Change-UpFebruary 20, 2008
Up in the Air: Personnel Uncertainties Facing Contenders - The American League
By Patrick Sullivan

Each year teams arrive at Spring Training with question marks. Some personnel decisions will have marginal impact but for a number of teams with post-season aspirations, making the right choice in March and April will go a long way in determining their fate. What follows is a quick look at some of the more interesting spots that seem to be up in the air (or at least should be) coming into Spring Training.

For each position, I will present the player's AVG/OBP/SLG from 2007. It will be their MLB totals unless specified. Moreover, I will include their 2008 PECOTA and ZIPS projections. As far as I could tell, the Yankees, Blue Jays, Indians and Mariners - teams I do not focus on here but ones I would consider "contenders" - have their position spots more or less locked up.

Here are the key position player question marks coming into 2008.

Boston Center Field - Coco Crisp vs. Jacoby Ellsbury

                   Crisp          Ellsbury
2007          .268/.330/.382   .353/.394/.509 
2008 (Pecota) .278/.338/.407   .287/.346/.395
2008 (Zips)   .271/.333/.410   .297/.349/.392

This one will be interesting. With Curt Schilling likely out for an extended period of time (if not the entire season), it would not be surprising to see Crisp dealt for starting pitching depth before Opening Day. Barring such a deal, however, Francona will be tested. Crisp is an appalingly frustrating hitter to watch and the vocal Boston fanbase is ready for a change. Not helping his cause is that his fielding prowess is not necessarily discernible to the naked eye. He is one of the very best defensive center fielders in baseball. Furthermore, Ellsbury dazzled in last year's playoffs, and Red Sox fans are chomping at the bit to see the kid get a fulltime shot.

But have a look at the numbers above. Given his superior glovework, Crisp looks like he is the better option. If Theo and the Boston brass stand pat and head into the season with both players on the roster, Francona's resolve will be tested.

Detroit Left Field - Marcus Thames vs. Jacque Jones

I am going to forego the above format on this one. Here are the respective outfielders' numbers from 2005 to 2007 against right-handed and left-handed pitching.

                 Vs. Right        Vs. Left
Jones         .285/.346/.465   .233/.275/.396 
Thames        .231/.287/.501   .261/.332/.526

So long as Jim Leyland sticks to it, this should be no positional battle at all but a very, very nice platoon for Detroit. A quick scan of the Tigers lineup would reveal either catcher or left field to be the clear weak spots. Dave Dombrowski has shown how thoughtful, strategic roster tinkering can easily mitigate such a weakness.

Minnesota Center Field - Carlos Gomez vs. Craig Monroe

                  Gomez            Monroe
2007          .232/.288/.304   .219/.268/.370 
2008 (P)      .249/.302/.358   .245/.300/.412
2008 (Z)      .241/.299/.346   .236/.286/.402

There is no right answer here for Rod Gardenhire. Monroe is probably not a passable defensive center fielder and his bat, though better than Gomez's, will not make up for his defensive ineptitude. Gomez can sure shag 'em but it is hard to imagine him being much more than an automatic out this year.

For a thorough analysis of the situation, including a look at the viability of Jason Pridie out there as well, I would turn you to Twins Geek.

Los Angeles Angels Designated Hitter - Kendry Morales vs. Garret Anderson

                  Morales         Anderson
2007          .294/.333/.479   .297/.336/.492 
2008 (P)      .274/.321/.424   .279/.321/.440
2008 (Z)      .274/.317/.424   .268/.312/.424

Given the combined love the Orange County fanbase and Mike Scioscia have for "G.A." I have a hard time believing Morales has much of a chance in this battle. That said, there are a few factors that should give Scioscia pause, or at least pursuade him to loosen Anderson's stranglehold on fulltime DH duties for the Halos.

Anderson is 36, Morales 25. At the age of 35, Anderson had his best season since 2003 last year. This outlier campaign followed successive seasons of atrocious output for a corner outfielder, much less his new position of Designated Hitter. The Angels would be well served to treat a slow start by Anderson as a serious red flag.


As part of Baseball Analysts comprehensive coverage leading up to the start of the 2008 MLB season, I will follow this up with a look at key personnel choices in the National League and on pitching staffs in the coming weeks.


Well... for the Yanks, 1B is somewhat up in the air. It sounds like Girardi is picking Giambi, at least to the extent Giambi is healthy enough to play.

The other options are various platoons:


I have no idea what they see in Lane, but he's supposedly in the mix.

Angel DH isn't a battle, Angel SS is: Izturis vs. Aybar (with Wood trying to position himself if that battle underwhelms).

I looked at LAA shortstops but the data I looked at and one informed individual indicated to me that Izturis was not even passable in the field at short.

He would obviously be the superior option at the plate for 2008, however.

Its ironic isn't it that the Sox have a highly contested cf battle and the Twins have basically cr*p for options. Explain to me again why the Sox couldn't complete the Santana trade?

I like Ellsbury, but I think people are over overestimating his upside. He hit a lot of flairs, bloopers and slap doubles down the lines and I'm not sold on his possibility of developing true gap power. However if his OBP sits around .375, with his speed then he'll be devasting in the lead off position.

I'm an Angels fan, and I have almost no idea what their lineup will be this year.

Which players are still hurting and by how much will go a long way to determining who plays where.

It's actually almost easier to list the positions that are more or less set for the Angels, but even those are question marks:

CF: Torii, but GMJ may have something to say about that
1B: Everone assumes Kotchman, but is there any way he logs 150 games there? Morales will see some action, as well as a random OF who loses in musical chairs
2B: Kendrick, the only really locked in position, but it's dangerous out there
C: Napoli, but hot/cold streaks could make Mathis the starter
RF: Vlad if healthy, with some Rivera, Morales and GMJ sprinkled in
SS: Everyone assumes Aybar, but he has not seized previous opportunities, Izturis gets on base, or Wood could make the leap

There are just an infinite amount of ways it can play out, but they have some serious depth.

The Angels are planning to rotate their four outfielders in the field and at DH. Hunter will play the most in the field and Anderson will DH more often than the other three. Willits is best suited in LF but can also play CF and RF and will likely pinch hit, pinch run, and serve as an occasional defensive replacement. Rivera can play either corner or DH against certain LHP.

Morales will not see time in RF and will be nothing more than a backup 1B/DH and a pinch hitter. Quinlan is a lefty masher and will fight Morales for a roster spot.

Here is how I see it unfolding...

C: Mathis and Napoli
1B: Kotchman (with either Morales or Quinlan as a backup)
2B: Kendrick
SS: Aybar
3B: Figgins
UT: Izturis
LF/CF/RF/DH: Matthews
CF: Hunter
RF/DH: Guerrero
DH/LF: Anderson
Backup OF: Rivera and Willits

+ 5 SP (Lackey, Weaver, Garland, Santana, and Garland to begin the season with Escobar taking over for Saunders if and when healthy in May) and 6 RP (K-Rod, Shields, Speier, Oliver, Moseley, and the sixth spot up for grabs).

Look for one of Matthews, Willits, Rivera, Morales or Quinlan to be traded if a deal can be worked out.

Granted, Ellsbury shouldn't be expected to maintain the numbers he put last year, but I see now way that he doesn't outslug Crisp. Not only is Crisp an unproductive hitter, he looked completely lost the last 2 months of the season. Also, the main problem with starting Crisp is that you've essentially got 4 no-power outs in a row at the bottom of the red sox order (Drew-Varitek-Lugo-Crisp). especially when Manny sits out his 25-30 games and Ortiz takes a couple of days off.

Drew had a .373 on-base and Varitek .367 last year. Drew slugged .423, Varitek .421.

Maybe both fell short of your expectations, but "no-power outs" is a preposterous characterization.

Yeah, they weren't that bad. The holes in the Red Sox lineup were Lugo and Crisp.

As for the Santana trade, the Twins waited too long and once Theo figured out Cashman wasn't going to bite either, he let it go. It's also possible the Twins wanted Johan out of the AL. Ellsbury probably is overvalued by some, but I doubt by Theo. He just did the same math the Yanks did (fistfull of major-league ready prospects + huge contract extension for 1 pitcher, albeit an excellent one), and passed.

I think it's amusing that the use of two projections is enough to conclude that Crisp is the "better option". For one, although neither player can be expected to hit for much power, I think it's absurd to "project" for them to each have similar OBP numbers. Ellsbury has patience and has shown it at virtually every level of his career, and I would simply call a sub .350 OBP wrong. I'd be happy to make a bet on that too...and I think that alone would at least even things out.

Of course, let's not forget that Ellsbury visibly charged the Red Sox in playoffs when he started. I don't like to rely on "intangebles", but he has something there.

Finally, who decided that Crisp is automatically the better fielder? I'm fully aware of how excellent he was last year, but Ellsbury is also an exceptional fielder. Look at some of his minor league fielding numbers to see what I mean.

P.S. I love Coco on the team, too! I hope he sticks around...

I agree for the most part with Peter on the Ellsbury/Crisp battle. There are a couple of misleading things about the straight BA/OBP/SLG comps.

First, ZiPS and PECOTA project them to have basically identical OPS, but if the true measure of OPS' value is 1.8(OBP) + SLG, then Ellsbury comes out slightly ahead on offense. I'd grant that Crisp, at least for next season, would more than make up for that on defense, given these numbers, but...

Second, I agree that we can't judge Ellsbury fully on one good month in 2007. The problem is that's basically all Coco Crisp had, as well. From June 14-July 14, Crisp hit .383/.446/.642 in 22 games. Before then, he hit .221/.277/.295 in 59 games. After that, he hit .272/.337/.373 in 64 games. That final stretch about mirrors his overall numbers -- but those overall numbers are unfairly boosted by 22 extraordinary games in June and July. I, for one, would not bet on Crisp suddenly rebounding from the catastrophically bad performance he had for 123 games in 2007 (a combined line of .247/.302/.335).

The point of the comparison was not to assert that Coco is clearly the man for the job.

There is a feeling in Boston that Ellsbury should just be handed CF based on his excellent performance in very limited time. The point of the comparison was simply to frame the discussion a little better.

I don't think there will be much difference between the two players in terms of quality for 2008.

With all due respect to Crisp, I would go with Ellsbury to start spring training. And why can't these guys, while under contract, simply show up and do the job they are paid to do. I just don't understand that side of people and athletes in general. It's one thing that was better about the older athletes.

In his age 24/25 seasons Crisp hit 15/16 Dingers, i can't see Ellsbury doing that this year.

then agian, Crisp hasn't been able to do that again either. at this point you might as well run Ellsbury out there to let him develope