Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2008 NL East In Review

Atlanta Braves
W-L: 72-90 (4th in NL East)
pW-pL: 79-83
Payroll: $102,365,683 (4th in NL)
R/G: 4.65 (6th in NL)
ERA: 4.47 (12th in NL)
DER: .692 (T-8th in NL)
Team MVPs: Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Jair Jurrjens
A Drag on the Payroll: Tom Glavine (5.54 ERA, 63,1 IP, $8 MM), Mike Hampton (4.85 ERA, 78 IP, $15 MM)
Defensive Stars: Mark Teixeira, Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar
What Went Right:
The Braves' young hitters are coming along well. Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson provide a productive and bargain-priced double-play combo. Add in Brian McCann and the young outfielders on the way, and the Braves are incredibly strong up the middle.
There is also some promise among the Braves' young pitchers. Jair Jurrjens (3.68 ERA in 188.1 IP) should get consideration for Rookie of the Year, and Jorge Campillo (3.91 ERA, 107 K in 158.2 IP) wasn't a whole lot worse.

What Went Wrong: All of the veteran Braves, with the exception of Chipper Jones, struggled mightily. Jeff Francoeur (239/294/259, 11 HR) was the worst right fielder in the National League, and his future as a productive major leaguer is in doubt, as he still hasn't "developed" into an above-average player.
Tim Hudson pitched well, but only threw 142 innings, leaving the Braves even thinner in the starting rotation. The injury to John Smoltz was even worse, perhaps ending his career as a starter and forcing the Braves into even more desperation to fill out the rotation. Their free-agent moves were predictably disastrous, with both Tom Glavine and Mike Hampton pitching terribly when they were healthy, which was rarely. The Braves have some young arms to supplement their rotation, but for most of the season, they were the rotation, and the Braves don't have the depth of prospects to put 4-5 homegrown starters on the mound.

Notes: New GM Frank Wren is overseeing a good farm system, but few of his moves as GM have worked out. The Mark Teixeira deal with L.A. didn't bring back a very good return, but you could argue that the real problem was giving up so much to get him in the first place. And he should have been smarter than to spend major money on Tom Glavine or to expect anything from Mike Hampton. The blind spot there cost the Braves a great deal . . . If there were any doubts about Chipper Jones' Cooperstown case, he helped settle them in 2008 (364/470/574) ... Brian McCann (301/373/523) is one of the best young players in the NL, but you'd never know that if you listen to the sports media ... Look for Brandon Jones to step right into the starting lineup sooner rather than later ... The Braves have indicated that they'd like to re-sign free agent Mike Hampton. Why in the hell would they want to do that? He must be one hell of a good card player.

Florida Marlins
W-L: 84-77 (3rd in NL East)
pW-pL: 81-80
Payroll: $21,811,500 (16th in NL)
R/G: 4.78 (5th in NL)
ERA: 4.44 (11th in NL)
DER: .692 (T-8th in NL)
Team MVPs: Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Ricky Nolasco
A Drag on the Payroll: Luis Gonzalez (261/336/413, $2 MM)
Defensive Stars: Cody Ross
What Went Right: The offense, mainly in terms of home runs. The team hit 208 home runs, second only to Philadelphia's 214, an incredible feat in such a pitcher-friendly park. Key contributors, apart from Uggla and Ramirez, were Jorge Cantu (29 HR), Mike Jacobs (32 HR), and Cody Ross (22 HR). Every starter apart from catcher Matt Treanor had at least 17 HR.
The Marlins can also be happy that both Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olsen had full, productive seasons.
What Went Wrong: The offense is strikingly one-dimensional. Despite all the homers, the team finished 5th in the league in runs. That is due primarily to a weak .326 team OBP with a .254 batting average. They led the league in strikeouts, with 1,371 (no other team had 1300). This is an endemic problem with the entire lineup. Ramirez and Uggla excepted, most of the top sluggers are OBP-challenged, making them merely decent players. You can't find an All-Star among Cantu (29 HR, .327 OBP), Jacobs (32 HR, .299 OBP), and Ross (22 HR, .316 OBP). Corner outfielders Josh Willingham (15 HR, .364 OBP) and Jeremy Hermida (17 HR, .323 OBP) are willing to take a walk, but lack the power necessary for a corner outfielder. Admittedly, Willingham's numbers reflect a short season (102 games), and Hermida possesses more raw talent than his numbers would indicate.
Pitching-wise, the Marlins did have some good news in getting their key arms back from injury, but they're still far from sporting a full rotation of youngsters. Most of them pitched less than a full season in 2008 (namely Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez). The Marlins, hamstrung by their self-imposed penury, are less able than other teams to secure even replacement-level starters. They have a greater incentive than other teams to get their young starters healthy, because they quite simply have no other option.
Notes: The Marlins may try to solve some of their OBP problems by locating players outside the organization who can take a walk on the cheap. They attempted that with Luis Gonzalez, but the 40-year-old veteran fell far short of his career .367 OBP, finishing the season at .336 with only 8 HR ... The Marlins are always open to trading away their young stars, and a team that sorely needs young pitching could find a pliable trading partner. The Marlins' first choice to trade may be 25-year-old Scott Olsen, but his issues with attitude and self-motivation would likely limit any return they would get ... The Marlins set a record this year when all four of their infielders hit at least 25 home runs (the only one who missed 30 was 3B Jorge Cantu, at 29). This isn't just an illusion; they have a very good and powerful young infield, even if power is about the only thing first baseman Mike Jacobs has. The exception here is Cantu, who is going to be 27 years old and is not nearly as good as he looked in 2008 ... A rotation of Nolasco-Olsen-Johnson-Sanchez-Chris Volstad would be fearsome indeed if all five could stay healthy, which is unlikely. The Marlins would probably be willing to settle for 4 out of 5, since they suffered through 2008 with just 3 out of 5 healthy.

New York Mets
W-L: 89-73 (2nd in NL East)
pW-pL: 89-73
Payroll: $137,793,376 (1st in NL)
R/G: 4.93 (T-2nd in NL)
ERA: 4.07 (6th in NL)
DER: .699 (3rd in NL)
Team MVPs: David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana
A Drag on the Payroll: Brian Schneider (257/339/367, $4.9 MM), Luis Castillo (245/355/305, $6 MM), Pedro Martinez (5.61 ERA, 109 IP, $11 MM)
Defensive Stars: David Wright, Carlos Beltran
What Went Right: The Mets' key offensive contributors were the best among all NL teams. The combination of Wright, Beltran, Reyes, and Delgado was the best foursome of any team in the senior circuit.
They also had arguably the best pitcher in the NL, Johan Santana, three pretty good starters after him (Pelfrey, Perez, Maine) and a solid closer in Billy Wagner, though he missed the end of the season due to injury.
What Went Wrong: If the Mets had five other players half as good as the "front four" in their lineup, they would have made the postseason. Instead, there was a steep drop-off from there to the rest of the batting order, which was barely adequate and full of holes. They had a gaping hole at second base (Luis Castillo) and catcher (Brian Schneider) and disappointing production from the corner outfielders, despite some good (albeit surprising) work by Fernando Tatis.
And while the rotation was generally good, the only one who was really good on a consistent basis was Santana, who was a big step ahead of his teammates. And with inconsistent starting pitching, the Mets paired a poor bullpen. This was especially felt when they lost Wagner, as Aaron Heilman (5.21 ERA) Duaner Sanchez and others struggled to get games done.
Notes: If you think Luis Castillo was disappointing this year, he's got a long-term contract to finish yet . . . the Mets' failures in the outfield corners are of their own making, as relying on Moises Alou, Ryan Church, and Endy Chavez is a poor effort by a contender. And there's simply no excuse for Brian Schneider, or the trade that brought him into town while giving away -- guess what -- a corner outfielder, Lastings Milledge ... Look for the Mets to be active in the off-season to fill some of these holes. New GM Omar Minaya may have a new contract, but he doesn't have as much job security as a new contract usually offers.

Philadelphia Phillies
W-L: 92-70, 1st in NL East
pW-pL: 93-69
Payroll: $98,269,880 (6th in NL)
R/G: 4.93 (T-2nd in NL)
ERA: 3.89 (4th in NL)
DER: .695 (5th in NL)
Team MVPs: Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Brad Lidge
A Drag on the Payroll: Adam Eaton (5.80 ERA in 107 IP, $7.6 MM), Geoff Jenkins (246/301/392, $5 MM), Tom Gordon (5.16 ERA, 29.2 IP, $5.5 MM)
Defensive Stars: Pedro Feliz, Chase Utley
What Went Right: Well, pretty much everything. The team bet that Brad Lidge could be a dominant closer again and were proven right in dramatic fashion (and all it cost them was a fourth outfielder). They kept their core lineup together, most of it homegrown, and it produced just as well as it had before. But the big difference was in the starting rotation. Cole Hamels provided excellent work as the ace, Brett Myers was great after his short stint in the minors, and Jamie Moyer continued to eat up good innings out of the #3 spot.
What Went Wrong: Despite their Series victory, the Phillies still struggled to get production from catcher and third base. And while their rotation came together in time for October, Brett Myers got off to a rough start, and the back end of the rotation was pretty unstable until the team traded for Joe Blanton.
Notes: Ryan Howard slumped in '08 (251/339/543) but still led the league in HR and RBI. It sounds impressive, but it's actually a dark reminder of what lies ahead for Howard. And the postseason reminded us that Ryan Howard versus righties (268/366/601 in '08) and Ryan Howard versus lefties (224/294/451) are not the same person. Howard is actually poor enough to merit platooning, even if it's just against tough lefties. But so long as he is perceived to be a mega-star, he won't be platooned, because you just don't do that to mega-stars until they get very old. Perception will probably end up hurting the Phillies, especially if they end up paying Howard what he is perceived to be worth ... Howard wasn't even the Most Valuable Phillie on the Right Side of the Infield. That honor goes to Chase Utley (292/380/535), who is deserving of MVP consideration ... Kyle Kendrick (5.49 ERA) and Adam Eaton (5.80 ERA) had disastrous years, which wasn't too hard to predict. Luckily for the Phillies they were able to replace them with Joe Blanton via trade and J.A. Happ from within the system ... GM Pat Gillick wins his third World Championship just as he plans to enter retirement after the season.

Washington Nationals
 W-L: 59-102 (Last in NL East)
pW-pL: 62-99
Payroll: $54,961,000 (14th in NL)

R/G: 3.98 (14th in NL)
ERA: 4.66 (14th in NL)
DER: .686 (11th in NL)
Team MVPs: Cristian Guzman, Elijah Dukes, John Lannan
A Drag on the Payroll: Austin Kearns (217/311/316, $5 MM)
Defensive Stars: Ryan Zimmerman
What Went Right: The low-end deal that secured Elijah Dukes (264/386/478) from Tampa Bay was promising, although Dukes was still inconsistent due to serious attitude issues. It's still unclear whether he will be able to play produce in the big leagues on a full-time basis, but for what they paid, the Rays got a very promising hitter. They also got a surprisingly good season from former albatross Cristian Guzman (316/345/440). Now it's highly unlikely to hit that well again, but for one year at least he was able to earn his pay.
Pitching-wise, the Nats were able to get more good work out of the only young pitcher in their rotation, 23-year-old John Lannan (3.91 ERA in 182 IP), even if his strikeout rate is cause for concern.
What Went Wrong: Everything else.
Notes: The Nats' front office may be on the way out, not due to their execrable on-field product, but because of the Latin American payoff scandal that has implicated their executives ... The Nats' pitching staff in '08 was just one step up from terrible. And when you look at the pitchers involved, that's really their best-case scenario ... Unfortunately, the same can be said for the offense ... GM Jim Bowden announced mid-season that he was planning to non-tender closer Chad Cordero. This means that after years of playing hardball with teams trying to trade for the overrated closer, Bowden will see him walk away with zero in return. Sound familiar (Soriano, anyone)?

No comments: