Tag Archive | "Southpaws"

Opportunity In Center Field

Last week we began taking a look around the National League Central position by position to see where how the St. Louis Cardinals stack up heading into the 2012 season. We started with right field where St. Louis has the decided edge in both starting talent and depth. This week we slide over to what is for sure the most crucial position in the outfield and possibly on the diamond altogether…center field.

Cardinal nation has grown accustom to excellence in center field over the years. From the likes of Willie McGee to Jim Edmonds it was not just about All-Star selections, batting titles and Gold Gloves. Okay well it was, but it was also about longevity. Since Edmonds left St. Louis following the 2007 the Cardinals have had a revolving door out in center usually reserved for second base. Rick Ankiel, Colby Rasmus and Jon Jay have shagged most of the balls out there over the last four seasons.

Going into this spring Jay looks to solidify the spot and make it his own. For the Cardinals this presents the weakest of the three outfield positions. But perhaps the one with the most upside. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak views Jon Jay as the team’s everyday center fielder rather than the left-handed half of a platoon.

Jay has certainly held his own against southpaws in his career, sporting a .296/.356/.377 batting line as compared to a .298/.348/.436 line against right-handers. The splits evidently have Mozeliak and the Cards prepared to run Jay out there every day rather than find a right-handed hitting complement for him, which enhances his value.

Here is a look around the National League Central and how Jon Jay stacks up against his peers.

 

Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd finished 2011 with nine homers, three steals, 35 RBIs, 51 runs scored and a .276 batting average. Byrd can supply a solid batting average but his lack of power and speed makes him a weak everyday outfielder. At age 34, it’s hard to predict any improvement in his 2012 numbers.

Reds outfielder Drew Stubbs swiped 40 bases in 2011, to go along with 15 homers, 44 RBIs, 92 runs scored and a .243 batting average. Stubbs reached the 40-steal level for the first time. But, the 27-year-old hit just .233 with four homers in the second half. This isn’t the profile of a leadoff hitter and the Reds could look for other options at that spot for 2012. The first Reds player with 40 steals in a season since Deion Sanders had 56 steals in 1997. Unfortunately, it can’t hide Stubbs’ struggles at the dish.

Astros outfielder Jordan Schafer hit .242 with two homers, 13 RBIs, 46 runs scored and 22 stolen bases in 2011. Schafer was traded to the Astros for Michael Bourn after failing to meet expectations in the Braves organization. The 25-year-old former top prospect had mixed results in limited time last season but remains the club’s best in-house option. Jason Bourgeois will continue to fill-in at all three outfield positions, while J.B. Shuck and Brian Bogusevic are also in the hunt . Schafer has enough speed (24 steals in 469 career at-bats) to warrant attention if he can get a full-time role in 2012. But he can’t steal first base and Schafer’s .228 career batting average could keep the 25-year-old from securing regular work.

Brewers center fielder Nyjer Morgan hit .304 in 2011, stole 13 homers, went deep four times, drove in 37 runs and scored 61 times. Morgan continued to be one of the game’s loudest players also let his bat do the talking with the second highest batting average on his team. Surprisingly, the Brewers didn’t let Morgan run the bases aggressively, as he stole 21 bases fewer than in 2009 despite collecting nearly as many hits.

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen smacked 23 homers, swiped 23 bases, drove in 89 runs, scored 87 times and hit .259 in 2011. McCutchen posted his first 20-20 season but his other numbers weren’t as rosy. The 25-year-old was caught stealing 10 times, the same number as in 2010, despite attempting 10 fewer base swipes. He also hit .216 in the second half. There is still plenty of upside here, but several holes too.

Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay smacked 10 long balls, drove in 37 runs, scored 56 times, swiped six bases and hit .297 in 2011. Jay’s development was a key factor in the midseason trade of Colby Rasmus, as manager Tony La Russa wanted to get Jay into the lineup more often. Despite struggling at the dish in the postseason, the 26-year-old could be a big asset if he can exceed 500 at-bats in 2012.

Here is how I rank the center fielders heading into 2012.

  1. Andrew McCutchen
  2. Nyjer Morgan
  3. Drew Stubbs
  4. Jon Jay
  5. Marlon Byrd
  6. Jordan Schafer

Looking Ahead

Jon Jay will not be relied on to match the offensive numbers of his outfield mates Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran. Rather Jay will be looked to for defensive support, which he proved more than capable of providing in 2011. However In part-time at-bats, Jay has proven to be a solid offensive player, hitting for a high batting average with at least serviceable pop. If he can average his production out over a full season it will mean good things for the 2012 Cardinals.

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Kansas City Royals Fantasy Report: Week 2

The Royals are off to a 6-3 start in the AL central. The team is getting clutch performances from different players. Let’s see what the upcoming week looks like.

The Royals will play two at Minnesota this week then return home for a four game series with the Mariners and draw one of the tougher offensive schedules of the week. They get two Twin lefties in Brian Duensing and Francisco Liriano then at home they have Doug Fister, Eric Bedard, Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda.

The top half of the lineup is hitting well led by Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. The slow start for Mike Aviles has meant more time for Chris Getz at the top of the lineup. Getz has capitalized and he gets an instant boost in value, as he will gain more at-bats, which gives more opportunity to steal and be driven in by the heart of the line-up. In limited action last year he stole 15 and the year before swiped 25.

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not:

HOT:

Billy Butler has hit in all 8 games he’s played in April. This week he went 9-17 and had four multi hit games. Early on, he is walking more and striking out less with a great .270 ISO.

Jeff Francis has seen his ground ball rates at 58% in the early goings and has a nice K/BB ratio of 4.00. This gives him a 1.98 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP through two starts. His BABIP has actually been unlucky at .268 but his LOB% is unsustainable at 98.4%, expect some regression to come. However as a two-start pitcher this week, Francis is good to go pitching in Target Field and matching up against a puny Seattle lineup is a nice draw.

Alex Gordon is starting to show glimpses that he may live up to his potential. He continued hitting this week going 9-20. Even though he is hitting the ball well, he may come back down to earth a bit this week. He faces three left-handers and has only hit .222 in his career versus southpaws. Plus he faces King Felix and has a .111 career average against him. If you have a better outfield option, this would be a week to consider it. Another good play would be to seek out his trade value, as it is most likely pretty high right now.

NOT:

Mike Aviles has started cold going 3-26. Wilson Betemit has seen more time at third. Manager Ned Yost said he would mix in players in the infield so this will not mean a permanent loss of time for Aviles.

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Francis, Chen Try to Hold Down Rotation From The Left Side

The recent focus for Royals fans has been around the pool of left handed starting pitching talent in the MLB’s top Minor League System. Mike Montgomery and John Lamb were the two most recent southpaws recognized as two of the six Royals prospects ranked in Baseball America’s 50.

The focus has deterred attention from a complete lack of left handed rotation depth for the last decade in Kansas City. This year’s lefty combo of Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen will be relied on by the Royals. If the duo can both throw more than 140 innings, they would be the first Royals to do so in over five seasons.

To most Royals fans 2004 is a fog. The names Darrell May, Brian Anderson, and Jimmy Gobble forgotten in the losing haze. In a decade of left handed disparity, this trio all topped the 140 inning mark in 2004.

Since 2000, the Royals have only boasted six left handed starters producing more than 140 innings in a single season. The fact 2004 cultivated half of them is impressive, but not nearly as impressive when you see their production. May, 9-19, 186 IP, 5.61 ERA/ Anderson, 6-12, 166 IP, 5.64 ERA/ Gobble 9-8, 148 IP, 5.35 ERA.

In comparison to Kansas City’s total of six lefty innings eater since 2000, C.C. Sabathia has ten seasons of 180+ innings thrown.

The newest Royal, Francis, had four seasons of his own over the 140 IP mark. From his rookie season (2005) until his arm injuries (2008) Francis held together a young and talented Rockies rotation.

The Number One ranking from Baseball America for the Royals Farm System has gotten most of the media. Francis’ firsthand account of the talent being produced has him extremely excited about being with the Royals. Francis talks about how having rehab starts against the AA Naturals, gave him an inside track to the game’s best prospects in an MLB.com interview.

Francis helped the Rockies from improve from Royals like depths in 2005 to the World Series in 2007. Colorado finished in the bottom two spots of the division in nine consecutive seasons. 2007 was the turnaround, finishing second in the division. Of course then the Rockies made history in a few wild playoff games. Since, the Rockies haven’t finished lower than third in the NL West.

It’s no surprise 2006-07 saw the biggest turnaround for the Rockies, but also Francis began to smother NL hitters. In the two seasons Francis made 66 starts, going 30-20, 4.19 ERA, 414.1 IP, and 1.335 WHIP. It culminated in a disappointing World Series appearance not only for Francis, but also the Rockies.

Nabbing Francis for only $2 million (plus incentives), is being advertised as the best move GM Dayton Moore has made in his tenure. I have to agree with the likes of Matt Kelsey, but I don’t think the knocks on Francis will stick.

Many see Francis as aging damaged goods, with a subpar fastball. I couldn’t believe Francis was on the market as long as he was. He seemed like a good fit for nearly every roster, especially for $2 million.

According to Fangraphs.com and Bill James 2011 Projections, Francis will make 18 starts, amassing 87 innings. Personally I think this is a conservative estimate. If Francis’ shoulder is healed he will be a major part of the rotation. Perhaps his shoulder was the main reason his market value was driven down.

James also project Bruce Chen:

9-11, 177 IP, 6.36 K/9, 4.37 ERA

While another solid year from Chen and a return to form for Francis isn’t Zack Greinke, it would be some stability which has been absent for more than five seasons. Moore gave Royals fans reason to hope for the Kansas City rotation this season by signing Francis. A successful campaign and long term Billy Butler like commitment from Francis could make Moore look like a genius in a perfect world.

Luckily it’s still January, so our hopes can still become realities in February. April and beyond, the realities start becoming more harsh.

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