Scary Offenses in the AL East

On Tuesday, I looked at three of the sickest staffs in baseball. Today, I’ll breakdown the three healthiest offenses’ position players. By the way, they are the same three teams and still the only teams that matter — the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays.

First Base: Carlos Pena v. Kevin Youkilis v. Mark Teixeira
Want a fun two team drinking game that ensures all parties playing drink equally? Let me introduce the Carlos Pena juego que bebe cerveza. It’s simple, half the room drinks if he strikes out, walks or goes deep, while the other half drinks if anything else happens. Pena is the king of the three true outcomes (strikeouts, walks, and home runs) as he does so at a 48% clip. He is the protypical Billy Beane circa 1998 player with a high OBP and slugging percentage. Extra motivated as he is in the last year of his contract, watch out for some massive production.

I despise Kevin Youkilis more than any other major league ballplayer. I hate the way he holds his bat. I hate the shiny-bald-head-with-the-goatee look. I hate the fact that Michael Lewis goes into such detail about him in Moneyball, decreeing him the “Greek God of Walks” even though he is not Greek. It upsets me that he is a legit middle of the line-up bat who can play two positions well (first and third) and only marginally embarrass himself in left field. Writing about him is causing the room spin, my legs to give out, and I may lose consciousness. Forgive me as I change the subject.

I love Mark Teixeira as a ballplayer. He is the epitome of what you want in your first baseman. A switch-hitting power bat who also possesses a gold glove and one of the sharpest baseball minds in the game, he never gives up on a play. Remember, he scored from first on Luis Castillo’s dropped pup-up (Mets fans finally drank the punch after that friendly reminder). I only dislike one thing about Tex — the new material his addition to the Yankees provided radio play-by-play man John Sterling — and even that really isn’t his fault. Unfortunately, every time he hit one of his league leading 39 homers I had to hear, “You’re on the Mark, tek-sher-RA! It’s a Tex message!”
Line for best season: Teixeira (Even), Youkilis (3-2), Pena (9-1)

Second Base: Ben Zobrist v. Dustin Pedroia v. Robinson Cano
According to fangraphs, Zobrist was the most valuable player in major league baseball last year. His 8.6 WAR translates to $38.6 MM worth of value. His salary last year was $395,800. That’s $38,204,200 worth of excess value. See, I told you Ray’s GM Andrew Friedman was the David Simon of baseball.

Unlike Youkilis who I hate and would hate under any circumstances, I only loathe Pedroia because he is on the Red Sox. If he was a Yankee I am sure I would love him. At 4’8″ and 93 pounds, the little man has the biggest swing in baseball, yet still makes contact at 92.4% rate for his career. He also is one of the best second basemen at going deep into the hole (ignore the middle school humor) to his left to tale away seeing-eye singles. He is the definition of a hustle player, which when combined with his status as a Red Sock makes him a rat.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if there is anyone capable of hitting .400 it is Robinson Cano. This does not mean he will or is even likely to do it. In fact, I can tell you rather definitively he won’t. But the Dominican second baseman has one of the prettiest glide strokes (again, ignore the pun) in baseball. Moving to the fifth spot with four potential .400 OBP players ahead of him (Derek Jeter, Nick Johnson, Mark Teixeira, and A-Rod), Cano will have the opportunity to drive in a massive amount of runs. Girardi, Cashman and the rest of the brain trust are banking on Cano hitting better than .207 with runners in scoring position like he did last year. Seems like a safe bet.
Lines for best season: Zobrist (2-1), Pedroia (2-1), Cano (2-1) (copout? You bet ya!)

Shortstop: Jason Bartlett v. Marco Scutaro v. The Most Interesting Man in the World
Always one to have the ball drop (in a good way) when he put it in play, Bartlett saw his BABIP skyrocket to .364, a full 32 points higher than his 2008 total. Accordingly, his batting average jumped 34 points to a career high .320. These are amazing but not unfathomable jumps. What was unfathomable was his jump in ISO (Isolated Power: the difference in your slugging and average) to .170. If we were still in the 1990s the cause would be steroids, but since it is 2010 there is only one clear reasoning behind this — beings from another planet have stolen the real Jason Bartlett and replaced him with a mirror-image avatar. It really is the only answer.

Scutaro has put up some impressive numbers north of the border the past two years. He has been slightly above average at creating runs (wRC+) while playing above average defense (11.2 and 1.3 UZR the past two seasons respectively). Compared to the guys Boy Genius has been busing over from Fenway High School everyday after last bell, Scutaro should be welcomed sight for Sox fans who long for the days of Nomah.

Do not let the Dos Equis commercials fool you, The Most Interesting Man in the World plays shortstop for the New York Yankees. TMIMITW career stat-line: 62 models, 27 actresses, 45 singers, 474 college students, and 1,057 road beef sandwiches .317/.388/.459 with a 131 wRC+ (meaning he creates runs 31% better than average). Last year he decided to play defense (6.6 UZR) just to see what it felt like. Expect him to continue to defy the odds and play a great shortstop on both sides of the ball well into his thirties.
Line for best season: TMIMITW (1-3), Bartlett (4-1), Scutaro (15-1)

Third base: Evan Longoria v. Adrian Beltre v. Centaur
Did you know that if you’re the first to pitch a perfect game in MLB2k10 Evan Longoria will personally give you one million dollars? After signing a long-term deal two years ago he can certainly afford it. (Shakesperean Aside: That deal is by far the best from the prospective of a front office. At six years with three years of team options, the Rays will get a top-5 player in baseball for nine years at a tad more than $44MM. If I teach you one thing let it be that Andrew Friedman “does what he do” really well.) Longoria plays a gold glove quality defense, hits well enough for average, and creates a ton of runs. All his numbers should trend upward as he enjoys an incredible year.

This year Boy Genius decided the cool thing to do would be to sign players who help prevent runs instead of create them. His logic being that if his team was successful he could rub it in everyone’s face and go on an offseason long “I told you so” parade across the country with Beltre as its Grand Marshall. Although he won’t hit 48 home runs again (his second career high is 26 — this obviously passes the sniff test), Beltre should continue his career long trend of being worth 1-2 wins from his fielding alone.

No athlete went through such a radical transformation as Centaur did last fall. Carrying the team through the playoffs including the clutchest of homers in the ALDS against the Twins, Centaur finally felt that tingly feeling called love from the New York fans. Now, without having to worry about Kate Hudson stealing his shine, Centaur can have another hall-of-fame year.
Lines for best season: Centaur (Even money), Longoria (3-2), Beltre (9-1)

Catcher: Dioner Navarro (for now) v. Victor Martinez v. Jorge Posada
Last season saw Navarros’s average drop from .318 to .231, his OBP go from .349 to .261, his slugging fall from .407 to .322 and his wRC+ jump off a gorge from 102 to 54. Offensively, he was worth half an average player. Ipso facto, Kelly Shoppach is now a Tampa Bay Ray.

Martinez came to the Sox in a deadline deal from the Cleveland Indians. A switch hitting catcher who can play at first the days he does not catch, Martinez provides the punch the Sox have been missing since Manny and Big Papi were sneaking to the men’s room to stab needles into each other. For his career he creates 22% more runs than average, which is impeccable for a catcher. A full year in the friendly confines of Fenway should do only good things for Martinez.

Posada keeps hitting ignore (or as my good friend calls it: the eff-you button) when Father Time calls. Although he has missed some time in the past two seasons, when he has played he has put up great numbers. He’ll be dropped to sixth in the order this year and given more at bats as a DH. So long as AJ Burnett doesn’t “accidentally” decapitate Georgey with a pie, the switch-hitting catcher should continue to disprove all aging theories.
Line for best season: Martinez (1-4), Posada (4-1), Navarro (House won’t take bets)

Outfield: Carl Crawford, BJ Upton and Matt Joyce v. Jacoby Elsbury, Mike Cameron and JD Drew v. Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher
If Desmond Jennings makes it to the show before Crawford is dealt then the Rays will boast the first all Black outfield since the Negro Leagues disbanded in 1951. Sports writers would immediately praise the athleticism of said outfield, explaining that triples turn to doubles and doubles into singles. What they probably would forget to mention is that it would be the most talented outfield in the majors in all five scouting categories. Even with Matt Joyce in right and the variable BJ Upton in center, the Rays still get great production from the 789 spots. So long as the Rays are not forced to auction off Crawford to the highest bidder, the trend of great outfield production should continue.

Elsbury is one of the fastest players in baseball. This helps immensely on the bases as he routinely is a league leader in swipes, steals home, and scores from second on infield hits. Unfortunately, his ability to run fast does not translate to good defense as he cannot run from point A (where he starts) to point B (where he should catch the ball) in a straight line. Therefore, Boy Genius brought in Cameron to patrol centerfield and strikeout 150 times. In right, the chronically injured JD Drew brings that smooth stroke the scouts love.

The Yankees also focus on run prevention with their outfield. Although scary to watch, Swisher and his salute bring league average defense. Combined with a very stong .249 ISO and .371 OBP, Swisher is a very nice 3-4 win player. In center, Curtis Granderson can be found thanking the good lord for bringing him out of the hitters’ hell that is Comerica Park to the homer heaven that is Yankee Stadium. (There has to be a movie about a down-on-his-luck guy who accidentally goes to hell when he passes, before finally making it through the gates. Pretend I just referenced that.) He can easily put up 35 home runs in the seven (yes, seven!) spot for the Yanks. In left will be Brett Gardner. While I still do not get how you can be a successful hitter when you let half the pitches in the strike zone go (he swings at 49.9% of pitches in the strike zone for his career), everything I read seems to predict better times for the speedy Gardner. He does provide excellent defense and will score a ton of runs if he gets on base as the lineup turns over.
Lines for best season: Rays (3-2), Red Sox (3-2), Yankees (4-1)

All three teams have quality position players. While the Sox and Rays should prevent more runs, the Yankees non-pitchers should more than make up for it with the nearly 1000 runs they will score. Be on the lookout for these three squads that look more like fantasy teams than actual ones.

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