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.

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2016 Top 10 Left Fielders

Left field is an interesting position, to me.  Typically, it’s where a lot of guys get . . . well . . . stuck.  The guy that has a bat you want in your lineup – but, doesn’t get around very well, and doesn’t have the strongest or most accurate arm.  Those guys usually end up at either first base or left field.  So, if you have a quality bat in LF, and a quality defensive player, that’s just icing on the cake.  But, because the position is such an enigma – depending on why the guy’s playing the position in the first place – it’s difficult to pin down exactly how to designate the “best” left fielders.  Is it the best offensive players, even if they’re bad defensively?  Is it the rare ones who are also defensive assets – even if they don’t measure up offensively?  I believe I would lean toward the importance of offensive production, simply because of the lack of necessary defensive skills to play the position (it’s not like they’re playing SS).  Let’s take a look at MLB Network’s list:

  1. Michael Brantley (CLE)7476690220_bfa2c9cc61_z
  2. Starling Marte (PIT)
  3. Justin Upton (DET)
  4. Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)
  5. Alex Gordon (KC)
  6. David Peralta (ARI)
  7. Christian Yelich (MIA)
  8. Matt Holliday (STL)
  9. Corey Dickerson (TB)
  10. Brett Gardner (NYY)

Wow.  Just looking at that list should tell you how confusing this position is.  Peralta? Yellich? Dickerson?  Marte is #2??  And, when you look at the lists made by the analysts on the show, you’ll see that it gets even more convoluted, because they included the likes of Kyle Schwarber (CHC – a guy with all of 69 games at the big league level), Khris Davis (OAK), Melky Cabrera (CHW), Colby Rasmus (HOU), and Michael Conforto (NYM – even less experience than Schwarber).

As I began looking through the numbers, one of the most difficult parts was figuring out who would actually be playing LF this season.  Again, because so many end up there by default, it’s difficult to nail down.  So many who have stats there over the last couple years aren’t projected to be playing there this season.  And, many of them don’t even have starting jobs at this point.  I decided not to consider Schwarber or Conforto, because neither of them even have 70 games of experience at the major league level, and neither has played as many as 400 innings in left field.  So, while they do seem to have great potential (will both be in the top 10 next year, if they keep playing like they have), there just isn’t a large enough sample to consider.

This left me with 15 potential candidates for my top 10.  Melky Cabrera didn’t even make it onto my radar.  No idea why anyone would have him in their top 10.  Honorable mention for my list goes to Khris Davis, who has good offensive production, but when it came down to deciding on the bottom of my list, I was having to split hairs.  And, Davis is only average defensively, and he’s a bad baserunner (-2.9 BsR).  Nori Aoki (SF) was also in consideration, but ultimately wound up somewhere around 15th, because his only really productive area is OBP (.351 – 8th).  So, here are my top 10:

  1. Michael Brantley
  2. Yoenis Cespedes
  3. Justin Upton
  4. Alex Gordon
  5. Starling Marte
  6. David Peralta
  7. Matt Holliday
  8. Jayson Werth (WSH)
  9. Andre Ethier (LAD)
  10. Christian Yelich

So, you can see there’s a definite discrepancy between my list and MLB Network’s.  First of all, let’s consider the two guys I left off my list.  Corey Dickerson is a guy I can’t even consider for the top 10 until I see him play a full season away from Colorado.  His home/away splits are insane – nearly a 400-point difference in OPS!  And, he has only played a total of 265 games spread out over the last three seasons.  So, I don’t really care that he has the best SLG among left fielders over the last two seasons, when he hasn’t played as many as 70 games in two of the last three years.  Gardner was left off my list primarily because I give preference to offensive performance in LF.  And, of the 15 left fielders I considered, only Aoki had worse overall offensive production than Gardner.  Yes, Gardner is the best baserunner currently playing LF, and he’s still a top-10 defender. But, the others in consideration were well ahead of Gardner offensively, and didn’t lag far behind defensively (if at all).

20856226896_b6876507f2_zBrantley leads the way on my list, because in addition to having the best overall offensive production (145 wRC+), he’s also a top-5 baserunner, and an average defender.  Well, average for left fielders, that is.  I definitely leaned toward offense-first in my rankings.  That’s why Cespedes and Upton are next on my list.  Their offensive numbers were nearly identical, and Cespedes has slightly better defensive numbers.  Gordon and Marte were also difficult to determine.  Their OPS is identical, their wRC+ is separated by 2, they’re both in the top 10 in baserunning, and they’re both Gold Glove defenders.  It really came down to the fact that Gordon’s UZR of 31.8 (1st) far outshines Marte’s 9.4 (which is still good enough for 4th).

Holliday technically moved up on my list, but he’s ranked lower than some might expect.  Holliday is an on-base machine (.377 – 2nd only to Brantley), and he has good SLG (.432 – 11th).  And, even though he’s easily one of the worst baserunners in LF (-5.1 BsR), and is below average defensively, he might would rank higher, if it wasn’t for the “age factor.”  He’s going into his age 36 season, and has already been dealing with a number of injuries lately.  Yelich also slipped down my list a little, because of the emphasis on offense in LF.  He will compete for a Gold Glove one day, if he stays in LF.  But, his overall offensive production is middle of the pack, at best.  He has a nice OBP (.364 – 3rd best), but everything else is lagging behind the others.

My additions to the list that didn’t seem to be on anyone else’s radar are Werth and Ethier.  Yes, Werth is getting long in the tooth, and has had to miss time due to injury in the last year.  But, he still managed to rank 5th in OBP, and 3rd in BsR, while maintaining average defensive metrics in LF.  Ethier is just a notch behind Werth in offensive production (2-point difference in wRC+), but he’s one of the worst baserunners in LF.  His defensive metrics are better than Werth, but he’s only slightly above average.

I will say this has probably been the most difficult list to decipher.  What do you think?

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 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?

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?

2015 Cy Young Awards

Tonight, we will find out the winners of this year’s Cy Young Awards.  I believe this is easily the most difficult choice for the BBWAA this offseason.  Manager of the year doesn’t have a lot of pressure behind it; Rookie of the Year was obvious in one league, and you couldn’t go wrong between two guys in the other; MVP is pretty clear in both leagues.  But, Cy Young?  In the National League you have a nearly impossible choice to have to make between three fantastic pitchers.  In the AL, there wasn’t one especially dominant pitcher, so they all have flaws.  You just have to figure out which one’s flaws matter the least.  Due to the nature of this year’s candidates, I’m only going to give my top 3 in the NL, but a top 4 in the AL.

American League

  1. 21212873379_d9c1e213a9_zDavid Price (DET/TOR)
  2. Dallas Keuchel (HOU)
  3. Sonny Gray (OAK)
  4. Chris Sale (CHW)

Let’s start with Sale.  I wanted to include him on this list, because even though he wasn’t a finalist for this award, he deserves some recognition.  I can understand why he wasn’t a finalist (10th in ERA, 13th in BAA), but Sale still had an excellent season.  He led the league in FIP, K’s and K/BB ratio.  And, if he had received just a little more run support (38th among starters with at least 140 IP in the AL), he likely would have finished well above 13 wins.

There were only three pitchers in the AL that finished in the top 10 in wins, ERA, WHIP, FIP, and BAA.  And, those are your three “finalists” for the award.  While Sonny Gray had an excellent season (14-7, 2.73 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), and deserved to finish in the top 3, his FIP (3.45) only ranked 8th, and he was definitely not a strikeout pitcher (169 K’s – good for 12th in the league).  So, in the end, this came down to a two-man race.  And, trying to decide between these two pitchers is splitting hairs.  Looking at seven major pitching statistics (wins, ERA, WHIP, FIP, K’s, K/BB, & BAA), Keuchel ranks in the top 5 in every single one.  The lone blemish on Price’s resume is that he ranks 8th in BAA (.227), though it’s just .009 points behind Keuchel, who ranks 2nd.  Keuchel led the league in wins (20) and WHIP (1.02).  But, Price led the league in ERA (2.45), and is ahead of Keuchel in FIP, K’s & K/BB ratio.  If you toss wins aside (which seems to be a habit of many analysts these days), you’re left with six primary categories.  And, Price leads Keuchel in four of them.

There were a few deciding factors, for me, in choosing Price.  One is the aforementioned lead Price has over Keuchel in 4 of 6 categories.  Second, one of those categories is FIP – which tells me that if Price had Keuchel’s defense behind him, his numbers would have been even better.  Third, when it came to crunch time at the end of the season, Price was practically unbeatable – 9-1, 2.30 ERA from August 1st on.  Keuchel wasn’t awful during that same stretch (8-3, 2.78 ERA), but not nearly the dominance Price demonstrated.  Like I said, this is splitting hairs.  But, I would give my vote to Price.

National League

  1. 21854585988_0422f1d293_bJake Arrieta (CHC)
  2. Zack Greinke (LAD)
  3. Clayton Kershaw (LAD)

What’s the only thing more difficult than splitting hairs between two quality candidates?  Splitting hairs between three.  Kershaw led the league in FIP and K’s.  Arrieta led the league in wins and BAA.  Greinke led the league in ERA and WHIP.  So, how am I supposed to figure this one out?  Well, here’s how I came to the decision that I did.  In the categories that Kershaw doesn’t lead, he’s 3rd behind the other two guys on the list.  So, he’s just a notch behind them.  Arrieta and Greinke ranked 1 & 2 in the league in 4 major categories (wins, ERA, WHIP, & BAA).  So, what about the two categories in which Kershaw led the league?  Arrieta ranked 2nd in FIP and 3rd in K’s.  Greinke ranked 5th in FIP and 11th in K’s.

And, for the same reason I chose Price over Keuchel, it’s important we consider crunch time of the season.  Over the last two months of the season Greinke had numbers very similar to Price – 9-1, 2.12 ERA, 0.88 WHIP.  Very impressive.  But, Arrieta’s numbers weren’t just impressive . . . they were historic.  The last time someone had a run of starts similar to Arrieta’s within a single season, they decided to lower the pitching mound because the pitchers had too much of an advantage over the batters (Gibson in ’68).  The four best 10-start stretches, in terms of ERA, in the history of baseball include two guys from the dead ball era (Johnson in 1918 – 0.44 ERA, and Meadows in 1919 – 0.47 ERA), Gibson’s ’68 season (0.20 ERA), and Jake Arrieta from August 1st – Sept. 22nd.  Over those 10 starts, Arrieta was 9-0, with a 0.48 ERA and 0.69 WHIP.  After the All-Star break, Arrieta had arguably the greatest second half of a season in the history of the game (15 GS, 12-1, 0.75 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, .148 BAA, 113 K’s, 2 HR).  All while knowing each start mattered, as his team was in the midst of a division & playoff race.  As great of a season as Greinke and Kershaw had – Arrieta deserves this award.