Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The state of the Iron Division: The Dayton Dragons

The present

When I joined BRASS six years ago, Meridian and Dayton were, and would be for the subsequent three years, in a constant battle for Iron Division supremacy, putting together several 100+ win seasons between them.

Now, like Meridian, the Dragons have been in rebuilding mode for the last few years. But it looks as though the rivalry of a few years ago is about to be rekindled.

Like the Trojans, Dayton has a few promising or established young players, and a couple of budding superstars. In the first category, Montrealer Russ Martin is already one of the best catchers in MLB, even adding speed to his well-rounded set of skills. Justin Verlander ranks among the better pitchers in the major, and will only get better with time. Jeff Francoeur is solid in right field and could become a perennial 30-HR hitter, and Edwin Encarnacion is solid at the hot corner and should improve over the next few years. Plus, Zach Greinke seems to have rebounded from his off-the-fields problems.

Dontrelle Willis had a subpar 2007, but he is too talented not to rebound at least some, and Mike Pelfrey, acquired from Montreal in the John Smoltz trade, is a highly touted right-handed starting pitcher, as is Andrew Miller from the left side. Add to this the upcoming superstars Jay Bruce and Evan Longoria, and solid prospects like Ian Stewart and Jeff Niemann and you have the makings of a very good team for a long time.

In addition to all the talent, Dayton has a solid bank account of $19, 442, 523, and has wisely kept all of its picks (except its 2008 third rounder) for the next two years, while adding Montreal’s 2008 second and fifth round picks.

Aside from the bright future, to me one of the most impressive things about Dayton is that, despite the rebuilding, they have managed to field very competitive teams the last two or three years. And next year should be no exception.

Looking at 2008-09

The pitching

Other than Willis and Verlander, no starting pitcher really stands out on the Dragon’s current roster, except maybe for Greinke (3.29, 1.29 WHIP in 122 IPs). Paul Maholm pitched 177 innings, but had a WHIP of 1.42. He can gets lefties out, though, as shown by his .630 OPS against versus LHB. So either the draft, or free agency and trades, will have to help here..

The bullpen has a couple of nice pieces with Brad Lidge (67 IPs, 3.36 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 19 saves), Scott Linebrink (70 IPs/3.71/1.32). Todd Jones had 38 saves, which should give him a nice closer rating, but had a 4.26 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. JC Romero had a poor WHIP (1.40), mostly due to his giving up 40 bases on balls in 56 innings, but his OPS vs LHB and RHB is solid (.645 and .677, respectively).

Position players

There is a nice nucleus here with Martin behind the plate (.843 OPS and 21 steals in 30 attempts), Francoeur (.782 and Gold Glove defense, not to mention a cannon for an arm), Encarnacion (.794 OPS), Jeff Kent (.875 OPS), Frank Thomas (.277/.377/.480), and the stellar defense of shortstop Adam Everett. Melvin Mora is still capable at 3b with a 3e14 rating and a .762 OPS.

There are some very nice platoon players on the roster, too. Scott Spiezio had an .832 OPS versus lefties, while Reed Johnson managed an outstanding .913 against southpaws. On defense, Speizio also qualifies at very infield position except shortstop, as well as in the outfield, and Johnson is more than solid in the outfield with ratings of lf-2(-1)e1, rf-3e1, and cf-3e1. Jay Payton can be useful versus LHP (.285/.353/.423), while Daryle Ward will have a monster card against RHP (.333/.439/.539), although his playing time will be limited (133 PAs).

Then, there are Brady Clark whose .OPS versus LHP was .822, including a .386 OBP, and Lew Ford (.256/.347/.419 vs LHP, and good defense - lf-2(-1)e5, cf-3e5, and rf-3e5).

Finally, Mike Scutaro and Jason Smith are versatile utility players, although their bats are a little weak, especially in Smith’s case, and Mike Piazza will be an adequate backup for Martin.

In conclusion, while the Dragons are not yet ready for prime time, they should be formidable opponents to their divisional rivals, especially Meridian, in a very short period of time.

Projected lineup for now

C Martin/Piazza
1B Ward/Spiezio
2B Kent
3B Mora/Encarnacion
SS Everett
OF Johnson
OF Francoeur
OF Clark
OF Payton
OF Ford
DH Thomas
SP Verlander
SP Willis
SP Maholm
RP Lidge
RP Linebrink
RP Jones
RP Romero
RP Gobble

0 Swings of the bat: