The Best Players from Each State (Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan)

Maine

Saying that Maine hasn’t produced much baseball talent is quite the understatement.  Of the 78 players to come from The Pine Tree State, only two have a career WAR above 25.  By comparison, Jake Arrieta, who is in his 10th season, has won a Cy Young, but only has one All-Star appearance … currently has a WAR of 25.8.  And, to make it even less impressive, the two guys with the highest WAR played in the deadball era.

The lone All-Star from Maine is a pitcher named Bob Stanley.  Bob had an ok career with the Red Sox, primarily in the ’80’s.  He was a starter when he first broke into the league, but spent most of his career coming out of the bullpen.  He did save 33 games in ’83 (one of his All-Star seasons), and finished 7th in Cy Young voting in ’82.

But, the best player from Maine is (and it looks like it’s a title he’ll hold for a while since no one in the league currently is from Maine) …

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George Gore – he has more runs, hits, and RBI than anyone from the state. He played from 1879-1892, as the centerfielder primarily for the National League team located in Chicago – which is today the Cubs, but was then called the White Stockings – and the New York Giants.  He won a batting title in 1880, hitting .360 with an .862 OPS.

Maryland

While the state of Maryland hasn’t produced a large number of major leaguers (312 – 17th in the US), only 8 states have produced more Hall of Famers.  Well, that is, if you’re willing to count the most undeserving HOF election in history, which occurred a few months ago when a bunch of Harold Baines‘ friends got together and decided to put him in.  You know, in spite of the fact that he only appeared in 6 All-Star games spread across 22 seasons, only led the league in anything once (SLG in ’84), and never finished higher than 9th in MVP voting (only receiving votes of any kind in 4 seasons).

But, I digress.  The Old Line State (whatever that means), has produced some very talented players.  Even several non-HOF worthy players (like Baines) had quality careers. Men like Mark Teixeira, Brady Anderson, Brian Jordan, and Charlie Keller.  But, the Hall of Famers from Maryland (with one glaring exception), are some big-time names.

Home Run Baker (who actually only hit 96 HR’s), was legendary for his power, and led the Philadelphia A’s to 3 World Series championships.  Vic Willis won 249 games in spite of only pitching for 13 seasons (that’s an average of 19 per year!). Al Kaline was an 18-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove winner, and had over 3,000 hits.  Cal Ripken, Jr. won Rookie of the Year in ’82, and MVP in ’83, on his way to 3,184 hits, and of course 2,632 consecutive games. Jimmie Foxx had 534 HR’s, won 3 MVP’s, and ranks 5th all-time with a career 1.038 OPS.  And, Lefty Grove won 300 games, won an MVP, and led the league in ERA nine times.  But, the best player from Maryland was head and shoulders above the rest…

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Babe Ruth not sure what I could say that you haven’t already heard about this Baltimore native.  He still owns the career SLG (.690!) and OPS (1.164) records.  He also had a career .342 batting average, was a 20-game winner twice as a pitcher, and led the league in ERA in 1916.

Massachusetts

Can you believe this little New England state has produced the 7th most major leaguers in America (664)?  And, the 6th most Hall of Famers (14 – 11 players, 3 managers)?  That being said, however, 8 of those Hall of Fame players played most or all of their careers during the deadball era, around the turn of the 20th century.  And, when it comes to more modern players, the better ones from The Bay State are the likes of Mark Belanger, Greg Gagne, and Richie Hebner.  Not exactly household names even among avid baseball fans.

But, there are two names that rose to the top as I was looking for the best of the best from this state.  And, runner-up goes to Jeff Bagwell.  In spite of several injuries, and a career cut to just 15 seasons, he averaged 30 HR and 102 RBI for his career.  He finished with a .948 OPS, and won ROY and MVP awards.

The best from the state of Massachusetts, however, is a pitcher…

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Tom Glavine – 305 career wins, 2 Cy Young awards, 10-time All-Star, and World Series MVP in ’95.  Born in Concord, Glavine is only the 5th left-handed pitcher to win 300 games in his career.

Michigan

The Great Lakes State has produced some names you know:  Frank Tanana, Jim Kaat, Milt Pappas, Bob Welch, Kirk Gibson.  Respectable names … but, not exactly great names. In fact, despite the production of 434 players from Michigan, only 26 appeared in more than one All-Star Game, and only 4 have plaques in Cooperstown.

Of those 4, two were great hitters. Kiki Cuyler had a career .322 batting average in the 15 full seasons he played.  He also led the league in stolen bases 4 times, helping his team to the World Series 3 times (’25, ’29, and ’32).  Charlie Gehringer has a career .320 average, and had over 200 hits in 7 different seasons.  He won the batting title in ’37, as well as the MVP (though, it’s a bit of a strange win, since he wasn’t even the best player on his own team – Greenberg clearly was).

But, the best to come from Michigan are two pitchers.  Hal Newhouser had an outstanding career with his hometown Tigers that was cut short by arm injury – winning just 18 games after his 30th birthday.  But, he was a force to be reckoned with prior to that – winning back-to-back MVP’s, leading the league in wins 4 times, and ERA twice.

Another injury-plagued pitcher is, in my opinion, the best to come from the state…

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John Smoltz – despite multiple injuries, surgeries, and numerous games missed due to being on the disabled list, this Detroit native won over 200 games, saved over 150, struck out more than 3,000 batters, and owns the NL record for most saves in a season (55).  He was an 8-time All-Star, and won the Cy Young in ’96.

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The Best Players From Each State (Delaware, Florida, Georgia, & Hawaii)

Delaware

I suppose it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that a state that ranks as one of the smallest in both land mass and population, would not have produced a great number of MLB talent.  56 players in history were born in The First State.  But, only 3 ever appeared in a single All-Star Game.

Perhaps honorable mention here could go to Sadie McMahon.  He pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association for a couple years, before spending 7 years with the Baltimore Orioles.  But, not those Baltimore Orioles.  Sadie was a part of the Orioles team that was a part of the National League from 1882-1899.  It was a successful team (Sadie was on the championship team in 1896), but after the 1899 season, the National League contracted from 12 teams to 8, leaving the Orioles behind.  Two years later, the American League was formed, and the reorganized Orioles were a part of it.  But, that’s not the Orioles you’re familiar with either.  Because two years later, the team had ceased play again, and two men purchased the franchise, moved it to New York City, and renamed it the New York Highlanders.  Which is the team you likely know as … the New York Yankees (a name change that occurred in 1913).

So, aside from some ancient baseball history, choosing the best player from the state of Delaware was actually quite easy.

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Paul Goldschmidt – It really isn’t even close.  McMahon is the next best player from the state, and Goldschmidt is going to continue to put distance between himself and the rest of the pack.  He leads all Delaware natives in HR (234), RBI (768), OPS (.918), and even batting average (.293) among anyone with at least 100 plate appearances.

Florida

The state of Florida produces a large number of athletes.  Many play football or basketball, but it should not be overlooked when it comes to great baseball talent.  Many excellent players from the past have come from The Sunshine State.  Including Gary Sheffield, Dwight Gooden, and Fred McGriff.  There are also several Florida natives that are currently playing in the majors.  And, some of them are some of the best in the game – Zack Greinke, Chris Sale, Andrew McCutchen, Manny Machado, and Josh Donaldson.

But, we’re looking for all-time best, so I had to limit it to players in the Hall of Fame.  There are 4 players from Florida that have been inducted into Cooperstown.  The runners-up include Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, and Chipper Jones.  Each of these were great talents in their era.  Power, speed, defense, a switch-hitter.  It’s all represented here.  But, ultimately, the best player from Florida was a pitcher.

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Steve Carlton – Carlton is among the 3 best left-handed pitchers to ever play the game, no matter which metric you use.  329 wins, 4,136 strikeouts, 10 All-Star Games, 4 Cy Young Awards.  The Miami native spent all or part of 24 seasons in the majors, and was a part of 2 World Series champions (Cardinals in ’67 and Phillies in ’80).

Georgia

Florida may have more players that have played in the majors, and have more All-Star Game appearances … but, Georgia actually has more players in the Hall of Fame, with 5.  The one player/manager on their list is Bill Terry, who played for the New York Giants from ’23-’36, and also managed them to a World Series championship in 1933.  He hit .341 for his career!

There are some notable names not in Cooperstown from The Peach State.  Kevin Brown, Tim Hudson, Moises Alou.  And, among those still active, there’s Buster Posey, Adam Wainwright, and Lorenzo Cain.  But, the Hall of Famers from the state of Georgia include some of the absolute best of their generation:  Frank Thomas, Johnny Mize, and Jackie Robinson.  You would think that with names like these, it would be difficult to choose the best from the state of Georgia.  But, there’s only one “Georgia Peach.”

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Ty Cobb – The man with the highest career batting average in history (.366) is from the small town of Narrows, GA.  He hit over .400 not once, not twice, but three times in his career (1911, 1912, and 1922 at the age of 35!).  And, even with 4,189 hits, Cobb was far more than just a singles hitter (unlike the only man in history with more hits).  Cobb’s career SLG is over .500, because he led the league in doubles and triples several times.  His career OPS is .945.  And, he stole an amazing 897 bases!  He may not have been the nicest guy – but, he was definitely the best ever from Georgia.

Hawaii

The Aloha State has only produced 44 major league players, most of whom have had less than remarkable careers.  No Hall of Famers, and only six have ever appeared in an All-Star Game.  But, there are a few players who had decent careers over the years:  Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez (one of just two that appeared in more than one All-Star Game), and Charlie Hough.

There are a couple current players that were born in Hawaii that are decent contributors to their teams:  Kurt Suzuki (who has spent much of his career as a high-quality back-up catcher), and Kolten Wong (who is right around a league-average hitter, and one of the better defenders at second).

But, the Wailuku native with the nickname “Flyin’ Hawaiian” was the clear choice here…

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Shane Victorino – he was a 2-time All-Star, 4-time Gold Glove winner, and an important part of two World Series championship teams (Phillies in ’08, Red Sox in ’13).

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

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

Alabama

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

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

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

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

Alaska

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

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

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

Arkansas

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

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

Cards Brock

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

Arizona

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

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

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

2016 All-Star Ballot (part 1)

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

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

Catcher

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

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

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

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

 

First Base

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

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

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

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

 

Second Base

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

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

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

Other to watch:  Ben Zobrist (CHC)

 

Shortstop

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

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

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

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

 

Third Base

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

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

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

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

 

Outfield

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

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

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

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

 

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

2016 BOLD Predictions

Can you smell the grass?  Can you hear the crack of the bat?  Can you feel the excitement as each team has a fresh start?  We are less than a week from Opening Day.  And, that means it’s time for some bold predictions (see what I did there?).  Or, at least, some predictions.  I’m not sure how “bold” they are – you can be the judge of that for yourself.

MVP

25300218310_f88b4faee6_zJustin Upton (DET) and Anthony Rizzo (CHC).  Upton was an All-Star a year ago, and hit 26 HR . . . at Petco Park . . . in the midst of a terrible offense (ranked 28th in baseball in team OPS).  Now, Upton isn’t the centerpiece of the offense.  He’s an important cog, to be sure.  But, he isn’t the only one pitchers have to worry about.  He’ll be batting 2nd or 3rd, most likely.  And, behind him in the lineup will be the likes of Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, and Victor Martinez.  Translation:  I see 2016 being Upton’s best offensive year of his career.  He might only bat around .280, but he’ll hit 35-40 HR, drive in 100+, and be the spark for a team that returns to the playoffs.

Rizzo hit 31 HR, drove in 101, and had an .899 OPS last season . . . his age 25 season.  The Bryce Harpers and Mike Trouts of the world make us forget that 25 is still very young.  And, when you look at Rizzo’s season in 2015, you see a guy who went through some significant droughts in his production (.785 OPS and just 4 HR in the month of July, for example).  As he matures as a hitter, those dry-spells are likely to get smaller and smaller.  He has 40+ HR potential, and could win a Gold Glove at 1B, as well.  Don’t be surprised if he leads this Cubs team to a World Series appearance, if not the unthinkable…

CY YOUNG

Marcus Stroman (TOR) and Johnny Cueto (SF).  Many times, a pitcher can build on the way he finished the previous season, and turn it into a great year the following season.  Jake Arrieta is a great example of that, after he finished the 2014 season by going 4-1 with a 2.29 ERA and 0.89 WHIP over his last six starts.  Stroman is poised for this in 2016.  After coming back from a knee injury that cost him nearly all of 2015, Stroman made four starts at the end of the regular season.  His first start was mediocre – 5 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K.  But, the next three were impressive: 22 IP, just 2 ER (for a 0.82 ERA), 0.91 WHIP, and 16 K’s.  Obviously, he wouldn’t be able to keep that up for an entire season.  But, I think he’s well on his way to becoming an elite pitcher.

14136005620_1e0be50b98_zIf you look back at my top 10 starting pitchers for 2016, you’ll see that Cueto ranked 8th.  And, that’s based on the numbers he has put up over the last couple years, while pitching primarily in a hitter’s park.  Now, he’s moving out to San Fran – one of the parks where home runs go to die.  Add to that the fact that he will have a much better defense behind him than he has ever had in Cincinnati.  And, the fact that he isn’t expected to be the ace of that pitching staff.  Now you have a situation that could allow Cueto to have a season as good or better than his 2014 season, when he won 20 games, led the league in K’s, and had an ERA under 2.50.

SURPRISE TEAMS

Everyone’s talking about the improvements the Tigers made, and the fact that it’s an even year and the Giants made significant improvements to their starting rotation.  Lots of people are picking the Cubs to win their division, and possibly more.  The Diamondbacks made all that noise in the offseason, and people will be watching them now.  But, let me give you two teams that aren’t getting nearly as much publicity:  the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Just a few years ago, no one would have ever expected these two teams to be flying below the radar.  But, think for a moment about what we have heard regarding these two teams.  Sure, the Red Sox made a pretty huge splash by signing David Price.  But, that was back in early December.  So much has happened since then that has overshadowed that bold move.  By signing Price, they now have a legit ace – something they were obviously missing last year.  And, now they can slide Buchholz into the #2 spot, followed at #3 by Porcello, and then they have lots of options for the back end of their rotation – including one of the best pitching prospects in the game, Henry Owens.  They also added significant depth to their bullpen with the addition of Craig Kimbrel.  They’ll get a full season of Rusney Castillo, and you can’t possibly expect Sandoval & Hanley to underperform again as badly as they did last year.

And, did you notice all the moves the Yankees made??  Oh, you didn’t?  Well, there’s a good reason for that.  The Yankees are the only team in baseball that didn’t sign a single free agent to a major-league contract.  How’s that for flipping the tables?  That’s not to say they sat on their hands.  They made two very shrewd trades that should pay significant dividends.  First, they traded for Starlin Castro.  The Yankees got a .683 OPS out of their second basemen last season.  Even at the young age of 26, Castro’s career OPS is more than 40 points higher than that – despite his sub-par season in 2015.  And, when the Dodgers backed out of the Aroldis Chapman trade, the Yankees swooped in.  Even with the 30-game suspension, Chapman figures to be a significant part of what may very well be the best bullpen in the AL.  So, even if guys like Pineda, Sabathia or Nova can’t get past the 5th or 6th inning – this is a bullpen that can keep them in the game (and KC won a World Series that way).  The offense may be old – but, they have highly-ranked prospects at RF, 2B and C that could contribute as early as this year.  Part of the reason Cashman probably didn’t think he needed to go sign a big-name free agent.

DISAPPOINTING TEAMS

High expectations can often be difficult to deal with.  And, there are a number of teams that have either made moves in the offseason, or performed so well last season, that nearly everyone expects them to be at or near the top of their division in 2016.  But, as we have all witnessed over the years, there always seems to be at least one team that falls flat (remember my World Series picks from last year?? – Nationals vs. Orioles!).  So, here are my picks to underachieve in 2016:  Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Astros started off last season on an incredible tear.  They won 62% of their games through May 30th, and were 31-19.  But, the rest of the year? They went 55-58 (11-16 in September!), and ended up losing what had been a hefty lead in their division, and finished as the 2nd Wild Card team, just one game ahead of the Angels.  Add to that the fact that they were an astonishingly good team at home (.654 win pct.), but were abysmal on the road (.407 win pct.), and you have the makings of a team that could fall on hard times in 2016.  They’re also starting the season with their #3 starter on the DL.  Don’t be surprised if the Astros are closer to a .500 team than a playoff contender.

The D-backs made a lot of noise this offseason.  They landed the most sought after starting pitcher.  They traded for another with top-tier potential.  They already had one of the best offenses in the National League. Many are already penciling them in as the AL West favorites.  But, I say we can’t hand them the crown yet.  First of all, I’m not convinced Zack Greinke has what it takes to lead a rotation.  By far, his best years have been behind Kershaw in LA, and his mental makeup has been shaky in the past.  Secondly, they seriously overpaid for Shelby Miller.  Yes, he’s young, but I’m not sure he has done enough to warrant the package they sent to Atlanta.  In 3 full seasons at the big league level, Miller has a nice 3.27 ERA.  But, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that he has a 1.24 WHIP and a 3.87 FIP.  These aren’t horrendous numbers, but they are more the type of numbers you want from a #3 starter – not a guy you decimate the top of your farm system for (sent their two best prospects), and give up a top-of-the-order outfielder with excellent defensive skills.  But, Miller will be expected to be the #2 starter in Arizona, primarily because beyond Miller and Greinke, their rotation is suspect. Add to this the fact that Arizona’s bullpen is mediocre at best, and they will have the Dodgers and Giants to deal with on a regular basis – and, I’m not sold on Arizona as anything more than a .500 team.

2016 Top 10 Second Basemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Top 10 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?