The Best Players from Each State (California, Colorado, & Connecticut)

As we roll on through the great states of the USA, we’ve come to the C’s.

California

Not surprisingly, the state of California has produced a large number of high quality players. Before we even get to the Hall of Farmers, there are so many names of players who appeared in multiple All-Star games…

Graig Nettles, CC Sabathia, Dwight Evans, Chase Utley, Mark McGwire, Keith Hernandez, Dave Stieb, David Wells, Jason Giambi, Ryan Braun, Nomar Garciaparra, Darryl Strawberry, and on and on the list goes. But, ahead of this list are the 24 Hall of Famers from The Golden State.

On the list from California, you have everything from the really old-school greats (like Frank Chance, the player/manager of the game’s first dynasty – the Chicago Cubs who went to 4 of 5 World Series from 1906-1910) to much more modern iterations of baseball greatness (like Dennis Eckersley and Trevor Hoffman who were inducted primarily for pitching one inning per game). On the pitching side, you have some of the absolute best there ever were. Randy Johnson, who struck out more than 4,800 batters in his career – the 2nd most all time. Tom Seaver, who won 311 games with a career ERA of 2.86.

But, for the absolute greatest, I have to go with a batter from California. No, it isn’t Barry Bonds, even though he technically has the highest WAR among all of them, and technically hit more HR than anyone. I just don’t think his pre-steroids numbers are quite as good. And, no, it isn’t even the great Joe DiMaggio, who only had 8 more strikeouts in his career than home runs.

For me, the greatest player to ever come out of California was a contemporary of DiMaggio – which turned out to be unfortunate for him, because his demeanor wasn’t as nice as Joe’s, which cost him more than one MVP award. I have to go with the last man to hit .400 for a season…

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Ted Williams – a career .344 batting average, with over 500 HR, and 2600 hits. 2 MVP’s (should have been about 5), 2 Triple Crowns, and holds the highest career OBP in history (.482). It’s hard to fathom what his total numbers might be had he not lost essentially five years to service in the military during WWII and Korea. For my money, Williams is the best pure hitter the game has ever seen. Which made this an easy choice, in spite of all the great players from California.

Colorado

The state of Colorado hasn’t produced a ton of major league talent. Just 94 players have come from The Centennial State. And only 7 of those have ever appeared in a single All-Star Game.

But, despite this seeming lack of quality production from this state, there are two Hall of Famers from Colorado. And, the choice of the greatest definitely came down to these two. It was a somewhat difficult choice, because they are both pitchers, but pitchers from very different eras, with very different roles.

Ultimately, I did not choose Rich “Goose” Gossage, in spite of his 300+ saves, 9 All-Star Games, and World Series championship in 1978. Instead I went with the only other pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the postseason, besides Don Larsen‘s perfect game in 1956…

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Roy HalladayHalladay won 2 Cy Young’s, and was runner-up on two other occasions. He led the league in shutouts on multiple occasions, as well as strikeout-to-walk ratio. He finished as high as 6th in MVP voting, and has an impressive career win pct. of .659. He was also selected for 8 All-Star games, and was inducted into the HOF just last month.

Connecticut

Can you believe that the little state of Connecticut has produced more than twice as many major league players as Colorado? And, many of them had decent careers – Mo Vaughn, Charles Nagy, Brad Ausmus, Dick McAuliffe, and Jim Piersall.

But, there are only three Hall of Famers from The Constitution State. And every one of them played in the dead-ball era. So, for now, the greatest player to come from the state of Connecticut is…

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Roger Connor – this Waterbury native played from 1880-1897 for the Troy Trojans, New York Gothams, and St. Louis Browns. Connor was a power-hitter, leading the league in SLG multiple times, and finished 2nd in the league in HR in multiple seasons. He finished his career with an impressive … 138 career HR, which was actually the all-time record. It was a record that would stand for 23 years after his retirement. And, in spite of the fact that he didn’t hit what we would consider to be a lot of home runs, he still had a career OPS of .883 – higher than the likes of Jackie Robinson, Sammy Sosa, Mark Teixeira, and Jose Canseco.

But, Mr. Connor may not hold his grip on this title much longer. There’s a young right fielder born in New Britain, CT that is charging up the leaderboard, by the name of George Springer.

The Best Players From Each State (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, & Arizona)

If you’ve ever been to places like Texas or South Carolina, you know what I mean when I say … some people are VERY proud of their home state.  Some might even say, a little TOO proud?  But, that’s neither here nor there.  The purpose of the next series of posts will be to highlight the best players from each of the 50 states in the USA.  It will be based on the state the player was born in, so there may be some argument from those who know that a player graduated from high school in a state that was different from his birth state.  Be that as it may, we will begin today with all of the A’s.

Alabama

The state of Alabama has produced a surprising number of major league players, and several Hall of Famers.  Even a couple of the more dominant pitchers of this era can trace their roots to the Yellowhammer State – Corey Kluber and Craig Kimbrel.  But, let’s take a moment to appreciate just how many names are on plaques in Cooperstown from a state known more for college football…

Satchel Paige, Don Sutton, Joe Sewell, Heinie Manush, Monte Irvin, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Early Wynn, and Ozzie Smith, to get us started.  These are some great names in the history of the game.  But, as great as these are … they aren’t the best.  In fact, there are two names that stand out ahead of all these.  And, it was a terribly difficult decision.  Runner-up in the state of Alabama goes to…

Hank Aaron.  That’s right.  The man who holds the all-time record for RBI, total bases, and legitimate home runs is the runner up.  I think if he’d been born in pretty much any of the other 49 states, he would be #1 in that state.  But, it just so happens that Hank Aaron was born in the same state as…

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Willie Mays – Yes Aaron has more career HR and RBI than Mays.  But, did you know Aaron also has about 1500 more plate appearances?  The equivalent of more than two years’ worth of playing time.  And, Mays missed the entire 1953 season, serving in the military, which was right at the prime of his career.  These two players have nearly identical career batting numbers, with Aaron having the slight edge in batting avg. (.305 to .302), while Mays has the edge in OBP (.384 to .374).  And, even though Aaron has the lead in HR, Mays has the higher SLG.  For me, it came down to speed and awards.  Mays stole 338 bases, compared to Aaron’s 240.  It was also Mays’ speed that allowed him to play an amazing CF, and win 12 Gold Gloves at one of the most important positions on the field.  Mays also won ROY and 2 MVPs, while Aaron won just one MVP.  What a crazy choice to have to make right off the bat!  I have a feeling it will only get easier from here.

Alaska

Not surprisingly, the largest state in our country has actually produced very few major league ballplayers.  Only 12 players to don a professional baseball jersey were born in “The Last Frontier.”  And, of those twelve, only one is currently on a major league team’s 40-man roster (Tony Barnette – Chicago Cubs).  The most prolific batter to come from Alaska was Josh Phelps, who really only spent about 5 seasons at the major league level, primarily with the Blue Jays.  He showed some promise as a rookie, winning AL rookie of the month in August and September of 2002.  But, he never produced as a consistent major league player.

Which leaves us with pitching options, and the obvious choice for the best player from Alaska …

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Curt Schilling – In my opinion, this Anchorage native belongs in the Hall of Fame.  Considering his contributions to two different World Series teams, including co-MVP of the 2001 champion Diamondbacks, he belongs in the Hall.  But, for now, he can claim the title of greatest from the state of Alaska.  With 216 wins, 3,116 strikeouts, 6 All-Star appearances, and three runner-up finishes in the Cy Young, Schilling stands out head and shoulders above the rest.

Arkansas

The Natural State has probably produced more quality baseball players than you would expect, considering the size of the state.  Even among those who aren’t enshrined in Cooperstown, there are some very good players here:  Torii Hunter, Preacher Roe (a fellow alum of my alma mater), Cliff Lee, Rick Monday, A.J. Burnett, and Johnny Sain.

Six Hall of Famers hail from Arkansas, including Dizzy Dean, Travis Jackson, Arky Vaughan, George Kell, and Brooks Robinson.  It turns out that not picking Robinson here was every bit as difficult as not picking Aaron in Alabama.  Robinson won 16 Gold Gloves at 3B, an MVP in ’64, two World Series championships with the Orioles in ’66 and ’70, and was the World Series MVP in ’70.  But, as impressive as those numbers are, I have to give the nod to…

Cards Brock

Lou Brock – I would dare to say that both Brock and Robinson’s careers are remembered primarily for one particularly amazing skill.  Robinson for his defense at third, and Brock for his ability to steal bases.  And since these two men set the gold standard in those categories (two categories that are impossible to compare), the decision had to come down to something that could be compared.  And, when you compare overall offensive production, Brock comes out on top.  He has more hits than Robinson (3,023), more doubles and more triples, in spite of having about 500 fewer plate appearances.  Brock has the higher batting average, OBP, SLG, and OPS.

Arizona

I was shocked by the numbers I saw from the state of Arizona.  Alabama and Arkansas rank 24th and 33rd, respectively, in the nation in population.  Both have produced a large number of high-quality, and even Hall of Fame worthy baseball players.  So, when I turned to Arizona, knowing that it is the 14th largest state by population, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that there have only been 115 players to even come from this state – only 8 of whom have even appeared in a single All-Star game.

Choosing the best player produced by The Grand Canyon State was actually quite easy.  He has more All-Star Game appearances (4), hits (1,998), 2B (416), 3B (41), HR (256), RBI (907), and stolen bases (243) than anyone else.  And, since he is an active player, his claim as the greatest from Arizona should hold up for a while (or, so one might think).  For now, I give you…

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Ian Kinsler – in addition to his offensive production, Kinsler, born in Tucson, has won two Gold Gloves.  But, how long will his numbers remain at the top?  Because lurking not far behind him, with just 3 years under his belt is …. Cody Bellinger.

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.

All Streaks Come to an End

Last night, in the 4th inning of a game in Toronto, Francisco Liriano did something that no one had been able to do in the last 7+ months … he struck out Mookie Betts.  It has been an amazing run for Betts.  129 plate appearances in the regular season since his last strikeout (September 12th of last year).  It was the longest streak by a Boston player since 1975, and the longest in baseball since 2004.


Even with his incredible streak over, however, Betts still has an opportunity to make history.  Since 1947, only 5 players have struck out so rarely that they averaged at least 48 AB’s per strikeout.  The incredible thing about that list is that Nellie Fox accomplished the feat 6 times from ’51-’62!  In fact, every season in which Fox was a full-time player (’50-’64), he never struck out more than 18 times in a season.  

Currently, Betts is averaging one strikeout per 49 AB’s.  To put that into the context of a season – that’s about 11 K’s spread out over an entire year.  The last player to come close to that kind of number was Dave Cash, in 1976.  That year, Cash led the league in AB’s (666), and only struck out 13 times.  

But, the difference between Betts and the rest of the guys on the low strikeout list is Betts’ ability to hit for power.  Cash never hit as many as 5 HR in a single season, and had a career SLG of .358.  Fox had 35 career HR, and a .363 career SLG.  The only man to make the list with legitimate power in his bat was Yogi Berra.  Berra struck out just 12 times in 1950, when he also hit 28 HR and drove in 124.  

If Betts can continue to be as diligent as he has been at avoiding strikeouts, he has an opportunity to join some extremely elite company.

Why the White Sox Will Continue to Flounder in Mediocrity

13550859955_d990a0a3dd_zI was pretty surprised yesterday when I heard the news that the Red Sox had landed Chris Sale from the White Sox.  I honestly didn’t think they were going to even attempt such a move, because they just came off of a 93-win season in which they won their division and lost to eventual AL champion Cleveland.  And, their biggest loss was clearly on the offensive side (Ortiz), so I assumed they would make that priority #1-9.

But, none of that is why I was eventually flabbergasted by this trade.  What I simply find unbelievable is that the White Sox were willing to trade arguably the 2nd or 3rd best pitcher in baseball for nothing more than what they received from Boston.  Let’s start with this:  since the beginning of the 2013 season, only Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have a higher WAR (according to Fangraphs), or more strikeouts than Sale.  Only Jake Arrieta, Kershaw & Scherzer can lay claim to a lower WHIP.  And, only Kershaw and Josh Tomlin have a better K/BB ratio.  This is no middle reliever.  This is no mid-rotation starter.  And, this is no average ace of a staff.  He is clearly one of the absolute best in the game.

On top of those numbers, there is the financial side to consider.  Sale is going into his age-28 season.  The Red Sox are guaranteed to have him for 3 years.  And, those will be prime years.  What will it cost the Red Sox? – $38 million.  To put that into perspective, Rich Hill (who is a full 10 years older than Sale and has put together a really solid season just once in 12 years) just signed a contract that will cover those same 3 years . . . for $48 million.  There are 34 starting pitchers that will make more than Sale in 2017 – 3 of whom are going to be pitching behind him in the same rotation (Price, Porcello & Buchholz).  So, the Red Sox are getting 3 prime seasons out of one of the best pitchers in the game, at an extreme discount.  This, in the midst of an off-season in which everyone knew the starting pitching market was going to be particularly thin.  Hill may very well have been the best starter available among free agents this winter.

With all of this in mind, wouldn’t you expect the White Sox to walk away with a treasure trove of players?  Shouldn’t you expect them to bring in a haul that includes both major league ready players and prospects?  After all, didn’t we see something like this just a year ago?  Do you remember what the Diamondbacks sent to Atlanta in order to get Shelby Miller?  A Gold Glove caliber major league outfielder (Inciarte) who could hit leadoff, and was just 25 at the time; the #1 overall draft pick from the 2015 draft (Swanson), who was already ranked as the #10 prospect in all of baseball (and Arizona’s #1 prospect), and plays a premium position (SS); and, the D’backs’ #3 prospect (#61 overall), a near major league ready pitcher who is likely a mid-rotation starter (Blair).  Granted, I believe pretty much everyone considered that trade heavily lopsided in the Braves’ favor.  But, considering the fact that it was for a mid-rotation starter in Miller, I would have expected that package to be a jumping off point for anything the White Sox would consider in return for Sale.

But, it obviously wasn’t.

I had heard rumors that the Nationals – who seemed to be the frontrunners to land Sale – were willing to part with both of their top 2 prospects in a package for Sale.  That would have been Lucas Giolito (#3 prospect in baseball), who looks ready to start at the major league level next year, and has the potential to develop into an ace; and Victor Robles (#10 prospect in baseball), who is a crazy fast outfielder and may be a legit 5-tool player in a couple years.  I thought that was a pretty good place to start, if you’re going to be giving up 3 years of one of the best pitchers in the game, and trying to rebuild via trades.  Especially in a year when there are so few pitching options for competitive teams to go after.

But, alas, the White Sox have proven once again that they don’t seem to understand market value.  Or the fact that they were the ones holding all the cards.  It appears as though they have rushed into the first offer that appeared to be a little better than others they were hearing.  Take a look at what they’re getting:

  1. Yoan Moncada – yes, he’s the #1 prospect in baseball, and will likely be major league ready next year, playing 2B and drawing potential comparisons to Robinson Cano.  He’s an excellent prospect.
  2. Michael Kopech – he’s now the White Sox’s #2 prospect.  Sounds good, right?  Well . . . he was only the Red Sox’s #5 prospect, and is only #30 in baseball.  He has the potential to be a frontline starter, but since he was drafted in 2014, he has struggled with command of not only his pitching, but also his off-field life.  Suspended for 50 games for a stimulant, and broke his hand in a fight with a teammate.  Not exactly what I would call a top-tier prospect.
  3. Luis Alexander Basabe – he’s now the White Sox’s #7 prospect, and was Boston’s #8 prospect.  He’s not in the top-100 prospects in baseball, which is a significant drop-off from the first two names here.  If he pans out (which would be at least a couple more years), he could be a nice switch-hitter with power in the outfield.
  4. Victor Diaz – he barely cracks the White Sox’s top-30 prospect list at #29.  He’s a long way from the majors, and even his best path is as a late-inning reliever, if he makes it.

Do you see what I’m seeing?  The Red Sox were able to land one of the best pitchers in the game, and the only real significant piece they gave up was Moncada.  They didn’t have to give up Henry Owens or Eduardo Rodriguez, a pair of very young and talented LHP’s who have just begun their major league careers.  They didn’t have to give up Andrew Benintendi, their #2 prospect, and my early pick to win ROY in the AL next year.  They didn’t have to give up Rafael Devers, their #3 prospect, and the #1 3B prospect in baseball.  They didn’t have to give up Jason Groome, their #1 pick in this year’s draft, and the #1 LHP prospect in baseball.  The Red Sox should feel great about this move.

It’s as if they went shopping for a pitcher, and found themselves a Black Friday steal!

White Sox fans, on the other hand, should be shaking their heads.  Yes, you have a middle-infielder in Moncada that has the potential to be a perennial All-Star.  But, tell me this:  what about this package is any better than what the Braves received for Shelby Miller?  Maybe if Kopech, Basabe, and Diaz all reached their potential, you could say the White Sox received one more productive player than the Braves did.  But, is that really the difference between the value of Shelby Miller and Chris Sale??  I hardly think so.  Even the Nationals’ willingness to part ways with their top 2 prospects seems like a better deal than what the Red Sox gave up.  Even if all the Nationals added to the package were B-list prospects that were a long way from making it to the majors.

Just further evidence that White Sox management doesn’t seem to understand how to put together a team that will consistently compete.  Not that we should be surprised, since they had one of the best pitchers in the game for 5 years, and never did anything with him.

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!

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.