3 Up 3 Down

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

3 UP

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

3 DOWN

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

2016 All-Star Ballot (part 1)

Every team in baseball has played more than 40 games, at this point.  And, you know what that means . . . we’re half way to the All-Star break!  So, I thought it was about time to discuss who is looking like an All-Star this year.  Emphasis on this year.  Unlike some voters, I don’t really care what a guy did last season, and whether or not he was “snubbed” from the Mid-Summer Classic a year ago.  How are you performing right now?  Are you putting up All-Star numbers?  If not . . . better luck next year.  Well, that, or you have about another month or so to get your act together if you want my vote(s).

Since it’s still early in the season, we won’t spend a ton of time discussing each position.  But, I do think it’s worth taking a look to see who is actually performing like an All-Star.  Because, there may very well be some surprises.  Keep in mind, the stats listed are all prior to last night’s games.

Catcher

AL – This is always one of the more difficult positions for me.  Trying to find the appropriate balance between offensive production, and defensive prowess is debated more behind the plate than anywhere else on the diamond.  At this point, though, in the American League, the decision is fairly easy:  Matt Wieters (BAL) – .283/.330/.455, 4 HR, 16 RBI.  There’s only one catcher in the AL with more than 100 PA’s that is legitimately out-performing Wieters offensively (McCann), and Wieters is lightyears ahead defensively.  On the flip side of that coin, there’s really only one catcher in the AL that is significantly better than Wieters behind the plate (Perez), and Wieters is head and shoulders ahead of him offensively, at this point.  So, for now, I believe Weiters is the best balanced candidate in the AL.

Others to watch:  Brian McCann (NYY), Jason Castro (HOU), Salvador Perez (KC)

NL – The catcher position in the National League is perhaps a little easier to decide:  Wilson Ramos (WSH).  Ramos is far and away the best offensive catcher in baseball, at this point.  His .347/.389/.525 slash line is especially impressive at a position that doesn’t really emphasize offense as much.  And, Ramos is middle of the pack defensively.  Depending on the metrics, there are about half a dozen catchers in the NL performing better than Ramos behind the plate.  But, only 2 of those are even having slightly above-average seasons offensively (Posey & Castillo).  For now, Ramos’ offense is so much better, that I think he deserves the vote.  But, if Posey heats up offensively, or if Molina or Lucroy make strides on defense to surpass Ramos, there could be a lot of fluctuation here.

Others to watch:  Buster Posey (SF), Yadier Molina (STL), Jonathan Lucroy (MIL)

 

First Base

AL – The choice here is easy:  Miguel Cabrera (DET).  Now, while I said it was an easy choice – that doesn’t mean it isn’t close.  Hosmer is just a notch behind Cabrera in pretty much every offensive category.  And, Cabrera even has him beat defensively at the moment.  Cabrera is quietly having another impressive season – .315/.388/.537, 9 HR, 26 RBI.

Others to watch:  Eric Hosmer (KC), Carlos Santana (CLE), Chris Davis (BAL)

NL – Another choice that was pretty easy, but still very close:  Anthony Rizzo (CHC) – .240/.379/.526, 11 HR, 34 RBI.  The bizarre thing about Rizzo’s stat line is that his OBP, and ultimately his OPS (which leads all NL first basemen), are both very high, in spite of the fact that his batting average is as low as it is.  But, that just further proves how obsolete of a stat batting average is becoming.  Rizzo is also one of the top fielding first basemen in the league.

Others to watch:  Brandon Belt (SF), Paul Goldschmidt (ARI), Chris Carter (MIL)

 

Second Base

AL – Wow.  There are some second basemen in both leagues that are having really impressive seasons, but likely won’t get close to starting in the All-Star game.  Mainly because there are two guys having unbelievable seasons.  In the AL, it’s Jose Altuve (HOU) – .328/.413/.582, 9 HR, 27 RBI, 15 SB.  If he keeps this up, he could be in the MVP discussion.  Well, if Houston doesn’t continue to tank, that is.

Others to watch:  Robinson Cano (SEA), Ian Kinsler (DET)

NL – Potential MVP candidate in the NL:  Daniel Murphy (WSH) – .387/.420/.607, 6 HR, 28 RBI.  He’s playing so well, I don’t think there’s more than one second basemen in the NL that has a shot at catching him before the break.

Other to watch:  Ben Zobrist (CHC)

 

Shortstop

AL – What a loaded position this is in the American League!  And, loaded with youth, which means we get to enjoy this for several years to come.  Right now, my vote goes to:  Xander Bogaerts (BOS) – .346/.397/.495, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 6 SB.  Bogaerts is also an excellent fielding shortstop.  His overall numbers are leading, but not necessarily overshadowing, others at this position.  So, there could be a decent amount of fluctuation between now and July.

Others to watch:  Francisco Lindor (CLE), Carlos Correa (HOU)

NL – While this is another position that often places an emphasis on defense, the two best offensive shortstops in the NL are so far ahead of everyone else, I’m going to ignore the fact that they are both a little below average with the glove.  Right now, my vote goes to a guy you’re going to have to write in:  Aledmys Diaz (STL) – .352/.386/.599, 6 HR, 23 RBI.  Taking the place of the injured Peralta, Diaz has played his way into the starting job, regardless of what happens to Peralta in my mind.  And, while Story had the hot start to the season, Diaz is batting almost 70 points higher, and his OPS is 40 points higher.  Plus, Story is striking out at an alarming 31.9%, while Diaz only 9.2%

Others to watch:  Trevor Story (COL), Zack Cozart (CIN), Corey Seager (LAD)

 

Third Base

AL – Two more no-brainers here.  In the American League, we’re looking at another potential MVP candidate:  Manny Machado (BAL) – .308/.367/.610, 12 HR, 26 RBI.  And, Machado is arguably one of the best gloves in the game – regardless of position.

Others to watch:  Nick Castellanos (DET), Travis Shaw (BOS), Josh Donaldson (TOR)

NL Nolan Arenado (COL) – .307/.383/.620, 14 HR, 34 RBI, and another excellent fielding third baseman.  Arenado isn’t as far ahead of the rest of the pack as Machado is, but it’s enough to say he’s the clear choice.  But, don’t be surprised if one or more of these others catch up with him.

Others to watch:  Kris Bryant (CHC), Matt Carpenter (STL)

 

Outfield

AL – It kinda makes me chuckle that no one is even talking about Trout, in spite of the season he’s having (.321/.411/.564, 10 HR, 31 RBI).  It’s almost like we just expect that from him now.  But, probably even more surprising was my third choice in the outfield: 1) Jackie Bradley, Jr. (BOS) – .342/.413/.618, 8 HR, 33 RBI; 2) Mike Trout (LAA), and . . . 3) Michael Saunders (TOR) – .322/.388/.570, 8 HR, 15 RBI.  Be honest – who saw that coming?  And yet, he is the clear choice, as everyone else is well behind him in overall offensive production.

Others to watch:  Mark Trumbo (BAL), Nelson Cruz (SEA), Jose Bautista (TOR)

NL – I don’t think there are any surprises here, other than perhaps the order: 1) Yoenis Cespedes (NYM) – .298/.381/.660, 14 HR, 35 RBI; 2) Dexter Fowler (CHC) – .316/.435/.533, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 6 SB; 3) Bryce Harper (WSH) – .260/.451/.565, 11 HR, 30 RBI, 7 SB.  Braun is neck-and-neck with Harper in overall offensive production, but lags way behind in defense, which is why Harper definitely gets the nod here.

Others to watch:  Ryan Braun (MIL), Christian Yelich (MIA), Stephen Piscotty (STL)

 

And, if you don’t know who to vote for at DH . . . you probably need to start reading a different blog.  Hahaha.  Let’s just say it’s your last chance to see him in the Mid-Summer Classic.  Happy voting!

Buy or Sell

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

SELL

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

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

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

BUY

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

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

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

2016 Top 10 Third Basemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 Predictions: NL West

Base_580I’m at least grateful that James Shields had enough courtesy to sign with a team of which I had yet to write.  That certainly made life easier for me as I worked on all of these posts.  The Padres certainly have been the busiest team in the west.  But, the question always is – did they make the right moves?  Every year, there is a team or two that makes several huge moves in an attempt to become suddenly relevant.  But, there are as many times (if not more times) in which it fails to make any difference.  Most recently, I recall everyone thinking the Blue Jays were going to run away with the AL East after several acquisitions in the offseason leading up to the 2013 season.  And, a season before that, it was the Marlins who signed several big-name free agents, and were expected to jump to the front of the division.  Both of those teams actually finished in last place, rather than first.  So, beware.  There’s no guarantee that making a big splash in the offseason will bring about any amount of success when the games are actually played.  With that in mind, here is how I see the NL West playing out:

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)
  2. San Diego Padres (87-75)
  3. San Francisco Giants (82-80)
  4. Colorado Rockies (74-88)
  5. Arizona Diamondbacks (72-90)

You might say I’m drinking the Padres Kool-Aid . . . sort of.  The signing of Shields actually did make a significant difference – but, you’ll see why when it comes time for my playoff predictions next week.  For now, let’s see how we got to this point…

Los Angeles

While it is a little bit tighter of a race, the Dodgers still have the best rotation in the division, top to bottom.  Kershaw is obviously not just the best pitcher in the division, but he’s the best in the National League, and possibly in the entire game right now.  Greinke would be the ace on every other team’s staff in this division – and he’s #2 in LA.  Ryu and McCarthy are average pitchers, which is fine if they’re in the #4 & #5 spots.  The wild card might be Brett Anderson.  If he can remain healthy, he has the stuff to be a legit top-of-the-rotation guy.  And, he might only be LA’s 3rd best pitcher.  The offense is still the best in the division, even after losing Kemp, Ramirez and Gordon.  Kendrick may not have Gordon’s speed, but he’s a much better defensive and all-around offensive player at 2B.  Joc Pederson is a stud, and can be a 30/30 guy at the top of the lineup.  Mix those in with Puig, Gonzalez, Uribe and Crawford and this lineup has very few holes.  The team defense and speed will be at or near the top of the division, as well – for basically the same reasons I just mentioned the offense will be excellent (Kendrick, Pederson, et al.).  The one area of concern for the Dodgers is one that didn’t rear its ugly head until the playoffs – the bullpen.  A below-average bullpen is an easy weakness to mask in the regular season if you have 3 or 4 quality starting pitchers.  But, come playoff time, you need a strong bullpen (just ask Kershaw). But, when League & Frias are two of your best relievers (1.46 & 1.24 WHIPs last year, respectively), you aren’t exactly elite. It isn’t the worst in the division.  But, don’t be surprised if it’s an issue yet again come playoff time.

San Diego

With the signing of Shields, the Padres starting rotation went from middle-of-the-pack in this division, to just a notch behind the Dodgers.  Assuming Shields would now be the ace of the staff, you have Shields, Cashner and Ross at the top.  That’s an impressive combination.  Despaigne isn’t exactly anything to write home about, but as a #4 or #5 starter, he’s more than adequate.  The real question might be whether or not Ian Kennedy can get back to his Arizona days.  Back when he was winning 20+ games with an ERA below 3.00.  It’s not like he was terrible last year (3.63 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) – but, if he improves just a little, the Padres could have the best overall rotation in the division.  The bullpen is also one of the best in the division – four players posting a WHIP at or below 1.10 last season.  And, their team defense and speed will be even better this year than last – when they were actually quite good already.  But, the reason they will fall short of the Dodgers is the offense.  Kemp and Upton are nice middle-of-the-order guys.  But, beyond those two, the Padres only have one other batter that is even somewhat significantly above average (Derek Norris – who has never played more than 127 games in a season).  This will create some problems in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

San Francisco

Their bullpen is probably the best in the division – Casilla, Machi & Romo all posted WHIPs below 1.00 last year.  But, they’re gonna have to lean heavily on that bullpen in order to be successful at all this year.  Bumgarner was the only above-average starter on the team in 2014 (117 ERA+).  Hudson, Peavy, Vogelsong and Cain combined for an average FIP over 4.00.  It may not be the worst rotation in this division – but, it’s still in the bottom 1/3 of the league.  And, while everyone around them was working toward improving their offense, the Giants lost a valuable leader, quality fielder, and above-average bat in Sandoval.  Posey and Pence are comparable to Upton & Kemp, and they do have a few more above-average bats (Belt, Pagan, Panik).  So, they’re a notch above the Padres offensively, but that’s as far as it goes.  And, while they aren’t bad defensively or on the base-paths, they are definitely the worst in this division.  Once again, it looks like the odd year is not going to be kind to the Giants.

Colorado

Anyone know who won the NL batting title last year?  Anyone?  How many guesses do you think you’d need before you guessed Justin Morneau?  And, he’s not even considered the biggest threat in their lineup.  If Tulo & Cargo can remain healthy (and, that’s a big “if”), this offense could be stellar.  And, it’s a good thing, because otherwise this would likely be the worst team in the division.  Only two starters in the rotation posted even slightly above-average seasons last year (an aging DeLaRosa & a young Tyler Matzek – though, both finished with ERA’s above 4.00).  Four of the five best relievers on the team finished 2014 with a WHIP of 1.19 or worse – including Rex Brothers at 1.85!  And, while the team defense and speed isn’t bad – it still manages to be near the bottom in this division.  The Rockies will really need their offense to be spectacular, to keep this team from ending up in the cellar of this division.

Arizona

The only reason I have Arizona below Colorado is because of the Rockies offense.  While the Rockies can at least expect some excitement in that part of their game – the Diamondbacks have nothing above middle-of-the-pack in their entire team makeup.  The rotation is easily the worst in the division.  Collmenter is the only starter on the team who finished last season even a little above average (11-9, 3.46 ERA, 1.13 WHIP).  Their #3-5 starters had three of the five worst seasons as starters last year . . . in the entire division.  Their bullpen is only slightly better than Colorado’s.  Four of their five best relievers finished 2014 with a WHIP above 1.20 (though, none worse than 1.36).  Their offense is mediocre.  Goldschmidt – who has also had health issues of late – is a stud.  Tomas has 30-HR potential, but he likely will take a year or more to adjust and mature (just 24 years old).  A.J. Pollock has the potential to be very good – but, he has yet to play a full season either.  And, beyond these three, the Diamondbacks offense is nothing to get excited about.  Which is pretty much what I would say for their upcoming season.

All-Time Greatest: Colorado Rockies

Whether it’s because they can’t seem to attract high-quality pitching (even with the humidor), or due to poor management, among expansion teams in the last 25 years, the Rockies have certainly faired the poorest.  Their contemporary ’93 expansion team, the Marlins, have won two World Series.  The Diamondbacks (established in 1998), won a classic World Series, and have won the division 5 times.  The Rays (also established in ’98), though it took them a while, have become regular playoff and title contenders, since winning the AL East in ’08, and losing the World Series that same year.  Meanwhile, the Rockies, in their 21-year history, have never won their division.  They’ve only made the playoffs 3 times, and only once advanced beyond the NLDS – in 2007, when they made a miraculous run at the end of the season just to get into the playoffs as the Wild Card, and let that momentum carry them to the World Series, where they were swept by Boston.

The Rockies only have one retired jersey number – Jackie Robinson’s #42.  They’ve had one MVP winner (’97), one Rookie of the Year (Jason Jennings – ’02), and no Cy Young winners.  And, there are certainly no players in the Hall of Fame that spent their better years in Colorado.  In fact, no one who has ever played a game for the Rockies is in the Hall of Fame.  And, in spite of some who want to sing the praises of guys like Larry Walker, I don’t foresee anyone in a Rockies uniform in the HOF anytime soon.  This isn’t to say that no talent has come through the Mile-High City.  But, I will say that I was surprised at some of the names that ended up making my top-5 list.

ubaldo_jimenez5. Ubaldo Jimenez (’06-’11) – in 5.5 seasons in Colorado, Jimenez accomplished more than any other pitcher has been able to in such a hitter-friendly park.  He is one of only 5 pitchers to ever represent the Rockies in the All-Star game (2010).  He’s also one of just two pitchers to receive any votes for the Cy Young award (Jeff Francis finished 9th in ’07), and he’s the only pitcher in franchise history to finish in the top-5, when he finished 3rd in 2010 – when he led the league in win pct., going 19-8.  He ranks 2nd on the Rockies’ all-time ERA list (3.66), 4th in wins (56 – and everyone ahead of him has pitched at least 90 more innings for the Rockies), 3rd in win pct. (.554), 1st in WHIP (1.28), 1st in K/9 (8.18), 1st in K’s (773), and 5th in K/BB ratio (2.08).

4. Carlos Gonzalez (’09-present) – this choice is a bit of an assumption.  Assuming, he continues to play well the next 2-3 seasons, and assuming he doesn’t miss too much time from injury, he will rank a little higher on some of the “accumulation” stats for the Rockies.  But, in 5 years in Colorado, “CarGo” has already put together some impressive years.  He has appeared in 2 All-Star games, won 3 Gold Gloves, and finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2010, when he won the NL batting title.  And, he’s only 28, so he is likely just entering his prime.  Yet, he already ranks 7th on the Rockies’ all-time batting list (.307), 8th in OBP (.368), 4th in SLG (.552), 6th in OPS (.920), 8th in HR (121 – and everyone ahead of him has at least 400 more PA’s), 10th in RBI (393), 4th in stolen bases (103 – should be 2nd by the end of next season), and 3rd in OPS+ (131).

98665225.jpg.8011_display_image3. Troy Tulowitzki (’06-present) – here’s a guy that has been on the verge of some great seasons, but injuries have held him up.  But, even with those injuries, he has made 3 All-Star appearances, won 2 Gold Gloves at shortstop, finished in the top-8 in MVP voting 3 times, and was runner-up for Rookie of the Year in ’07.  He hasn’t ever led the league in anything, but again, just two legitimately injury-free seasons in 7 full years in the league.  But, if “Tulo” can keep himself healthy, he has the makings of a serious MVP candidate.  On the Rockies’ all-time lists, he ranks 9th in batting (.295), 9th in OBP (.367), 9th in SLG (.509), 8th in OPS (.877), 5th in runs scored (543), 5th in hits (961), 5th in TB (1569), 6th in HR (155), 6th in RBI (552), and 7th in OPS+ (120).

2. Todd Helton (’97-’13) – Helton announced his retirement at the end of the 2013 season, and will long be regarded as one of the greatest to play in Colorado.  He was drafted by the Rockies in the first round of the ’95 draft, and spent every day of his career with the franchise.  In 17 seasons, Helton appeared in 5 All-Star games, won 3 Gold Gloves, finished runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting in ’98, and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 3 times.  His best season, by far, came in 2000, when he led the league in hits (216), doubles (59), RBI (147), batting (.372), and OPS (1.162).  He finished 5th in MVP voting, which likely had a lot to do with the fact that the Rockies ended the season in 4th place – barely above .500.  He ranks 3rd on the Rockies’ all-time batting list (.316), 2nd in OBP (.414), 7th in SLG (.539), 3rd in OPS (.953), 1st in runs scored (1401), 1st in hits (2519), 1st in total bases (4292), 1st in HR (369), 1st in RBI (1406), and 2nd in OPS+ (133).

284335_f2601. Larry Walker (’95-’04) – a 4-time All-Star, 5-time Gold Glove winner, and an MVP in 1997.  And, in spite of some inflated stats thanks to Coors Field, this Canadian led the league in batting 3 times, OPS twice, and HR once, during his 9.5 seasons in Colorado.  He was plagued by injuries, and only had 500 AB’s once his entire time with the Rockies (’97).  And yet, in spite of all those injuries, he continued to play well.  While he may rank behind Helton in several categories, when you compare what he was able to do in the number of at-bats he had, it far surpasses Helton’s achievements.  And, in the statistics that don’t rely simply on accumulation, he leads Helton often by head and shoulders.  He ranks 1st on the Rockies’ all-time batting list (.334), 1st in OBP (.426), 1st in SLG (.618), 1st in OPS (1.044), 2nd in runs scored (892), 2nd in hits (1361), 2nd in total bases (2520), 2nd in HR (258), 2nd in RBI (848), 2nd in stolen bases (126), and 1st in OPS+ (147).

That’s my list – what’s yours?

2013 Preview: NL West & Playoffs

And, so we’ve come to the last division in our “preview” (albeit after the season has already started) of the 2013 season.  The NL West is another very interesting division.  Over the last 4 seasons, every team in this division has made the playoffs at least once, except the Padres (though, they did win 90 games in 2010, finishing just 2 games behind the eventual World Series champion Giants).  The Giants have won 2 of 3 World Series, the Dodgers have had a major facelift with all the money they’ve spent, the Rockies have some impressive offense, the Diamondbacks have some very good pitching, and the Padres . . . well, they moved the fences in a little.  So, on to this year’s predictions:

  1. San Fransisco Giants (95-67)World Series - San Francisco Giants v Detroit Tigers - Game 3
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks (90-72)
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers (88-74)
  4. Colorado Rockies (82-80)
  5. San Diego Padres (70-92)

Giants:  Pitching . . . wins . . . championships.  That’s our NL West theme.  And, it’s something the Giants have a lot of.  Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Vogelsong and Zito is an impressive 1-5 (5th best ERA in the NL in 2012 – 3.73).  Then comes a nasty bullpen with six guys that finished 2012 with an ERA well under 3.00.  Now let’s talk hitting: for the season, the Giants were 7th in the NL with a .724 OPS.  Nothing to get too excited about, but consider this: after the All-Star break last year, they were 4th in team OPS (.755) and 3rd in runs scored (380).  They have speed at the top with Pagan and Blanco, followed by a bunch of guys that can drive in runs – Posey, Sandoval, Pence and Belt.  Not to mention Scutaro, who was an integral piece of their championship puzzle a year ago.  This is definitely the most complete team in the NL West.

Diamondbacks:  Pitching … wins … championships.  This is why the Diamondbacks have a decided advantage over everyone else in this division (besides SF).  Wade Miley (remember him? LHP, ROY runner-up, won 16 games last year, etc. etc.) is #4 in their rotation.  #4!!  Following Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy.  Now, their bullpen is a little suspect (middle-of-the-pack ERA in 2012), but Putz still managed to save 32 of 37 opportunities a year ago.  I’ll be curious to see how their offense does without Justin Upton in the mix (though, his 17 HR and .785 OPS weren’t exactly striking fear in pitcher’s hearts last year), but they finished 2012 scoring the 4th most runs in the NL (754) with the 5th best team OPS (.746).  They still have plenty of pop with Kubel, Hill and Goldschmidt in the middle.  And, insisting that Martin Prado be a part of the trade that sent Upton to Atlanta was very smart.  I think this is a team that was unlucky in a lot of ways last year (fewest wins in 1-run games in the NL), and will make a big turnaround this year.

Dodgers:  Pitching … wins … championships.  All that money the Dodgers spent, and all the big names they traded for, and what did they do to improve their pitching?  Picked up two back-of-the-rotation guys that appear to be on the downslope of their careers.  Once you get past Clayton Kershaw (who is amazingly good), the Dodgers don’t really have a starter you can sink your teeth into.  They have high hopes for Ryu (the rookie from Korea), but again, it’s a lot of “hopes.”  Yes, they finished 2012 with the 2nd best team ERA (tied with Cincinnati), but I think that was a bit deceptive, as they were middle-of-the-pack in WHIP, and had the 2nd best BABIP in the NL (.283).  Offensively, surely they couldn’t do worse than they did in 2012.  Only the Marlins, Cubs and Astros finished 2012 with a worse team OPS (.690).  But, here’s what concerns me:  Matt Kemp was injured in the first half of the season (not the second), Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford all came over to the Dodgers after the All-Star break, and guess what LA’s post-All-Star-break OPS was . . . .695.  Even in the month of September, when they were trying to make a push for the division, it was a miserable .689.  The Dodgers have some good pitching, but with all the question marks offensively, they need more pitching than they have.

Rockies:  Pitching … wins … championships.  I don’t think it would come as a total shock to anyone that the Rockies finished 2012 with the worst ERA in the NL (5.22).  Pitching in the thin air in Denver wouldn’t be my preference if I were a major league pitcher.  But, what really tells the tale is that they also ranked 12th in the NL in ERA on the road, with a miserable 4.41.  Now, Jorge De La Rosa is completely healed from his Tommy John surgery, and will be able to fill the #2 spot in the rotation for the entire season.  I’m not saying he’s an All-Star, but he is serviceable in the #2 slot, and that makes a big difference when the other guys can slide down a spot.  The reason I think the Rockies could actually put together a winning season is because of their offense.  Tulowitzki is back from his injury, and Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, and Michael Cuddyer make for a nice lineup.  I think they will score a lot of runs.  They don’t have the pitching to be competitive in this division, but they definitely won’t be as bad as last season.

Padres:  Pitching … wins … championships.  And, the Padres simply don’t have any.  Their “ace” finished 2012 with a 4.14 ERA.  Their closer is Huston Street, who actually had a nice year in 2012 – when he had a chance to actually save a game.  And, other than Street & Luke Gregerson, no one in that bullpen stands out as exceptional.  It’s no wonder this team finished with a team ERA over 4.00 last year.  And, all that was before they moved the fences in.  Add to the poor pitching the fact that the offense finished 2012 ranked 11th in OPS (.699) and 10th in runs scored (651), and you have a team that has no chance against a division loaded with talent.

So, now it’s time for my NL postseason predictions.  Here’s how I see it playing out:

Wild Card:  Nationals def. Diamondbacks

NLDS:  Reds def. Nationals (3-2) & Braves def. Giants (3-2)

NLCS:  Braves def. Reds (4-2)

And, that leads us to the World Series.  Tigers vs. Braves.  The Tigers won’t have to sit around and wait a week this time, after taking 7 games to put away the Blue Jays.  The Braves will put up a decent fight in every game – nothing decided by more than 3 runs. But the Tigers prove to be too much, and Detroit brings home the World Series trophy in 5 games.

Coming next week:  my postseason award predictions.

2013 Top 10 SS

Much like second base, the shortstop position puts a premium on defense, rather than offense.  However, it does seem that there are more offensively capable players at short.  What I find interesting is that, in spite of the defensive priority, MLB Network put a lot of guys high on their list that are talented offensively, but have questionable defense.  Take a look at their rankings:

  1. troy-tulowitzkiTroy Tulowitzki (COL)
  2. Jose Reyes (NYM)
  3. Starlin Castro (CHC)
  4. Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE)
  5. Elvis Andrus (TEX)
  6. Erick Aybar (LAA)
  7. Derek Jeter (NYY)
  8. Ian Desmond (WSH)
  9. J.J. Hardy (BAL)
  10. Hanley Ramirez (LAD)

I understand that it’s rare to find a quality combination of offensive production and defensive prowess.  But, it appears to me that MLBN put a higher value on offense than defense, which I’m not convinced should be the case at this position.  Maybe I’m just wishing for the “good ol’ days” when the SS position was loaded with talented defenders like when it was Ripken, Vizquel, Jeter, A-Rod, Tejada, and Renteria.  All of those guys seemed to take their defense seriously, and they were – at worst – acceptable offensive players (even Vizquel, who was no offensive juggernaut, was stealing 30+ bases every year in his prime, with an OBP of .360).  But, I digress…

With those thoughts in mind, my list is going to look a good bit different from MLBN’s.  Let’s start with honorable mention: Derek Jeter & Hanley Ramirez.  Jeter is going to be 39 in June.  And, while he did have a bit of an uptick in offensive production in 2012, I don’t think we can expect that to continue at his age.  His 2010-11 numbers are probably more what we should expect – 10-12 home runs, 15 stolen bases, and an OPS around .730 or so.  And, while he doesn’t commit very many errors, his defensive metrics tell the real story – he’s a significant liability at shortstop these days.  Ramirez has seen a continual decline in offense over the last three seasons, and that trend scares me.  He played well in LA, so there’s hope that he can turn it around (he is just 29, after all).  But, his defense is also poor, so I can’t see him making this list.  Now for my top 10:

dal_a_elvists_40010. Elvis Andrus – he’s just 24 years old, but he has made significant strides in his defense.  He’s gone from a young, mistake-prone defender to a guy that is slightly above-average with his glove.  And, his offense is improving as well, up to a .727 OPS last season.  But, his offense will need to make more significant strides in order for him to move up this list.  A 93 wRC+ the last two years isn’t especially exciting.  But, he’s definitely on the upswing.

9. Jhonny Peralta (DET) – I’m in shock that his name didn’t even make the list for MLBN.  He’s had an excellent .988 fld. pct. over the last three years at short (just 17 errors total – the fewest of anyone with at least 2500 innings at SS).  Plus, he’s decent offensively – .738 OPS, 16 home run average, and 99 wRC+ over the last 3 seasons.  He is getting a little older (turns 31 in May), but certainly has enough left in the tank to make this list.

jimmy_rollins-1028. Jimmy Rollins (PHI) – I know he’s older (34), and has lost a step or two from what he once was.  But, I don’t understand the logic that would exclude him from this list.  He has won the Gold Glove 4 of the last 5 seasons that he’s been healthy (missed half of 2010 with injury), he is still stealing 30 bases, can still hit 20+ home runs, still had an OPS of .740 and a wRC+ of 102 the last two years.  His age drops him down a little, but he shouldn’t be MIA from MLBN’s list.

7. Starlin Castro – he’s young.  He’ll just be 23 when the season starts, so the hope is that his defense will improve with experience (25+ errors each of his first three years in the bigs).  He has already proven to be an offensive asset on a team with very little else in their lineup.  An OPS of .761 in his first three seasons at the big-league level, and he continues to improve his power numbers, leading many to believe he has 20/20 potential, at least (12 HR, 24 SB average the last 2 years, along with a wRC+ of 104).  But, his defense is below average, and that will have to improve for him to move ahead of others on this list.

042112-177-ian-desmond6. Ian Desmond – he’s not a great defender, though his glove skills do continue to improve (.970 fld. pct. last season).  And, at just 27, he’s entering his prime, which really showed last year offensively – 25 HR, 21 SB, .845 OPS.  If he can improve his defense a little, and continue to play that well offensively, he will jump even higher on this list a year from now.

5. Erick Aybar – an above-average defender (Gold Glove in 2011), and his offensive production continues to improve.  At just 29 years old, he is now an above-average offensive player (106 wRC+ over the last two seasons), who can hit double-digit home runs as well as steal 20-30 bases.  With no glaring weaknesses on either side of the ball, Aybar is closer to the great shortstops of old than many on this list.

A0q5rc2CAAAyGY8.jpg-large4. J.J. Hardy – easily the best defensive player on the list, which is why it shocks me MLBN has him ranked so low.  I understand his offensive production is slightly below-average compared to the rest of the league (94 wRC+ the last 3 years), but at shortstop there aren’t many high-end offensive players.  And, Hardy is going to hit around 20 home runs, and has had an OPS of .726 over the last three years – which is hardly an offensive liability.  But, it’s his Gold Glove defense that should push him much closer to the top than MLBN had him.

3. Asdrubal Cabrera – not great defensively, but not nearly the liability that some of the others on this list are.  Plus, he’s on the upswing of his career (27 years old), and has 20/20 potential offensively.  His run production the last two seasons (116 wRC+) is only behind Reyes & Tulowitzki.  A little more work on his defense, and he could be moving even further up this list in years to come.

01.1s.074.reyes.C--300x3002. Jose Reyes – he’s below-average defensively, but his offense is so far ahead of the rest of the field that there was just no reason to drop him down any.  He’s the only guy on here, besides Tulo, with an OPS of .800 or better over the last three years.  He’s going to steal 30-40 bases (if not 50-60), and in spite of only hitting around 10 home runs each year, his SLG is .450 the last 3 years because he’s gonna give you 40-50 doubles and triples.  And, for a guy that has averaged 635 PA’s the last three years, I’m impressed that he has also averaged just 53 K’s per season.

1. Troy Tulowitzki – he might be the only SS in the game right now that comes close to the types of players we saw at this position a decade or two ago.  He’s extremely talented offensively (.919 OPS the last three seasons, and averages around 30 HR and 90+ RBI when he’s healthy, and will even steal around 10 bases), and he’s a top 5 talent defensively.  There’s a reason he has finished in the top 5 in MVP voting on two different occasions.  And, in spite of having some injury issues here and there over the years, he’s only 28 years old.  So, there’s a good chance he’ll stay at the top of this list for a few more years.

2013 Top 10 LF

MLB Network ranked their top 10 in left field, and I believe I may disagree a good bit more with their rankings here than I did in CF.  Here’s how they ranked them:

  1. Ryan Braun (MIL)
  2. Josh Hamilton (ANA)
  3. Matt Holiday (STL)
  4. Alex Gordon (KC)
  5. Bryce Harper (WSH)
  6. Carlos Gonzalez (COL)
  7. Yoenis Cespedes (OAK)
  8. Melky Cabrera (TOR)
  9. Martin Prado (ARI)
  10. Josh Willingham (MIN)

I see some glaring weaknesses in these rankings, and I also see some missing names.  Let’s start with the guys that didn’t make my top 10.  Melky Cabrera?? What impressed MLBN the most: the suspension for PED’s? the sub-par fielding metrics? the 11 home runs per season the last 3 years? the 13 stolen base average?  I just don’t get it.  Martin Prado is another one that makes very little sense to me.  He’s an above-average (not great) fielder.  That’s all I can give him.  He isn’t lighting up the scoreboard with anything offensively.  He isn’t blazing the basepaths.  I just don’t understand how he made their list.  A couple that were close to making my list were Alfonso Soriano (.801 OPS, 27 HR average the last 3 years, and has improved his defense of late), and Mike Morse (.861 OPS, 133 wRC+ the last 3 years, but he’ll be 31 next month, and has only played one full season).  So, here are my top 10, right now, in left field.

#10 – Logan Morrison.  Yes, too, has only played one full season.  But, at just 25 years old, this guy has plenty of gas left in the tank.  His OPS has been better than Prado, his home run production is better than Prado or Melky, and his run production is better than Prado and comparable to Melky (112 wRC+).  He gets the nod over Melky because I don’t trust Melky’s numbers after the PED suspension.  He gets the nod over Soriano and Morse because he’s 12 and 6 years their junior, respectively.  With Stanton in the same lineup, Morrison could have a break-out year, if he can stay healthy.

#9 – Brett Gardner.  I guess MLBN feels that one season lost to injury suddenly means a guy is no longer proven.  How could you have a list of the top 10 left-fielders, and not include the best fielding left-fielder in the game?  Granted, he isn’t a huge threat with his bat (.739 OPS the last 3 years), but he isn’t paid to hit home runs.  He has the 5th best OBP the last 3 years of anyone on this list (.365), and the two years he was healthy, he averaged 48 stolen bases per season.  He gets on base, steals a ton of bases, and is the best guy in left field in the game.  I’d really like to know how MLBN thought Prado or Melky were better.

#8 – Josh Willingham.  Terribly underrated.  I’m pleased to see his name on MLBN’s list, but I think he’s a couple slots better than they have him.  Granted, he’s entering his age 34 season, but he has shown no signs of slowing down.  He’s a below average fielder, but he makes up for it with his bat.  Only Cespedes, Holiday, Hamilton & Braun have better run production the last 3 seasons (133 wRC+).  An .851 OPS, and an average of 27 home runs per year the last three puts him ahead of several more recognized names.

#7 – Matt Holiday.  Vastly overrated.  He’s going into his age 33 season (meaning, he is beyond his prime years), and over the last 3 seasons we’ve seen a steady decline in OPS and batting average, along with a steady increase in strikeouts (a career-high 132 last season).  Yes, his cumulative numbers the past three seasons in St. Louis have been very good – which I imagine is why Holiday ranks so high on MLBN’s list.  But, this downward trend, for an aging player means that younger, faster, better fielding guys should be ranked ahead of him.  He’s still one of the best – but, he’s sliding down the list as he ages.

#6 – Bryce Harper.  I think too many are jumping the gun on this kid – and I’m not sure I should have him this high.  He has played one season.  ONE!  He’s going to have to make adjustments in the coming years, and this list is the top 10, right now; not the 10 with the most potential.  That being said, he still performed very well last season, proving to be efficient with the bat (22 home runs, .817 OPS), on the bases (18 stolen bases), and in the field (9.9 UZR, 14 DRS).  And, since he’s just going to be 20 this season, and will be playing the whole year in Washington, I would expect those numbers to get even better – provided there’s no sophomore slump.

#5 – Carlos Gonzalez.  Yes, his home/away splits aren’t great.  But, are we going to disregard the guy’s production just because he’s playing well at home?  If CarGo were on a different team, then sure we might have him elsewhere on this list.  But, he plays half his games in Colorado, and therefore belongs in the top 5, based on his production.  A .918 OPS, averaging 27 home runs and 22 stolen bases the last 3 seasons.  He’s not a great fielder (in fact, he’s below average), which is why he isn’t further up the list than he is.

#4 – Yoenis Cespedes.  If all you look at is his totals from last season, you might not get the right impression.  The first half of the season, Cespedes looked like he was never going to be able to hit an off-speed pitch, and the A’s might have wasted a lot of money.  But, he made the adjustments, and I believe the Cespedes we should expect to see in 2013 showed up in the 2nd half of 2012 – .909 OPS, 14 home runs, 10 stolen bases, and just 54 strikeouts in 322 plate appearances.  He rates out to be an average fielder, but at just 27 years old, he’s just hit his prime, and that very well could improve.  He looks to be the complete package.

#3 – Alex Gordon.  Few realize how great he is, because he plays in Kansas City.  He has taken a little longer than some to begin reaching his potential, but he has emerged as a premier outfielder.  Back-to-back Gold Gloves, and he’s probably second only to Brett Gardner overall in left field.  Over the last two seasons (the years he has really broken out), he’s second only to Braun in WAR (12.8), and is 5th in wRC+ (133 – tied with Hamilton).  His home run and stolen base totals aren’t staggering (average of 18 & 14, respectively, the last two years), but he has a very nice OPS (.850), and he led the league in doubles last season.  Entering his age 29 season, Gordon has the potential to be at the top of this list a year from now.

#2 – Josh Hamilton.  Yes, he’s 32, and he struggled down the stretch last season.  Yes, at 32, his body might be closer to 36, because of the way he treated his body years ago.  But, a .953 OPS and 33 home run average the last 3 seasons is hard to ignore.  And, in spite of his struggles at times last year, did you notice that he still hit 43 home runs?  I think he has a couple more really good seasons left in him. And, playing in the same lineup as Pujols??  Watch out.

#1 – Ryan Braun.  There’s little doubt that his numbers the last few years speak for themselves (.947 OPS, 33 HR, 26 SB average the last 3 years, as well as being an above-average fielder).  The only doubt right now is whether or not they have been enhanced by PED’s.  But, at just 29 years old, he’s still in his prime, and should have another great year in 2013.

In or Out? (part 2)

As we continue to look at this year’s HOF ballot, we’ll take the next 5 highest ranked players from last year’s ballot.  If you missed the first post on this subject, you can see it here.

#6 – Edgar Martinez – NO.  I don’t really care about the debate over the DH for the HOF.  Martinez did what he was paid to do – hit.  No, he didn’t play in the field much 2628272835_2134e2cb0d_o(an equivalent of about 4 seasons, out of his 18-year career).  But, I don’t think that should matter any more than how many innings a guy pitched.  The question is simply, was he great at what he was supposed to do?  Martinez was good . . . not great.  7 All-Star appearances in what we’ll call 15 real years in the league.  In those 15 seasons, he was a .313 hitter, but only accumulated 2,181 hits.  He led the league in runs once, doubles twice, RBI once, batting twice, OBP three times, and OPS once.  Never finished higher than 3rd in MVP voting, and only finished in the top-10 twice.  309 career HR, 1261 career RBI, and a .312 average with a .933 OPS.  Nice career.  Not HOF worthy.

5328609395_7efce3925c#7 – Fred McGriff – NO.  We’re closer here than I think we were with Martinez, but I still say no.  Over the primary 16 seasons of his career, McGriff averaged .287 with 30 HR, 94 RBI, .894 OPS, and 269 total bases.  Very good numbers, and it’s no wonder he was able to accumulate 493 home runs.  But, I still think McGriff is in that very next tier of players just below the Hall.

#8 – Larry Walker – NO.  No steroid concerns here (I don’t think), but a new Larry Walkerphenomena has arisen since 1993 – the mile-high air of Denver.  There’s no denying that the ball travels further, and pitchers struggle more in Colorado.  And, Walker spent more seasons in Colorado than anywhere else.  And, while his numbers as a whole begin to look very impressive (.565 career slugging, .965 OPS, etc.), it looks very different when you begin to consider his career away from the thin air.  His career batting average on the road was a very pedestrian .278 (70 points lower than at home), OBP of .370 (61 points lower), SLG of .495 (142 points lower!), OPS of .865 (203 points lower!).  That’s a pretty major discrepancy.  And, it’s not like Walker had a huge home run total (383), or RBI total (1311), or really anything else.  So, even with the added bonus of playing so much in Colorado, Walker just doesn’t measure up.

#9 – Mark McGwire – NO.  Our first PED’s case.  Since he admitted use, there’s no question about that.  The problem with McGwire (and others) is we aren’t 100% certain when he was or wasn’t on PED’s.  He had a great rookie year, and everyone McGwirethought he was headed for huge success.  But, over the next few years, he never lived up to the monster numbers he put up his first season.  Plus, injuries began to set in.  Over what should have been his prime seasons (age 26-32), McGwire averaged .257, 30 HR, 77 RBI, .960 OPS, and just 108 games.  And, that includes his last season in Oakland when he had a ridiculous .730 SLG, and 1.198 OPS.  Then, the questionable years begin.  In the years his numbers should have been showing signs of decline, McGwire suddenly averaged 64 HR and 138 RBI.  Yes, he averaged 155 games, but that should have brought his average home run total up to around 43 – not 64.  As I’ve mentioned before, stamina/recovery is one of the benefits of steroid use.  And, somehow, McGwire got healthier in his old age . . . and more powerful.  Without PED’s, McGwire probably wouldn’t have even lasted the 16 seasons he did.  And, a conservative estimate would be that he would have hit about 100-125 fewer home runs.  Would he be in consideration for the HOF with a .260 average, 470 HR’s, and a .950 OPS?  Not really.  He’d be in that next tier, like so many others.

#10 – Don Mattingly – NO.  MVP-winner (’85), 9-time Gold-Glove winner (though, he may have won a couple of those on reputation, rather than performance), 6-time MattinglyAll-Star.  Here’s the problem . . . injury.  In 14 seasons, he played 150+ games just 6 times.  If the first 3 full seasons of his career had been able to be repeated for the rest of his career, without injury, he would have been a clear HOF choice.  He could have had 400+ home runs, 3,000+ hits, might have won a Triple Crown, etc. etc., all while being one of the best fielding first basemen in the game.  But, unlike guys like Kirby Puckett and Roy Campanella, we didn’t see enough of a healthy Mattingly to be able to say definitively he belongs in the HOF, even though his career was cut short.  I wish we had, because Mattingly was a classy player – of the Cal Ripken ilk.  His career just never could get back on its feet after the ’89 season.