Friday, August 19, 2011

Top 10 Last Seasons

For this one, the premise is simple: which players had the best last seasons of their careers?  There are, however, a few caveats: players who died during the season or in the offseason do not count, while players who ended their career due to injury do.  Also, I gave preference to full seasons (sorry, J.R. Richard) because I wanted to see the full breadth of a player's work right before they quit the game.  So, without further ado...

1. Sandy Koufax, SP, 1966 (LAD): 27-9/190 ERA+/317 K
This feels like cheating, but it's not.  Koufax was still unquestionably in his prime in 1966.  Due to arthritis, 1966 was also his last season.  From looking at the stats, however, you'd never know Koufax wasn't playing at full strength.  I try to stay consistent which which statistical categories I use for each position, but I have to break that rule for Koufax.  He was just so good, showing his WAR (an extremely impressive 10.8) doesn't do him justice.  Playing through pain, he threw 27 complete games, in which he racked up 317 strikeouts and 5 shutouts.  He won 27 games with an ERA+ of 190 and a WHIP.  Opposing batters only hit .205 off of him.  He had an 8.83 K/9 and a 4.12 K/BB.  Seriously, Koufax was amazing.  It's a shame he had to call it quits after 1966, though what a year with which to exit.

2. Ted Williams, LF, 1960 (BOS): 2.9 WAR/190 OPS+/95 RC
Williams made the list of top all-time rookie seasons, and here he is with a bookending great final season.  He had a relatively pedestrian WAR (not great, not bad), but that's due to his defense, which contributed -1.5 WAR.  His oWAR, 4.5, was tied for fourth in the American League, and he also cracked the top of the leaderboards for many of his other offensive statistics.  His 190 OPS+ is excellent by any measure, as are his 95 runs created.  In fact, he was second in the league in adjusted batting wins, close behind Mickey Mantle.  Ted was 42 and unable to competently play the field by the end of the 1960 season, so it's not surprising he chose to call it quits, but he was clearly still a great ballplayer.

3. John Tudor, SP, 1990 (STL): 3.1 WAR/159 ERA+/12-4
Tudor is best known for his dominant 1985, but 1990--his final season--was pretty good too.  He retired shortly after the season due to a nagging injury stemming from a previous broken leg, but you'd never know it from his stats that year.  His WHIP of 1.025 is very solid for a starting pitcher, as is his 159 ERA+.  Tudor started twenty-two games, winning twelve of them (his .750 winning % was third in the NL).  Tudor was an all-around very solid pitcher in 1990.  Considering how his career was hanging in the balance, and that he only started three games in 1989, that's pretty impressive.

4. Barry Bonds, LF, 2007 (SF): 3.3 WAR/169 OPS+/99 RC
Here's a nice measure of how good Barry Bonds was, even at the age of 42: in 2007 he led the majors in intentional (as well as non-intentional) walks.  He was still patient, and still very feared.  Those pitchers had good reason to be afraid: he was still one of the greatest hitters in the game.  No, he wasn't hitting 73 home runs (perhaps there's a reason for that...?) but 28 is still a very respectable total.  The rest of the league had caught up to him--or, rather, he had regressed back to the rest of the league--but still managed to be in the top ten for WPA, adjusting batting runs, and adjusted batting wins.  His 99 runs created and 169 OPS+ weren't good enough to make the top of the leaderboards--this was the tail end of the "steroid era," after all--but they're far and away among the best when looking at players' final seasons.  Bonds probably could have continue putting up numbers like these as a DH for years to come, but alas it appears he was just too toxic.

5. Will Clark, 1B, 2000 (BAL/STL): 4.1 WAR/144 OPS+/103 RC
Unlike the first four players on this list, Clark's big final season came well after his heyday.  Clark was always a consistently above-average player, but his 2000 WAR was his highest since 4.4 in 1992.  In 2000, Clark was traded at the trading deadline from Baltimore to St. Louis, whom he helped lead to the National League Championship Series in the wake of Mark McGwire's injury.  He did this while killing the ball over the last two months of the season, to say nothing of the whole season.  Over all of 2000 he hit .319 with 21 home runs and an OPS+ of 144.  His 103 runs created is the most ever by a player in his final season, and his .964 OPS was the highest figure of his career.  Clark simply had a very good season, and it's a shame he called it quits after the season, at the age of thirty-six.

6. Billy Wagner, CL, 2010 (ATL): 2.7 WAR/275 ERA+/37 SV
In 2010, his age 38 season, Billy Wagner managed to dominate the National League.  He set a career high in ERA (1.43) and had many other figures that rank among his single-season bests: .865 WHIP; 104 strikeouts; 13.5 K/9; 0.6 HR/9; and the three stats featured in the above subject line.  He also, despite just having recovered from a year-long injury, threw his most innings since 2006.  One year after everybody thought he was finished, Wanger proved that he was still one of the best relief pitchers in the league.  Despite all this, he retired after the season (though apparently he has yet to officially file his retirement papers), leaving us to only wonder whether or not he could have kept it up.

7. Mike Mussina, SP, 2008 (NYY): 4.4 WAR/132 ERA+/20-9
Everybody knows that in 2008 Mike Mussina, after eighteen seasons, finally won twenty games in a season and promptly retired.  However, while wins are a fairly flawed statistical metric, this was still a very good season by any measure.  His 3.37 ERA was sixth in the American League, and his K/BB was a very impressive fourth.  He started 34 games, tied for most in the AL, 21 of which were quality starts.  This all stacks up very well compared to almost every other final season by a starting pitcher (save, of course, for Koufax's and Tudor's).

8. Dave Nilsson, C, 1999 (MIL): 2.7 WAR/140 OPS+/78 RC
Nilsson, the longtime catcher for the Brewers, had a pretty unheralded (and relatively short, only eight seasons) career.  He battled knee trouble throughout his career, and retired from the MLB due to a desire to play baseball in his native Australia.  That, however, does not disqualify him from our list, strange though those circumstances may have been.  Let's examine Nilsson's 1999: in 115 games he hit .309 with an OPS of .954 and 21 home runs.  He also made the All-Star team, though only as a replacement for the Phillies' Mike Lieberthal.  Nilsson had a very solid season, and could have had a pretty good rest of his career were it not for his love of his homeland, coupled with his knee troubles.

9. Kirby Puckett, RF, 1995 (MIN): 2.5 WAR/130 OPS+/102 RC
Puckett is the third Hall of Famer (and fifth among those who probably deserve it) to appear on our list.  He is another player who had to retire early due to an injury that wasn't slowing down his play, but would cause him problems if he kept playing.  1995 was actually very similar to the previous four or so seasons that Puckett had had, with 1995 having the second lowest WAR among them.  That is a bit of a misnomer, however, due to the fact that Puckett lost a whole .9 WAR from his play in the field in 1995.  (In 1993, however, Puckett had an oWAR of 3.5 and a dWAR of -3.0.  Wow.)  Anyway, Puckett's 1995 is only one behind Clark's 2000 for the all-time most runs created in a final season, and his other offensive numbers are similarly competitive.  He was among the league leaders in hits (169), doubles (39), and intentional walks (18).  He was still one of the best outfielders in the majors and showed no sign of slowing down any time soon.  Pity.

10. Larry Jackson, SP, 1968 (PHI): 4.8 WAR/109 ERA+/13-17
The player on our list with the second-highest WAR winds up in tenth place.  Oh well.  Anyway, Jackson had a very respectable season to close out his unheralded career.  (Side-note: Jackson was actually a very good pitcher for the Cardinals in the late 50s/early 60s.)  Don't let his sub-.500 winning percentage fool you, though don't be tripped up by his 2.77 ERA either.  Jackson had a very good season, that is rendered slightly worse by the fact that 1968 was one of the greatest seasons for pitching in the modern era.  Hence a 109 ERA+ with that very low ERA.  Still, Jackson had to have done something right to merit a 4.8 WAR, and many of his statistics are perfectly solid, especially for a 39-year-old: 12 complete games, 1.186 WHIP, 0.3 HR/9 (tied for sixth lowest in the NL).  This tenth spot was a tough call, but Jackson is well deserving of it.

Runners-up: Britt Burns, SP, 1985 (CHW); Roy Cullenbine, 1B, 1947 (DET); Andy Pettitte, SP, 2010 (NYY); Curt Schilling, SP, 2007 (BOS); Jeff Zimmerman, CL, 2001 (TEX).

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Top 30 Logos: 1-10

Day 3/3 of our quest to find the best logo!  Unlike the other two days, I'll be counting in ascending order today.  If you haven't already, hop over to sportslogos.net and check out what they have to offer.  It's a great site, and this countdown wouldn't have happened without it.

1. Milwaukee Brewers, primary, 1978-1993
Was there really any other choice?  I mean, c'mon.  The brilliance and awesomeness of this logo is obvious.  In case you hadn't noticed--and I didn't until about a year ago--the glove spells out an M and a B, for Milwaukee Brewers.  I'll give that a minute to set in.  The ball in the middle of the glove, doubling as, well, a baseball and the hole in the lowercase "b," is pretty genius too.  This logo isn't just clever, it also has great colors.  I love the old Brewers color scheme.  I love whenever I'm watching MLB Network classic highlight shows and Paul Molitor or Robin Yount appears in the uniforms from that era.  They just looked so great, and this logo is a primary reason why.  A+'s all around.

2. New York Mets, primary, 1999-present
This says the Mets' current logo started being used in 1999, but it's really been around since the Mets' inception in 1962 (save for a few very subtle changes).  Anyway, maybe I'm just being a homer here, but I think this logo is really great.  The color scheme is classic, simple, and unchanged since 1962.  The way the circle is also a baseball is very smart.  The script is well done.  Perhaps best of all, the skyline and bridge are just wonderful representations of the "metropolitan" aspect of the Mets' real name.  It's not as good as the Brewers' logo, but it's damn fine nonetheless.

3. Baltimore Orioles, primary, 1966-1988
Before I loved the Mets I loved the Orioles.  (1997 was a weird year.)  One of the things I liked the most about this team and its history was the lovable cartoon bird that adorned the uniforms on the 1980s baseball cards I collected.  Let's start with the bird, who's obviously the centerpiece of the whole shebang: he's cute, fun, but he's also a baseball player.  It's hard to describe just how much the bird works here, so I won't even try.  Other things that are good: the colors.  It's very clear that simple = better, as none of the top three teams try to clash their colors or add non-team colors to their logo.  The text is also very large and easy to read, something that's not always a given with these circular, text-wrapped-around logos.  If the Orioles still had this logo during my one season of fandom, perhaps I'd still be rooting for them to this day....

4. Montreal Expos, primary, 1969-1991
Another clever logo, though this one's a bit more... French?  Yes, that's right--the red, white, and blue M spells out eMb, √©quipe de Montreal baseball (or "Montreal baseball team" for you non-Francophones).  This logo loses a few points for its dull color scheme and the odd integration of "expos" below the M, but those are minor quibbles.  This was a great logo, and it's a shame the Expos were forced to flee to the interesting logo-less Washington, DC.

5. Toronto Blue Jays, primary, 1977-1996
O Canada!  What is it with you and great logos?  This logo just looks... great.  My favorite part of it is the font, which is so distinctive in a good way that few other fonts are.  The eponymous blue jay is remarkably detailed, though not distracting.  Somehow, it just adds to the overall atmosphere of the logo.  The red baseball in the background adds a nice touch of color, though I honestly could have done without the maple leaf, as I feel it just gets in the way a little.  Still, though, I love this logo, and I can't get enough of the Joe Carter WS-winning clip in part because of the great uniform he's wearing.

6. San Diego Padres, primary, 1969-1984
This is another logo where I have to plead guilty to a childlike love of the mascot representation and the colors.  The Swinging Friar looks kind of like a cross between Homer Simpson and Fred Flinstone, but that's part of his charm.  I'm still amazed that anybody ever thought it'd be cool to put a monk on a major league sports team's logo.  The script "Padres" on the bat is a nice touch, as is the yellow ring--again, it's all about having your team's colors in a non-obtrusive and meshable way, and this logo does that perfectly.  This logo screams 1970s, but unlike many other uniform- and logo-related creations from that era I actually give this one a big thumbs up.

7. St. Louis Cardinals, primary, 1922-1948
This one really boils down to the bat doubling as a tree branch, which I for one think is pretty neat.  The "Cardinals" script (well, it's not really script, but you know what I mean) is a familiar but distinct typeface, which is always appreciated.  Even though the logo features a lot going on, it still only has three colors--red, yellow, and brown.  That's tough to pull off, and this one does it quite well.  Also, while the birds sort of look like raccoons, it's always nice to see teams put a well-done visual representation of their team name on their logo.  This one may not have that much to it, but I just love it.  Besides, who wouldn't want to be reminded of Stan Musial every time they look at a logo?

What is a giant, anyway?  (The very tall human thing, I guess.  But why?  Anyway...)  This logo sure isn't going to tell us!  No, this logo isn't here because of its visual skill--the team name in front of a baseball, ho hum--but rather because of its elegant color scheme.  The ball is that perfect orangey off-white that is the base of the Giants' home uniforms.  I love that color.  The stitching on the ball is orange, and the black "Giants" is outlined in orange.  This is just a very simple, elegant combination of the Giants' colors, resulting in perhaps the best "basic" logo.

9. Seattle Mariners, primary, 1980-1986
This loses points for not being descriptive in the least, but I still just love something about it.  Maybe it's how the M doubles as a trident?  Yes, that's it.  Also very good is how the M is outlined in the cheesy yellow, spicing up a logo that had great potential to be boring.  Making a star as the background seems unnecessary, but it's not distracting and prevents the logo from looking too barren.  Good job, team.

10. Colorado Rockies, primary, 1993-present
Somebody's taking "purple mountain's majesty" a bit seriously, eh?  This logo suffers from many traditional pitfalls--too many colors, too much going on, a broken up name--but it's in my top ten because of those aforementioned mountains.  I love the way the baseball looks like it's been hit over the mountains, and the light lavender of the letters compliments the purple of the mountains very well.  Also, I'm a big fan of purple, and I think the Rockies' use of it is pretty exceptional.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Top 30 Logos: 20-11

Continuing the three-part series started yesterday, here's the second installment of the thirty best logos, one from each franchise. As I said yesterday, many thanks to Chris Creamer and sportslogos.net.

20. Texas Rangers, primary, 1984-1993
Like about half the logos on this list, the only thing I can think of when I see this is "Nolan Ryan." Anyway, I've always had a soft spot for this logo.  There's something so calmingly retro about it, I just can't explain.  I'm confused as to why the state of Texas is bulging due to a huge baseball in the middle of it (they really couldn't have fit the ball within the state's normal borders?), but there's nothing bad about this.

19. New York Yankees, primary, 1913-1946
Babe Ruth.  Tradition.  Lou Gehrig.  Aura.  Mystique.  Sorry, I got carried away there.  This logo gets props for being "classic" in a way that's actually not bad.  The interlocking NY is admittedly iconic, and they've more or less kept it the same since the early 20th century.  Also, this logo gets points for not being the Yankees' only other logo--the terrible one with the hat.

18. Boston Red Sox, primary, 1976-2008
Ha, the Red Sox beat the Yankees!  Take that, Aaron Boone!  This is another classic-seeming logo (though it's only actually been around since the 1970s, apparently).  I like the socks on the baseball, though I actually prefer it with the team name surrounding it (as opposed to this earlier model).  Honestly, this logo's kind of boring, in that there's nothing particularly exciting about it, but I can't find any flaws with it.  Solid job.

17. Minnesota Twins, primary, 1976-1986
There are a number of variations on the Minnie & Paul theme, but I like this one the best.  The "Win! Twins!" theme is hokey in a very cute way, and the whole concept is just a lot of fun.  That said, it's way too busy to be a really effective logo.  It strikes me more as a cartoon that the Minneapolis Star Tribune would have run in the 1960s.  This is probably ranked too high (as in, closer to #1), but I'm just a huge fan of the friendly twin city embodiments.

16. Houston Astros, primary, 1975-1993
Whoever thought to put the Astrodome on this team's logo was either an idiot or a genius.  Honestly, though, it works pretty well.  I don't like how it distracts from the team (they should be the focus, not their stadium), but the Astrodome was such a key part of the Astros' identity that it makes some sense.  The atom symbol doesn't though.  Just because a team is related to space doesn't mean that they get to envelop everything science related.  This logo is so dated that you can't help but love it.

15. Chicago Cubs, primary, 1979-present
At first I chose this logo for the Cubbies, and then realized I was making a huge mistake.  Similar to the Sox logo above, this one seems so familiar that you don't realize it didn't exist in its present form until 1979.  That being said, I just love it.  Again similar to the Sox logo, there's nothing particularly great about it, hence why I can't rank it higher, but I like it a lot nonetheless.

14. Philadelphia Phillies, primary, 1992-present
There's a lot going on in this logo.  Unlike with some other logos, however, that's not that much of a problem, as it all goes together pretty well.  We have a baseball diamond, a liberty bell, and the team name with stars dotting the "i"s, but I don't have any big problems with it.  The red, white, and blue is a bit conventional--but what did you expect from a team with a liberty bell on its logo?--and they don't always go well together.  In fact, there's so much of each of these colors that it can get a bit distracting.  Still, this is a classy logo.

13. Detroit Tigers, primary, 1961-1993
This (cocaine using?) tiger isn't the fiercest--though it's better than this--but it's a good logo nonetheless.  It gets to the point: here is our name, here are our colors, here is a visual representation of our team name.  They lose a little bit, but not that much, due to the sloppiness of the tiger.

12. Pittsburgh Pirates, primary, 1968-1986
I really like this.  Rather than make the pirate seem too fierce, as this team's been known to do, they have a simple drawing of a guy on what looks like a wanted poster.  The team name is a little bit on the small side, and the drawing is perhaps too complex--ideally, you'll want your logo to be easily drawable by kids--but I can overlook that.  I love how the "paper" is tearing around the edges, as well as the nails in the corners.  Good stuff.  (Side-note: does anybody else think the pirate looks like Jim Palmer?)

11. Los Angeles Dodgers, primary, 1958-present
Speaking of classic, the Dodgers haven't changed their logo since they moved out west.  It's easy to see why. The great Dodgers script is the best script logo in the game, and the shooting ball adds a bit of color (red) to the logo without overpowering the traditional blue in any way.  The logo is lively enough without being distracting in any way.  True, it's a bit boring like all "classic" logos are, but this one does it better than almost any of the others.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Top 30 Logos: 30-21

What I did here is took the best logo from each franchise's history (yes, Montreal counts for Washington) and ranked them.  Not much to it, really.
  • Note 1: First and foremost, thanks so much to Chris Creamer's sportslogos.net.  This is one of the best and most fascinating sports websites, and if you've never visited it... you should.  Right now.
  • Note 2: There's no real methodology to these.  If I thought the logo was boring, I ranked it low.  If I was particularly taken with it for any reason, I ranked it high.  Cheesy cartoons from the 1970s?  High.  Native Americans?  Low.  "Clever" logos?  High.  Logos that don't really do anything other than say the team's name?  Low.


30. Tampa Bay Rays, primary, 2008-present
Is there anything more boring than this logo?  The two things that are good about this one are the light blue shadow around the diamond and the ray of light in the middle of the "R".  That's still not anything that can rescue this from the bottom of these rankings, however.  The dark blue is very standard, and the lettering is nothing special (is the bottom of the "R" supposed to be like a tail? it's too subtle to be commended, if so).  A very weak effort for a team with such great color/logo potential, though they still have time.

29/28. Cleveland Indians, primary, 1980-present / Atlanta Braves, primary, 1972-1986
I... hrrm.  Okay, so I've never had a huge problem with the Native American logos.  They always seemed more playful than offensive, though that may be because I grew up in the sanitized, post-Chief Knockahoma era.  Anyway, the point is that these are clearly offensive on some level, and that shouldn't be tolerated.  I give the edge to the Braves' logo, if only because it has such close associations to Hank Aaron, but really.  Even if these weren't offensive, they'd still be very boring, and that's quite the logo sin.

27. Chicago White Sox, alternate, 1976-1990
There's really nothing to this logo.  The picture is weird, I suppose, but how is it unique to the White Sox?  (Answer: it isn't.)  This is just a dull logo for what was, by all accounts, a dull team.

26. Arizona Diamondbacks, primary, 1998-2006
I have fond memories of this logo based on the 2001 World Series, but it's clearly problematic.  I give a huge thumbs up to the color scheme, but the gold on purple is very tough to read.  Also, it's just an A.  There's nothing special about it, save for the line running along the left side.  Meh.

25. Kansas City Royals, primary, 2002-present
This is a typical "nice try, but still boring" logo.  On the one hand, the crown over the logo is both obvious and nice.  On the other hand, there's nothing interesting about this.  The "KC" and "Royals" aren't well integrated--they're even in a different typeface, I believe.  I'm not sure how this one can be improved.  Their alternate that eliminates the "Royals" part isn't bad, but at that level it's a bit barebones.  Who knows, I'm not a graphic designer.

24. Oakland Athletics, primary, 1968-1982
On the one hand, I love the colors and the hokiness of this.  On the other hand, it's a bit on the busy side, no?  I mean, why does it say  "The Swingin' A's" but then have a picture of cleats?  For that matter, why have the cleats at all?  I chose this to represent this franchise because I love the green on yellow, but there's just too much going on.

23. Cincinnati Reds, primary, 1972-1992
Who is that man?  Is it Mr. Redlegs?  No, he has a fun moustache.  Is it Mr. Met?  No, that can't be.  No, it's, umm... Mr. Red.  According to Wikipedia, he existed in sleeve patch form in the 1950s, only to then disappear until this logo.  Anyway, much as I love fun cartoons his appearance here is a bit random.  He's not an iconic mascot (heck, he's not even the most well-known mascot on his own team), and just distracts from everything else.  That said, all of the other Reds logos are pretty boring, and this one reminds me of the Big Red Machine.  I do like how this is their only logo to actually spell out Cincinnati though.

22. California Angels, primary, 1986-1992
Again, I like it, but... meh.  There's not that much to like, ya know?  The California in the background is nice, but makes this logo a bit busy.  Three layers might be one too many.  That said, it's a fairly simple logo, and I've always been a fan of the the "A" with the halo.

21. Florida Marlins, primary, 1993-2011
I admire the Marlins' inclusion of an actual Marlin on their logo, though I still have quite a few problems with this.  The lettering is way too small, and is barely able to be seen over the background (teal on light blue creates problems).  Also, the aforementioned marlin is just too big; you can have a fun drawing on your logo, but it shouldn't dwarf and distract from your team name.  The color scheme is too receded, though I just noticed how the baseball is lined with orange.  Anyway, this is a good logo in theory, but I think the execution is just a little bit flawed.  Hopefully they can flesh it out for the team's rebranding next year.  This alternate isn't so bad, though I didn't count it because I've never actually seen it in use (and it also looks a bit amateurish).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Top 10 Shortstops

Boy have I been away for a while.  Let's see what I missed... the Pirates are in first?  Jose Bautista has 80 (or so...) home runs?  Oh my!  Anyway, I'm not going to make any promises that I can't keep, such as posting every day, but I'll try to post as I see fit.  I love baseball, and this season's been great, but sometimes you just don't feel like taking a few hours to write an article, you know?

Now, however, is not one of those times.  Another thing that's happened this season is that Derek Jeter got his 3000th hit.  Even though I hate the Yankees, and am not a big fan of Jeter's, I can appreciate what #2 has done.  What I don't appreciate is how many Yankee fans and sportswriters constantly overrate Jeter, in the pantheons of both all-time Yankees and shortstops.  Over at SB Nation, Rob Neyer has Jeter at fifth- and third-greatest, respectively.  Today, let's examine just where Derek Jeter fits into the top shortstops of all-time.

  • Note 1: What is a shortstop?  Somebody who has played at least 60% of their games at the position.  For instance, Alex Rodriguez does not count, while Cal Ripken does.
  • Note 2: The team abbreviation in parentheses is the team I feel that player did his best work with.
  • Note 3: As always, thanks to Baseball-Reference.com

    1. Honus Wagner, 1897-17 (PIT): .328 AVG/154 OPS+/134.5 WAR
    Was there any doubt?  Wagner was, by all accounts, an incredible ballplayer.  While media portrayals can often be overwrought and whatnot, the stats don't lie.  In an era known for awesome pitching, Wagner was putting up amazing offensive seasons year after year.  1908, in which he led the league in hits, doubles, triples, RBIs, stolen bases, average, OPS, and WAR, was particularly amazing, though other seasons around then were almost as good.  He was also a great fielder, registering a career fielding value of 85.  This is a bit of a short entry, but that's how clear-cut this is.  Wagner was one of the greatest ballplayers, let alone shortstops, of all-time, and is the clear #1 choice for this list.

    2. Cal Ripken, 1981-2001 (BAL): 431 HR/3184 H/89.9 WAR
    While Wagner is notable for dominating the dead-ball era, Ripken is notable for breathing offensive life into a position that was now known for a lack of hitting.  In plainer language: Ripken was the first, and best, of the modern, hitting-heavy shortstops.  Cal never overpowered--he only hit more than thirty home runs once in a season, and got more than 200 hits twice--but was a very steady, solid presence on the left side of the Orioles' infield for twenty years (he moved to 3B in 1997, but his total career stats appear on this list).  His 1078 career extra base hits (he's also the career SS leader in doubles, in addition to home runs) is way above any other shortstops.  He received two MVP awards and Rookie of the Year, which I'm usually dubious of using to assess anything, but Cal actually seems to have earned his awards, leading the AL in WAR during 1983 and 1991.  If Cal's offensive numbers don't overwhelm (and indeed, they don't, but one must admit that they're quite extraordinary), his fielding numbers will surely win you over.  He's primarily known for his hitting, but is third all-time among shortstops in career fielding value (181).  His body wore down over the course of his career, but at age 34 he was still saving over twenty runs per season.  Any way you look at it, Cal Ripken was one of the greatest players of his era, and well deserving of a top spot on this list.

    3. Derek Jeter, 1995-Present (NYY): 3010 H/.312 AVG/70.1 WAR
    Well well well.  It looks like I have to agree with Mr. Neyer: Derek Jeter is the third-best shortstop of all-time.  For his whole career--well, up until last year--Jeter was a great leadoff hitter, OBP'ing over .370 for twelve of his sixteen seasons.  He's gotten over 200 hits five times, and a WAR over 5.0 six times--a figure that would be higher were it not for Jeter's atrocious defense.  Yes, we have to get something out of the way: despite his flashy and famous plays, Derek Jeter has never been a good fielder.  His highest single-season fielding value is 5.  His career number is -134.  That's nothing short of terrible.  Yet despite his weakness at a very important defensive position, his hitting is too strong to ignore.  Jeter's often derided by non-Yankee fans and -sportswriters for being overrated, but it's easy to argue that he deserves two MVP awards--two more than he has to his name.  (Yes, it's fairly surprising that the sportswriters haven't bestowed the MVP honor on their favorite player of this generation.)  You don't have to make me like the man or his team, but I accept that he is one of the best players at his position of all-time.

    4. Arky Vaughan, 1932-48 (PIT): .318 AVG/.406 OPS/75.6 WAR
    Here's where it gets a bit murkier.  Arky Vaughan, who would rank first on this list if we were sorting by best name, was only a full-time player for twelve years.  He ranks tenth among shortstops in all-time runs created, twenty-third for hits, and fifteenth for RBIs.  Those stats, however, are accumulative, and I don't want to punish Vaughan too much for his World War II-interrupted career.  Consider this: Vaughan has a lifetime OBP of .406.  That's twenty-sixth all-time among all players, and well in first place among shortstops.  His OPS+ of 136 and AVG of .318 are second only to Wagner on the list of shortstop statistics.  Additionally, Vaughan ranks third all-time among shortstops for WAR, despite having played in many fewer games than the players below him on that list.  If you take Vaughan's statistics, and stretch them out over a career as long as Ripken's, he'd be first on this list. It is, of course, not fair to do that, but it gives you a good idea of just how good Arky Vaughan was.  This is a difficult call to make, but I'm pretty confident in it: Arky Vaughan is the fourth-best shortstop of all-time.

    5. Luke Appling, 1930-50 (CHW): 2749 H/.399 OBP/69.3 WAR
    On one hand, Appling is fourth among shortstops in all all-time runs created, fifth in WAR, and fifth in hits.  On the other hand, he had the great fortune to play during the notoriously weak-pitching World War II years, a fact which contributes to his lackluster OPS+ of 113.  However, he only played two full seasons out of those four, one of which was pretty sub-par, the other of which was quite excellent, so it's difficult to say just how much of an effect this had on his career numbers.  As mentioned above, he holds lofty positions on the leaderboard of many key statistics, though his WAR is virtually tied (within 3 points) with that of four other players.  His .399 career OPS is second on this list to Vaughan's, though I'm still having a tough time getting past that low OPS+.  True, Ripken's is 112, but he played in an arguably much stronger hitting era.  Appling only hit 45 home runs for his career, though it takes some considerable skill to amass 2749 hits.  If I sound conflicted about all of this... it's because I am.  Ah well.  On to the next entry.

    6. Joe Cronin, 1926-45 (BOS): 1370 RC/.857 OPS/62.5 WAR
    While Cronin is primarily remembered as a manager, he was also quite a shortstop.  His 119 OPS+ and 1370 runs created are sixth all-time among shortstops, and his .301 average is eighth.  Nothing in his career overwhelms, but he was a pretty good presence in the Washington and Boston lineups for thirteen seasons.  While he wasn't a big home run hitter, he was prodigious at getting extra base hits: his 515 doubles is second-all time (among shortstops), while his 118 triples is fourth.  All told, he has 803 extra base hits to his name, good for second (only behind Cal Ripken's amazing 1078).  That .390 OBP is pretty impressive too, helped by 1059 career walks.  Cronin's name doesn't often get bandied about as an elite shortstop, but it's clear from his numbers that it should be.

    7. Lou Boudreau, 1938-52 (CLE): 120 OPS+/118 FV/56.0 WAR
    Boudreau is another player primarily know for his managing, though deserves many an accolade for his hitting as well (to be fair, he's in the Hall of Fame as a player).  His 118 fielding value is pretty spectacular, as is his career 120 OPS+.  He underwhelms in some of the accumulated statistics, but that's due to the fact that he played his last full season in 1949, at the age of 31, due to a combination of arthritis, having to focus on full-time managerial duties, and just a general decline of performance.  In 1948, however, Boudreau won the AL MVP with an AVG of .355, and OPS+ of 165, 18 home runs, 106 RBIs, and a WAR of 10.5, the sixth best shortstop season in history.  Boudreau stopped being an elite baseball player way too quickly, and one wonders just how good he would have been had he been a full-time player until he was even 35.  In any case, a 56 WAR after the equivalent of 11.5 full seasons is very impressive--even though he didn't play out his full potential, the stats he did display were still very good, and he's well deserving of a spot here.

    8. Barry Larkin, 1986-2004 (CIN): 198 HR/1381 RC/68.9 WAR
    Hey look, we've already talked about him on this site!  He remains just as worthy of Hall of Fame entry today as he was six months ago, but that's not today's topic.  It's still very clear that Larkin was an elite shortstop, especially given the names he's above on this list.  He had seven seasons of a 5+ WAR, though he never actually led the league in any statistics of any importance.  What gives him this place on the list is, similar to Ripken, his superlative hitting numbers at an otherwise weak-hitting position (though not for long, as Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and the like were just breaking into the league).  He's a bit worse than Ripken offensively, and is much worse at fielding (his 28 career FV is very meh), but we can't all be Cal Ripken.  While Larkin might have to wait another year or two for his much-deserved Hall call, he'll have to content himself for now with knowing that I think he's the seventh-best shortstop of all-time.

    9. Alan Trammell, 1977-96 (DET): 2365 H/75 FV/66.9 WAR
    It's another guy who should be in the Hall of Fame!  Unlike Larkin, however, Trammell will probably never get his Hall call.  It's a great shame.  He wasn't an awesome hitter, but his 1255 runs created is eighth all-time and his 185 home runs is tenth.  His WAR--seventh--reflects how good of an all-around player he was.  In addition being a pretty solid, if not spectacular, hitter, Trammell was a great fielder.  His fielding value of 75 is thirteenth all-time, but it's fourth if you only consider actually good/great shortstops (sorry, Jack Wilson).  Trammell was one of the league's great shortstops for twenty years, and despite being relatively light on hitting his statistics still stack up relatively well against the competition.

    10. Ozzie Smith, 1978-96 (STL): 239 FV/2460 H/64.6 WAR
    First things first: I'm certainly not trying to argue that Smith deserves a spot on this list due to his hitting.  His .666 career OPS is pretty pathetic (reflected by his 87 OPS+), and his oWAR is just 43--far lower than anybody else on this list.  He does have 2460 hits, but that's mostly due to longevity.  Let's stop kidding ourselves, though: Ozzie Smith is one of the best fielders all-time.  Some might try to argue that he's overrated based on how much the media loved him, but that's a very tough case to make.  He's only one point in fielding value behind the all-time leader at shortstop, and is fourth all-time (NB: this statistic is only complete through the 1950s, so this is sort of misleading).  Ozzie saved 21 wins due to his fielding; that's only one per season, but still very impressive nonetheless.  

    Runners-up: Luis Aparicio, 1956-73 (CHW); Joe Sewell, 1920-33 (CLE); Miguel Tejada, 1997-present (OAK)

    Thursday, March 31, 2011

    2011 Predictions: Playoffs and Awards

    Offered without commentary:

    Playoffs (copying ESPN's format):
    American League        National League
    East: Boston           East: Philadelphia
    Central: Chicago       Central: Milwaukee
    West: Oakland          West: San Francisco
    Wild Card: New York    Wild Card: Colorado
    Champion: Boston       Champion: Colorado

    World Series: Boston over Colorado

    Awards:
    AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, BOS
    AL Cy Young: Jon Lester, BOS
    AL Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Hellickson, TB
    AL Manager of the Year: Bob Geren, OAK

    NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki, COL
    NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, PHI
    NL Rookie of the Year: Brandon Belt, SF
    NL Manager of the Year: Ron Roenicke, MIL

    Wednesday, March 30, 2011

    2011 Predictions: NL West

    Up tomorrow: postseason, awards, and opening day!

    1. San Francisco Giants
    Last year’s World Series champions are still very good, and will make a serious run at repeating.  Led by Buster Posey, the team’s offense is a bit lacking, but still good enough to compete.  Pablo Sandoval had a bad year in 2010, but should rebound this season.  Aubrey Huff was a nice surprise last year, and although he won’t replicate his 138 OPS+ he should still put up very good numbers.  I’m a bit wary of Andres Torres in the leadoff spot, but I guess they have no real choice.  This team is built to slug.  The pitching, though, is very clearly this team’s proudest and strongest spot.  The ZiPS projections have all five members of the rotation putting in better-than-average seasons, something about which the Giants have to be positively giddy.  Tim Lincecum is one of the best pitchers in the league, Matt Cain would be an ace on almost any other team, Jonathan Sanchez is wild but has great stuff, Madison Bumgarner is only 21 and very good (though beware his arm wearing down), and Barry Zito has shown that he’s perfectly fine for the back of the rotation.
    Bottom line: A return trip to the October Classic is not out of the question for this team.

    2. Colorado Rockies
    If there’s one thing that could get in between San Francisco and another title it’s this team.  The Rockies have a great offense, built around the newly-extended Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.  The multi-year, multi-million dollar deals that these two players received this past offseason won’t look foolish if these two can avoid the DL and hit like they did last year.  Even if they tail off a bit, as can be expected, the spare parts of this team are plenty decent.  Seth Smith regressed last year after a very good 2009, but even if he puts up numbers in between those two seasons—.270/.350/.480, say—he’ll be a good complement to Tulo and CarGo.  Nobody else in the lineup stands out, but they’re all decent enough.  The pitching has a lot of potential as well, as Ubaldo Jimenez looks to return to his pre-All-Star Game form.  Everything else kind of rests on that.  Jorge de la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin are very good, but this team would still be a lot better if Aaron Cook were not injured.  If Jimenez, de la Rosa, and Chacin are lights out through early May, when Cook figures to return, the Rockies could make a quite serious October push.
    Bottom line: It will be a very close division race, and an even closer Wild Card race.

    3. Los Angeles Dodgers
    The Dodgers are good, but clearly not as good as the two teams ahead of them in this division.  Still, they could surprise.  Andre Ethier has established himself as one of the premier outfielders in the game, though he needs his slugging partner Matt Kemp to have a good year.  Without those two at the top of their game, this offense won’t be able to compete with the Giants and the Rockies.  The pitching, meanwhile, is plenty decent.  Clayton Kershaw has very quietly put up two consecutive excellent seasons in a row.  Chad Billingsley is also very good, and these two make a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.  The rest of it is pretty good as well, with the ever-reliable Ted Lilly very capably playing the part of #3 starter.
    Bottom line: This Dodgers are not quite as good as the Giants or the Rockies, but could make a run for the playoffs if those teams slump and peripheral players like James Loney and Hiroki Kuroda have good years.

    4. San Diego Padres
    It’s kind of difficult to understand just how important Adrian Gonzalez was to the Padres, but it won’t be in a few months when you realize just how few runs they are scoring.  Ryan Ludwick is good, but he can’t carry this team.  It’ll be up to players like Brad Hawpe and Chase Headley (among others) to all cobble together above average seasons.  If not, this team just won’t score enough runs to be competitive.  The pitching will be fine, but it’s shaky to rely on Mat Latos and Clayton Richard to carry the rotation.  If both of them, plus Tim Stauffer, turn in solid seasons, this team might be fine.  But I don’t expect that to happen, and neither should you.
    Bottom line: Without a top slugger or ace, this team can consider itself in rebuilding mode.

    5. Arizona Diamondbacks
    This team actually might be decent.  I was very down on them a few weeks ago, but made a re-appraisal and realized that they can actually hit and pitch.  They almost certainly won’t contend this year, but they could pull off 70-75 wins.  Justin Upton is still very young and should rebound from his disappointing 2010 (though it was still good enough).  Kelly Johnson and Stephen Drew form a pretty good middle infield combination.  If Chris Young can play to his potential, the Diamondbacks should be pretty set in the hitting department this year.  The pitching, however, is a bit lacking, though Daniel Hudson flashed his potential with a 7-1 record and a 1.85 ERA over the course of eleven starts at the end of last season.  I don’t think he’ll be remotely that good this year, but should be able to get 13 wins with an ERA south of 3.70.  Ian Kennedy also shows promise, and could match Hudson’s predicted numbers.  Besides them the situation is pretty dire, but there’s a glimmer of hope—if not this year, then for 2012 or 2013.
    Bottom line: The Diamondbacks, in typical fashion, have a number of promising young players who probably won’t play to their potential.  Even if they do, the Diamondbacks can’t contend in the NL West.

    Tuesday, March 29, 2011

    2011 Predictions: NL Central

    1. Milwaukee Brewers
    Last year the Brewers were a disappointment, stumbling to a 77-85 record.  This past offseason they majorly shored up their pitching, bringing in Zack Greinke (once he recovers from his injury) and Shaun Marcum.  Those two will combine with Yovani Gallardo to create the NL’s third best rotation.  While all should go to plan there, the offense remains basically unchanged from last year.  Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are two of the best players in the league at their respective positions, but the supporting cast is very weak.  Corey Hart is hurt, and his return timetable is unclear.  Nobody else is very good (you know you’re in trouble when you’re counting on Rickie Weeks) so the pressure will be on the big guys to carry all the weight.
    Bottom line: The Brewers should be able to take advantage of a weak division, but they could easily be overtaken.

    2. Cincinnati Reds
    The Reds can certainly hit and pitch, but they don’t overwhelm in either category.  They’re solid enough in both to be serious contenders, but they don’t have any dominant players outside of reigning NL MVP Joey VottoScott Rolen and Jay Bruce round out the heart of the team’s lineup, however the team is lacking in peripheral players that can elevate them to an elite team.  (Look for them to be pushing the Mets pretty hard for Jose Reyes in July.)  The pitching is also pretty good, but there’s no Joey Votto to provide that solid core.  If Travis Wood can build on his strong half-season in 2010 he will combine with Johnny Cueto to make a decent 1-2 punch.  Beyond that, however, I am skeptical.
    Bottom line: The Reds are very good, but are lacking the makeup of a traditionally great team that might prevent them from reaching the playoffs.

    3. St. Louis Cardinals
    Any team with Albert Pujols automatically has a more than adequate offense.  Luckily for the 2011 Cardinals, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman will be very good complements to Sir Albert.  The other parts are a bit weak (save for Colby Rasmus, assuming he isn’t excommunicated) but they aren’t bad enough to negate the power in the middle of the lineup.  The pitching, however, is not strong.  Without Adam Wainwright, pressure is on Chris Carpenter to carry this rotation.  Jaime Garcia can’t be counted on to replicate his 2010 success, and the other three pitchers have limited upside.
    Bottom line: The Cardinals shouldn’t be good enough to contend, though you never know in this division.

    4. Chicago Cubs
    The good news here is that Carlos Pena can’t be any worse than he was last year.  The bad news is that that doesn’t mean that he, or any of the other Cubs hitters, will be any good.  This is a very old team whose sources of power dried up years ago.  There is some promise in shortstop Starlin Castro, but he needs a supporting cast in order for this team to succeed.  The pitching is up in the air, in that it will either be average or bad.  Ryan Dempster should be fine, but he’s the only one in whom I have a modicum of confidence.  Adding Matt Garza was nice, I guess, but he’s certainly not ace material.  Carlos Zambrano is… well, who knows?  And Randy Wells is a #3 starter at best, and is certainly not the solution to this team’s pitching woes.
    Bottom line: How annoyed do you think Jim Hendry will be if the Yankees’ Mark Prior reclamation project is a success?  Also, this team probably can’t contend until at least 2013 due to a lack of good prospects and a preponderance of overpaid veterans.

    5. Houston Astros
    And now we’re in the dregs of not just the NL Central, but of all the MLB.  The Astros are god-awful, saved only by the Pirates being even worse.  Hunter Pence is the only player who can hit (maybe Carlos Lee).  Seriously, this is a lineup that took a bit hit when Clint Barmes went on the DL.  Aside from Pence and Lee there is absolutely nobody who can even marginally above average.  Michael Bourn as the leadoff hitter has to be a joke, right?  J.R. Towles—he of the 0.1 career WAR—is a nice one too.  Okay, fine, I’ll stop insulting the Astros’ hitters and move on to insulting their pitchers.  Wandy Rodriguez is fairly good, and should battle it out with Pence to be the team’s lone All-Star representative.  Brett Myers is serviceable, and that’s basically where this team’s pitching depth ends.  They have three #5 starters comprising the rest of the rotation, and barely have anybody to step in if any of them go down (oh, sorry, they have Gustavo Chacin; the Astros’ season is saved!).
    Bottom line: It’s sad to see this once-great organization in such dire straits, but they should be able to get back on track within a few years.  Maybe even by the end of the decade?

    6. Pittsburgh Pirates
    Unlike the Astros, the Pirates have some hope for the near future.  Let’s start with the core of that hope: Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.  These two players will be the heart of the Pirates for years to come, and should put up some nice stats this year.  The rest of the team is basically on hold until prospects arrive (Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie haven’t even played in the minor leagues yet, so this could take a while…).  Speaking of pitchers, let’s look at this team’s rotation!  Oh god, turn away!  It’s not safe!  Paul Maholm is the ace?  They’re counting on James McDonald and Ross Ohlendorf?   Kevin Correia is a key cog in the rotation?  Oy vey.
    Bottom line: Wait ‘til 2013 at the earliest, Pirates fans.

    Monday, March 28, 2011

    2011 Predictions: NL East

    1. Philadelphia Phillies
    Maybe it’s the optimistic Mets fan in me, but I believe that it’s entirely possible that this team could disappoint.  Chase Utley?  Injured.  Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino?  On the decline.  The other non-Ryan Howard parts of the lineup?  Severely underwhelming.  If everything goes wrong—not even horribly wrong, but just not as well as the Phillies would like—the Phillies’ once-great lineup becomes very mortal.  Yes, their pitching will almost certainly negate whatever their lineup manages, but even great pitchers have off years.  What if Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt (for example) don’t perform as well as the Phillies would like?  All of a sudden we could be looking at a wide open NL East.
    Bottom line: There’s a 95% chance that the Phillies will mop the floor with the NL East on their way to a World Series appearance.  But what if…?

    2. Atlanta Braves
    While the Phillies’ offense has great potential, but a lot of room within which to fail, the Braves’ lineup is just plain great.  Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, and Jason Heyward provide a solid foundation, while all the peripheral parts have high performance ceilings (especially touted prospect Freddie Freeman and Nate McLouth, who’s looking to rebound from an atrocious 2010).  The pitching, however, is in a bit sorrier shape, with far too much reliance placed on veteran Tim Hudson and novice Tommy Hanson.  Even if these two replicate (or at least, produce something close to) their 2010 seasons, that doesn't make up for the lack of depth in the rest of the rotation.
    Bottom line: The Braves can and should be good, but will find it difficult to compete for even the Wild Card if one of their pitchers doesn’t step up as a true ace.

    3. New York Mets
    (Author’s note: I am a diehard Mets fan.) Why all the negativity?  Due to the disappointment of the last few years it’s trendy to say that “the Mets suck,” or some variant on that theme, but this team decidedly does not suck.  The offense is packed with potential, from the great David Wright, to the rebounding Jason Bay, to the very underrated Angel Pagan, to sophomore slugger Ike Davis (not to mention Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, who are looking to recapture the magic of years gone by).  The pitching is, obviously, filled with uncertainty.  With Johan Santana out until at least the All-Star Break, Mike Pelfrey is playing the ill-fitting role of ace.  Despite no true great pitcher on the staff, Chris Young and Chris Capuano were excellent pickups by GM Sandy Alderson.  Look for one or both of them to get injured, but not before giving the Mets solid pitching.  And if they manage to miraculously survive the season without getting hurt?  This team could be in the thick of the Wild Card hunt.
    Bottom line: With low expectations, this team should surprise everybody and contend well into August, if not beyond.

    4. Florida Marlins
    While the Marlins have a good deal of promise, I can never find it in my heart to pick them.  Consider: while Hanley Ramirez will be great as usual, the rest of their offense relies heavily on young players who haven’t consistently produced (or even had the chance to do so) at a Major League level before.  Their pitching should be solid, assuming Javier Vazquez can revert to his pre-2010 form, and the non-Josh Johnson starters can build on strong 2010s.  While I think that all can happen, I’m not that bullish on it being good enough to overcome their offensive failings.
    Bottom line: This team will probably be able to go .500, though if their offensive clicks more than I think it will they could claw their way to second place.  It’s a strong division….

    5. Washington Nationals
    Let’s start with the good: Jayson Werth is an adequate (though obviously overpaid) replacement, and then some, for Adam Dunn’s bat.  Ryan Zimmerman is still one of the best third basemen in the game.  Rick Ankiel and Mike Morse, if productive, can take the lineup from adequate to good.  And… that’s it.  Their offense will be fine, but it’s the pitching that should give Nats fans major cause for concern.  I’m excited to see what Jordan Zimmerman can give over a full season, but let’s be honest here: this is a rotation that is almost wholly comprised of back of the rotation starters.  The upside for this bunch is very limited, with Livan Hernandez as the only real hope for non-mediocrity (fine, maybe Jason Marquis, but I am unconvinced).
    Bottom line: Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg playing together in 2012 will be awesome.

    Sunday, March 27, 2011

    2011 Predictions: AL West

    1. Oakland Athletics
    Perhaps the most improved team from last year to this one, the A’s have scary good potential.  They completely overhauled their offense, bringing in Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham, and David DeJesus to give them some serious punch.  Last year’s parts are all fine and dandy, but it’s this trio of players that will give the A’s the offense they need to be a real player in the hunt for October.  Their pitching, in true A’s fashion, is comprised of players who are young, unknown, and—most importantly—dominant.  Trevor Cahill, the team’s opening day starter, is looking to build on his amazing 2010 (18-8, 2.97 ERA).  The other pitchers are no slouches either, but none of them are as solid as any of the keys from the A’s rotations of yore.  If they—bolstered by a fantastic bullpen—can keep it together (and there’s no reason to think that they can’t) the A’s are a good bet to take the NL West.
    Bottom line: Their foundation is a bit shaky, but this team can capitalize on an unusually weak division to take a playoff spot.

    2. Texas Rangers
    I am very much unconvinced of the Rangers’ ability to repeat their 2010 successes.  Their terrible offseason—losing Cliff Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, and making up for that by overpaying Adrian Beltre—did them no favors.  Seriously, their pitching is terrible for a supposedly good team.  C.J. Wilson as the ace?  If Brandon Webb could get it together they’d be all right, but his recent injury takes away any claims of pitching depth they might have been able to make.  Their offense, meanwhile, is more or less unchanged from last year, except they have to rely on Adrian Beltre (he of three good seasons out of thirteen) for power.  Fine, yes, there’s Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, and Nelson Cruz—don’t get me wrong, this team can flat-out hit—but it’s not enough to elevate them above their mediocre pitching.  We are not impressed.
    Bottom line: Pray that Jon Daniels makes a deadline deal for a pitcher.  Otherwise, it’s going to be hard for the Rangers to contend in strong AL West and Wild Card races.

    3. Los Angeles Angels
    Led by speedster Carl Crawford and ace pitcher Cliff Lee, the Angels are a sure bet to be thick in the playoff hunt.  Led by the old and overpaid Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter, the Angels are a sure bet to spend 2011 thinking “where did we go wrong?”  Their lineup, missing the improvements it needed for this season, is massively underwhelming, and way too reliant upon players who haven’t been good in a few years.  Fine, I’ll admit that Dan Haren and Jered Weaver lead a pretty good starting rotation, but it isn’t a stretch to suggest that Joel Pineiro and Ervin Santana will regress next season.  Frankly, this team just isn’t built as solidly as Angels teams of years past.
    Bottom line: Instead of yet another trip to October, I expect the Angels to hobble to .500, saddled down with expensive players they can’t trade after the season.

    4. Seattle Mariners
    The Jack Z rebuilding process continues!  After being pegged to contend last year, the Mariners rocketed to a 61-101 record.  Oops.  While they wait for Dustin Ackley to work his way through the minor leagues, a journey that might even end at some point in 2011, the Mariners will probably have to content themselves with another bad season.  Their offense continues to be very bad, and there’s nobody besides Ichiro Suzuki who can hit (although I do expect Chone Figgins to be good again).  The pitching begins and ends with Felix Hernandez, though it should be fun to watch top prospect Michael Pineda.
    Bottom line: They certainly won’t contend this year, though having Ackley and Pineda in the majors together would create some good baseball.