March 23, 2003

Aaron's Baseball Blog 2003 Season Preview: NL East

Other Previews:

American League East

American League Central

American League West

National League Central

National League West

Last year's standings:

NL East           W      L    Win%      GB

Atlanta 101 59 .631 ----
Montreal 83 79 .512 19.0
Philadelphia 80 81 .497 21.5
Florida 79 83 .488 23.0
New York 75 86 .466 26.5

This year's prediction:


80-81 (.497) | 3rd Place (21.5 GB)

710 Runs Scored (8th) | 724 Runs Allowed (9th)

After almost a decade of consistent losing following their 1993 World Series appearance, the Phillies finally broke through in 2001 and posted their first winning season since 1993, finishing 2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.

Last season, the Phillies took a step backwards. They scored almost 40 fewer runs than they did in 2001 and saw their record drop below .500, finishing 21.5 games back of Atlanta.

After years of having one of the lowest team payrolls in the league, despite their huge market size, the Phillies finally opened up the wallet this off-season and made some very significant acquisitions in the hopes of ending the Atlanta Braves' run as the kings of the division.

First and foremost, they signed Jim Thome to a six-year contract worth $85 million dollars. There are some serious questions regarding the long-term ramifications of the contract, but, in the short-term, it is a no-brainer. The Phillies replace one of the worst hitting first basemen in all of baseball, Travis Lee, with the best hitting first baseman in baseball, Jim Thome.

It is obvious that such a massive upgrade at a key offensive position is going to have a huge impact on Philadelphia's offense in 2003, but it will likely be even bigger than you can imagine.

Player     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B     BB     EqA    EqR

Thome 613 .304 .445 .677 52 19 122 .369 138
Lee 592 .265 .331 .394 13 26 54 .258 66

Short of something involving Barry Bonds replacing Neifi Perez at shortstop for some team, an upgrade at first base from Travis Lee to Jim Thome is about as big as a realistic upgrade can possibly be.

Exactly how much better was Jim Thome with the bat than Travis Lee last season? Well, the short answer is about 70 runs.

Now, Travis Lee is a very good defensive first baseman and Jim Thome is, at best, average. So, the Phillies are downgrading their defense slightly, but they are doing it at the least important defensive position and the effect of the switch won't even be a blip on the radar screen compared to the offensive difference. Accounting for defense, Jim Thome was probably about 60 runs better than Travis Lee last season.

The obvious difference between Thome and Lee is their power. Travis Lee has never hit like a prototypical first baseman and hit only 13 homers last season. Jim Thomee hits exactly like the prototypical first baseman and smacked 52 long balls in 2002.

The aspect that is being overlooked a little bit in this upgrade is not that Thome hit 40 more homers than Lee did, but that in doing so he used up about 60 fewer outs. Think about that for a moment. In essentially the same amount of playing time (Thome actually had about 20 more plate appearances), Jim Thome used 60 fewer outs than Travis Lee did. That is more than two entire games worth of outs.

The Phillies have several other accomplished hitters in the lineup and acquiring Jim Thome not only allows them to add his bat to the lineup, but also to spread out those 60 outs. Instead of batting Travis Lee at the bottom of the lineup and watching him make out after out after out, without providing any sort of offensive punch, they now have Jim Thome hitting smack dab in the middle of the lineup. He'll hit the snot out of the ball and he'll do so while not wasting outs and thus turning the lineup over more often.

Jim Thome will obviously be the centerpiece of the Philadelphia lineup, the straw that stirs the drink, but there are some other Phillies hitters that are among the best at their positions and will combine with Thome to form an exceptional middle of the lineup.

Bobby Abreu has been and will continue to be one of the most underrated players in baseball. He is a major offensive force, a good defensive player and about as consistent as humanly possible:

Year     AVG     OBP     SLG     BB    SB

1998 .312 .409 .497 84 19
1999 .335 .446 .549 109 27
2000 .316 .416 .554 100 28
2001 .289 .393 .543 106 36
2002 .308 .413 .521 104 31

Bobby Abreu is a walking, talking .400 OBP. He hits for a good average, he draws a massive amount of walks and he is even a little bit dangerous on the bases.

Abreu is also good for a .500+ slugging % every year. How he gets there changes though. One year he hits .335 with 11 triples and only 20 homers. Another year he hits only .289 with four triples, but smacks 31 homers and 48 doubles. And last year he hit .308 with 20 homers, 50 doubles and 6 triples. If I were building a #3 hitter in a lab somewhere (which, contrary to rumors, I am not doing), he would look a lot like Bobby Abreu.

And to think, Bobby Abreu was actually acquired from the Devil Rays in exhange for Kevin Stocker!

On an awful lot of teams, Abreu and his string of .300/.400/.500 seasons would be far and away the best hitter on the team. On this current Phillies team, he might be the third best hitter - which is why their offense is potentially so awesome.

I devoted an entire entry to Pat Burrell earlier this off-season and, instead of repeating myself, I'll re-use what I said then:

The Phillies picked Pat Burrell with the #1 overall pick in the 1998 draft. He was an extremely successful hitter at the University of Miami and a lot of people projected him as a future superstar at the time. Burrell has hit everywhere he has played, but for some reason he has been able to sneek under the radar of most fans. 2002 was his 3rd Major League season and, although he isn't a superstar yet, he has established himself as one of the top young power hitters in baseball.

His batting average has never been great, which is probably why he has yet to reach true star status. It did improve a lot in 2002 though and he has everything else you'd want in a hitter. Burrell smacked 37 homers, which ranked 7th in the NL, and added in 39 doubles, which ranked 10th. He even added in some very good plate discipline, with 89 walks, although he strikes out a ton (162 and 153 in 01 and 02).

Predicting someone's batting average is a really tough thing to do, much harder than predicting power numbers (in my opinion). That said, I think Burrell's average will continue to improve in the next couple of seasons. He was an outstanding hitter for average in college and his minor league numbers were very good. He hit .303, .333 and .294 in his 3 minor league stops. I don't think he'll ever hit .320, but I wouldn't be surprised if he settled into the .285-.300 range. Add in 85-100 walks, 35-45 homers and 40+ doubles and you've got a star player, no doubt about it.

Defensively, he's not great, but he is definitely improving. Diamond-Mind gave him a left field rating of "FAIR" in 2002, which was a huge improvement over his "POOR" in 2001.

If he gets a chance to hit behind Thome all season long it wouldn't surprise me if Pat Burrell led the National League in RBIs this season (he was 3rd in the NL last year with 116). If Burrell improves his batting average a little bit (which I think he can definitely do) he will give the Phillies three .300/.400/.500 players, two of whom are very capable of hitting 40+ homers.

The way it is looking right now, Abreu, Thome and Burrell will bat 3-4-5 for Philadelphia this year, which is downright scary.

Okay, so we covered Philadelphia's tremendous middle of the lineup, but what about the other five spots? I'm glad you asked, because I think that is going to be the key to their season.

The other five regulars in the Philly lineup are Mike Lieberthal, David Bell, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins and rookie Marlon Byrd.

As long as I am quoting from past entries, I might as well re-use some of the stuff I said about the Philadelphia lineup a while back:

Here's what their lineup might end up looking like:

SS   Jimmy Rollins     .247 EqA

2B Placido Polanco .258
RF Bobby Abreu .323
1B Jim Thome .369
LF Pat Burrell .313
C Mike Lieberthal .279
CF Marlon Byrd .268*
3B David Bell .273

*Marlon Byrd spent 2002 in Triple-A, so his EqA is his minor league performance, adjusted to the National League.

Compared to the Major League average at their position, the Phils have quite a few guys that had EqAs significantly above average:

Jim Thome +.082 (.369 minus the MLB 1B average of .287)

Bobby Abreu +.040

Mike Lieberthal +.033

Pat Burrell +.030

David Bell +.009

Placido Polanco -.001

Marlon Byrd -.002

Jimmy Rollins -.009

They've got 4 guys that were among the best in baseball at their position offensively last year. According to Baseball Prospectus' "Runs Above Replacement Position" (RARP) Thome was #1 among all MLB first basemen, Abreu was #5 among right fielders, Lieberthal was #4 among catchers and Burrell was #6 among left fielders. That is pretty impressive.

David Bell was slightly above-average in 2002. Philly has two guys that were right around average (Byrd and Polanco). And one guy that was slightly below-average (Rollins).

Byrd is the real wild card, because what he can do at the ML level is an unknown. I am a fan of Marlon Byrd's and I think he will be an excellent player. For 2003, I would put Marlon's EqA somewhere in the .265-.275 range, which would make him about average offensively for a center fielder.

The Phils could very easily have a 2003 lineup with 4 guys in the top 5 in baseball at their position and 4 guys hovering right around average. That may not sound like it, but that's a recipe for a very good offense and I wouldn't be surprised if they led the NL in runs in 2003. I would almost guarantee they will be among the top 2 or 3.

Defensively, the Phillies should be very good too. Bell is excellent at third and Polanco is outstanding at any infield spot. Rollins is above average at SS and while Thome is poor at 1B, defense there doesn't mean much and he isn't completely miserable. In the outfield, Byrd should be above average in center and Abreu is very good in right field. And we already talked about the improvements Burrell has made out in left.

As you can see, I really think the Phillies will have an excellent offense this year. Of course, offense is only half the game...

Besides signing Jim Thome, the Phillies other big move of the off-season was trading for Kevin Millwood. This was a great move on two different levels. First of all, Millwood is an excellent pitcher, capable of giving them 200+ innings and winning 15-20 games. Just as importantly though is that they not only added him to their roster, they subtracted him from Atlanta's.

What did the Phillies have to give up in order to get one of the better pitchers in the National League away from a division rival and onto their team? Believe it or not, Johnny Estrada.

It has become obvious that the Braves trading Millwood was strictly a "salary-dump" move, which is okay, I suppose. What boggles my mind is why they would dump his salary to a team in their own division. Not only a team, the team that looks as though they will be the big challenger to the Braves in 2003.

Here is what Millwood has done recently:

Year      IP      ERA    K/9     W/9     HR/9     DIPS
1998 174 4.08 8.4 2.9 0.93 3.96
1999 228 2.68 8.1 2.3 0.95 3.63
2000 213 4.66 7.1 2.6 1.10 4.27
2001 121 4.31 6.3 3.0 1.49 4.93
2002 217 3.24 7.4 2.7 0.66 3.62

I wouldn't classify Millwood as an "ace" in the same way that Pedro or Schilling or Randy Johnson are aces, but he is certainly a guy that a playoff caliber team can have as a #1 starter. With a good defense behind him (which the Phillies have) I would think that Millwood could give them 200+ innings of 3.50-4.00 ERA pitching. And, with this offense, that should be good for at least 15 wins.

The rest of the Philly rotation isn't too shabby either. Right now it looks like the #2-5 starters will be Randy Wolf, Vincente Padilla, Brandon Duckworth and Brett Myers. Duckworth has had some injury problems in spring training, so he may not be ready to go right away, in which case Joe Roa would likely step into the rotation.

Wolf and Padilla were both excellent last season. Wolf pitched 211 innings with a 3.20 ERA and held batters to a .223 batting average. Padilla was an all-star and pitched 206 innings with a 3.28 ERA. Neither of them won a whole lot of ballgames (only 25 combined) but that had more to do with Philly's poor offense than it did their pitching.

Wolf and Padilla, along with Millwood, give Philadelphia three starters that could reasonably be expected to pitch 200+ inning with ERAs under 4.00.

The back end of the rotation is a little shakier. I really like Brandon Duckworth a ton and I think that, if he is healthy, he is one of the biggest breakout candidates in all of baseball. He pitched 163 innings with a 5.41 ERA last year, which is very poor. However, he struck out 9.2/9 IP, which is an excellent sign of future success. That said, if he isn't healthy, none of that matters much.

Brett Myers was a very highly rated prospect and the Phillies seem to think very highly of him, but I am not as optimistic. He is really the exact opposite of Duckworth in that his minor league performances have been very good, but he has done it with poor K rates and I don't think he is a good bet for long-term success. He struck out only 6.8/9 IP at AAA last year and only 4.3/9 IP in 12 starts with the Phillies. The 6.8/9 at AAA isn't horrible, but it isn't a good K rate for such a highly thought of pitcher, and the 4.3/9 with the Phillies is damn near awful. That said, he is certainly an acceptable back-of-the-rotation starter in 2003, which is what he'll be in Philly.

The Philadelphia bullpen is led by Jose Mesa, Dan Plesac, Rheal Cormier and Turk Wendell, which would sound really good if this were the mid-90s. In case you haven't noticed, it is 2003 and those guys are 37, 41, 36 and 35 years old.

That said, Jose Mesa has been pretty good since coming to Philly in 2001. I wouldn't want him as my team's closer, but he has saved 87 games in his two seasons with the Phillies and had ERAs of 2.34 and 2.97. While his K rate remained good in 2002, his walk rate almost doubled from 2001, which is bad sign. That said, I would be just as confident in Mesa as a closer as I was prior to last year, although you can take that whichever way you want.

Fearless Prediction:

The Phillies have a much improved offense that looks like one of the best in the NL and a very solid rotation that should be able eat innings and rack up wins courtesy of Thome, Burrell, Abreu and company. The bullpen scares me a little bit, but not enough to make me think they won't win the NL East pretty easily in 2002. Picking against Atlanta hasn't been the smart thing to do since I was 8 years old, but all good things must come to an end at some point, right? Barring a serious injury to one of the big three hitters, the Phils are headed to the playoffs and I don't think it'll be particularly close.


101-59 (.631) | 1st Place

708 Runs Scored (10th) | 565 Runs Allowed (1st)

I know this has been said by many people in many different places over the past decade or so, but I really think this is the year that Atlanta's streak of division crowns comes to an end.

Why is this the year? Well, I already discussed the big changes the Phillies have made for this season, including one move (trading for Kevin Millwood) that simultaneously added to the Phillies and subtracted from the Braves. Aside from what I expect to be a much improved Phillies team, the Braves have made some wholesale changes this off-season, some of which I think will prove to be bad moves this season.

The biggest problem I see for the Braves in 2003 is that they allowed only 565 runs last season, which was by far the fewest in the NL. Quite frankly, that aint gonna happen again.

Check out the players from last year's incredible pitching staff that are no longer Braves:

Tom Glavine - 225 IP, 2.96 ERA

Kevin Millwood - 217 IP, 3.24 ERA

Damian Moss - 179 IP, 3.42 ERA

Chris Hammond - 76 IP, 0.95 ERA

Mike Remlinger - 68 IP, 1.99 ERA

Kerry Ligtenberg - 67 IP, 2.97 ERA

Tim Spooneybarger - 51 IP, 2.63

That is an awful lot of good pitching to lose in one off-season. If you add up those seven pitchers, you get 883 innings pitched and a 2.85 ERA. So the Braves not only lost about 60% of their total innings from last year, they lost most of the good innings.

Who have they brought in to fill those 900 innings? I'm glad you asked...

Paul Byrd - 228 IP, 3.90 ERA

Russ Ortiz - 214 IP, 3.61 ERA

Mike Hampton - 179 IP, 6.15 ERA

Ray King - 65 IP, 3.05 ERA

Roberto Hernandez - 52 IP, 4.33 ERA

Mike Venafro - 37 IP, 4.62 ERA

Those are the main guys that figure to step in and plug the holes in the Atlanta pitching staff. There are also some minor league prospects that could see extended action. It's not really a bad group, as much as it isn't a group that is likely to pitch 900 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA.

Roberto Hernandez, Ray King and Mike Venafro as key figures in a bullpen doesn't exactly inspire confidence in me. That said, this time last year how many people would have predicted Chris Hammond, who hadn't pitched in the majors since 1998, would have been one of the top relievers in baseball last year (he had a 0.95 ERA!)?

Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone has been doing incredible things with not-so-incredible pitchers for years now and it wouldn't surprise me if he turned a couple of their new pitchers into very valuable players in 2003. If ever a pitching coach deserves mention for the Hall of Fame, it is Leo Mazzone - that is how highly I think of him. That said, I just don't see Roberto Hernandez posting a 1.50 ERA or Mike Hampton pitching 220 innings with a 2.95 ERA or Paul Byrd giving them 215 innings and a 3.25 ERA - and those are the types of things that need to happen if the Braves want to allow anywhere close to 565 runs again this season.

What is more likely to me is that Mazzone is able to work some of his magic on Hampton or Byrd or Hernandez or Venafro. If he can get 200 innings out of Hampton and Byrd in 2003, it has to be considered a victory. And if he can get Ray King, Roberto Hernandez and Mike Venafro to combine for 150 innings of sub-4.00 ERA pitching, that should be a plus as well. But those things, as nice as they would be, would mean the Braves pitching staff will be considerably worse in 2003 and, with their offense, that is not something they can afford.

The Atlanta offense scored only 708 runs last year, 10th in the NL. They were bad despite getting very good seasons from Chipper Jones (.327/.435/.536), Andruw Jones (.264/.366/.513), Gary Sheffield (.307/.404/.512) and Matt Franco (.317/.395/.517).

No one else on the team that got over 200 PAs had an OPS over .748 and they gave tons of playing time to complete offensive disasters like Vinny Castilla, Javy Lopez, Keith Lockhart and Henry Blanco.

Despite all the changes Atlanta made with their pitching staff this off-season, their only real change to the lineup was adding Robert Fick, in place of the Matt Franco/Julio Franco platoon at 1B.

Robert Fick is a nice hitter to have on a team, but the problem with adding him is that he is going to play first base, which wasn't even a problem for the Braves last year!

Atlanta first basemen hit .300/.367/.459 last year, which is certainly decent production.

Compare that to...

Atlanta 2B = .227/.293/.349 (.643 OPS, 16th in NL)

Atlanta C = .216/.282/.340 (.622 OPS, 15th in NL)

Atlanta 3B = .243/.277/.368 (.645 OPS, 15th in NL)

Fearless Prediction:

The Atlanta offense will almost certainly be at least slightly better than they were last year, just because Castilla and a couple other guys can't possibly be worse. That said, their pitching is likely to decline quite a bit, which means the offensive shortcomings will become a huge deal pretty quickly.

Barring a miracle by Leo Mazzone (which is certainly possible), the Braves will not win their division for the first time since 1990.


75-86 (.466) | 5th Place (26.5 GB)

690 Runs Scored (13th) | 703 Runs Allowed (7th)

The New York Mets are dangerously close to the edge. They are hanging onto "somewhat competitive" by their fingernails and I think they know it. They signed Tom Glavine (37 years old), Cliff Floyd (30) and Mike Stanton (35) to go along with the following "core" of players:

Mike Piazza (35)

Roberto Alomar (35)

Mo Vaughn (35)

Jeromy Burnitz (33)

Pedro Astacio (33)

Armando Benitez (30)

Al Leiter (37)

Steve Trachsel (32)

If it wasn't for their remarkably solid farm system, the New York Mets would be the Baltimore Orioles, constantly trying to sign enough aging players to finish with 82 wins until the end of time.

I suppose everyone on that list could hold off father time for another year and the ones that had awful 2002s could have good 2003s, but it aint gonna happen.

Their offense is old and declining. Their pitching is just plain old. Their defense, particularly if Roger Cedeno plays in CF, is beyond bad. The sooner they realize this current team isn't going anywhere but mediocre, the better. They need to clear the decks of the over 30 crowd, so they can begin setting up for the Jose Reyes/Scott Kazmir/Justin Huber era.

Fearless Prediction:

Once again, the Mets will hover right around .500 this year and will finish with just enough wins to make their front office go out and acquire a few more 35 year old pitchers to make "one more" run at it ("it" being 85 wins) in 2004.


83-79 (.512) | 2nd Place (19.0 GB)

735 Runs Scored (6th) | 718 Runs Allowed (8th)

The Expos were a very pleasant surprise last season. They finished above .500 for the first time since 1996 and can refer to themselves as the 2nd place team in the NL East (although they should probably leave out the part about them being 19 games back).

Montreal will once again be home to Vlad Guerrero, although for possibly the final season. Vlad hit .336/.417/.593 and drove in and scored 100+ runs for the 5th straight year.

Despite what some casual fans may think, there are a couple other good hitters on the Expos. Jose Vidro hit .315/.378/.490 for his 4th straight year with a OPS of at least .820. Brad Wilkerson was one of the better rookies in the NL, hitting .266/.370/.469, while spending time in LF, CF, RF and 1B. And catcher Michael Barrett finally had that second good season that people have been waiting for since his first good season back in 1999.

There is only one big change in the lineup for this year. Lee Stevens was exiled to Cleveland at mid-season last year and the 2003 first baseman will likely be Jeff Liefer or a Liefer/Wil Cordero platoon, which could be decent.

The pitching staff lost Bartolo Colon, who was very good in the 2nd half for them last year, but they should still have a good rotation. Javier Vazquez had a somewhat down year last year and still pitched 230 innings with a sub-4.00 ERA. Tony Armas also took a step backward last year, but he still is potentially a very good pitcher. Tomo Ohka went 13-8 with a 3.18 ERA in 193 innings last year and new arrival Orlando Hernandez is still a very capable starter.

All in all, it isn't a bad team - it just isn't a great one.

Fearless prediction:

The sun will rise in the east and set in the west, Vlad Guerrero will score 100 and drive in 100, Jose Vidro will hit .300 and Javier Vazquez will pitch 200 quality innings.

This is a decent team and the "core" of Vlad, Vidro, Wilkerson, Vazquez, Ohka, etc is very good, but there just isn't enough depth in the lineup or the bullpen for them to do anything more than what they did last year (~80 wins).


79-83 (.488) | 4th Place (23.0 GB)

699 Runs Scored (12th) | 763 Runs Allowed (12th)

I have always loved fantasy baseball, whether it was the roto leagues I was in a few years ago or the Diamond-Mind keeper leagues that I enjoy today. That said, the one thing I hate about fantasy baseball (or simulation baseball) is that even if you are right, you can still be wrong. Let me try to explain...

Last year at this time I took over an abandoned team in a Diamond-Mind keeper league. It was my first experience in such a league and the roster I took over wasn't all that promising. I decided that what I needed to do was find a few young players that were currently not all that well known or hyped, but that I felt could break out in a big way. Basically, I was looking for a cheap stock that I thought could turn into something down the road. One of the guys I felt this way about was Marlins' hurler A.J. Burnett.

He had been a pretty good prospect coming through the minors and had already pitched parts of 3 seasons in the majors at age 24. However, (prior to last year) his numbers weren't all that great. He had a career ERA of 4.18 and, despite his great "stuff," he wasn't even striking anyone out (only 6.6 Ks/9 IP). Still, I had seen him pitch a number of times and always liked what I saw and everything I read about him was very positive. So, I went out and traded for him.

Three-fourths of the way through last season, I looked like nothing short of a genius. On August 14th he pitched a complete-game shutout against the Giants, winning his 12th game of the year and dropping his ERA to 3.25. He was striking tons of people out and was establishing himself as one of the most promising young pitchers in baseball.

Just a few short days before he pitched that gem against San Francisco, I wrote my first ever entry on this blog. The subject was non other than A.J. Burnett. Here is what I wrote:

I just finished watching Marlins' ace A.J. Burnett improve to 11-7 by shutting out the St. Louis Cardinals.

Burnett has been one of baseball's top pitchers throughout the season and he was awesome tonight, but the way his manager, Jeff Torborg, is using him has me worried about his future. A.J. threw 128 pitches tonight in shutting out the Cards, which in itself is not really a bad thing.


Last Saturday he threw 132 pitches in 8 innings against Montreal.

And for the season, he is averaging over 112 pitches per start.

All that, and he is only 25 years old.

According to Baseball Prospectus' "Pitcher Abuse Points" Burnett has been the 2nd most "abused" pitcher in all of baseball this season, behind only Randy Johnson. There is just no way that a 25 year old pitcher in his 2nd full season in the majors should be allowed to consistently throw that many pitches, start after start after start. The only starts in which Burnett throws less than 100 pitches are ones where he gets shelled.

Torborg and the Marlins have had plenty of opportunities to take Burnett out of a game that is already pretty much decided and save him a little stress on his young arm, but they rarely (if ever) choose to do that. Tonight was a perfect example of that:

Burnett finished off the Cards in the 8th inning with a 3-0 lead.

In the bottom of the inning the Marlins added another run to lead 4-0.

At that point, Burnett had allowed only 3 hits and had already thrown 112 pitches.

Instead of taking Burnett out of the game and letting the bullpen close out a 4 run lead, Burnett was left in and ended up throwing 16 more pitches, for a total of 128.

16 pitches may not seem like a whole lot, but consistently throwing 10 or 15 or 20 additional pitches in each start is a lot for a young pitcher.

Burnett has been great this year and he looks like he will be a stud for years to come. But the way he is being treated makes me think he is in line for some arm troubles.

I hope I am wrong.

Sadly, I was about as right as right can be.

A.J. Burnett went on the disabled list with a "bruised elbow" on August 19th, just 2 weeks after I wrote that entry about him and just 4 days after his shutout against the Giants. He ended up missing slightly less than a month of action and came back to appear in 2 games as a reliever, before finishing the year with 2 decent starts.

Fast forward to last week. I check every day for baseball injury news and A.J. Burnett's name popped up quite a few times:

March 15th: A.J. Burnett left Saturday's spring training game with tightness in his right forearm. The Marlins say that the problem is nothing serious, but Burnett spent time on the DL last August with an elbow injury.

March 17th: A.J. Burnett will throw lightly today to test his tight right forearm, according to the Miami Herald. If all goes well, Burnett will throw a normal bullpen session on Tuesday.

March 18th: A.J. Burnett will be examined by Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday after leaving his last spring start with tightness in his forearm, according to the AP. He had planned to play catch on Monday if he felt OK and was set to make his next spring start on Friday.

March 19th: A.J. Burnett will be shut down for 3-to-5 days could miss his opening day start because of an inflamed elbow, according to the AP. Dr. James Andrews examined Burnett on Wednesday and did not discover any ligament damage. Burnett was given a cortisone injection and will be re-evaluated after he is cleared to throw.

March 23rd: Jeff Torborg is leaning toward placing A.J. Burnett on the DL in the hopes the pitcher will be ready to go by the second series. Burnett is scheduled to test his sore elbow by throwing on the side tomorrow.

Now, for all I know, Burnett might just have a little problem, come back in 2 weeks and pitch 220 innings every single year for the next 15 seasons. However, if I could bet on such a thing, I would put quite a bit of money on A.J. Burnett suffering a serious injury and/or needing a serious surgery on his pitching arm/elbow/shoulder within the next 6 months or so, which brings me back to my original thought: Sometimes in fantasy baseball (and in real baseball), even when you're right, you're wrong.

I identified an underrated young player that I thought could become a star, I traded for him, he had a great season and, yet, this time next year, A.J. Burnett might be in the middle of a 12-month rehab plan for a torn something in his something.

I talk a lot about some organizations being "good" and some being "bad." But really, the line between the two isn't as defined as I often imply. Sure, I think Oakland is the best run organization in baseball, but they could very easily lose Tim Hudson or Barry Zito or Mark Mulder (or all 3) to a serious arm injury next month, while the Baltimore Orioles could go the next 10 years completely healthy. Still, there are some instances when that line of good and bad is incredibly well defined and so damn obvious it is almost criminal. A pretty good example of that would be the way Jeff Torberg and the Florida Marlins have handled A.J. Burnett.

I think it was obvious throughout most of last season that he has as much potential as any young pitcher in the world, but I fear he'll never get to realize it, through absolutely no fault of his own. Again, "I hope I am wrong" - but I doubt it.

Obviously this is supposed to be a preview/prediction about the Florida Marlins, but, quite frankly, I don't have that much to say about them.

If you really need some discussion of the 2003 Florida Marlins, check out this post from the day after they signed Pudge Rodriguez or this post from the day my computer broke and I ranted about their crappy outfield.

In short, I think the Marlins will be pitiful offensively this season. They will likely have the worst offensive outfield in all of baseball and a shortstop that can't hit either.

The lone bright spot for the organization is their young pitching. They have 3 potential aces in Burnett, Josh Beckett and Brad Penny. Of course, Burnett and Penny have already had a few injury problems (Beckett missed time last year too, but it was because of blisters). If you go back in time a couple of seasons and trade those 3 to the A's, I would feel a whole lot better about their futures and they could easily be talked about in the same manner Zito, Hudson and Mulder are right now.

Basically, the Marlins aren't only bad, they are actually sad and depressing. They have some amazing young talent, but some equally amazingly bad people in charge of things that will probably ruin it all.

Fearless Prediction:

The Marlins are a stone cold lock to lead all of baseball in stolen bases in 2003, which should at least be somewhat interesting (and frustrating for Marlins fans) to watch. They led the Majors with 177 steals last year and I wouldn't be shocked to see them steal 250+ in 2003.

To (sort of) quote the great Carl Spackler: "So they've got that going for them, which is nice."

Aside from that, they are going to lose a lot of 3-2 games and I think they will finish near the very bottom of the league in runs scored and somewhere near the middle in runs allowed. If they don't finish in 5th place, I will be shocked. And we should all probably say a prayer or two for the arms of their young pitchers.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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