2015 MVP Awards

Most years, the MVP is a highly debatable award.  Should pitchers be considered?  Does a team’s playoff appearance matter?  What’s your definition of “valuable”?  And, most years the votes are going to be split based upon the writers’ answers to those questions.  Most years.  But, not this year.  While choosing the order of spots 2-10 on the writers’  ballots might be up for debate, I doubt very seriously the top spot in either league will be highly contested.  So, in order to give some recognition to some guys who had excellent seasons, I’m going to give my top 5 in each league.

American League

  1. 21665415229_16f1a71113_kJosh Donaldson (TOR)
  2. Mike Trout (LAA)
  3. Manny Machado (BAL)
  4. Lorenzo Cain (KC)
  5. J.D. Martinez (DET)

There really is little debate regarding the top two in the AL this year.  The real debate starts at #3, and down the list.  Let’s start with the name I expect to be the biggest surprise in either league: J.D. Martinez.  Outside of Tigers fans, I doubt very many noticed that he put together a spectacular season while Miggy & VMart were on the DL for significant periods of time.  His slash line of .282/.344/.535 was very nice, to go along with his 38 HR & 102 RBI.  And, while he might be the least defensively-minded guy on the AL list, he’s no liability in right field (7.7 UZR & 4 DRS are both 2nd among AL RF).

I also don’t believe Cain should be ahead of Machado on this list.  While Cain is obviously the BBWAA’s 3rd place guy (since he’s a finalist and Machado isn’t), I can’t quite piece together why he received more votes than Machado – other than the fact that he was playing for the best team in the AL, while the Orioles floundered in a weak AL East.  Take a look at their comparable stats:

  • Cain:  .307/.361/.477, 16 HR, 72 RBI, 28 SB, 56 XBH, 263 TB, .306 RISP
  • Machado: .286/.359/.502, 35 HR, 86 RBI, 20 SB, 66 XBH, 318 TB, .298 RISP

Many of their stats are neck and neck, but Machado’s OPS is 23 points higher, he has more than twice as many home runs, and over 50 more total bases.  They also are both elite defenders (Machado won the award at 3B, and Cain was a terrible snub in CF, as Trout was a finalist more because of his name than defensive prowess this year).  So, I would have to give the edge to Machado over Cain.

Mike Trout had yet another MVP-calibur season in LA.  He led the league in SLG (.590) and OPS (.991).  He had a .299/.402/.590 slash line with 41 HR, 90 RBI and 11 SB.  But, it looks like he’s going to finish 2nd yet again.  But, don’t feel too sorry for the guy.  He has only played 4 full season in the majors (and he just turned 24 in August), and assuming he finishes second in the voting, he will have 3 runner-up finishes, 1 MVP award and 1 ROY.  Since the introduction of the MVP award in 1933, no AL player has ever accomplished as much in his first four full seasons.

But, this year’s award has to go to Josh Donaldson.  Donaldson led the league in wRC+ (172), RBI (123), XBH (84), TB (352), runs (122), and hit .353 with a 1.058 OPS w/RISP.  Plus, he is an elite fielding 3B, and should have been a finalist for the Gold Glove ahead of Longoria.

National League

  1. 7435405116_2697563e11_hBryce Harper (WSH)
  2. Paul Goldschmidt (ARI)
  3. Anthony Rizzo (CHC)
  4. Joey Votto (CIN)
  5. Andrew McCutchen (PIT)

One of the things that this year’s MVP race in the NL tells me is this: the playoff teams this year were very balanced teams.  Notice that the highest ranked playoff contender is 3rd.  This is part of the reason there’s no room for debating whether a team’s playoff push would make one candidate any more deserving than the others.  Rizzo would have likely made that argument more valid if he hadn’t struggled during the second half of the season.  Through the first half, his .955 OPS and 16 HR were looking pretty good.  But, he struggled late, putting together just an .833 OPS in September.  Be that as it may, he still finished the year with a nice slash line and ranked 5th in HR, 3rd in RBI, 6th in XBH, and 6th in TB.  And, for a 6’3″, 240 lbs. first baseman . . . 17 stolen bases is pretty impressive.  Which leads me to question Joey Votto’s presence among the MVP finalists.  Here’s the comparison:

  • Rizzo:  .278/.387/.512, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 17 SB, 72 XBH, 300 TB, .303 RISP
  • Votto:  .314/.459/.541, 29 HR, 80 RBI, 11 SB, 64 XBH, 295 TB, .291 RISP

Not that Votto’s numbers aren’t good.  But, outside the slash line, where is the evidence that his season was better than Rizzo’s?  Even within the slash line, you don’t see the whole picture.  Votto only had 8 more hits than Rizzo – his average and OBP are significantly higher because he walked over 140 times.  Votto also struck out more often, and grounded into more double plays.  Rizzo is also the better defensive first baseman (tied for 2nd in the NL in DRS, and 6th in UZR – both ahead of Votto).  And, the stat that tells me that Rizzo was unfortunate at the plate, while Votto was decidedly more lucky:  BABIP – Rizzo: .289, Votto: .371.

McCutchen didn’t have a bad year, per se (5th in MVP voting would be far from a disappointment), but he started the season much slower than his usual pace.  Through the first month of the season, he was batting just .194 with a .636 OPS, 2 HR and 0 stolen bases.  That turned out to be a very difficult hole to dig out of. And, to make matters worse, he struggled down the stretch as well (.236 with a .743 OPS in September).  In the end, however, his numbers weren’t terrible: .292/.401/.488 slash line with 23 HR, 96 RBI, and 11 SB.

Goldschmidt continues to put together quality season after season, offensively and defensively.  And, one of these days, he’s going to win an MVP.  But, this year he’ll have to settle for his second runner-up in three years.  Despite having the best slash line numbers of his career: .321/.435/.570, and finishing 4th in HR (33), 2nd in RBI (110), 5th in XBH (73), and winning his second Gold Glove, his numbers ended up being just behind those of Harper.

If Harper had ever had people on base ahead of him, he would have had a legit shot at the Triple Crown.  He came up two hits shy of the batting title (batting .330), was tied for the league lead in HR (42), but ended up with just 99 RBI (5th in NL).  This, in spite of a .301 average and 1.023 OPS w/RISP.  The problem was that he only had 113 AB’s with runners in scoring position – 53rd in the NL.  But, in spite of those limited opportunities, he still had a phenomenal season, leading the league in OBP (.460), SLG (.649), OPS (1.109), and runs (118), while finishing 2nd in XBH (81) and TB (338).  As in the AL, I don’t believe there’s any real debate over who should win the MVP.

2015 Cy Young Awards

Tonight, we will find out the winners of this year’s Cy Young Awards.  I believe this is easily the most difficult choice for the BBWAA this offseason.  Manager of the year doesn’t have a lot of pressure behind it; Rookie of the Year was obvious in one league, and you couldn’t go wrong between two guys in the other; MVP is pretty clear in both leagues.  But, Cy Young?  In the National League you have a nearly impossible choice to have to make between three fantastic pitchers.  In the AL, there wasn’t one especially dominant pitcher, so they all have flaws.  You just have to figure out which one’s flaws matter the least.  Due to the nature of this year’s candidates, I’m only going to give my top 3 in the NL, but a top 4 in the AL.

American League

  1. 21212873379_d9c1e213a9_zDavid Price (DET/TOR)
  2. Dallas Keuchel (HOU)
  3. Sonny Gray (OAK)
  4. Chris Sale (CHW)

Let’s start with Sale.  I wanted to include him on this list, because even though he wasn’t a finalist for this award, he deserves some recognition.  I can understand why he wasn’t a finalist (10th in ERA, 13th in BAA), but Sale still had an excellent season.  He led the league in FIP, K’s and K/BB ratio.  And, if he had received just a little more run support (38th among starters with at least 140 IP in the AL), he likely would have finished well above 13 wins.

There were only three pitchers in the AL that finished in the top 10 in wins, ERA, WHIP, FIP, and BAA.  And, those are your three “finalists” for the award.  While Sonny Gray had an excellent season (14-7, 2.73 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), and deserved to finish in the top 3, his FIP (3.45) only ranked 8th, and he was definitely not a strikeout pitcher (169 K’s – good for 12th in the league).  So, in the end, this came down to a two-man race.  And, trying to decide between these two pitchers is splitting hairs.  Looking at seven major pitching statistics (wins, ERA, WHIP, FIP, K’s, K/BB, & BAA), Keuchel ranks in the top 5 in every single one.  The lone blemish on Price’s resume is that he ranks 8th in BAA (.227), though it’s just .009 points behind Keuchel, who ranks 2nd.  Keuchel led the league in wins (20) and WHIP (1.02).  But, Price led the league in ERA (2.45), and is ahead of Keuchel in FIP, K’s & K/BB ratio.  If you toss wins aside (which seems to be a habit of many analysts these days), you’re left with six primary categories.  And, Price leads Keuchel in four of them.

There were a few deciding factors, for me, in choosing Price.  One is the aforementioned lead Price has over Keuchel in 4 of 6 categories.  Second, one of those categories is FIP – which tells me that if Price had Keuchel’s defense behind him, his numbers would have been even better.  Third, when it came to crunch time at the end of the season, Price was practically unbeatable – 9-1, 2.30 ERA from August 1st on.  Keuchel wasn’t awful during that same stretch (8-3, 2.78 ERA), but not nearly the dominance Price demonstrated.  Like I said, this is splitting hairs.  But, I would give my vote to Price.

National League

  1. 21854585988_0422f1d293_bJake Arrieta (CHC)
  2. Zack Greinke (LAD)
  3. Clayton Kershaw (LAD)

What’s the only thing more difficult than splitting hairs between two quality candidates?  Splitting hairs between three.  Kershaw led the league in FIP and K’s.  Arrieta led the league in wins and BAA.  Greinke led the league in ERA and WHIP.  So, how am I supposed to figure this one out?  Well, here’s how I came to the decision that I did.  In the categories that Kershaw doesn’t lead, he’s 3rd behind the other two guys on the list.  So, he’s just a notch behind them.  Arrieta and Greinke ranked 1 & 2 in the league in 4 major categories (wins, ERA, WHIP, & BAA).  So, what about the two categories in which Kershaw led the league?  Arrieta ranked 2nd in FIP and 3rd in K’s.  Greinke ranked 5th in FIP and 11th in K’s.

And, for the same reason I chose Price over Keuchel, it’s important we consider crunch time of the season.  Over the last two months of the season Greinke had numbers very similar to Price – 9-1, 2.12 ERA, 0.88 WHIP.  Very impressive.  But, Arrieta’s numbers weren’t just impressive . . . they were historic.  The last time someone had a run of starts similar to Arrieta’s within a single season, they decided to lower the pitching mound because the pitchers had too much of an advantage over the batters (Gibson in ’68).  The four best 10-start stretches, in terms of ERA, in the history of baseball include two guys from the dead ball era (Johnson in 1918 – 0.44 ERA, and Meadows in 1919 – 0.47 ERA), Gibson’s ’68 season (0.20 ERA), and Jake Arrieta from August 1st – Sept. 22nd.  Over those 10 starts, Arrieta was 9-0, with a 0.48 ERA and 0.69 WHIP.  After the All-Star break, Arrieta had arguably the greatest second half of a season in the history of the game (15 GS, 12-1, 0.75 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, .148 BAA, 113 K’s, 2 HR).  All while knowing each start mattered, as his team was in the midst of a division & playoff race.  As great of a season as Greinke and Kershaw had – Arrieta deserves this award.

2015 Rookies of the Year

How can you not be impressed with the wave of young talent in baseball??  Several of MLB’s preseason top 100 prospects made their way into the big leagues in 2015, and nearly every one was productive right away.  For me, this makes 2016 even more exciting – will these youngsters continue to produce?  Will there be yet another wave of talent coming up from the minors?  But, it also makes deciding on this award much more difficult than it has been in recent years.  Most years, there are 2 or 3 rookies that separate themselves from the group, and they clearly are in the running.  Not so, this year.  Compared to typical rookie production – both leagues had several outstanding performances, which makes this year’s ROY award a challenge to determine.  Well, sorta.  In the AL, at least.  Since there are so many great rookies to choose from, we’ll consider the top 5 in each league.  So, here they are, in order…

American League

  1. Francisco Lindor (CLE)francisco-lindor-indians
  2. Carlos Correa (HOU)
  3. Miguel Sano (MIN)
  4. Carson Smith (SEA)
  5. Lance McCullers (HOU)

Let’s start at the bottom.  McCullers had a very good year in 22 starts.  But, his season mirrored the success of the Astros.  His first 13 starts were excellent (5-3, 2.48 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .207 BAA), but from August 1st on, he struggled (1-4, 4.38 ERA, 1.30 WHIP).  He definitely looks like he has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, and if he refines his game (he’s just 22), Houston will be pleased.

Quick . . . show of hands . . . if you aren’t a Mariners fan, how many of you have heard of Carson Smith??  Anybody?  He’s the perfect example of just how deep this rookie class is.  No one that I’ve heard even noticed the 25-year-old reliever who made 70 appearances for Seattle.  He’s the reason the Mariners didn’t mind trading away their closer.  He stepped in, and picked up 13 saves, along with a sparkling 2.31 ERA, 2.12 FIP, 1.01 WHIP, a staggering 11.83 K/9 and just 2.83 BB/9.

And, now we come to the offensive onslaught of rookies.  There wasn’t even room on this list for the likes of Devon Travis, Gregory Bird, etc. etc.  What’s most impressive about the top three candidates is that none of them appeared in even 100 games this year.  Miguel Sano looks like a beast at the plate – 18 HR, 52 RBI, .530 SLG, and all in just 80 games.  The AL Central better be on notice – this guy looks a lot like a young Miguel Cabrera.

Deciding between Lindor and Correa at the top was not easy.  Correa clearly has the better power (22 HR, .512 SLG), and is going to be a middle-of-the-order bat for the rest of his career (68 RBI in 99 games).  Their baserunning looks to be nearly identical (12 steals for Lindor, 14 for Correa).  But, if this postseason (or, really, the last 2 postseasons) has taught us anything, it’s that power should not be the decisive offensive stat.  And, with that in mind, Lindor leads Correa in batting by more than 30 points, and OBP (in spite of the fact that Correa walked 15 more times), and he strikes out less often.  And, what else have we learned the last two years from the Royals?  Defense matters!  Not that Correa is a poor defensive shortstop, but the defensive metrics show that he’s only average.  Meanwhile, the argument could be made that Lindor is already the best defensive SS in the AL (led the league in UZR & DRS – and Alexei Ramirez being a finalist for a gold glove over Lindor is preposterous!).  So, when I had to make a choice, I see that their offensive skills even out: Correa being the power guy, and Lindor being the on-base guy.  But, Lindor is clearly the better defensive player, which gives him the edge for the award.

National League

  1. Kris Bryant (CHC)
  2. Noah Syndergaard (NYM)
  3. Matt Duffy (SFG)
  4. Randal Grichuk (STL)
  5. Jung-ho Kang (PIT)

I want you to take a moment to think about who isn’t even on this list.  Names you probably know.  Names like Conforto, Schwarber, Pederson, Matz, Heston, etc.  Names that are likely to be impact players the rest of their careers.  It’s incredible to think about the level of talent that rose to the majors this year.  But, these ended up being my top 5, in spite of hefty competition.  Kang split time between 3B and SS, as the Pirates had a series of injuries to the left side of their infield.  And, Kang took advantage, making himself a bat the Pirates couldn’t take out of the lineup.  Before being injured in mid-September, he was the spark in the middle of Pittsburgh’s offense.  His stat line was .287/.355/.461, with 15 HR and 58 RBI.

Grichuk burst onto the scene in St. Louis, and had an immediate impact on the offense of the division winners.  In just 103 games, he slugged 17 HR, and drove in 47, with a nice .877 OPS.  His defense isn’t stellar, but it isn’t a liability either.  Through the end of June, there were many suggesting that Duffy was the frontrunner for ROY honors.  And, with an .825 OPS, he was looking to be a significant threat.  But, as the season wore on, his numbers began to decline.  He still finished with a nice .295/.334/.428 stat line with 12 HR and 77 RBI.  Plus, his defensive metrics are excellent.

But, the decision in the NL came down to either the best pitcher or the best hitting rookie in the league this year.  Syndergaard had an excellent year, going 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 9.96 K/9, and an incredible 1.86 BB/9.  But, as nice as those numbers are, the award has to go to Bryant, who is likely to get some MVP votes after the year he had (in terms of WAR – which some people still lean heavily on – he was the 5th best position player in the NL).  Bryant led all NL rookies in OBP (.369), runs (87), RBI (99), and was tied for the league lead in HR (26).  He also finished 2nd in OPS (.858), 3rd in stolen bases (13), and is an above-average fielder at 3B.  In a year when there were a plethora of talented rookies, Bryant is the clear choice in the NL.

Underrated Champions?

I heard a national sports radio show yesterday discussing the potential Royals championship, and was at first intrigued . . . but, quickly disgusted by what I heard.  I started thinking more seriously about all that was said.  Why it was said.  How it was said.  And, I began to think that this might actually be a prevalent thought among sports fans.  Especially since I’ve heard it said about champions in other sports. Here’s the phrase that was used more than once:

“They might win the championship, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best team.”

I certainly understand that this happens at times in sports.  Certain matchups create issues for the best teams, and they falter.  Top to bottom, the Kentucky basketball team last year was obviously the best team in the nation.  They just ran into a team that created problems for them, and could actually play good defense.  I remember people saying this about the New York Giants who won the Super Bowl the year the Patriots went 18-0 leading up to the Super Bowl.  I remember people complaining about how boring the Detroit Pistons were when they won it all in 2004, because they “just” played defense, and there weren’t any real stars on the team.

So, yes, it is possible for the “best” team to falter, and someone else win the championship.  But, let me go on record and say:


Kansas_City_RoyalsAs I listened more carefully to what was being said on the radio yesterday, I realized two things.  First of all, I realized that the guys on the show obviously know very little about baseball.  This is certainly an important factor in understanding why they were making such ridiculous claims.  Second, I came to the conclusion that these sportscasters (and potentially a number of fans out there, if their opinion is similar) are only considering one or two factors in determining who the “best” team in baseball actually is.  Allow me a few moments to explain why a Royals championship would be neither a fluke, nor a disappointment in the world of baseball.

#1 – Regular Season Record

I almost blew my drink out of my mouth when I heard one of the announcers declare that “obviously” the Cardinals were the best team in baseball this year because they won 100 games.  Seriously?  First of all, number of wins in the regular season is virtually irrelevant when it comes to determining who the best team actually is.  Especially when trying to compare teams across leagues and divisions.  Some divisions are more difficult than others, the schedule isn’t perfectly balanced, the AL has to deal with the DH, etc. etc.  So, the Cardinals got to 100 wins . . . and what exactly did that get them?  A comfortable seat on the couch after the first round of the playoffs.

Baseball playoffs are set up to prove who the better team actually is.  Other than the 1-game Wild Card round, the team that comes out on top is almost always the better team, because you have multiple opportunities to come out on top.  You have injuries that impact your team’s performance (one of the talking heads on the radio’s go-to excuse for St. Louis)?  Then you aren’t the better team this time, because the team you put on the field couldn’t win.  Better luck next year.  And, for the record, the Royals did have the best record in the AL, winning 95 games – hardly a lucky, back-door entrant into the postseason.

#2 – Offense

No, the 2015 Royals aren’t the ’27 Yankees.  They had three guys who hit 20+ home runs, and none that hit as many as 25.  And, to that, I say . . . so what???  Have we not yet realized that home run prowess is far from being the deciding factor in how great an offense is?  Did you see the Cubs this postseason?  Did you completely miss the fact that they became so home run happy with their swings after blasting through the NLDS, that they forgot the importance of putting the ball in play against the Mets?  No, the Royals don’t have the kind of power the kids in Chicago do, or the Blue Jays, or the teams in Texas.  But, how many of those offenses have made it to the World Series in consecutive years?

041112BMa0196So, why is this offense so good?  Well, in the famous words of Brad Pitt/Billy Beane, “they get on base.”  The starting lineup that the Royals put out there each night has six players with an OBP of at least .348 this season.  Other offenses in the playoffs? – Blue Jays: 4 (3 of which hit at least 39 HR). Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs & Dodgers: 3.  Yankees, Rangers, Astros & Mets: 2.  Think about that for a minute.  There are over 700 players who swung a bat at the major league level this year.  A little over 300 of them had at least 250 plate appearances.  Of those 300+, 71 of them (less than 25%) had an OBP as high as .348.  Of those 71 . . . 6 play in Kansas City.

What too many seem to have forgotten since the PED-enduced power-surge of the late-90’s and early-2000’s, is that home runs are not the best way to score runs, especially in the postseason.  They might be the most exciting thing for the fans to watch.  But, relying heavily on home-run power is going to catch up with you in the playoffs.  Better pitching will dominate a home-run-based offense, because teams that hit a lot of home runs also do a lot of something else . . . they strike out.  Since 2012, the Royals have been the most difficult team to strike out in baseball.  Why?  Because they don’t care how far they hit it – they just want to hit it.  Game 2 of the World Series was a perfect example.  They saw over 40 pitches with 2 strikes against them.  They swung and missed just three times.

Instead of striking out, this team puts the ball in play.  They get on base with a lot of singles and walks, with the occasional extra-base hit.  They go first-to-third as good as any team in the game.  They steal bases (5th in all of baseball).  This is one of the best offenses in the game!

#3 – Defense

This is such an underrated part of the game.  But, did you see the statistic that came up after Hosmer let that ball go under his glove and into right field on Tuesday?  Because of his error, the Mets scored an unearned run – the first allowed by the Royals this entire postseason.  That, after allowing just 1 unearned run all of last postseason.  The Royals currently have 4 finalists for Gold Gloves this season (most in the AL).  As a team, they led all of baseball in UZR and RZR – two metrics used to determine a player’s ability to get to the ball.  They were tied for 3rd in the AL in fielding percentage – which is a feat in itself, because the more balls you can get to, the more errors you are likely to commit.  I don’t know why so few seem to pay attention to this important part of the game, but the Royals are arguably the best defense in baseball.

#4 – Bullpen

WDavisEven the guys on the radio were ready to admit how amazing the Royals’ bullpen is.  Except, they passed it off as if it was a crutch.  In a conversation about run differential (as if that were somehow the end-all-be-all statistic), they said something about the Royals winning games that were close, while losing games that weren’t.  And, they actually said, “Well, that’s just because their bullpen is so good.”  And, why, exactly, is that a knock against this team??  The Royals have 3 relievers who had ERA’s no higher than 2.71, with WHIPs no higher than 1.12.  Almost 140 relievers pitched enough innings this season to qualify as league leaders in any category.  Of those, 30 (21%) had the combined ERA and WHIP as good as mentioned.  Three of those pitch in KC.  Only the Pirates and Padres can make the same claim.  As a whole, this bullpen finished 2nd in baseball in ERA, 2nd in WHIP, and 1st in BAA.  No other bullpen in baseball ranks even in the top 5 in all three categories.  You’re going to have a hard time saying this isn’t the best bullpen in baseball.


You want to pick on the fact that the Royals’ starting pitchers aren’t exactly elite?  I’m fine with that.  They were bottom 1/3 of the league in ERA, BAA, and WHIP this season – though, they did jump to middle of the pack after the All-Star break (which happened to coincide with the acquisition of Cueto).  If you want to call them out for not having a great starting rotation, be my guest.  But, when you have a relentless offense that pecks away at starting pitching and runs the bases as well as anyone, an elite bullpen, and incredible defense . . . are you really going to tell me this can’t possibly be the best team in the game?

2015 Managers of the Year

As the World Series gets under way tonight, it’s time for us to begin looking at 2015 in review.  And, I’d like to start by taking a look at the managers who made the biggest difference for their respective teams.  In this category, I believe there’s more room for debate in the AL than there is in the NL.  No one really emerged from the pack in the AL.  For this particularly award, I’ll give my top 3.

American League

  1. Ned Yost (KC)38605223-mct_sports_bba-alcs-rainout_3_kc
  2. A.J. Hinch (HOU)
  3. Jeff Bannister (TEX)

The Royals had one month in which they finished below .500 – September/October, when they finished 2 games below .500 as they cruised into the postseason because they had such a lead in their division.  Yost kept this team hungry after losing in 7 games in the World Series a year ago (the other three teams to lose in that fashion since the turn of the century weren’t able to advance past the first round of the playoffs the following year).  KC was easily the most consistent team in the American League from beginning to end.  They didn’t always have the best record (though, they did finish with it).  Other teams, like the Astros, Rangers and Blue Jays, went through considerable peaks and valleys.  But, Yost kept this team focused, and prepared for making another run at a championship.  Hinch’s team started out on fire – 11 games over .500 through the first two months of the season.  But, they were essentially a mediocre team the rest of the way, as they saw their substantial division lead slowly leak away while they played to just an 86-76 record in the end.  Still, give Hinch credit for leading a young team into the postseason.  I give Bannister the nod here for bringing his team back from an abysmal start to their season.  They fought and clawed their way back to a division title, going 38-21 from August 2nd on.

National League

  1. Joe Maddon (CHC)1439342344735
  2. Terry Collins (NYM)
  3. Mike Matheny (STL)

Each of these managers did something special this year, and unlike the AL, they each separated themselves from the pack in their own way.  Let’s start with Matheny – 100 wins is very impressive.  Even more so, when you consider they lost their ace for nearly the entire season, their cleanup hitter for half the year, and their All-Star catcher down the stretch.  The only reason he isn’t at the top is because I’m even more impressed with what the other two have done this year.  Collins managed a team that had won 79 games a year ago, and led them to 90 wins and a division title over a team that was supposed to have run away with it (Nationals).  This, in spite of missing his team leader and All-Star 3B for 3/4 of the year, and his up-and-coming catcher for more than half the year.  They made it through July as a 53-50 team, which was respectable considering what they had lost.  But, with the return of Wright & D’Arnaud, the additions of Cespedes and Uribe, and calling up Conforto and Matz, the team took off, finishing 37-22.  But, Joe Maddon deserves a ton of credit for getting the Cubs to where they were.  A 24-game turnaround, compared to 2014, was the best in the majors.  Now, detractors will point to all of the talent on the Cubs roster, particularly the young talent (Bryant, Schwarber, Soler, & Russell were all rookies – Castro & Rizzo were both just 25 when the season started).  But, talent does not equal performance – especially when you’re talking about young talent.  The only reason you know about all the young talent the Cubs have is because Maddon was able to get them to perform.  Not too many were talking about Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain and Perez in 2012 – they were definitely a bunch of talented young players, but they weren’t performing at a high level yet.  Bringing so many young players together, along with other new faces (Fowler, Lester, Montero, Ross, etc.), is not going to automatically work (see San Diego Padres).  But, Maddon led this team to the third best record in all of baseball – 97-65.

2015 Playoff Confidence Picks

Even though the playoffs have technically already begun, it’s now time for playoff predictions.  The only reason I don’t like trying to make predictions for the Wild Card game is because it’s a single game, and pretty much anything can happen in those games.  And, that’s why baseball is usually played in series.  The better team is almost always going to come out on top in a series.  Single games can be decided by a pitcher who’s blazing hot (Arrieta last night), an offense that has caught fire at the right time (Kansas City last year), or any number of individual players or plays that send one game spiraling out of control for one team.  This is also the argument some use who are opposed to there being any portion of the playoffs decided by a single game.  But, I happen to like the Wild Card game as it is, and that’s really a discussion for another post.

Now that the final 8 teams are set, I’m going to give you my “confidence” picks.  I will rank each team in 5 categories: starters, bullpen, offense, defense, and manager.  These rankings might be based on the full season of work, but will be influenced by the last month or two of the season (just look at last year’s World Series teams to understand why that’s so important).  The team with the lowest score will automatically advance to the next round of the playoffs.  So, here we go…


American League

  1. Toronto
  2. Houston
  3. Texas
  4. Kansas City

Not only does Toronto have a Cy Young candidate at the top, but Marcus Stroman has been lights out since his return from the DL.  And, when your #3 and #4 starters are R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, you’re in pretty good shape.  Keuchel and McHugh are a great 1-2 punch in Houston.  But, beyond those two, there isn’t really anything terribly impressive.  Cole Hamels is great in Texas, but he can’t start every game for them, unfortunately.  And, I think the Kansas City starting rotation’s issues have been well documented, so let’s move on.

National League

  1. New York
  2. Los Angeles
  3. St. Louis
  4. Chicago

The Mets have 4 studs that could go out and pitch shutout baseball on any given day.  That’s a nice commodity to have in the playoffs.  The Dodgers have 2, and then a lot of question marks.  St. Louis doesn’t really have one single dominating starter.  But, they don’t really have a glaring weakness #1-4, and Wainwright could be the ace up their sleeve.  The Cubs have one legit Cy Young candidate (who will only get to pitch once in the NLDS), one starter whose playoff resume is excellent, and then some pretty huge question marks.


American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Houston
  3. Toronto
  4. Texas

No question the Royals’ bullpen is stellar.  What’s interesting is that the remaining three teams in the AL all have bullpens that are . . . well, less than impressive.  Houston’s closer has an ERA over 3.00.  Toronto doesn’t have a single guy with an ERA under 2.50.  And, Texas has multiple guys with ERA’s over 4.00.  These teams better hope they score early and often.

National League

  1. St. Louis
  2. Chicago
  3. New York
  4. Los Angeles

The Cardinals have one of the most reliable bullpens in baseball right now.  The only team in the NL that would have ranked higher than them would have been Pittsburgh, had they won last night.  The Cubs have a closer that has been lights out since July 1st (1.21 ERA, and just one blown save), and Rodney has turned out to be a great pick up.  The Mets have an excellent closer . . . and not much else.  The Dodgers have an up-and-down Jansen, and the hopes that Kershaw & Greinke can pitch 8 innings.


American League

  1. Toronto
  2. Texas
  3. Kansas City
  4. Houston

This gets really tight once you get past Toronto.  No question the Blue Jays have the best offense in the AL.  But, the remaining three teams are in varying order depending on which stat you go with.  I’m going to give Texas the nod, because they really caught fire the last two months of the season.  And, I’ll give KC the slightest edge over Houston, because in the playoffs I trust a team that is able to get on base and pressure their opponents’ pitchers/defense, more than I trust a team that relies so heavily on the HR.

National League

  1. Chicago
  2. New York
  3. Los Angeles
  4. St. Louis

The Cubs scored more runs than any NL team remaining in the playoffs.  The Mets’ addition of Cespedes and the return of D’Arnaud has made them a much more serious threat the last couple months.  The Dodgers have the best OPS in the group, but somehow managed to finish 8th in the NL in runs scored.  And, St. Louis’ best stat is OBP, where they finished 6th in the NL, which is just 3rd best in this group.


American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Houston
  3. Toronto
  4. Texas

All around the diamond, KC is impressive defensively.  Three Gold Glove winners last year, and a 4th who was a finalist last year.  There are no holes in their defense.  But, Houston is right on their tail.  Correa is outstanding, and they are solid all the way around.  Toronto has some excellent fielders (Donaldson & Tulo), but they also have some aging guys that aren’t exactly elite fielders (Martin, Bautista, etc.).  They’re still above average, but they definitely lag behind KC & Houston.  And, Texas . . . well, let’s just say it’s a good thing their offense is as good as it is.

National League

  1. Los Angeles
  2. New York
  3. St. Louis
  4. Chicago

The Dodgers had the best fielding percentage in the NL this year.  And, that’s probably the only team on the NL side that I would suggest might have an excellent defense.  The Mets are second on this list, because they’re good, not great.  Meanwhile the Cardinals and Cubs have to put their hopes in other parts of the game.


American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Toronto
  3. Texas
  4. Houston

Ned Yost is the only “known” quantity here.  While I don’t place a ton of confidence in him (kinda felt like KC got to the World Series in spite of some of his moves last year), he does have the experience that none of the others do.  I’ll give Gibbons a lot of credit for keeping his team’s confidence high when they were struggling early in the season.  Bannister and Hinch are virtual unknowns.  The only reason I’ll give Bannister a slight edge is because he managed the team that overtook Hinch’s team in the last month of the season.

National League

  1. Chicago
  2. New York
  3. Los Angeles
  4. St. Louis

Let me start by saying that I don’t lack confidence in any of these guys.  Unlike the American League choices, all of the NL options have proven to be quality leaders.  Maddon should be Manager of the Year, considering how many rookies are on that team.  Collins did a good job with a very young pitching staff, and some new faces at the trade deadline.  Mattingly received a lot of undeserved heat in last year’s playoffs, but he still needs to prove he can carry the team deeper into the postseason.  Matheny has led his team far, but there are a lot of question marks regarding some of his decisions.

There you have it.  Those are my rankings.  Now, let’s see how that all adds up.  The numbers in parentheses are each team’s totals from the above categories.


  1. Toronto Blue Jays (10) def. Texas Rangers(16)
  2. Kansas City Royals (10) def. Houston Astros (14)


  1. New York Mets (10) def. Los Angeles Dodgers (13)
  2. Chicago Cubs (12) def. St. Louis Cardinals (15)


Kansas City Royals (10) def. Toronto Blue Jays (10)  [I gave the tie-breaker to the team that was ahead of the other team in the rankings more often.]


New York Mets (10) def. Chicago Cubs (12)


World Series

Kansas City Royals defeat the New York Mets in 7 games.

I think this could be a great Series.  I give the edge to KC, because I think they have the edge in bullpen, defense, and manager.  The Mets definitely have the edge in starting pitching, but I don’t think that’s enough.  No matter what, I think this is going to be an exciting postseason!

Cy Young Preview

With about 7 weeks left in the regular season, most pitchers only have around 8-9 starts left.  Which means around 70% of their season is behind them.  With that in mind, I think it’s time for us to consider who has a shot at winning some regular season awards.  And, we’ll start with the Cy Young.  We’ll divide the candidates into three categories:  Frontrunners, Contenders, and Dark Horse.  With around 30% of their starts ahead of them, there will be a number of guys who have a chance to climb up in the conversation.  So, we’ll take into consideration what a guy’s season might look like if he wins 6 or 7 more games in dominant fashion, in this stretch run.  Keep in mind that some of these stats fluctuate rapidly, so don’t be surprised if I missed a start between this article being written, and it posting.


American League

Dallas Keuchel (HOU) – By now, everyone should be familiar with Keuchel (pronounced kai’kl).  He started off blazing hot at the beginning of the season, and was 7-1 with a 1.76 ERA by the end of May. He has definitely cooled since then (7-5, 2.90 ERA), but is still leading the league in wins, with 14.  He’s also 3rd in the league in WHIP (1.01), 4th in FIP (fielding independent pitching – 2.74), 6th in BAA (.212), and 6th in K’s (151).  His 3.78 K/BB ratio just ranks 11th in the AL, but his other numbers are very impressive.  Barring a drop-off in production over his remaining starts, he should remain a frontrunner for the award.

sonny-graySonny Gray (OAK) – With the A’s floundering in last place, I doubt many have paid that much attention to Sonny.  But, his numbers stack up with the best of the best in the AL.  In fact, he leads the league in a number of important categories:  BAA (.197), ERA (2.06), and WHIP (0.96).  He’s also one of only three pitchers in the AL with multiple shutouts.  And, with 12 wins already under his belt (and just 4 losses), 18-19 wins seems very attainable.  He only ranks 7th in FIP (2.93), and doesn’t strike out as many guys as others on this list (136 – ranks 10th in the AL).  But, leading the league in those other categories more than makes up for it.

Chris Sale (CHW) – Just 11 wins (t-9th) and a 3.32 ERA (12th) doesn’t exactly sound like a frontrunner for any pitching award, does it?  But, Sale seems to have been the recipient of some bad luck.  How else would you explain the fact that he leads the league in FIP (2.40), K’s (208), K/9 (11.9), is 2nd in K/BB ratio (6.5), and tied for 3rd in WHIP (1.04)?  I think the evidence is seen in the fact that he’s 8th in the AL in BAA (.222), but has the 7th highest BABIP (.317) in the entire AL – that’s some incredible bad luck.  He might only end up with 16-17 wins, but his dominance on the mound could easily lead to him winning this award.


National League

Clayton Kershaw (LAD) – The way his season started, I had zero expectations for Kershaw contending for the Cy Young.  Yet, here he is . . . again.  Sure, he may only have 10 wins right now.  But, have you seen him lately?  In his last 6 starts, he’s 5-0 with a 0.75 ERA, .167 BAA, 0.69 WHIP, and 58 K’s in just 48 IP – which, by the way, included 37 consecutive scoreless innings.  Kershaw now leads the league in K’s (205), FIP (2.18), and K/9 (11.4).  He’s also 3rd in ERA (2.39), 4th in BAA (.201), 4th in WHIP (0.92), and 2nd in K/BB (6.83).  Another dominant 7 weeks could put Kershaw in the driver’s seat for his fourth Cy Young.  But, I think the biggest thing standing in his way is…

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego PadresZack Greinke (LAD) – Greinke is having an incredible year.  And, unlike many others on this list (in both leagues), he hasn’t really gone through a “rough” patch.  The closest thing to that on his resume is from May 11th – June 23rd, when in 9 starts he went 0-2.  But, it was certainly no fault of his own, as he posted a 1.79 ERA, and 1.03 WHIP, while striking out 54 in 60.1 IP.  Just imagine how much better his 12-2 record might look if he had picked up just half the wins he deserved in that stretch (allowed 1 run or less in 7 of those starts!).  As it is, Greinke still leads the league in win pct. (.857), ERA (1.59), WHIP (0.86), BAA (.189), and H/9 (6.1).  He’s also 2nd in FIP (2.59).  And, while Greinke isn’t a big strikeout pitcher (142 – 11th), he doesn’t walk many guys either, so he ranks 6th in K/BB (5.07).  If I had the award to give out today, Greinke would be my NL choice.

Jacob deGrom (NYM) – What a fantastic follow-up to his rookie year this guy is having.  deGrom may not be leading the league in any significant stat.  But, he’s right there with the leaders.  He’s 2nd in ERA (2.03), 3rd in FIP (2.62), 2nd in WHIP (0.89), 2nd in BAA (.192) and 5th in K/BB (5.43).  If either Kershaw or Greinke falter down the stretch, deGrom could easily follow his ROY award with a Cy Young.



American League

price.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxDavid Price (TOR) – A reinvigorated Price is exactly what the Blue Jays were hoping for when they traded for him.  Since joining Toronto, Price has gone 2-0 in three starts, with a 1.61 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and has struck out 24 in 22.1 IP.  His numbers with Detroit weren’t bad, mind you (9-4, 2.53 ERA, 1.13 WHIP).  But, his numbers north of the border have pushed him to the brink of being a frontrunner.  His name now appears near the top in several categories:  4th in K’s (162), 4th in ERA (2.41), 6th in FIP (2.92), 7th in K/BB (4.76), 9th in WHIP (1.09).  If he keeps pitching like has been since joining the Blue Jays, don’t be surprised if he wins his second Cy Young.

Corey Kluber (CLE) – After winning last year’s award, people should know who Kluber is, and know what he’s capable of.  But, Corey didn’t do himself any favors the way his season started.  Through his first seven starts, he was 0-5, with a 5.04 ERA.  But, since then, he has done much better, and he has really turned it on since the end of July. In his last 4 starts, Kluber has three complete games, and is 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA, .165 BAA, 0.70 WHIP, and 27 K’s in 32.2 IP.  He already ranks 3rd in the league in WHIP (1.04), 2nd in FIP (2.59), 3rd in K/BB (5.68), and is 3rd in K’s (193).  He will need some help from those that are ahead of him, because he only has 8 wins at this point – but, the potential is there for 15.


National League

Jake Arrieta (CHC) – If I told you to take a guess at which NL pitcher was tied for the league lead in wins (14), tied for 3rd in ERA (2.39), 4th in FIP (2.67), 5th in WHIP (0.99), 5th in BAA (.205), and 5th in K’s (163), how many guesses do you think you’d need before coming up with Arrieta’s name?  Just two years ago, he was given up on by the Orioles, after being one of their top prospects in 2009/10.  Now, he’s looking like a legit ace.  And, if he carries his current momentum (last 8 starts: 6-1, 1.41 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 55 K’s in 58.1 IP) through the rest of the season, he could surprise a lot of people by taking this award.

Max Scherzer (WSH) – In addition to having a near-perfect game (which still resulted in a no-hitter), Scherzer is having a very good year.  But, if Arrieta is on an upward trend, Scherzer is going the opposite direction.  In his last three starts, he’s 0-1, with a 7.80 ERA, and 1.60 WHIP.  He still ranks among the league leaders in several categories (1st in K/BB – 8.43; 2nd in K’s – 194; 2nd in BB% – 3.6%; 3rd in WHIP – 0.90; 4th in BAA – .202; 6th in FIP – 2.68; 10th in ERA – 2.73).  But, if he wants to be considered a frontrunner, he will need to reverse the trend of his last few outings.


Dark Horse

American League


Chris Archer (TB) – If the Rays make a late-season push for the playoffs (just 2.5 GB in the Wild Card), Archer will have a lot to do with it.  He’s another one that I doubt many are paying attention to, primarily because his 10-9 record is a bit underwhelming.  But, he ranks 6th in ERA (2.93), 2nd in K/9 (10.91), 3rd in FIP (2.65), 2nd in K’s (194), tied for 5th in WHIP (1.06), and 6th in BAA (.214).  If he carries those kinds of numbers through the rest of the season, and finishes with 16 or more wins, he will likely be on everyone’s short list.

Untitled23Carlos Carrasco (CLE) – Carrasco’s biggest hindrance to winning the Cy Young might be the fact that he plays on the same team as Kluber.  But, don’t underestimate the young Venezuelan.  He already has 11 wins (same as Price), and has really turned it on in his last three starts (1.04 ERA, 0.38 WHIP, .085 BAA, and 22 K’s in 26 IP).  He ranks 5th in the league in K’s (155), 5th in FIP (2.90), 4th in K/9 (9.67), 5th in K/BB (5.64), and 5th in WHIP (1.05).  Cy Young award or not, keep an eye on this guy in the coming years.


National League

Gerrit Cole (PIT) – He leads the league in wins (14), and 15-20 years ago, that would put him in the “frontrunner” category.  But, the rest of his stats are lagging behind the frontrunners.  He’s 5th in ERA (2.48), 8th in K’s (149), 5th in FIP (2.67), and tied for 10th in WHIP (1.12).  Don’t get me wrong – Cole is having an excellent season.  But, he’s actually on a bit of a downward trend.  Since the All-Star break, he’s 1-3 in 5 starts, with a 3.16 ERA, and 1.24 WHIP.  He will need to step it up the next few weeks to get back on everyone’s short list.

matt-harvey-smi2Matt Harvey (NYM) – Harvey is slowly creeping up the leader boards.  Prior to the All-Star break, he was just 8-6 with a 3.07 ERA.  But, since that time, he has gone 3-1 with a 1.23 ERA, .162 BAA, 0.74 WHIP, and 26 K’s in 36.2 IP.  After that impressive run, he now is tied for 5th in WHIP (0.99), ranks 7th in ERA (2.61), and 6th in BAA (.211).  If he really turned it on down the stretch, and came away with 18 wins (he has 11 already), he could sneak into contention.


That’s my list.  Who do you think I forgot?  Who do you think is ranked too high?  Too low?  Let your voice be heard in the comments below.