Opening Day … What A Day!

And so it begins.

The 2018 season began with a BLAST as Ian Happ launched the first pitch he saw from Jose Urena into the right field seats. And Marlins Park erupted … thanks to the overwhelming presence of Cubs fans in Miami. So, the first pitch of the Major League season included the first strike, first hit, first extra-base hit, first run scored, first home run, and the first (of what looks to be many) Marlins deficits.

Giancarlo Stanton hit his first HR as a Yankee – and, wouldn’t you know it, he did so with a little flair. In his first AB in the new uni, he hit the hardest opposite field home run in baseball, since 2015. Oh, and just for kicks, he also was the first Yankee to have 3 XBH and 4 RBI on Opening Day since Roger Maris.

The Orioles’ pitching dominated the Twins all day long. And, with a 2-0 lead going into the 9th, the Orioles sent in their closer. But, a lack of control by Brad Brach, led to some very patient at-bats by the Twins hitters. And, after giving up 2 walks and 2 hits, the game was all tied up. But, two innings later, it was Adam Jones who stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th. And, on the first pitch he saw from Fernando Rodney … swing, drive, home run, game over. 3-2 Orioles.

The Red Sox looked like they were going to cruise to an easy victory over the Rays, as they were up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the 8th. But, the Rays scored six runs in the inning. It culminated in an impressive at-bat by the veteran, Denard Span. With the bases loaded, a full count, and two outs in the inning, Span turned on a pitch, and drove a triple into right field, giving the Rays a 5-4 lead. They would go on to win 6-4.

The A’s came from behind twice to tie up the Angels. Once, when they were trailing by 4 in the 5th inning, and again in the 7th when they were down a run. Then, it was a wild 11th inning. With one out, Boog Powell hit a drive that just barely went off the top of left-fielder Justin Upton’s glove. Powell hustled out a triple, on a close play at 3rd. Then, Scioscia decided to walk the next batter, and go with a 5-man infield, with a slider-pitcher on the mound – hoping the batter would roll over a pitch and into a double play. Marcus Semien didn’t oblige – hitting a line drive into center-field (where no one was located) for a walk-off single.

The Phillies were up by five going into the bottom of the 6th. But, after 2 runs by the Braves in the 6th, and 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th, it was a whole new ballgame. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, and a runner on 2nd, the Phillies decided to intentionally walk Freddie Freeman. So, what does Nick Markakis do? He drives a 3-run walk-off HR into right-center.

Extra innings, walk-off home runs, 21 runs scored in a single game . . . this is why Opening Day is one of the best days of the year.

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Why the Angels Should Do the Unthinkable

I remember reading something (or maybe hearing some analyst) last winter talking about Mike Trout.  Of course there was a great deal of praise to be given, considering he has yet to finish lower than 2nd in MVP voting in any full season of his career.  But, then something was said that I thought was absolutely insane – should the Angels trade him?  My initial reaction was, “You don’t trade arguably the best player of this generation while he’s in his prime!”  It was an absurd suggestion.  Unheard of.  Unthinkable.  But, then . . .

15133579244_7652b07359_oThe same Angels team that finished just 1 game out of the playoffs last season, has turned in one of the more disappointing first halves this year.  At the time of my writing, they are 14 games below .500 (36-50), 16.5 games behind division-leading Texas, and 11 games behind in the Wild Card standings.  They possess the 3rd worst record in the American League – in spite of having the 6th highest Opening Day payroll in all of baseball.  If this could all be explained away by injuries to key players, then there would be no need for this article.  You would expect a bounce-back year in 2017, if not sooner.  But, that simply isn’t the case.  Yes, they’ve had a reasonably high number of pitchers with injuries.  But, it isn’t like they were lighting it up before going on the DL.

So, the injury bug isn’t to blame for this team’s lackluster performance.  They simply don’t have much talent surrounding Trout.  The greatest evidence to that point is the fact that Trout is the only All-Star representing the Angels on Tuesday.  How does that happen?  You have one of the best players in the game (at 24 years old).  You’re operating in the 2nd largest TV market in the country (giving you a significant revenue advantage over most of the teams in the game).  And, yet you have only been able to put it all together once in this player’s 5-year career – a brief playoff appearance in 2014, when you were swept in the ALDS.  I feel bad for Mike Trout.  I feel bad for a guy who goes out there and plays as hard as he does, and who performs at such an incredibly high level – and has nothing but individual awards to show for it.

And, do you know what makes it even worse?  It isn’t getting better any time soon.  The Angels have the consensus WORST farm system in baseball.  If you look at any ranking of current minor league systems, you’ll see the Angels at the bottom every time.  I read one analyst who said that not only were the Angels the worst farm system right now, but they might be the worst system in baseball history.  The absolute best prospect they have right now is a catcher currently playing in A-ball, who isn’t even ranked in the top 100 prospects in all of baseball.  One analyst went so far as to say that he didn’t think the Angels’ best prospect would even crack the top 10 of any other team!  So, not only is there little-to-no help coming up from the minors any time soon, but they have no trade chips to offer teams willing to trade high-quality players.

So, maybe the Angels could just spend more money to get better, right?  Not this offseason.  Strasburg signed a new contract with the Nationals, so the one legit ace that was going to be on the market is no longer available.  And, if you’re looking for significant offensive help, there’s only one real option this year:  Yoenis Cespedes (assuming he opts out of his Mets contract).  And, considering how thin the free agent market is, someone is going to significantly overpay for his services.  Not that the Angels are unfamiliar with doing that very thing (Pujols, Wilson, Hamilton, etc.), but one bat is not turning this team around.  And, once you get past Cespedes, this free agent class really looks more like a list of quality pieces that will help a team on the cusp of the playoffs.  And, the Angels need a lot more impact than that.

What’s the answer?  What should they do?  In case you didn’t see it coming:

The Angels should trade Mike Trout.

The longer they hold on to him, the longer it is going to take for this team to become relevant again.  Trout is the kind of franchise player that would help the Angels restock their farm system.  His talent level is so high, that I wouldn’t be shocked to see a team willing to offer 4-6 A-list prospects, and perhaps a couple B-listers, too.  That kind of return on a trade could potentially make the Angels competitive as early as 2018.  Because they’re already going to have a top-5 pick in the 2017 draft, which would likely add to their haul for Trout.

The tricky part of a trade like this is deciding who has the talent in their farm system to offer what the Angels need, and who would be willing to take on Trout’s salary (which isn’t going down anytime soon – $20 mil. in 2017, and $34 mil. in ’18-’20).  Considering how much the Angels should be looking for ways to win sooner rather than later, I would think they should be willing to pay a portion of Trout’s salary, if the right prospects are coming back in return.  After all, when have the Angels shied away from spending money?

So, after looking through several farm systems, considering what the team has on its payroll in the next few years, I believe there’s one team that stands out as a potential trade partner:

The Atlanta Braves.

Think about that for a minute.  The Braves are opening a new stadium next season.  Isn’t a trade like this something that can get fans excited again?  Especially a trade for a guy that would immediately become the face of your franchise for the next 4 years (at least).  The Braves also have one of the deepest farm systems in the game right now.  They are consistently ranked in the top 2-3.  And, it’s a system that is absolutely loaded with pitching talent – something for which the Angels have a desperate need (starting rotation with an ERA well over 4.00, closer with an ERA approaching 5.00, etc.).

The Braves are in the #9 television market in the U.S. – right behind Boston, and just ahead of Houston.  What this means is that they don’t have to be stingy with their payroll.  They may not want to climb into the $175 million echelon (where the Angels actually are), but a payroll in the $140-150 million range sits comfortably in the middle of the league, right around where other competitive teams sit (Royals, Blue Jays, Orioles, etc.).  And, to offset some of the cost, initially, the Braves could send Nick Markakis to the Angels, which eliminates $11 million over each of the next two seasons.  If the Angels are willing to cover some of Trout’s salary, in exchange for the right prospects, even better.

A move like this, for the Braves, would give a much needed spark to a fan base that has grown weary of seeing their favorite stars traded away.  It’s also reasonable for a team like Atlanta to take on a contract the size of Trout’s, because the vast majority of their core players are young, and will be making league minimums for the next 3-5 years.  Not to mention the young players that are coming up to the majors in the next year or so – like Dansby Swanson, Rio Ruiz, etc.  Just think of it, Braves fans . . . an outfield of Ender Inciarte, Mallex Smith, and Mike Trout.  That could be one of the best defensive outfields in the game.

Of course, the Angels wouldn’t let go of Trout for nothing.  On the Braves’ side, I would say the only player in their system that should be “untouchable” is Swanson.  He’s a top-of-the-order talent that you just don’t trade away (ahem – are you listening, Arizona?).  Outside of that, though, the Braves should be willing to offer almost anything the Angels want.  They have another top-tier shortstop (Albies) in the system that could be blocked by Swanson, unless he switches to 2B.  They have a 3B prospect (Riley) that has great potential, but will take a year or two longer to develop than the previously mentioned Ruiz.  Either or both of these guys could be on the table.  Depending on what position players the Angels might expect in return, seven of the Braves’ top 10 prospects are pitchers.  I would see no problem in sending a couple of those on in a trade for Trout.  Especially since the Braves just drafted a top-tier prospect with the #2 pick in this year’s draft, and look to be set up with a top-5 pick in next year’s draft as well.

So, why not send Nick Markakis, Austin Riley (3B), Kolby Allard (LHP), Tyrell Jenkins (RHP), and Braxton Davidson (OF)?  The Braves farm system is one of just a handful that could absorb a blow like that.  And, it would make the Braves relevant their first year in their new stadium.  Particularly if they went after a quality free agent piece like a Neil Walker, for example.  Consider a lineup with Swanson, Trout, Freeman, Walker, Inciarte, and Smith.  Plus, the Angels would immediately begin building toward the 2018 season, instead of languishing through another 3-4 years (or more) before they finally start seeing results from having high draft picks.

It’s time.  It simply is time for the Angels to pull the trigger, and do what’s right.  Not only what’s right for Mike Trout (who deserves better than what he has around him in LA), but also what’s right for the fans who have little desire to watch Mike Trout and a bunch of also-rans lose for the next 4 years.

2016 Top 10 First Basemen

When compared to the previous two posts in this series, deciding who the top 10 first basemen are is a much more straightforward task.  This is an offense-first position.  Not to say that defense is entirely irrelevant – we will certainly consider it.  But, it will not weigh nearly as heavily on the decision-making process as it did for CF and SS.  Let’s take a look at the list from MLB Network’s “Shredder.”

  1. goldschmidtPaul Goldschmidt (ARI)
  2. Joey Votto (CIN)
  3. Miguel Cabrera (DET)
  4. Anthony Rizzo (CHC)
  5. Edwin Encarnacion (TOR)
  6. Jose Abreu (CHW)
  7. Adrian Gonzalez (LAD)
  8. Freddie Freeman (ATL)
  9. Chris Davis (BAL)
  10. Brandon Belt (SF)

Perhaps it’s because of the more singular focus of the position – but, when I first look at this list, I don’t see any glaring weaknesses.  I might re-order a couple of them – I know Adrian Gonzalez has an excellent glove, but his age makes me think he might slide down on my list.  I love Eric Hosmer as a leader and clutch player,  but I would be surprised if his stats from the last couple years will be enough to push him into the top 10.

Here is my top 10, after crunching the numbers:

  1. Paul Goldschmidt
  2. Anthony Rizzo
  3. Joey Votto
  4. Miguel Cabrera
  5. Edwin Encarnacion
  6. Jose Abreu
  7. Lucas Duda (NYM)
  8. Brandon Belt
  9. Freddie Freeman
  10. Adrian Gonzalez

thedudejpg-6ae460fd45583e12The first thing I did after compiling my list, was go look at what the various analysts on MLB Network did with Duda.  Not a single one had him ranked in their top 10.  I don’t get it.  I mean, I understand that he doesn’t belong in the top 5.  But, the guy ranks in the top 10 in every offensive category I considered over the last two years at first base – something none of the guys ranked below him can claim.  And, he’s not a detriment defensively – I’d say he’s average.  I can’t, for the life of me, explain his exclusion.

The inclusion of Duda meant someone was going to be left out – and, for me, that was Chris Davis.  I know he has the excellent power (ranks 7th in SLG at 1B), but he just doesn’t quite have enough in the other categories to overtake any of the others.  When it came down to Davis or Gonzalez, it actually came down to defense.  They are neck and neck offensively, and Gonzalez is the Gold Glove winner.  As I expected, Gonzalez did move down on my list, due to his age.  Belt & Freeman’s overall offensive production is better than Gonzalez – and Gonzalez is one of the worst baserunners at 1B.  Plus, Belt has the best UZR at 1B the last two years, while Freeman is no detriment defensively.

Anthony-RizzoThe biggest mover on my list (aside from Duda) is Anthony Rizzo.  There’s only one first baseman who ranked in the top 5 in every category I considered – wRC+, OBP, SLG, BsR, DRS, UZR – and, it’s Rizzo.  A couple guys might have the upper hand on him in one or two categories, but Rizzo is the more complete player.  Add to this the fact that he’s entering his age 26 season, and there are a lot of reasons for him to move up the list.  Goldschmidt has a strong hold on the #1 spot (his #7 ranking in UZR is the only spot he wasn’t ranked #1 or #2 over the last two seasons), but Rizzo might be closing the gap.

2015 Predictions: NL East

NL-EastThe NL East has been one of the busier divisions this offseason.  Of course, everyone knows about the Scherzer deal, and the Stanton contract, and all the moves the Marlins have been making.  But, is it really going to make a difference in the playoff picture?  Well, that remains to be seen.  I’ll be revealing my playoff picks after reviewing each division.  If Shields signs with Miami (one of the rumored suitors), then that would likely change things.  But, for now, here is how I see this division playing out:

  1. Washington Nationals (96-66)
  2. Miami Marlins (84-78)
  3. New York Mets (79-83)
  4. Atlanta Braves (76-86)
  5. Philadelphia Phillies (67-95)

I’m not very surprised by these standings.  Even before I did my own statistical analysis, this is about what I would have predicted.  You might could make the argument that the Braves and Mets could be switched.  But, that’s about it.  Here’s where I came down on each team…

Washington

They will finish with the best record in baseball for a number of reasons.  They have the best starting rotation – not just in their division, but also in all of baseball.  They have the best bullpen, offense and defense in the division as well.  And, as if that wasn’t going to make life easy enough, they have possibly the worst team in baseball in their division, and two of the worst offenses in the entire game in their division.  The Nationals will get some competition out of Miami, but the rest of the division pales in comparison.

Miami

The Marlins’ front office has done a nice job this off-season, in putting together their major-league team.  Granted, I do believe that it was at the expense of their farm system, which may come back to bite them in a couple years.  But, they have put together a very competitive team at the major league level.  While the Nationals are running away with the best . . . well, everything . . . the Marlins are right behind them in this division with a very nice starting rotation (Fernandez, Alvarez, Cosart & Latos).  That alone would lead to a lot of wins.  But, even though they have probably the second best offense in the division, once you get past Stanton, it isn’t exactly going to make pitchers nervous.  Morse was a nice addition, but he’s getting older, and you’re counting on his out of the ordinary production from last year (his highest OPS since 2011, and one of only two seasons he has remained healthy his entire career).  Beyond that, the lineup has some above-average hitters (Ozuna & Yellich), but it’s certainly not a dominant offense.  And, what concerns me even more is the fact that the bullpen in Miami is not stellar.  It isn’t ugly.  But, it is going to allow a decent number of hits and walks (average WHIP among the best relievers is 1.21). In a different division, I’m not sure how well Miami would do.

New York

Mets fans should be excited about the future – just, not 2015.  They have some very nice young pitching (Harvey, DeGrom, Wheeler) that’s likely to get even better when prospects like Noah Syndergaard make their way to the majors.  But, that’s about the extent of what there is to be excited about in New York.  The bullpen might be the second best in the division (Parnell, Familia & Edgin are very good), but it’s still not exactly elite.  And, the offense, which was middle-of-the-pack in the NL last year, isn’t getting any better.  The addition of Michael Cuddyer sounds nice.  But, closer inspection reveals that he’s going into his age 36 season, only played 49 games last year, and has had inflated stats from playing in Colorado.  Until they can bring in (or up) some quality offensive production outside of Duda, this team won’t get very far.

Atlanta

2017.  I believe that’s the target.  That’s when the Braves will move into their new stadium north of Atlanta, and that’s likely the next time they will field a competitive team.  I think the Braves have made some good moves that have provided some quality prospects (3 of their top 6 prospects have come as a part of the Gattis & Upton trades).  But, it has left an already weak offense with just one batter to be excited about – Freddie Freeman.  So, here’s my question:  how close do you think Freeman gets to a .400 OBP this season?  He’s going to be pitched around so often that, if he can be patient, he’ll draw well over 100 walks.  But, don’t be surprised if his power numbers drop even more from last year.  Because he is the Atlanta offense, and even an aging Nick Markakis can’t help.  Kimbrel is phenomenal, and Teheran, Wood & Hale look to make a decent rotation.  But, those guys are likely going to lose a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games with this offense.

Philadelphia

If it wasn’t for Atlanta’s putrid offense, the Phillies would be the worst in the division in every single category.  Once you get past Hamels, you may not have even an average pitcher left in the entire rotation.  Other than Papelbon, the bullpen is littered with guys whose WHIPs are 1.34, 1.40, 1.42.  And, the only reason I rank their offense a notch above Atlanta’s is because they have some young guys that played decently last year, and who look like they may improve to be above average batters (Ben Revere & Cody Asche).  The Phillies’ farm system isn’t terrible, but it could use a boost.  Why a team headed toward almost 100 losses is trying to hang on to Papelbon and Hamels, I do not know.  Those two could net the quality and volume of prospects that could have this team competing again in just 2-3 years.  If this team loses less than 90 games – Sandberg should be manager of the year.

All-Time Greatest: Atlanta Braves

Next up in this series is a franchise that has been around since 1871, though they went through a variety of name changes early on, and have been relocated twice.  What we now know as the Atlanta Braves, originally began as the Boston Red Stockings.  They also were known as the Boston Beaneaters (my favorite!), Boston Doves, and Boston Rustlers, before finally settling on Boston Braves in 1912.  There was a brief period in the ’30’s when ownership tried to reshape the team’s image by changing their name to the Boston Bees, but it was short-lived.  In 1953, owner Lou Perini moved the team to Milwaukee where their top minor-league team (the Brewers) played.  After Perini sold the team in 1962 to a group led by William Bartholomay, the new ownership immediately began looking for a larger television market to move into.  Atlanta turned out to be the spot, and (a year after having to put things on hold because of an injunction by the state of Wisconsin), in 1966, they officially became the Atlanta Braves.

What that means for today’s post is that there is a lot of history to this team.  There may be names you aren’t as familiar with, on this list.  So, take a couple minutes, and enjoy the history lesson.  Here are the 5 greatest Atlanta/Milwaukee/Boston Braves players in history:

Eddie_Mathews_(1960_Braves_-_auto)5. Eddie Mathews (’52-’66) – this HOFer is the only player to have played for the Braves in all 3 cities.  His rookie year was in Boston, he moved with them to Milwaukee, and his last year with the organization was in ’66, when they moved to Atlanta.  Mathews ranks 2nd all-time (behind you-know-who) on the Braves’ HR list, with 493.  He’s also 3rd in hits (2201), 5th in SLG (.517), and 3rd in OPS (.896).  Mathews appeared in 9 All-Star games, and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting 4 times, though he never won.

4. Warren Spahn (’42-’64) – Spahn spent all but the final season of his HOF career with the Braves organization.  He started out in Boston, moved with them to Milwaukee, and retired just before they moved to Atlanta.  He ranks 5th on the All-Time career wins list (363) – and, that’s all-time, not just among Braves pitchers.  He’s obviously at the top of the Braves’ win list, with 356 of his wins coming with them.  He led the league in wins 8 times – the last time in 1961, at the age of 40!  The Cy Young award wasn’t introduced until 1956, when Spahn was already 35 years old.  But, he won it the very next year at the age of 36.  And, based on where he finished in the MVP voting, I think it’s safe to say he likely would have won 2 more in ’49 & ’53.  He represented the Braves in 14 All-Star games.  And, among pitchers that pitched at least 1000 innings for the organization, he ranks 9th in ERA (3.05), 11th in win pct. (.609), 7th in WHIP (1.19), and 3rd in K’s (2,493).  All of this, in spite of missing three full seasons during his prime, as he served in WWII.

greg-maddux3. Greg Maddux (’93-’03) – if Maddux had spent his entire career in Atlanta, then we might actually have some debate about who belongs at #1.  But, he still accomplished some amazing things in the 11 seasons he played there.  In spite of pitching over 800 fewer innings than everyone ahead of him, he still ranks 6th on their all-time wins list (194).  Among pitchers to pitch at least 1,000 innings for the Braves, he ranks 4th in ERA (2.63), 1st in win pct. (.688), 1st in WHIP (1.05), 4th in K/9 (6.51), 5th in K’s (1828), and 2nd in K/BB ratio (4.77).  He won 3 Cy Youngs in Atlanta (while finishing in the top-5 four more times), 10 Gold Gloves (his most underrated stat), and appeared in 6 All-Star games.  All this, in just 11 of his impressive 23 years playing.

2. Chipper Jones (’93-’12) – it’s a shame that Chipper played in the era he did.  If hitting 50+ home runs hadn’t become so commonplace, he would get so much more credit than he does.  There’s a reason he made my “Most Underrated” list last year.  When you start comparing him to some of the all-time greats, you realize just how special Larry Wayne Jones was.  He should be considered the 2nd greatest switch-hitter of all time, behind only Mantle.  And, he’s in the discussion for 2nd greatest third-baseman of all-time, behind Schmidt (it just depends on whether you favor offense or defense, to decide between Chipper and Brooks Robinson).  But, all that aside, there’s no question he’s the 2nd greatest Braves player in history.  In Braves history he ranks 14th in batting (.303), 2nd in OBP (.401), 3rd in SLG (.529), 2nd in OPS (.930), 2nd in hits (2726), 3rd in HR (468), 2nd in RBI (1623), and 2nd in runs created (1965).  An 8-time All-Star, he won the MVP in ’99, and had 5 more top-10 finishes.  It was quite the career, and there’s no doubt in my mind he should be a first-ballot HOFer.

1545195615_AaronHenry1_answer_1_xlarge1. Hank Aaron (’54-’74) – the legitimate all-time HR king spent 21 of his 23 seasons with the Braves, split between Milwaukee and Atlanta, smacking 733 of his career 755 HR with the organization.  Interestingly, the last two seasons of his career, he went back to Milwaukee to play for the Brewers.  I imagine that there will be several teams throughout this series of posts that will have 2 or maybe 3 guys that have a legitimate argument for being ranked as the best to ever play for an organization.  But, there’s no debate here.  Aaron ranks 3rd on the All-Time hits list (3,771), only trailing Cobb & Rose (1st on the Braves’ list with 3600); and he still holds the All-Time RBI record (2,297 – 2,202 with the Braves).  He also ranks 1st all-time with the Braves in SLG (.567), OPS (.944), Doubles (600), and runs created (2465 – 500 more than 2nd place!).  Aaron is one of the all-time greats.  No doubt he belongs at the top of this list.

2013 NL MVP

Let me start this post by saying that I have no idea why some names are being thrown around.  Let me start with Clayton Kershaw.  I always have a problem with giving the MVP to a starting pitcher.  The guy plays in less than 25% of the team’s games.  And, even in the games he plays, he’s going to average somewhere around 6-7 innings, if he’s an elite pitcher.  So, on an innings basis, even a great starting pitcher is likely going to participate in less than 15% of his team’s innings played.  Yes, I agree that there is some trickle-down effect when you have a great ace like Kershaw.  Yes, I think it has an impact on the rest of the starting rotation, and the bullpen.  But, that can’t possibly be compared to the guy who plays 150 games, has 500+ AB’s, and plays a defensive position.  I’m sorry, but unless a pitcher was just other-worldly in his performance (see Pedro Martinez, 1999), then I don’t believe his impact is significant enough to warrant being in the MVP conversation.

Next, I actually saw an MVP headline that read “Division rivals Andrew McCutchen and Yadier Molina are in the mix with slugger Paul Goldschmidt…”  This is a joke, right?  Yadier Molina for MVP???  Based on what? His Gold Glove award?  Which, by the way, I don’t understand how he won, considering he trailed Russell Martin in nearly every significant defensive stat for catchers – including the sabermetric stats which were supposed to be included in this year’s voting consideration.  So, outside that award, there’s no evidence to suggest he was the best defensive catcher this season.  And, he probably was about the 3rd or 4th best offensive player on his own team, nevermind in the National League.  But, I digress.  Here are the five most deserving candidates for MVP in the NL:

MLB: New York Mets at Atlanta Braves#5 – Freddie Freeman (ATL).  Freeman had an excellent season.  He finished 6th in wRC+ (150), 6th in OBP (.396), and 8th in SLG (.501), giving him the 7th best OPS (.897) in the NL.  He hit 23 HR, drove in 109 (2nd), and bat .319 (3rd).  He’s a good fielder as well at 1B, though I wouldn’t call him elite just yet.

#4 – Joey Votto (CIN).  Votto seems to consistently find himself in the MVP conversation.  Though, this year, there doesn’t seem to be quite as many talking about him.  Perhaps they’ve come to expect big numbers from him, and since they weren’t as gaudy this year, they’re disappointed.  Well, whatever the reason, Votto should be on everyone’s radar.  He finished the year with the 2nd best wRC+ (156), led the NL in OBP (.435), finished 4th in OPS (.926), hit 24 HR, drove in 73, while batting .305.  Another fine year for Votto.

jayson-werth-home-run-interview#3 – Jayson Werth (WAS).  If you weren’t looking at this list, and had to guess who finished with the best wRC+ in the NL, how many names would you go through before getting to Werth (160)?  Or, how many names might you pass before guessing Werth was 3rd in the NL in SLG (.532)?  Yet, I’m hearing nothing about him as even a contender for MVP.  No, he didn’t play for a playoff team (though, they certainly made a valiant push in the second half of the season).  But, I don’t care.  One player can not solely carry a team to the playoffs these days.  That argument is antiquated.  Werth had an excellent year, in spite of missing practically all of May, and not really playing like he was fully injury-free until mid-June.  Despite his health issues, he also finished 5th in OBP (.398), 2nd in OPS (.931 – leading the league with a 1.023 OPS after the All-Star break), hit 25 HR (8th), drove in 82, and bat .318 (5th).  I don’t think I’ve heard anyone talk about Werth as a serious candidate.  But, they should.

#2 – Andrew McCutchen (PIT).  So, the argument in the NL really comes down to the final two players.  Is it McCutchen or Goldschmidt?  McCutchen finished 4th in wRC+ (155), 3rd in OBP (.404), 6th in SLG (.508), 6th in OPS (.911), 5th in SB (27), and 7th in batting (.317).  He also hit 21 HR, and drove in 84.  He was a gold glove finalist in CF, and consistently made excellent plays.  There are a lot of people who say he should win.  And, they certainly have some excellent numbers to point to.  But, as I was looking through their stats, McCutchen and Goldschmidt are so close in so many areas.  McCutchen has better speed, but Goldschmidt has better power.  And everything else is so close, I was hard pressed to find a big difference . . . until I looked at batting with RISP. I was shocked at what I saw.  Here’s McCutchen’s slash line with RISP:  .282/.389/.365/.755.  A .755 OPS with RISP!!  When his team needed him most to make something happen, McCutchen’s OPS dropped over 150 points compared to his season average.  And, it wasn’t like he lacked for opportunity – 156 AB’s with RISP.  So, when that stat jumped out at me, the choice was clear . . .

paul-goldschmidt-2#1 – Paul Goldschmidt (ARI).  Goldschmidt led the league in SLG (.556), OPS (.952), HR (36), and RBI (125).  He also finished 2nd in wRC+ (156), 4th in OBP (.401), stole 15 bases, and bat .302.  He won the Gold Glove at 1B (though, I can’t see how, based on all of the stats – finalist, yes, but shouldn’t have won).  And, just to show you the difference, his OPS with RISP was 1.146.

2013 NL Cy Young

There was a lot of great pitching in the NL this season.  And, if you have any doubts about that, just go take a look at the stats of guys like Jordan Zimmerman, Mat Latos, Hyun-jin Ryu and Julio Teheran.  None of those guys cracked my top-5, but they all had very good seasons on the mound.  So, without further ado, here are my top 5, culminating in this year’s winner.

craig-kimbrel-pitching#5 – Craig Kimbrel (ATL).  It’s not every year that you see someone rack up 50 saves.  It’s only been done 13 other times in history, and Kimbrel became the youngest reliever ever to achieve that mark this year.  The rest of his numbers aren’t quite as staggering as they were a year ago, when he finished 5th in Cy Young voting.  But, they’re still good enough to make my list: 1.21 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and a 4.90 K/BB ratio.

#4 – Zack Greinke (LAD).  He only started 28 games this season, and his strikeout total is fairly low (148), but Greinke still had a great year in LA.  He won 15 games, while only losing 4, giving him the best win pct. in the NL.  He had a 2.63 ERA (4th), 1.11 WHIP (10th), 3.23 FIP (10th), and held opponents to an impressive .229 avg. (10th).

Cliff Lee - Phillies#3 – Cliff Lee (PHI).  Lee has to have had the worst luck of any pitcher I know.  Even when pitching for good teams like the Rangers or Phillies, he just can’t seem to get the wins he deserves.  A 3.16 ERA and 1.11 WHIP a year ago netted him all of 6 wins!  It went a little better for him this year, though he still didn’t have the record you would expect, based on the rest of his numbers.  He had a 14-8 record in 31 starts, a 2.87 ERA (6th), 1.01 WHIP (4th), 2.82 FIP (6th), 222 K’s (2nd), held opponents to a .230 avg., and he led the league with a 6.94 K/BB ratio.

#2 – Adam Wainwright (STL).  I’m not sure how many Cardinals fans still consider Chris Carpenter their ace, but it’s high time they moved on.  Wainwright is clearly the linchpin of that rotation.  He had a fantastic year, leading the league in wins (19), while accumulating some other very impressive numbers:  2.94 ERA (7th), 1.07 WHIP (7th – in spite of leading the league in hits allowed), 2.55 FIP (3rd), 219 K’s (3rd), and a 6.26 K/BB ratio (2nd).  All very good numbers.  But, all just a notch below this year’s winner . . .

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Pittsburgh Pirates#1 – Clayton Kershaw (LAD).  Kershaw led the league in ERA (1.83), WHIP (0.92), and strikeouts (232).  He also had a 4.46 K/BB ratio (5th), held batters to a .192 avg. (2nd), and had a 2.39 FIP (2nd).  He may have only finished with a 16-9 record, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Kershaw was the best pitcher in the NL this season.  If he wins the award, then at the ripe old age of 25, he will have 2 Cy Young awards already under his belt, along with a 2nd-place finish in the year between his wins.  We could be seeing something very special brewing in LA.