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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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.

2016 Top 10 Second Basemen

We’ve now come to a position on the diamond that doesn’t exactly get a lot of hype.  It’s a position that doesn’t require the defensive agility of shortstop, or the offensive prowess of first base.  It’s kinda stuck in the middle.  But, if you can have a productive second baseman on your team – in addition to getting what you expect at other positions – it’s a nice commodity.  Perhaps the lower expectations at this position are why MLB Network’s top 10 isn’t exactly littered with household names…

  1. 17098061160_4c305eeb89_zJose Altuve (HOU)
  2. Robinson Cano (SEA)
  3. Joe Panik (SF)
  4. Ian Kinsler (DET)
  5. Josh Harrison (PIT)
  6. Ben Zobrist (CHC)
  7. Neil Walker (NYM)
  8. Dustin Pedroia (BOS)
  9. Dee Gordon (MIA)
  10. Logan Forsythe (TB)

I look at this list, and I think – wow.  Seriously?  Joe Panik is the third-best second baseman in the game today?  That says all you need to know about the position.  Don’t get me wrong – I like Joe Panik.  He’s a solid player.  But, I don’t remember him lighting up the stat block, and making highlight-reel defensive plays.  Compared to a lot of the other lists, there just aren’t many guys here that are ever going to compete for an MVP (Pedroia in ’08 was a fluke year – he’s only finished in the top 10 twice since then, and never higher than 7th).  Be that as it may, let’s continue to examine the players that patrol the keystone position.

There were only 14 second basemen I would even take into consideration for this list, once I started looking at the numbers.  The reason being: there are only 14 second basemen that have performed even slightly above average offensively over the last two seasons – at least, according to the wRC+ metric.  The biggest issue for me, as I was trying to evaluate the numbers, was the fact that #7-#13 in wRC+ over the last two seasons are separated by all of 5 points.  And, when you start looking into the other stats I used (OBP, SLG, BsR, DRS & UZR), they are scattered all over the place.  So, there’s a group of guys that I finally had to just rank based solely on wRC+.  And, that ultimately determined numbers 10-14 on my list.

So, honorable mention will go to Daniel Murphy (WSH), who finished 11th on my list.  He is tied for 8th in wRC+ (110), and 7th in SLG (.424).  His OBP is slightly above average at .327, and his baserunning is far from being the worst, at 0.2.  But, what really kept him from consideration for my top 10 is the fact that he’s one of the worst fielding second basemen in the game.  A couple others are horrendous fielders on my list, but they happen to also be some of the best offensive players at the position.  Speaking of which . . . here’s my list:

  1. 15801475216_0f920eb5fe_zJoe Panik
  2. Jose Altuve
  3. Josh Harrison
  4. Robinson Cano
  5. Ben Zobrist
  6. Ian Kinsler
  7. Neil Walker
  8. Brian Dozier (MIN)
  9. Dee Gordon
  10. Howie Kendrick (LAD)

Dee Gordon is the only one that stayed in the same spot on my list (primarily because once you get past his speed, which contributes to high OBP and BsR ratings, his numbers aren’t overwhelming).  Everything else is total chaos, compared to MLB Network’s list.  So, let’s start with the guys that didn’t make my list.  Dustin Pedroia is one of the top two fielding second basemen in the game (I’d say it’s a toss-up between him and Kinsler).  But, once you get past his quality (though, not necessarily astounding) fielding skills, he has little to offer.  He’s bad on the base paths (-2.3 BsR), and only barely above average in overall offensive production (105 wRC+ – 14th).  His lone claim to fame is a .345 OBP (5th), but that wasn’t enough to warrant placing him in the top 10.  Logan Forsythe is a much closer call.  He was in that mix of guys that I finally had to rank based on wRC+, and he ended up 12th.  His 109 wRC+ is 10th best among second basemen, and his decent OBP (.334) and SLG (.403) were good enough to be considered.  But, what hurt him was his poor baserunning (-3.3 BsR), and below-average UZR (-2.2).

Howie Kendrick snatched that #10 spot on my list, because his wRC+ of 112 is actually good enough for 7th among second basemen over the last two years.  He also ranks 7th in OBP (.342), is an above average baserunner (2.9 BsR), and decent at getting to the ball defensively (2.2 UZR).  But, a -5 DRS (46th) really hurt his chances of being ranked any higher.  The other name that snuck up on my list is Dozier.  His defensive metrics aren’t good (-5 DRS, -3.7 UZR), but he’s one of the most well-rounded offensive second basemen in the game.  He’s tied for 8th in wRC+ (110), 6th in SLG (.431), and 2nd in BsR (12.6).

Now to explain what I imagine has every Astros fan reading this about to come unglued.  How can anyone be ranked ahead of Altuve??  Well, let’s keep in mind that of the 5 analysts on the show on MLB Network, only 2 of them ranked Altuve #1.  So, there is definitely some room for debate at this position.  I believe Panik is the most well-rounded player at second base today.  At least, I do now that I’ve looked at the numbers – I obviously wasn’t so sure of that previously.  Altuve and Panik’s offensive production is nearly identical – their wRC+ score is off by just 1 point.  And, even as great of an on-base threat as Altuve is, Panik is just .001 behind him.  But, Panik is a slightly better baserunner (2.0 BsR, compared to Altus’s 1.2), and is miles ahead of Altuve defensively (28th in DRS compared to Altus’s 44th, and 7th in UZR, compared to Altus’s 60th – among 2B who have played at least 300 innings the last two seasons).

Cano also dropped down because of his terrible defensive metrics, and baserunning skills.  He and Altuve might be the worst fielding everyday second basemen in the game.  And, he’s one of the worst baserunners playing 2B (-7.2 BsR – 40th among second basemen with at least 500 PA the last two seasons).  Cano is top-3 in the other offensive categories, but Josh Harrison is barely behind him offensively, is a top-10 baserunner, and is actually above-average defensively.

I don’t have Ian Kinsler ranked quite as high, because the majority of his value comes on defense.  His overall offensive production is only slightly above average (107 wRC+).  Zobrist gets the nod ahead of him, because his offensive production is so much better (top-10 in wRC+, OBP & SLG), and his BsR and defense are average.  Neil Walker ended up behind both of them, because while his offensive production is very good (6th in wRC+ and 3rd in SLG), he’s the only one on the list that could compete with Cano & Altuve for the worst defensive second baseman title.

2016 Top 10 Starting Pitchers

Now we’ve come to a position that is going to require an entirely different approach.  The challenge for both starting pitchers and relief pitchers is deciding which stats matter, and which stats don’t.  I’m going to choose 6 statistical categories to determine my list, and will continue to use the one subjective category of “Age Factor.”  I do think the age factor is a little different for pitchers than it is for position players.  For many pitchers, they can be very successful even into their age 33 and 34 years.  So, I might not allow that to be as big of a factor as it has been with other positions.  Before we look any further at my thoughts, let’s take a look at MLB Network’s list:

  1. 4517209236_440480f40e_zClayton Kershaw (LAD)
  2. Jake Arrieta (CHC)
  3. Zack Greinke (ARI)
  4. David Price (BOS)
  5. Chris Sale (CHW)
  6. Max Scherzer (WAS)
  7. Corey Kluber (CLE)
  8. Dallas Keuchel (HOU)
  9. Felix Hernandez (SEA)
  10. Adam Wainwright (STL)

This strikes me as a bizarre list.  First of all, Wainwright lost nearly an entire season last year, due to injury.  Now, he’s going into his age 34 season.  Is that not cause for concern?  After all, we are talking about the 10 best starters in all of baseball – of which there are approximately 150.  Second, the placement of Arrieta and Keuchel baffles me.  My initial thoughts are that they’ve both had one breakout season – winning the Cy Young in their respective leagues.  But, if that one season is enough to push Arrieta all the way to #2, why is Keuchel all the way down at #8?  And, if Keuchel is down at #8 because of a lack of previous success, how can Arrieta be #2?  Third, I know Chris Sale strikes out a lot of people – but, shouldn’t wins count for something?

Even after writing that last sentence, I realize I’m not even taking wins into account in the categories I’m going to use.  I am, however, taking into consideration one of the many win probability metrics.  It’s RE24, which is a stat that considers how a pitcher handles various situations related to runners on base, and the likelihood they will score.  I also used a metric known as SIERA, or Skill Interactive ERA.  This is a fairly new metric, which attempts to more accurately depict a pitcher’s skill by using a combination of many of the usual stats (K’s, BB’s, HR’s, etc.) as well as some batted ball statistics.  On top of these two metrics, I used four of the more mainstream stats: ERA, WHIP, K/BB, and BAA.

Before looking at my top 10, I’d like to give honorable mention to Carlos Carrasco (CLE).  He’s definitely #11 on my list.  He’s tied for 7th in WHIP over the last two seasons, 9th in BAA, 3rd in SIERA and 15th in K/BB.  But, he ranked so low in the other two categories (32nd in ERA, 20th in RE24), that I just couldn’t quite bring myself to rank him ahead of anyone on my list.  But, he’s just barely on the outside looking in. So, here is the list I came up with:

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Jake Arrieta
  3. Zack Greinke
  4. Chris Sale
  5. Max Scherzer
  6. Felix Hernandez
  7. Dallas Keuchel
  8. Johnny Cueto (SF)
  9. David Price
  10. Jacob deGrom (NYM)

This is by far the most deviation from the Shredder’s list.  The top 3 remained the same, which was a bit of a surprise to me.  Primarily, because I didn’t expect Arrieta to stay that high.  But, over the last two years he’s second only to Kershaw in ERA and WHIP, 1st in BAA, and top 5 in both RE24 and SIERA.  Greinke is 14th in SIERA and 16th in K/BB ratio, so he’s just a notch behind Arrieta.

13440444663_1dfc1849ba_zI actually moved Chris Sale up a spot!  His worst ranking was 12th in RE24, and he’s 2nd only to Kershaw in SIERA.  He’s also in the top 10 in each of the other categories, which is something no one else remaining on the list can claim.  I also moved Felix Hernandez up to 6th, and it was a very close call between him and Scherzer.  Felix’s worst category is K/BB ratio (20th), while Scherzer’s worst category is ERA (16th).  They’re tied with the exact same WHIP over the last two years, and their BAA is .003 apart, so it really came down to the sabermetrics.  Scherzer ranked 4th and 5th in RE24 & SIERA, respectively, while Hernandez ranked 9th and 8th.

David Price dropped down my list quite a bit, and I can’t figure out why he was ranked so high on the Shredder’s list.  In fact, of the 5 analysts on MLB Network’s show, 2 of them didn’t have Price on their list, and no one had him higher than 6th.  You’ll also see that two names have fallen from my list.  Corey Kluber, right now, is probably 12th on my list – even behind his own teammate, Carrasco.  Only the sabermetric stats had him in the top 10 on my list.  He’s 14th in ERA & WHIP, 12th in K/BB, and 20th in BAA.  Those aren’t horrible numbers, but they aren’t enough to put him in my top 10.  Wainwright also fell from my list.  His ERA and WHIP are excellent (4th & 5th, respectively).  But, that’s the end of his resume for this list.  He’s 28th in K/BB, 13th in BAA, 14th in RE24, and 30th(!) in SIERA.  Top-15 starting pitcher? – probably, along with Bumgarner and Lester.  But, top 10? – no way.

14136005620_1e0be50b98_zHere’s a bold prediction for 2016 – Johnny Cueto will be in the NL Cy Young discussion.  I don’t know why Cueto doesn’t get more credit than he does.  I certainly understand that he will have a terrible outing, on occasion.  But, consider the fact that he ranks 8th in ERA, 7th in WHIP, 3rd in BAA and 7th in RE24 over the last two seasons – 3/4 of which was played in what is considered one of the best hitters’ parks in the league.  And now he’s going to be pitching in one of, if not the best pitchers’ parks.  Plus, he’s likely to benefit from what I call the “Greinke-effect.”  Cueto is a top-tier pitcher, but will consistently be going up against the opposing team’s #2 starter (something Greinke has benefited from his last few years in LA).  Another prediction: Cueto will be on everyone’s top 10 list on next year’s show (he didn’t make it onto anyone’s list this year).

Lastly, you almost had to expect one of the Mets’ hurlers on this list.  deGrom (whose name autocorrect wants to turn into “legroom” – haha) ranks 5th in ERA, 11th in WHIP and 5th in BAA over the last two seasons.  He’s also in the top 15 in both RE24 and SIERA, which can only be claimed by the 10 guys on my list, and Bumgarner.  This was definitely the most challenging list to compile, but I enjoyed it!  What about you?