2016 All-Star Ballot (part 1)

Every team in baseball has played more than 40 games, at this point.  And, you know what that means . . . we’re half way to the All-Star break!  So, I thought it was about time to discuss who is looking like an All-Star this year.  Emphasis on this year.  Unlike some voters, I don’t really care what a guy did last season, and whether or not he was “snubbed” from the Mid-Summer Classic a year ago.  How are you performing right now?  Are you putting up All-Star numbers?  If not . . . better luck next year.  Well, that, or you have about another month or so to get your act together if you want my vote(s).

Since it’s still early in the season, we won’t spend a ton of time discussing each position.  But, I do think it’s worth taking a look to see who is actually performing like an All-Star.  Because, there may very well be some surprises.  Keep in mind, the stats listed are all prior to last night’s games.

Catcher

AL – This is always one of the more difficult positions for me.  Trying to find the appropriate balance between offensive production, and defensive prowess is debated more behind the plate than anywhere else on the diamond.  At this point, though, in the American League, the decision is fairly easy:  Matt Wieters (BAL) – .283/.330/.455, 4 HR, 16 RBI.  There’s only one catcher in the AL with more than 100 PA’s that is legitimately out-performing Wieters offensively (McCann), and Wieters is lightyears ahead defensively.  On the flip side of that coin, there’s really only one catcher in the AL that is significantly better than Wieters behind the plate (Perez), and Wieters is head and shoulders ahead of him offensively, at this point.  So, for now, I believe Weiters is the best balanced candidate in the AL.

Others to watch:  Brian McCann (NYY), Jason Castro (HOU), Salvador Perez (KC)

NL – The catcher position in the National League is perhaps a little easier to decide:  Wilson Ramos (WSH).  Ramos is far and away the best offensive catcher in baseball, at this point.  His .347/.389/.525 slash line is especially impressive at a position that doesn’t really emphasize offense as much.  And, Ramos is middle of the pack defensively.  Depending on the metrics, there are about half a dozen catchers in the NL performing better than Ramos behind the plate.  But, only 2 of those are even having slightly above-average seasons offensively (Posey & Castillo).  For now, Ramos’ offense is so much better, that I think he deserves the vote.  But, if Posey heats up offensively, or if Molina or Lucroy make strides on defense to surpass Ramos, there could be a lot of fluctuation here.

Others to watch:  Buster Posey (SF), Yadier Molina (STL), Jonathan Lucroy (MIL)

 

First Base

AL – The choice here is easy:  Miguel Cabrera (DET).  Now, while I said it was an easy choice – that doesn’t mean it isn’t close.  Hosmer is just a notch behind Cabrera in pretty much every offensive category.  And, Cabrera even has him beat defensively at the moment.  Cabrera is quietly having another impressive season – .315/.388/.537, 9 HR, 26 RBI.

Others to watch:  Eric Hosmer (KC), Carlos Santana (CLE), Chris Davis (BAL)

NL – Another choice that was pretty easy, but still very close:  Anthony Rizzo (CHC) – .240/.379/.526, 11 HR, 34 RBI.  The bizarre thing about Rizzo’s stat line is that his OBP, and ultimately his OPS (which leads all NL first basemen), are both very high, in spite of the fact that his batting average is as low as it is.  But, that just further proves how obsolete of a stat batting average is becoming.  Rizzo is also one of the top fielding first basemen in the league.

Others to watch:  Brandon Belt (SF), Paul Goldschmidt (ARI), Chris Carter (MIL)

 

Second Base

AL – Wow.  There are some second basemen in both leagues that are having really impressive seasons, but likely won’t get close to starting in the All-Star game.  Mainly because there are two guys having unbelievable seasons.  In the AL, it’s Jose Altuve (HOU) – .328/.413/.582, 9 HR, 27 RBI, 15 SB.  If he keeps this up, he could be in the MVP discussion.  Well, if Houston doesn’t continue to tank, that is.

Others to watch:  Robinson Cano (SEA), Ian Kinsler (DET)

NL – Potential MVP candidate in the NL:  Daniel Murphy (WSH) – .387/.420/.607, 6 HR, 28 RBI.  He’s playing so well, I don’t think there’s more than one second basemen in the NL that has a shot at catching him before the break.

Other to watch:  Ben Zobrist (CHC)

 

Shortstop

AL – What a loaded position this is in the American League!  And, loaded with youth, which means we get to enjoy this for several years to come.  Right now, my vote goes to:  Xander Bogaerts (BOS) – .346/.397/.495, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 6 SB.  Bogaerts is also an excellent fielding shortstop.  His overall numbers are leading, but not necessarily overshadowing, others at this position.  So, there could be a decent amount of fluctuation between now and July.

Others to watch:  Francisco Lindor (CLE), Carlos Correa (HOU)

NL – While this is another position that often places an emphasis on defense, the two best offensive shortstops in the NL are so far ahead of everyone else, I’m going to ignore the fact that they are both a little below average with the glove.  Right now, my vote goes to a guy you’re going to have to write in:  Aledmys Diaz (STL) – .352/.386/.599, 6 HR, 23 RBI.  Taking the place of the injured Peralta, Diaz has played his way into the starting job, regardless of what happens to Peralta in my mind.  And, while Story had the hot start to the season, Diaz is batting almost 70 points higher, and his OPS is 40 points higher.  Plus, Story is striking out at an alarming 31.9%, while Diaz only 9.2%

Others to watch:  Trevor Story (COL), Zack Cozart (CIN), Corey Seager (LAD)

 

Third Base

AL – Two more no-brainers here.  In the American League, we’re looking at another potential MVP candidate:  Manny Machado (BAL) – .308/.367/.610, 12 HR, 26 RBI.  And, Machado is arguably one of the best gloves in the game – regardless of position.

Others to watch:  Nick Castellanos (DET), Travis Shaw (BOS), Josh Donaldson (TOR)

NL Nolan Arenado (COL) – .307/.383/.620, 14 HR, 34 RBI, and another excellent fielding third baseman.  Arenado isn’t as far ahead of the rest of the pack as Machado is, but it’s enough to say he’s the clear choice.  But, don’t be surprised if one or more of these others catch up with him.

Others to watch:  Kris Bryant (CHC), Matt Carpenter (STL)

 

Outfield

AL – It kinda makes me chuckle that no one is even talking about Trout, in spite of the season he’s having (.321/.411/.564, 10 HR, 31 RBI).  It’s almost like we just expect that from him now.  But, probably even more surprising was my third choice in the outfield: 1) Jackie Bradley, Jr. (BOS) – .342/.413/.618, 8 HR, 33 RBI; 2) Mike Trout (LAA), and . . . 3) Michael Saunders (TOR) – .322/.388/.570, 8 HR, 15 RBI.  Be honest – who saw that coming?  And yet, he is the clear choice, as everyone else is well behind him in overall offensive production.

Others to watch:  Mark Trumbo (BAL), Nelson Cruz (SEA), Jose Bautista (TOR)

NL – I don’t think there are any surprises here, other than perhaps the order: 1) Yoenis Cespedes (NYM) – .298/.381/.660, 14 HR, 35 RBI; 2) Dexter Fowler (CHC) – .316/.435/.533, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 6 SB; 3) Bryce Harper (WSH) – .260/.451/.565, 11 HR, 30 RBI, 7 SB.  Braun is neck-and-neck with Harper in overall offensive production, but lags way behind in defense, which is why Harper definitely gets the nod here.

Others to watch:  Ryan Braun (MIL), Christian Yelich (MIA), Stephen Piscotty (STL)

 

And, if you don’t know who to vote for at DH . . . you probably need to start reading a different blog.  Hahaha.  Let’s just say it’s your last chance to see him in the Mid-Summer Classic.  Happy voting!

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2016 BOLD Predictions

Can you smell the grass?  Can you hear the crack of the bat?  Can you feel the excitement as each team has a fresh start?  We are less than a week from Opening Day.  And, that means it’s time for some bold predictions (see what I did there?).  Or, at least, some predictions.  I’m not sure how “bold” they are – you can be the judge of that for yourself.

MVP

25300218310_f88b4faee6_zJustin Upton (DET) and Anthony Rizzo (CHC).  Upton was an All-Star a year ago, and hit 26 HR . . . at Petco Park . . . in the midst of a terrible offense (ranked 28th in baseball in team OPS).  Now, Upton isn’t the centerpiece of the offense.  He’s an important cog, to be sure.  But, he isn’t the only one pitchers have to worry about.  He’ll be batting 2nd or 3rd, most likely.  And, behind him in the lineup will be the likes of Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, and Victor Martinez.  Translation:  I see 2016 being Upton’s best offensive year of his career.  He might only bat around .280, but he’ll hit 35-40 HR, drive in 100+, and be the spark for a team that returns to the playoffs.

Rizzo hit 31 HR, drove in 101, and had an .899 OPS last season . . . his age 25 season.  The Bryce Harpers and Mike Trouts of the world make us forget that 25 is still very young.  And, when you look at Rizzo’s season in 2015, you see a guy who went through some significant droughts in his production (.785 OPS and just 4 HR in the month of July, for example).  As he matures as a hitter, those dry-spells are likely to get smaller and smaller.  He has 40+ HR potential, and could win a Gold Glove at 1B, as well.  Don’t be surprised if he leads this Cubs team to a World Series appearance, if not the unthinkable…

CY YOUNG

Marcus Stroman (TOR) and Johnny Cueto (SF).  Many times, a pitcher can build on the way he finished the previous season, and turn it into a great year the following season.  Jake Arrieta is a great example of that, after he finished the 2014 season by going 4-1 with a 2.29 ERA and 0.89 WHIP over his last six starts.  Stroman is poised for this in 2016.  After coming back from a knee injury that cost him nearly all of 2015, Stroman made four starts at the end of the regular season.  His first start was mediocre – 5 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K.  But, the next three were impressive: 22 IP, just 2 ER (for a 0.82 ERA), 0.91 WHIP, and 16 K’s.  Obviously, he wouldn’t be able to keep that up for an entire season.  But, I think he’s well on his way to becoming an elite pitcher.

14136005620_1e0be50b98_zIf you look back at my top 10 starting pitchers for 2016, you’ll see that Cueto ranked 8th.  And, that’s based on the numbers he has put up over the last couple years, while pitching primarily in a hitter’s park.  Now, he’s moving out to San Fran – one of the parks where home runs go to die.  Add to that the fact that he will have a much better defense behind him than he has ever had in Cincinnati.  And, the fact that he isn’t expected to be the ace of that pitching staff.  Now you have a situation that could allow Cueto to have a season as good or better than his 2014 season, when he won 20 games, led the league in K’s, and had an ERA under 2.50.

SURPRISE TEAMS

Everyone’s talking about the improvements the Tigers made, and the fact that it’s an even year and the Giants made significant improvements to their starting rotation.  Lots of people are picking the Cubs to win their division, and possibly more.  The Diamondbacks made all that noise in the offseason, and people will be watching them now.  But, let me give you two teams that aren’t getting nearly as much publicity:  the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Just a few years ago, no one would have ever expected these two teams to be flying below the radar.  But, think for a moment about what we have heard regarding these two teams.  Sure, the Red Sox made a pretty huge splash by signing David Price.  But, that was back in early December.  So much has happened since then that has overshadowed that bold move.  By signing Price, they now have a legit ace – something they were obviously missing last year.  And, now they can slide Buchholz into the #2 spot, followed at #3 by Porcello, and then they have lots of options for the back end of their rotation – including one of the best pitching prospects in the game, Henry Owens.  They also added significant depth to their bullpen with the addition of Craig Kimbrel.  They’ll get a full season of Rusney Castillo, and you can’t possibly expect Sandoval & Hanley to underperform again as badly as they did last year.

And, did you notice all the moves the Yankees made??  Oh, you didn’t?  Well, there’s a good reason for that.  The Yankees are the only team in baseball that didn’t sign a single free agent to a major-league contract.  How’s that for flipping the tables?  That’s not to say they sat on their hands.  They made two very shrewd trades that should pay significant dividends.  First, they traded for Starlin Castro.  The Yankees got a .683 OPS out of their second basemen last season.  Even at the young age of 26, Castro’s career OPS is more than 40 points higher than that – despite his sub-par season in 2015.  And, when the Dodgers backed out of the Aroldis Chapman trade, the Yankees swooped in.  Even with the 30-game suspension, Chapman figures to be a significant part of what may very well be the best bullpen in the AL.  So, even if guys like Pineda, Sabathia or Nova can’t get past the 5th or 6th inning – this is a bullpen that can keep them in the game (and KC won a World Series that way).  The offense may be old – but, they have highly-ranked prospects at RF, 2B and C that could contribute as early as this year.  Part of the reason Cashman probably didn’t think he needed to go sign a big-name free agent.

DISAPPOINTING TEAMS

High expectations can often be difficult to deal with.  And, there are a number of teams that have either made moves in the offseason, or performed so well last season, that nearly everyone expects them to be at or near the top of their division in 2016.  But, as we have all witnessed over the years, there always seems to be at least one team that falls flat (remember my World Series picks from last year?? – Nationals vs. Orioles!).  So, here are my picks to underachieve in 2016:  Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Astros started off last season on an incredible tear.  They won 62% of their games through May 30th, and were 31-19.  But, the rest of the year? They went 55-58 (11-16 in September!), and ended up losing what had been a hefty lead in their division, and finished as the 2nd Wild Card team, just one game ahead of the Angels.  Add to that the fact that they were an astonishingly good team at home (.654 win pct.), but were abysmal on the road (.407 win pct.), and you have the makings of a team that could fall on hard times in 2016.  They’re also starting the season with their #3 starter on the DL.  Don’t be surprised if the Astros are closer to a .500 team than a playoff contender.

The D-backs made a lot of noise this offseason.  They landed the most sought after starting pitcher.  They traded for another with top-tier potential.  They already had one of the best offenses in the National League. Many are already penciling them in as the AL West favorites.  But, I say we can’t hand them the crown yet.  First of all, I’m not convinced Zack Greinke has what it takes to lead a rotation.  By far, his best years have been behind Kershaw in LA, and his mental makeup has been shaky in the past.  Secondly, they seriously overpaid for Shelby Miller.  Yes, he’s young, but I’m not sure he has done enough to warrant the package they sent to Atlanta.  In 3 full seasons at the big league level, Miller has a nice 3.27 ERA.  But, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that he has a 1.24 WHIP and a 3.87 FIP.  These aren’t horrendous numbers, but they are more the type of numbers you want from a #3 starter – not a guy you decimate the top of your farm system for (sent their two best prospects), and give up a top-of-the-order outfielder with excellent defensive skills.  But, Miller will be expected to be the #2 starter in Arizona, primarily because beyond Miller and Greinke, their rotation is suspect. Add to this the fact that Arizona’s bullpen is mediocre at best, and they will have the Dodgers and Giants to deal with on a regular basis – and, I’m not sold on Arizona as anything more than a .500 team.

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.

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.

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.

Frontrunners

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.

 

Contenders

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.