By Josh Flagner
To kick off my More Than a Fan National League East season preview series, I’ve decided to do something a little different. It’s an executive decision, if you will. I even went and put on a tie for this paragraph so I would seem extra official.
Instead of writing about a different team every week – I can’t possibly do it any better than the season previews that Lisa, Ryan, Stephanie, Dom, Mark, Deb, and Matt have already done – I’m going to pick out a position group and look at how that group stacks up in comparison to the rest of the division. (If you’re wondering why those two paragraphs sound familiar, it’s because I copy/pasted them from the last two Snapshots. I don’t want to jump right into an over-played joke or table full of stats without an explanation.)
You’ve already wasted enough time at work looking at the starting rotation, bullpen, and outfield snapshots, so get your boss button ready for this week’s look at the infields in the National League East.
It’s late enough in spring training that teams are getting close to having their rosters figured out. Still, there’s still some movement waiting to happen. These players are my best guess at the official starters each position. If I’m wrong, this paragraph is my way of not be responsible.
|1B – Freddie Freeman||157||161||21||76||4||53||142||.282||.346|
|2B – Dan Uggla||161||140||36||82||1||62||156||.233||.311|
|3B – Chipper Jones||126||125||18||70||2||51||80||.275||.344|
|SS – Tyler Pastornicky*||117||144||7||45||27||32||45||.314||.359|
|C – Brian McCann||128||126||24||71||3||57||89||.270||.351|
*Stats combined from Mississippi (AA) and Gwinnett (AAA) Braves.
The headline story of the Braves infield is Chipper Jones’ right knee. Chipper slipped during a pregame stretch about an hour before the press conference that he used to announce that 2012 would be the last year of his career. This is Jones’ sixth knee surgery, and he’s likely to miss more time than the Braves are hoping for. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he hopes Chipper will be back by the home opener on April 13th, but I’d be he’s out until closer to the beginning of May. Chipper Jones will be back on the lineup soon enough, though, and he’ll be smack dab in the middle of an infield with some serious pop. Outside of newcomer Tyler Pastornicky, there’s a lot of strikeouts and no speed, but this group will make up for it in doubles, homers, and RBI.
Speaking of Pastornicky, he’s actually my favorite Braves infielder right now. The 22 year old has scorched his way through the Braves farm system based on his impressive plate awareness and very good speed on the basepaths. It’s not a lock the Pastornicky is the short stop of the future, but he’s definitely good enough to start this season and make an impact in the Braves lineup.
|1B – Gaby Sanchez||159||152||19||78||3||74||97||.266||.352|
|2B – Omar Infante||148||160||7||49||4||34||67||.276||.315|
|3B – Hanley Ramirez||92||82||10||45||20||44||66||.243||.333|
|SS – Jose Reyes||126||181||7||44||39||43||41||.337||.384|
|C – John Buck||140||106||16||57||0||54||115||.227||.316|
The Marlins are about to begin a season long experiment where they play two short stops on the left side of the infield. Bringing Jose Reyes into the fold – and moving Hanley Ramirez to third base to make room for him – could definitely blow up in Marlins GM Michael Hill’s face. ButIi the move works as planned, Reyes and Ramirez can be two of baseball’s most dynamic weapons. If they can stay healthy, there’s no reason to think that Reyes and Ramirez can’t combine for 70 stolen bases, 30 home runs, and 150 RBI.
There isn’t much going on in this infield outside of Reyes and Ramirez, but Gaby Sanchez and Omar Infante both make consistent contact and get on base effectively. Infante played in more games and had more plate appearances than any other season in his 10 year career last season, he’s going to have to keep it up to help the infield’s chemistry in 2012.
New York Mets
|1B – Ike Davis||36||39||7||25||0||17||31||.302||.383|
|2B – Daniel Murphy||109||125||6||49||5||24||42||.320||.362|
|3B – David Wright||102||99||14||61||13||52||97||.254||.345|
|SS – Ruben Tejada||96||93||0||36||5||35||50||.284||.360|
|C – Josh Thole||114||91||3||40||0||38||47||.268||.345|
With Jose Reyes gone, the Mets infield relies on the declining David Wright. Wright’s offense has been sliding in recent years and he’s become an injury risk.
In fact, the whole infield is a question mark. Catcher Josh Thole only appeared in 114 games, and that’s the most of any other Mets infielder. Unfortunately for New York fans, the Mets have the worst position group again.
|1B – Ty Wigginton||130||97||15||47||8||38||84||.242||.315|
|2B – Chase Utley||103||103||11||44||14||39||47||.259||.344|
|3B – Placido Polanco||122||130||5||50||3||42||44||.277||.335|
|SS – Jimmy Rollins||142||152||16||63||30||58||59||.268||.338|
|C – Carlos Ruiz||132||116||6||40||1||48||48||.283||.371|
The Phillies don’t have any infielders that stand out as superstars, but they’ve definitely got the most stable, consistent group of division. Jimmy Rollins is a former MVP, and Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, and Ty Wigginton are all recent all-stars. Staring at this stat table might not cause uncontrollable infield envy, but this is a great group. Even late blooming Carlos Ruiz will be a contributor on this contending team.
|1B – Adam LaRoche||43||26||3||15||1||25||37||.172||.288|
|2B – Danny Espinosa||158||135||21||66||17||57||166||.236||.323|
|3B – Ryan Zimmerman||101||114||12||49||3||41||73||.289||.355|
|SS – Ian Desmond||154||148||8||49||25||35||139||.253||.298|
|C – Wilson Ramos||113||104||15||52||0||38||76||.267||334|
This Nationals infield is consistent, too. Consistently mediocre. As much as I like to find bright spots in the nation’s capital, there aren’t many in this group. Ryan Zimmerman has a solid chance at good RBI numbers if any of the Nationals can get on base around him.
Short stop Ian Desmond has a shot at being a star. This will be his third full season and if he can keep himself from swinging at bad pitches all of the time, he’ll be able to produce for the Nationals.
So far I like the Phillies starting rotation, the Nationals bullpen, and the Marlins outfield the best. The Infield group introduces a new favorite to the group. I’m going with the Braves as my favorite infield, closely followed by the Phillies. What put me over the edge is the power the Braves can produce. After the top two, the Marlins deserve distinction as being close, but there’s a big chasm between them and the Mets and Nationals.
I’ll have my favorite overall picked and division predictions next week.