, Molina has helped guide the Giants to a somewhat respectable record. I predicted this team to be the worst in baseball, especially their offense. Yet, Molina's career year pace and Rowand's solid production have San Fran in most games. 

Best Pitcher- Tim Lincecum. Forecasted to be a major league ace, Lincecum has proved the critics right in his second season. 69 Ks, 3 HR allowed in 62.1 innings certainly sounds like ace material. For a team with such horrible offense, it's amazing Lincecum has won 6 games. But, with those stats, it becomes much clearer. Much like Roy Oswalt, I'll be interested to see how long Lincecum lasts with his small frame.

Biggest Disappointment- Barry Zito. Could it really be anyone else? The man has the largest contract in baseball and he was banished to the bullpen for 2 weeks. He didn't actually pitch in relief, instead coming back to the rotation and continuing to pitch like he had. While he hasn't fallen to Andruw depths, Zito's career has stalled since arriving on the other side of the Bay. He has more walks than Ks, which is hard to believe for a soft-tosser like him. This may require a few years and a change of scenery before we see any improvement.

San Diego
Best Player- Adrian Gonzalez. The big first baseman is the one source of power for the Padres. At 14, he has twice as many round-trippers as runner-up Kevin Kouzmanoff. Since failing to impress the Rangers, Gonzalez has been a godsend for the Padres. His power production has been the one bright spot on a pretty meager Padres offense. 

Best Pitcher- Jake Peavy. He and Brandon Webb keep going back and forth for the title of best NL pitcher. Peavy recently went on the DL, but he had pitched beautifully before that. He continues to strike out more than a batter an inning while keeping the ball in the zone and in the park. His massive home park helps, but Peavy also holds a 2-1 road record.

Biggest Disappointment- Trevor Hoffman. The legendary changeup may be on its last legs. Lately, it seems to be all or nothing for Hoffman. He still strikes out 19 in 15.2 innings. But, he has walked 5 and given up 3 HR in that small window as well. It may be a lack of work due to the Padres poor record. It could also be, at age 40, Hoffman isn't fooling as many hitters as he used to. 

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