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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3 Up 3 Down

As we’re heading into the final stretch of the season, there are some teams making a push for the playoffs, some teams sitting comfortably at the top of their division, and some teams starting to show some chinks in the armor. So, let’s take a look at three teams that are looking like they could make a legitimate postseason push (3 up), and 3 teams that may be primed for a late-season swoon (3 down).

3 UP

  • St. Louis Cardinals – this is a team that has underperformed in a pretty significant way. Despite the fact that they have outscored their opponents by more than 40 runs, they have only played to a 57-56 record. Their Pythagorean record is 62-51. So, what has happened? Well, they’re 5 games below .500 in 1-run games. They’re batting .262 with runners in scoring position (8th in the NL). So, with a little better luck, and some more timely hitting, this is a team that can capitalize on the fact that they have several games coming up against the Braves, Giants, Padres, and Reds.
  • Colorado Rockies – this might not seem like such a stretch to say that the Rockies are headed in the right direction. They’ve played to a .571 win pct. both before and after the break. And, it isn’t as if they have any chance of catching the red-hot Dodgers. But, consider this – they have already played most of the games they will play within their division. And, they have yet to play teams like the Marlins, Tigers, and Braves. Oh my.
  • Baltimore Orioles – at the time, I thought they made the worst trade-deadline decisions. A team that seemed clearly out of contention, and with players headed to free agency – they obviously should have been sellers, right? Well, don’t look now, but the offense in Baltimore has woken up. They’ve outscored their opponents by almost 30 runs since the break, and are now just 1.5 games out of the Wild Card. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to make up ground, too, as they will play several games against the teams right around them in the standings the rest of the way (like Tampa Bay, Seattle, and New York).

3 DOWN

  • Kansas City Royals – the Royals are 57-55. But, that record is a bit deceiving. Their Pythagorean win-loss record is 54-58, because they’ve actually allowed 21 more runs than they’ve scored thus far this season. And, while they went on a tear in June & July (33-19), they played an awful lot of games those months against the likes of the White Sox, Padres, Blue Jays, etc. They’re 2-6 thus far in August, and just lost their leader (Salvador Perez) for at least 10 days. I say they’re in position to have some mediocre days, and fall out of contention.
  • Seattle Mariners – yes, they’ve played to a 15-9 record since the All-Star break. But, they’ve managed to do that, in spite of actually being outscored by their opponents. They’re also an unsustainable 19-10 this season in 1-run games. So, it doesn’t seem likely that they will be able to sustain the run that has put them in a tie for the second Wild Card spot. They have middle-of-the-pack pitching, and rank 9th in the league in OPS. Not exactly the kind of stats that should make Mariner fans excited.
  • Milwaukee Brewers – the pitching that looked so good in the first half of the season (4th best team ERA in the NL), has begun to look more like what we should have expected (7th in the NL since the break), leading to a 9-15 record, and being outscored by 25 runs. But, even more telling is the fact that the Brewers racked up a ton of wins against some very bad competition in the first half: a 19-6 record against the Reds, Marlins, Mets, and Padres. They have series coming up against the Rockies, Dodgers, and Nationals, which is very likely going to push them out of serious contention.

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!

Buy or Sell

One week down . . . 25 to go. With that much baseball left to play, you would think people would hold off on making too much of what has happened in just 5-7 games. But, as we often do, we get wrapped up in stories that get us excited early in the season. So, here are 3 trends I think we should “sell” (aka – don’t expect it to continue), and 3 we can “buy.”

SELL

1. The 5-1 Cincinnati Reds. Beating the Pirates 2 out of 3 is nice. But, it was at home, and neither win was dominant. And a sweep of the Phillies? Not exactly something to brag about, since the Phillies are probably the worst team in the NL. So, that 5-1 record is pretty deceptive. 

2. The 5-0 Orioles. The last remaining undefeated team. Sounds pretty good, right? Well… who exactly did they beat? The Twins and Rays. Two teams likely to finish at or near the bottom of their respective divisions. And, Baltimore’s offense wasn’t exactly on fire – 4.5 runs per game. When they face some good competition, we’ll have a better idea who Baltimore is. 

3. Trevor Story (COL). It’s a nice story (yeah, I said it), the way he has started the season. But, let’s be real, folks. Every game he has played thus far has been against a lot of mediocre pitching in the thin air of Coors Field. The guy had an .817 OPS in the minors. Don’t get me wrong – that’s not bad. But, this isn’t the next Tulowitzki. He’s going to come back down to earth, and I hope you weren’t foolish enough to trade for him in your fantasy league. 

BUY

1. The 4-1 Royals. So many “experts” were picking the Tigers or Indians or maybe even the White Sox to win this division. Here’s my question: what has changed? The Royals still have the best defense in baseball. They still have one of the top 2 or 3 bullpens. They still have an offense that puts the ball in play and pressures your defense and pitching. And, they still have starting pitchers that – while they may not be All-Stars – will pitch a lot of innings with a bend-don’t-break approach. It should surprise none of us if KC reaches a 3rd consecutive World Series. 

2. The Chicago Cubs offense. Through their first 6 games, they are averaging 7 runs per game – best in the NL. Obviously they won’t keep up that pace, especially this week in the cold air in Chicago. But, the additions of Heyward and Zobrist have helped round out an offense that got a little too homer-happy when it got to the NLCS. This now is an offense that is 2nd in the NL in OBP, leads the league in walks, and has some pop as well (6th in HR). 

3. The mediocrity that is the AL West. I was shocked to see a lot of folks picking one or more Wild Card teams to come out of the AL West before the season started. But, if you look at the division today, you’ll see what I expect we’ll see at season’s end. There’s only one team with a winning record right now – the 4-3 A’s. I’m not saying Oakland will win the division. Just that 84-86 wins is probably all you’ll need here. Every team has major holes that will be exploited by the better teams in the AL. Whether it’s offense (OAK – 3.28 runs/gm against so-so pitching; LAA – nothing beyond Trout), pitching (HOU – worst ERA in AL; TEX – very suspect beyond Hamels & eventually Darvish), or just plain mediocrity (SEA – middle of the pack in pretty much everything), this is not an exciting division. 

2016 Top 10 Third Basemen

The sun is shining a little brighter.  The air is warming up.  The grass is turning green again.  And, games are being played in Arizona and Florida.  It’s an exciting time of year!  As we continue to look through MLB Network’s “Top 10 Right Now” lists, we’ve come to the hot corner.  There is some impressive young talent at this position right now.  Several names that weren’t even in consideration just a year ago.  So, let’s take a look at MLB Network’s list:

  1. Josh Donaldson (TOR)21665415229_16f1a71113_k
  2. Kris Bryant (CHC)
  3. Adrian Beltre (TEX)
  4. Manny Machado (BAL)
  5. Justin Turner (LAD)
  6. Nolan Arenado (COL)
  7. Jung Ho Kang (PIT)
  8. Matt Carpenter (STL)
  9. Kyle Seager (SEA)
  10. Todd Frazier (CHW)

Before I even look at the numbers, my initial reaction is that this list is probably a little closer to what I would expect than the other lists have been.  The biggest question mark, for me, is Kris Bryant.  Yes, there seems to be an incredible amount of potential there, and yes he won the Rookie of the Year award.  But, he also led the league in strikeouts (199!), and has just one season under his belt.  Ranking him as high as #2 seems to be putting an enormous amount of stock in what he probably will be, rather than what he is right now.  Arenado seems a bit low, considering the year he just had.  And, while names like Justin Turner, Kyle Seager and Jung Ho Kang don’t strike me as guys that I would assume would be on the short list of great third basemen, I don’t immediately know who should be ahead of them.

After looking at the statistics, I see that my list ends up being even more similar to MLB Network’s list than I first imagined.  There just aren’t a lot of third basemen that are performing at a high level in today’s game.  Or, perhaps the best way of saying it is this:  there are very few third basemen that are excelling in a wide number of categories.  The difficult part of putting this list together ended up being where to place emphasis.  One guy gets on base a lot (Carpenter), but doesn’t really excel at anything else, and is actually atrocious defensively.  One guy has huge power numbers (Arenado), and is a top-5 defender, but his overall offensive production is mediocre because he doesn’t run well, and doesn’t get on base much.  Some guys have health concerns, some guys don’t have a lot of experience, and so on.

My list ended up with 12 guys being considered seriously, when it was all said and done.  Honorable mention goes to Matt Duffy, of the Giants.  It was a very close call at the bottom of my list.  Trying to decide between three guys for the last spot was nearly impossible.  Duffy is a top-10 defender, and an excellent baserunner.  But, his overall offensive production is closer to the middle of the pack, because his power just isn’t there.  It may still come, as he’s just going into his age 25 season.  But, for now, I had to put him at #11.  So, here are my top 10:

  1. Josh Donaldson
  2. Kris Bryant
  3. Manny Machado
  4. Adrian Beltre
  5. Anthony Rendon (WSH)
  6. Justin Turner
  7. Todd Frazier
  8. Jung Ho Kang
  9. Kyle Seager
  10. Nolan Arenado

Let’s start with the name left off my list – Matt Carpenter.  He ranks 12th for me.  He ranks 2nd only to Turner in OBP over the last two seasons, which is the primary reason his wRC+ is 5th among third basemen.  But, beyond these numbers, Carpenter goes from average (12th in SLG), to below average (19th in baserunning), to just plain awful (40th in DRS and 34th in UZR).  The only other person anywhere close to that bad in any category was Arenado (32nd in baserunning).  So, I couldn’t justify placing Carpenter ahead of any of the others who were at least able to be average in most areas.

14430676940_b00412109c_zThe biggest surprise, to me, was Rendon.  Not only was he not on MLB Network’s list – but, he didn’t crack any of the analyst’s lists on the show.  My first thought was – is he actually playing 3rd base?  And, he is projected to be the Nationals’ starter.  I’m guessing that what many have forgotten is how great his 2014 season was.  Yes, he played well below that in 2015 – but, he also only played 80 games due to an injury.  And, he’s going into his age 26 season, which tells me he’s still coming into his own.  So, I believe 2014 is much more the type of player he is than 2015.  And, even with a bad 2015 season, he still ranks 8th in OBP, 8th in DRS, 10th in wRC+, and doesn’t rank below 14th in anything else over the last two seasons.  That’s more than anyone ranked below him can say.

Arenado dropped to the bottom (and nearly out), because his OBP is below average (.325 – 22nd), which impacts his wRC+ (117 – 12th), and his baserunning is poor (-2.4).  Yes, his power numbers are great (.544 SLG – 1st), but don’t forget where he plays – his SLG was 71 points higher at home than on the road last year.  What got Arenado into the top 10, for me, was his defense.  Frazier, Kang & Seager were all very very tight.  The only area Frazier seems to struggle is OBP (.322 – 26th).  Other than that, Frazier is in the top 11 in everything.  Kang is a below-average fielder (17th in DRS & 23rd in UZR), but is very productive overall with his bat (130 wRC+ – 4th).  Seager is good, but not great, at pretty much everything – with the exception of being a terrible baserunner (-6.4 BsR – 40th!).

Justin Turner surprised me – he’s at the top in wRC+ and OBP, and is 3rd in SLG over the last two seasons.  And, while he’s an average defender, and only a below-average baserunner, I just couldn’t bring myself to put him any higher on the list than I did.  I was actually tempted to put him behind the Frazier/Kang/Seager pack.  Turner is going into his age 31 season, and has yet to play a full season.  His 126 games last season were the most he has played in his career.  And, he had knee surgery during the off season.  Yes, he has been very productive over the last two years – when he has played (235 games total).  But, they have also been, by far, the most productive seasons of his career.  I’m just not comfortable expecting great numbers to continue.

Kris BryantThe other surprise, to me, was Kris Bryant.  I tried to find a way to move Machado or Beltre ahead of him, but just couldn’t do it.  Beltre and Machado are clearly the superior defenders (along with Donaldson, they are the gold standard at 3rd), but it isn’t as if Bryant is stinking it up.  He’s 18th in DRS (which is a cumulative stat, and he has only one season under his belt), and 15th in UZR – putting him right in the middle of the pack.  And, Bryant’s offensive production (3rd in wRC+ & OBP, 4th in SLG) and baserunning skills (2nd in BsR) are so far ahead of Machado & Beltre, I just couldn’t justify moving him down.  And, if you throw in my subjective category of “age factor,” Bryant’s only going to get better.

Donaldson was the easiest choice of the entire group.  No one excels both offensively and defensively the way he does, at third base.  He’s in the top two in wRC+, SLG, DRS & UZR, 5th in OBP, and his lone “bad” category is his 2.4 BsR, which ranks 15th.  And, he’s still in his prime (just turned 30 in December), so I don’t expect him to relinquish the top spot anytime soon.

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.

2016 Top 10 Centerfielders

MLB Network does their annual series of shows right before spring training, in which they compile a list of the top 10 players at each position.  There’s always a considerable amount of debate, as many of the Network’s analysts don’t even agree with the list.  But, the list itself is generated by something called “The Shredder.”  This is supposedly a computer algorithm that takes into consideration the last two seasons of performance, and puts together the list strictly based on numbers – no emotion involved.  So, you can see why there’s a reasonable amount of debate.  On each of the episodes in which the list is revealed, there is an additional panel of analysts that reveal their own list, which is rarely in line with The Shredder.

It’s been a few years since I analyzed each position enough to come up with my own list.  So, let’s have some fun with this, shall we?  We’ll consider each position in the same order that they have been releasing the episodes on MLB Network.  We’ll start with the list provided by The Shredder.

Top 10 Centerfielders Right Now7260036620_39debc4e94_z

  1. Mike Trout (LAA)
  2. A.J. Pollock (ARI)
  3. Lorenzo Cain (KC)
  4. Andrew McCutchen (PIT)
  5. Jason Heyward (CHC)
  6. Adam Eaton (CHW)
  7. Kevin Kiermaier (TB)
  8. Randal Grichuk (STL)
  9. Carlos Gomez (HOU)
  10. Adam Jones (BAL)

Right off the bat, I have a problem with this list.  And, this is exactly why building a list like this strictly based on numbers is going to skew things from time to time.  Randal Grichuk??  The guy has played a total of 150 games spread out over the last 2 seasons, and spent a total of a little more than 300 innings in CF.  The guy has been their ultimate backup at each outfield position.  He’ll be a starter on a regular basis this year, since they lost Heyward.  And, even though the guy has played pretty well offensively, when he has played – ranking him among the top 10 after a season in which he played 103 games, and has less than 500 total professional plate appearances is ludicrous.  I’m guessing this is also why only 1 of the 4 analysts on the show even had Grichuk in his top 10 (at #10).

Secondly, I get that Kiermaier is a stud defensively.  But, even though that’s especially important in CF, let’s not make defense so important that we forget about offense.  Kiermaier has a combined .305 OBP over the last two seasons (just .298 last year!), to go along with his .737 OPS.  He’s basically right at league average offensively, an average baserunner, and a stellar defender.  #7 out of the 30 centerfielders in the league seemed like a massive stretch to me, when I first saw this list.  Though, when I started looking at the overall numbers, it wasn’t as much of a stretch as I thought it was going to be.

The numbers that I took into consideration were wRC+, OBP, SLG, BsR (the sabermetric stat for baserunning), DRS (defensive runs saved), and UZR (sabermetric stat that measures a player’s ability to get to the ball, defensively).  I also added a category for age.  And, it actually came into play at the very bottom of my list of center fielders.  Here’s how I look at it:  yes, the last two years of performance are going to tell us a lot about a player.  But, if those last two seasons were at the end of his prime years (say, his age 30 & 31 seasons), then I’m expecting a little drop off in production.  By contrast, if those were his age 24 & 25 seasons, I know that he’s just now going to be hitting his stride, and could actually improve.  So, if it’s ever a really close call, and one of the guys is 32 and the other is 26 – I’m going to give the edge to the younger guy.

So, before I reveal my list, let me share a couple names of guys that were just on the cusp of making the top 10.  First of all, Denard Span.  He’s 5th in OBP among CF’ers over the last two seasons, 7th in wRC+, and is an above-average baserunner.  His defensive metrics aren’t great, which is one of the reasons he didn’t make the list.  In the end, however, he probably is my #11 centerfielder, because of his age.  He’s going into his age 32 season, and has played in 150 games in a season only twice in his career (2013 & 2010).  A guy who’s already injury prone, and is heading into the downward slope of his career – that’s not a good combination, even if he is productive offensively when healthy.  Dexter Fowler is probably 12th on my list.  It baffles me that he still doesn’t have a job.  He’s 5th in OBP, 9th in wRC+, and a switch-hitter heading into his age 30 season.  His defensive metrics are underwhelming, but overall, he’s better than a lot of teams’ current starters.

Now it’s time for my top 10.

  1. Mike Trout
  2. Lorenzo Cain
  3. A.J. Pollock
  4. Andrew McCutchen
  5. Jason Heyward
  6. Adam Eaton
  7. Carlos Gomez
  8. Adam Jones
  9. Kevin Kiermaier
  10. Joc Pederson (LAD)

Pederson jumps into my top 10, because he’s similar to both Fowler and Span in his offensive production, but better than both defensively.  And, this is also in anticipation of him playing more like he did pre-All-Star break, compared to post-All-Star break.  His 20 HR and .851 OPS in the first half last year was incredible.  But, he was too committed to swinging for the fences, and pitchers took advantage of that.  I do expect growth in his approach (he is just 23, after all), so I’m willing to slide him in ahead of a couple guys that are several years older.

You see Kiermaier dropped just a couple spots.  I was surprised it wasn’t more, but his defense really is that good – he did win the “Platinum Glove,” which is given to the best overall defensive player in each league.  If he can raise his offensive production even a little, I think he could move up this list next year.

The only other major difference in my list is Lorenzo Cain.  I was pleased to see him get enough respect to be ranked as high as #3 by the Shredder.  But, I’m willing to bump him up one more spot, ahead of Pollock.  Cain is just a notch behind Pollock in offensive production, but he’s a significant step ahead in baserunning and defense.  It’s splitting hairs when you get down to trying to separate the two.  They’re both a lot of fun to watch.

Overall, I don’t think my list is all that different from “The Shredder.”  What do you think?