Rating the NL East, By Players

(3/25/2009) – For this years, click here

With all the WBC talk here, you’d think this wasn’t a Nats site. Well it is, you shouldn’t think such things. As I’ve mentioned before here, I owe alot of inspiration to Steven Goldman’s Pinstriped Bible. So once again, I will blatantly rip him off by previewing the teams in the NL East position by position. The point of this is to see who has the best pieces to make a team. It’s quite simple – there are 5 teams in the division, so if someone has the #1 player at a position, they get 5 points for it. If they have the worst, they get 1 point. Overly simplifying a complex sport? Of course! But it’s fun to look at, so let’s start with the position players:

CATCHERmccann

1. Braves – Brian McCann
2. Nationals – Jesus Flores
3. Marlins – John Baker
4. Mets – Brian Schneider
5. Phillies – Carlos Ruiz

McCann is the class of the group here, and should get bonus points compared to everyone else. But that’s not the way this game is played.  Flores looked great for 2/3 of last season and I expect he’ll be like that next year as well. With proper rest over a full 2009, the 24 year old is likely to get near the .790-ish OPS he had coming into August last season. John Baker may be unknown, but despite being 27, he was a good rookie catcher last year, hitting .299/.397/.447 last season in 197 ABs.  I don’t know that he’ll be that good, but he does scream sleeper fantasy pick to me. He isn’t a power guy, but he’ll get on base. After a strong start, the Mets got what Nats fans were used to out of Schneider: Very strong defense but low power and so-so on base. Ruiz is a good defensive catcher, but hopes that he would be able to hit didn’t pan out last season (.219/.320/.300).

SCORE: Braves (5), Nationals (4), Marlins (3), Mets (2), Phillies (1)

FIRST BASEhoward

1. Phillies – Ryan Howard
2. Mets – Carlos Delgado
3. Nationals – Nick Johnson
4. Braves – Casey Kotchman
5. Marlins – Jorge Cantu/Gaby Sanchez

I think Ryan Howard may be the most overrated player in baseball, along with Ichiro. But that doesn’t mean he’s bad. He had such a poor first half to 2008 that I really can’t see him repeating. And if he approaches his .380 OBP/.580 slugging again, that beats out Delgado, although the old man can still rake as well. Kotchman followed up a promising ’07 with a very poor ’08 and I don’t know what to expect from him, so I’m betting on Nick Johnson’s health over Kotchman’s offense. Did I just say that? Right now I’m putting the Marlins in last, but if rookie Sanchez comes up and makes the splash that they are hoping, I may be quite wrong here.

SCORE: Braves (7), Nationals (7), Mets (6), Phillies (6), Marlins (4)

SECOND BASEutley

1. Phillies – Chase Utley
2. Marlins – Dan Uggla
3. Braves – Kelly Johnson
4. Nationals – Anderson Hernandez
5. Mets – Luis Castillo

Utley could miss a month, I’d still take him over any of the other guys. He’s maybe the best overall player in the game, considering is bat and his position with good defense. That’s an argument for another day, he’s certainly top of this list. In case you weren’t paying attention after Uggla’s sophomore slump, his 3rd season was 2008 and he had his highest career (after 3 full seasons) HRs (32), OBP (.360) and SLG (.512). Kelly Johnson can hit enough that they were thinking of moving him to LF. The remaining guys are what they are. Last year Castillo hit (.245/.355/.305) which is awful expect for the OBP, but that isn’t enough to be anything but a drag on the team. Hernandez might not be any better, last year’s numbers are not a preview they are a small sample size. But he’s 26 and Castillo’s 33, so if I had the choice I’d go with the unimpressive young player who may yet find something over the unimpressive old player who is done.

SCORE: Phillies (11), Braves (10), Nationals (9), Marlins (8), Mets (7)

THIRD BASEwright

1. Mets – David Wright
2. Braves – Chipper Jones
3. Nationals – Ryan Zimmerman
4. Phillies – Pedro Feliz
5. Marlins – Dallas McPherson/Emilio Bonifacio

Wright is something special, almost as good of a hitter as Chipper with a better glove. And he plays 160 games a year instead of 120, so I’ll take him first. Zimmerman could hit 30 HRs a year and may still only come in third place here, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t great as well. The dropoff after him is significant. You get Feliz, who has some power but never actually gets on base safely, then the confusion/youngsters trying to make it in Florida.

SCORE: Braves (14), Phillies (13), Mets (12), Nationals (12), Marlins (9)

SHORTSTOPhanley

1. Marlins – Hanley Ramirez
2. Mets – Jose Reyes
3. Phillies – Jimmy Rollins
4. Nationals – Christian Guzman
5. Braves – Yunel Escobar

Wow, this position is loaded at the top in this division! It’s not like there aren’t 20+ teams in the league that would love to have Reyes or Rollins as their starting SS. But Ramirez is in a class by himself, and should eventually be a multiple MVP player. Reyes is special, too – a great fielder with a cannon for an arm who steals 4,000 bases a year, hits for power and gets on base. Meanwhile, Rollins has already won an MVP. Despite that, I’m pretty confident with the order 1-3 there. As far as the bottom 2, I expect that by mid-year I may decide they should be switched, and that’s not from lack of production from Guzman. Rather, 24 year old Escobar is going to be a very good player as well. For now, the LASIKed Guzman is ahead.

SCORE: Mets (16), Phillies (16), Braves (15), Nationals (14), Marlins (14)

LEFT FIELDadam_dunn

1. Nationals – Adam Dunn
2. Phillies – Raul Ibanez
3. Braves – Garret Anderson
4. Mets – Daniel Murphy
5. Marlins – Cody Ross

Ding ding ding! We have a winner. First position where I’ll put a Nat on top, and I don’t think it’s close. He should get 6 points for this! Ibanez can still hit, and should hit more HRs in the small Philly park. But he’s probably pretty close to Dunn in fielding ability, but doesn’t hit nearly as much.  Anderson isn’t what he used to be, but the move to the NL may be a help. Murphy isn’t a star in the making, but he’s got a chance to be good, while I’m not sure I’d say the same about Cody Ross.

SCORE: Phillies (20), Nationals (19), Braves (18), Mets (18), Marlins (15)

CENTER FIELDbeltran

1. Mets – Carlos Beltran
2. Phillies – Shane Victorino
3. Nationals – Lastings Milledge
4. Marlins – Cameron Maybin
5. Braves – Josh Anderson

This one was a little tough. Beltran is still the best CFer in the NL, and without Sizemore he’d be the best in the game. Victorino may not ever be a superstar, but he gets on base and swipes bags. He’s a decent fielder, but not great. He can field better than Milledge, and right now he hits better, too. Milledge has more power, and with the age difference and the park effects taken into account, this is a close one. But Victorino gets the edge going into this season. Maybin is a future star, and may pass everyone in a year or two as Beltran ages.

SCORE: Phillies (24), Mets (23), Nationals (22), Braves (19), Marlins (17)

RIGHT FIELDwerth

1. Phillies – Jayson Werth
2. Nationals – Elijah Dukes
3. Mets – Ryan Church
4. Marlins – Jeremy Hermida
5. Braves – Jeff Francouer

Dukes and Church could probably both be argued for being the #1 here. Werth did very well as a full timer last year, and he gets the edge to me. Church can hit, although he’s had some scary concussion issues. Dukes wasn’t healthy that much either last year, but nothing that scares me about 2009. He is a legitimate .380 OBP, .500+ SLG player, which Werth and Church probably can’t touch. If Dukes plays all year, I expect him to be at the top of the list, but he’s gotta do that first. Hermida is a sleeper for a breakout, while many people might not realize how bad Francouer was last year with his sub .300 OBP.

TOTAL SCORE FOR POSITION PLAYERS:
Phillies (29), Mets (26), Nationals (26), Braves (20), Marlins (19)

The Nats are looking great so far! Tied with the Mets, that’s impressive.

The Willingham Factor

We’ve all heard rumors that Nick Johnson is on the trading block, thanks in part to the presence of Josh Willingham. One possibility is that NJ gets traded and Willingham is the new starting first baseman. I’d actually be content leaving the numbers as they are – Willingham has been a consistently better hitter than Kotchman. If Kotchman repeated or came close to his 2007 performance though, I’d be wrong, since the offense would be so close and Kotchman is a stellar defender. But I’m not so sure that’s gonna happen.

If the post NJ Nats play out as many think – Johnson gets traded, Willingham plays LF and Dunn plays 1B – adjustments would need to be made. If that was the case, I’d put Dunn as the #2 first baseman, behind only Howard. Willingham in LF compared to Ibanez is close, and some numbers like EQA are really too close to call. Despite the fact that Ibanez  turns 37 this season, I’ll put Willingham 2nd on that list for fear of a back flareup. In that case, the numbers shake out like this:

WILLINGHAM SCORE:
Phillies (30), Nationals (26), Mets (25), Braves (20), Marlins (19)

This change in position has more to do with the lack of talent in LF and how good Dunn is, as opposed to the Nats suddenly getting better without Johnson. They’re moving their best player to first place, and then putting an adequate player in LF, which is filled with subpar guys. Anyway, unfortunately for the Nats, tomorrow we’ll look at the pitching staffs of the teams, where they will not fare as well.

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