With the 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide set to come out in a few weeks, I have a jam packed volume covering all the ins and outs of starting pitching in the 2011 season for your viewing pleasure. Of course that doesn’t do much to address the offensive side of things so I decided to start this “Three Questions” where I will cover some key offensive issues for each of the 30 teams. There will be more content here dealing with offense, but this is the beginning.
What happens to this offense without Adrian Gonzalez?
Oh don’t worry, new first baseman Brad Hawpe will fill in so well that you will barely notice Gonzalez left. A .298/.393/.511 line with 31 bombs and 101 RBIs shouldn’t be a problem for Hawpe. OK that’s obviously an egregious lie that I don’t believe in the least. Do you want to know how important Gonzalez was to an offense that still only finished 22nd with him? Look at this:
Gonzalez led them in five key offensive categories and no one was really close. Chase Headley was the 2nd-highest qualifying batting average at .264, Will Venable’s 13 home runs were 2nd to Gonzalez, Headley had a whopping 58 RBIs to finish 2nd on the team, Yorvit Torrealba was 50 points behind Gonzalez with a .343 OBP, but that came in just 325 at-bats. The 2nd-highest qualifying on-base percentage was again Headley with a paltry .327 mark. And in the most hotly contest of the five categories, Headley finished 14 hits behind Gonzalez with 161 on the season.
Counting stats for Padres hitters are likely to be even worse than they were last year cutting into the already stunted value of the group. Headley managed those 58 RBIs despite hitting behind Gonzalez, who was getting on base 40% of the time for him. The team added some pieces in addition Hawpe including a brand new double play duo with Orlando Hudson at second base and Jason Bartlett at shortstop as well as former super-prospect Cameron Maybin, but the loss of Gonzalez is still a major blow to an offense that was already pretty poor.
The power-sapping ways of PETCO park are nothing new and Padres hitters have long been evaluated with that impact built in, but without their superstar cog in the middle the entire group takes another hit to their value. The chances of the six year streak of a non-Gonzalez entity topping 100 R or 100 RBI being broken seem slim. The last two players to do it were in 2004 when Mark Loretta scored 108 runs and Phil Nevin drove in 105.
Following up a career year with one of his worst, what’s in store for Jason Bartlett in 2011?
The 2010 season was a rough one for Bartlett especially in light of his breakout 2009 in which he hit 14 home runs, drove in 66 runs, scored 90 runs, stolen 30 bases and hit .320, all career highs. Lucky for him, he plays shortstop which is a barren wasteland after the top tier so he will have some value no matter what. How much exactly is going to be tied to how many stolen bases he rack up. He had a string of 23, 20 and 30 before last year’s 11, so the ability is there and San Diego was the 6th-runningest (so surprised that didn’t get a red squiggly line under it in Word) team last year with 124 stolen bases.
Additionally, he can offer some batting average value or at least not be a drag for a team. Last year his .254 was a drag as regression bit back hard from 2009 and instead of falling back to career norms, he was actually a bit unlucky. He is .281 hitter for his career and there is no reason to think he shouldn’t bounce back to that in 2011 and if luck breaks his way again, it wouldn’t be tough for him to top .300 again. So as a late round speed/average shortstop, he has some value. As I mentioned already, counting numbers will be tough to come by on this team. Especially for Bartlett who isn’t particularly adept at getting on base. Though he has a career .345 OBP, it is propped up by the standout 2009 and a .367 mark in 372 plate appearances back in 2006.
One last thing to consider with him is that he has only averaged 135 games played in the last four years with a high watermark of 140 and a low of 128. That means you’re going to need a replacement for around 27 games, or 16% of the season. Given the dearth of talent at shortstop, this can be a problematic proposition. His backup is likely to be Kevin Frandsen or Everth Cabrera. You could fill one of Bartlett’s strengths depending on who fills in, Frandsen for average and Cabrera for speed. If you’re left hitting the wire, you may find that the remains are somehow even less appealing than Frandsen and Cabrera.
Is Cameron Maybin ready to pay dividends on his blue chip prospect status?
The problem is we might not even notice if he does improve because of his home ballpark. He has certainly proven everything he can in the minor leagues so it is time for the three-time top 8 Baseball America prospect to start showing the talent at the big league level. At 24 with just a season’s worth of big league plate appearances (610) under his belt, even a poor 2011 wouldn’t be enough to write him off completely but it would put closer to Brandon Wood territory.
The biggest issue right now is the striking out. He has struck out in 31% of his major league at-bats despite the significant gains in K% in the minors. After striking out in 32% of his AA at-bats in 2008, he cut down to 20% in his first run through AAA in 2009 followed by 19% in 130 AAA at-bats last year. Any contact would be better than striking out for Maybin at this point. At the very least, he could maybe use his excellent speed to turn some of his groundballs into base hits.
Better pitch recognition can increase his value another way as more walks would again allow him to add value by way of his speed. As noted in the Bartlett section above, the Padres aren’t afraid to run, but it is hard to do much running with a .302 on-base percentage.
I don’t think Maybin will magically fix the strikeout and walk issues all at once in 2011, but I think we will see incremental gains in his first full season which should yield a 20+ stolen base season and low-teens power. You can do much worse than that for a low dollar late outfield option in NL-Only leagues. I don’t think he is quite a dollar days guy just yet, especially if your league has any guys who love grabbing the next big thing, but his price tag shouldn’t be pushing double digits. As a single digit buy, I would highlight him as a quality end-game play perfect for rounding out a team.