2011 AL East Busts: part 1 of 2

Let’s start this with a disclaimer. Last week I took PECOTA for a spin and picked out five AL East offensive threats projected to outperform their 2010 wOBAs in 2011. I’ve done the same thing this week, just with players projected to underperform their 2010 wOBAs. This doesn’t exactly make them busts, and so the title of this piece is slightly misleading. I simply can’t think of the antonym of sleeper. I suppose “2011 AL East Players Projected to Underperform their 2010 wOBAs” would be far more accurate, but that’s a tad wordy for my liking. Today we’re examining the Orioles and the Red Sox, and tomorrow will be the Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays.

Baltimore Orioles: Luke Scott

2010 wOBA of .387. 2011 projected wOBA of .359

Better mechanics than Brackman though amirite? (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

For many Luke Scott came out of nowhere in 2010 when he posted a batting line of .284/.368/.535 with a .387 wOBA in 517 plate appearances. The burly first baseman has always shown the ability to hit for power, both in the minors and the majors, but this was the first time he was able to put it all together for an entire season since he was traded from Houston to Baltimore after the 2007 season. While Scott did hit for a lot of power in 2010, he also showed improvement in his batting average and on-base percentage. Both increased exactly 28 points from 2010. However, this likely attributable to an increased in batted ball fortune, given that his BABIP went up 21 points. Indeed, his approach at the plate in 2010 appeared remarkably similar to what he did in 2009. His walk rate increased only a half a percent, and he dropped his strikeout rate only 1.3%.

Even though Baltimore’s lineup looks to be slightly better in 2011, even though one could make the case that they’re doing themselves no long-term favor by signing Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee when they can’t reasonably expect to contend this year, PECOTA sees a fair amount of regression in store for Luke Scott this year. It predicts a batting line of .262/.345/.474 with a .359 wOBA, a decrease of .028 in wOBA. It also sees his BABIP falling back down to .290, despite a career BABIP of .300 and a .304 mark in 2011. All told, PECOTA’s projection for 2011 sees Scott showing less power than he did in 2010 or 2009 and showing roughly similar abilities to hit for average and get on base.

Scott gave back some of his fWAR value at the plate last year by spending some time at 1B (all the warnings about fielding metrics and small samples apply), but this year he’ll spend time in left field as Lee takes over at 1B and Guerrero at DH. Scott generally grades out as a decent defender in left, so he still ought have moderately good overall value for the Orioles in 2011. PECOTA just doesn’t like his chances of having as much offensive thump as last year.

Boston Red Sox: Jed Lowrie

2010 wOBA of .393. 2011 projected wOBA of .331

That's a pretty good worm, Jed (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Last week I picked Jacoby Ellsbury as a sleeper, but noted that his inclusion on the list was more a function of an incredibly low 2010 baseline, one created largely by injuries rather than a dip in skill. As a result, while Ellsbury was projected to see a drastic improvement over his 2010 line in 2011 it didn’t mean that his projection was at all robust. Jed Lowrie is the exact flipside of the coin. In 2011 he’s projected to post a far lower wOBA than he did in 2010, but this tells you more about his insane 2010 performance than it does about his 2011 projection. He still represents a good middle infield option for the Red Sox.

A year removed from wrist injury, Lowrie had less than a half season of plate appearances (197) with Boston in 2010, but really went out of his way to make them count. After a relatively normal July Lowrie went on a tear for the rest of the season (ending in early October, of course), hitting .293/.385/.544 and leaving him with a gaudy .393 wOBA for the year. This mark was higher than any 2B in baseball, including Cano, and was second only to Troy Tulowitzki’s .408 mark for shortstops. There are no easy culprits to explain away this performance: his BABIP was entirely normal and his HR/FB ratio, while higher than his career average, was still only 11.6%.

One less obvious explanation for his power surge might be the quality of pitchers faced: his 9 home runs in 2010 came off Brad Mills, Tommy Hunter, Casey Janssen, Brian Matusz, Luke French (2), Andy Pettitte, Dustin Moseley and Joba Chamberlain (2). It’s not indicative of anything prima facie, good hitters beat up bad pitchers, but late season surges in performance can sometimes be explained by a deterioration of the quality of opposition due to injury attrition or the presence of September call-ups.

In 2011 PECOTA sees Lowrie hitting .245/.338/.401, good for a .739 OPS and a .331 wOBA. Marcel’s projection is similarly conservative (.336 wOBA), but this is the result of the fact that Marcel only uses the past three years of data and doesn’t include minor league performance. Obviously the systems are showing a fair bit of reticence to overvalue his 2010 performance, in light of the relatively pedestrian 382 plate appearances in 2008 and 2009. There is, however, considerable upside. While he is 26 years old already, Lowrie was still a first-round pick in 2004 and boasts an impressive minor league pedigree. When you combine that with past struggles and an injury history that would make Nick Johnson proud, it’s hard to know what to expect from Lowrie in 2011. This was exactly Patrick Sullivan’s point when he did a mini-preview of Lowrie back in January over at Red Sox Beacon:

Anyone who tells you they have a beat on Jed Lowrie and his prospects for 2011 is speculating. He has an encouraging Minor League track record, a choppy Major League one and he hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough to get a sense for what type of player he ultimately will be. But I also think it’s worth trying to find significance in his 2010 standout season. I know all small sample warnings apply, but he did hit .287/.381/.526 in just under 200 plate appearances. Here’s the list of middle infielders who have managed a single-season 139 OPS+ or better in 175 PA’s or more since 2000: Alex Rodriguez, Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, Bret Boone, Roberto Alomar, Ben Zobrist, Hanley Ramirez, Edgardo Alfonzo, Chase Utley, Rich Aurilia, Robinson Cano and Carlos Guillen.

And that’s it. I know the Red Sox can’t depend too much on him until he shows an ability to stay on the field. But at the same time, they need to prioritize getting Lowrie the requisite playing time to figure out his value, either for them to retain or trade given the looming presence of Jose Iglesias. There’s a chance that Lowrie could put up some superstar seasons if given the opportunity.

I’m not as enthused as Sullivan is about this list. While there are certainly some serious heavy hitters, there are also some apparent flukes. Aurilia posted one season of 142 OPS+ in 2001 but was a 91 OPS+ hitter from then on and a 99 OPS+ hitter for his entire career. Edgardo Alfonzo and to an extent Carlos Guillen and Ben Zobrist, appear to be similar outliers, and if you drop the OPS+ requirement down from 139 to 135 you pick up a even wider swath of interlopers: Jhonny Peralta, Marcus Giles, Jose Hernandez and Mark Loretta. Again, none of these players ever produced an OPS+ of over 135 again in their career. This doesn’t really tell us a whole lot about Lowrie though, so ultimately Sullivan’s conclusion about Lowrie is spot-on: the best we can do is speculate about what Lowrie can do in 2011. He’s a talented player with a bad injury history and a murky positional place on the club. He could take over for Scutaro and perform solidly or spend most of the season on the disabled list, and neither result would be a great surprise.

A Personal Essay on the Babe and Being a Fan

Can you guess what he did this in this at-bat? (AP)

If there was ever a “True Yankees Fan” contest, I would probably lose it if we were judged by traditional standards. I stopped watching baseball for four years in college (blame World of Warcraft and 2004), I have absolutely no memory for remembering plays and events before the most recent season, and I can’t identify pitch types. I’m more a personal essay kind of person than I am a statistic nerd kind kind of person, if you haven’t already figured that out. But, obviously, I consider myself a pretty big fan. Once you start running around blogging, it’s serious. The Yankees are extremely important part of my own identity, in my own way, including personal essays about it.

Aside from March being the first month of real baseball, it’s also my birthday. I don’t get a lot presents, but this year, I received a collection of New York Times Yankees covers that stretched all the way back through Yankees history. As a devoted fan, I can’t quite explain how it felt to be looking at a replica of the newspaper proclaiming the Yankees (then Americans) had acquired Babe Ruth from the Red Sox. Goosebumps spread down my neck and across my arms. I felt like I was holding history.

To me, Babe Ruth is more of an icon in history than an actual living and breathing person. As a Yankees fan, Babe Ruth is part of who I am – he made this team, he made me. To think that, in the past, he was traded for just like Curtis Granderson or Nick Swisher is a little like seeing a strict teacher in a liquor store. Of course, Ruth’s trade went on to symbolize the “curse” the Sox manage to only recently broke, but back then who could have known that? How did people feel when they looked at this cover proclaiming the New York Americans acquired Babe Ruth for $125,000? Had there been blogs, would we have sung the praises of this trade like Blue Jays fans celebrated the departure of Vernon Wells? The newspaper said Ruth was expecting such a trade – could he have predicted that he would go on to be so deeply and intrinsically linked with this franchise? Like my teacher, I have certain expectations for Babe Ruth in my head: that he is a hero despite his less than stellar off-the-field personality, that he represents the great franchise we all know and love, and that he’s closer to a saint than an actual person. To think that New York Times articles were written about him, rather than biographies and documentaries, is a strange thing to think for me. Perhaps the Francesas of that era blasted him. Hard to imagine anyone saying bad about the baseball prowess of the Babe. But maybe they did. Despite the weakness of the Yankees fan to canonize Ruth, he was only human. He probably struck out with the bases loaded once or twice. I’m sure he botched a play or two. To think that perhaps, in those singular moments, people were calling for his head just boggles my mind.

These two vaguely related events got me to one awesome conclusion: that I am extremely, extremely lucky to be raised a Yankees fan. While I mean no offense to the expansion teams – I like the Rays even if I want them to come in second place every year, and the Rockies are just adorable – the full history and legacy of the Yankees is something I am extremely glad to be a part of in my own small way. I am very grateful to be part of the successful, expansive history of the Yankees and, in the most insignificant way possible, adding to it with my blog posts, my bold proclamations of Montero success, and, the most important, my wallet. The Yankees help make me who I am. Every Spring Training, I realize that these total strangers running around in uniform hitting balls with sticks are so deeply sewn into my being that watching them run around makes me think about last year, and the year before that, and all the family history I have watching them,.

It also got me thinking: in 80 years, will Derek Jeter be an absolute saint? Hard to imagine people bringing up this dramatic off-season, considering the way we talk in reverent voices about a womanizing alcoholic. Maybe we’ll find out he was a womanizer in the tell-all unauthorized Derek Jeter biography. Either way, I’m just grateful to be a part of it, and I’m glad you’re all here with me. Yes, even the haters.

Spring Training Game Thread: Bring on the Sox

The world's wealthiest ball boy. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Okay, so it’s only a meaningless Spring Training game, but it’s always a fun time when the Yankees and Red Sox face off. Except this time, because the game is meaningless. I feel like I’m repeating myself.

If you’re looking for a reason to be excited, well have I got one for you: Manny Banuelos is scheduled to throw two innings tonight, which is as good as baseball gets in March. Mark Prior is also slated to throw an inning, so that’ll be cool. I think we’re all pulling for him. Russell Martin is starting behind the plate for the first time all spring, and will do so wearing a light-weight knee brace that he’s been using in drills. Apparently it’s more of a precaution than anything. Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Russell Martin, C
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robbie Cano, 2B
Jorge Posada, DH
Andruw Jones, LF
Melky Mesa, CF
Greg Golson, RF

Available Pitchers: Bartolo Colon (scheduled for 50 pitches), Manny Banuelos, Pedro Feliciano, Mark Prior, Andy Sisco, Luis Ayala, Erick Wordekemper, Steve Garrison, and Ryan Pope.

Available Position Players: Austin Romine (C), Jorge Vazquez (1B), Ramiro Pena (2B), Doug Bernier (SS), Brandon Laird (3B), Jordan Parraz (LF), Austin Krum (CF), Justin Maxwell (RF), and Jesus Montero (DH).

Apparently the Red Sox didn’t get the memo about how serious this game is, the only regulars they sent are Darnell McDonald, Ryan Kalish, Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, and Clay Buchholz. The game will be aired live on both YES and MLB Network starting at 7:05pm ET. Enjoy.

March 4th Spring Training Notes

Don't hurt that arm, we need you to opt out after the season. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees-Red Sox game is coming up later on tonight, so let’s get the notes out of the way a little earlier than usual…

Cervelli out at least four weeks with broken foot

(AP Photo/Rob Carr)

The Yankees have announced that Frankie Cervelli has a fractured bone in his left foot and will be in a boot and unable to perform baseball activities for the next four weeks. Six-to-eight weeks is the realistic timetable for when he’ll be able to return to the team. Cervelli suffered the injury when he fouled a ball off the top of the foot earlier this week. He stayed in that game for another inning but was eventually lifted.

Joe Girardi told reporters that the competition for the backup catcher’s job is wide open right now, but the plan is for Jorge Posada to remain at DH according to Bryan Hoch. Girardi has “no plans” of starting Jorge behind the plate in any games this month. This really opens the door for Jesus Montero, who has to be considered the favorite to backup Russell Martin at this point. I’d be in favor of that. Austin Romine and Gustavo Molina will be given long looks as well.

This is the third time in four years that Cervelli’s been hurt in Spring Training. He had his wrist broken in that infamous home plate collision with Elliot Johnson in 2008, and last year he was hit in the head by a pitch, resulting in a concussion. That’s what brought about the Rick Moranis helmet.

Vernon Wells would have accepted trade to New York

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees were one of three teams Vernon Wells would have waived his no-trade cause to join. The Rangers and, obviously, the Angels were the other two. Wells grew up in Arlington, so it’s no surprise why he would have gone there, and I can only assume he would have come to New York for the chance to win pretty much every season. Either that or he really enjoys the “You’re name’s Vern-non clap clap clapclapclap” chant from the creatures.

Anyway, the Yankees had no need for a guy like Wells, who I’m not sure is an upgrade over any of their three starting outfielders. Oh, and that contract. Yikes.