Opening Day … What A Day!

And so it begins.

The 2018 season began with a BLAST as Ian Happ launched the first pitch he saw from Jose Urena into the right field seats. And Marlins Park erupted … thanks to the overwhelming presence of Cubs fans in Miami. So, the first pitch of the Major League season included the first strike, first hit, first extra-base hit, first run scored, first home run, and the first (of what looks to be many) Marlins deficits.

Giancarlo Stanton hit his first HR as a Yankee – and, wouldn’t you know it, he did so with a little flair. In his first AB in the new uni, he hit the hardest opposite field home run in baseball, since 2015. Oh, and just for kicks, he also was the first Yankee to have 3 XBH and 4 RBI on Opening Day since Roger Maris.

The Orioles’ pitching dominated the Twins all day long. And, with a 2-0 lead going into the 9th, the Orioles sent in their closer. But, a lack of control by Brad Brach, led to some very patient at-bats by the Twins hitters. And, after giving up 2 walks and 2 hits, the game was all tied up. But, two innings later, it was Adam Jones who stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th. And, on the first pitch he saw from Fernando Rodney … swing, drive, home run, game over. 3-2 Orioles.

The Red Sox looked like they were going to cruise to an easy victory over the Rays, as they were up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the 8th. But, the Rays scored six runs in the inning. It culminated in an impressive at-bat by the veteran, Denard Span. With the bases loaded, a full count, and two outs in the inning, Span turned on a pitch, and drove a triple into right field, giving the Rays a 5-4 lead. They would go on to win 6-4.

The A’s came from behind twice to tie up the Angels. Once, when they were trailing by 4 in the 5th inning, and again in the 7th when they were down a run. Then, it was a wild 11th inning. With one out, Boog Powell hit a drive that just barely went off the top of left-fielder Justin Upton’s glove. Powell hustled out a triple, on a close play at 3rd. Then, Scioscia decided to walk the next batter, and go with a 5-man infield, with a slider-pitcher on the mound – hoping the batter would roll over a pitch and into a double play. Marcus Semien didn’t oblige – hitting a line drive into center-field (where no one was located) for a walk-off single.

The Phillies were up by five going into the bottom of the 6th. But, after 2 runs by the Braves in the 6th, and 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th, it was a whole new ballgame. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, and a runner on 2nd, the Phillies decided to intentionally walk Freddie Freeman. So, what does Nick Markakis do? He drives a 3-run walk-off HR into right-center.

Extra innings, walk-off home runs, 21 runs scored in a single game . . . this is why Opening Day is one of the best days of the year.

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Why the Angels Should Do the Unthinkable

I remember reading something (or maybe hearing some analyst) last winter talking about Mike Trout.  Of course there was a great deal of praise to be given, considering he has yet to finish lower than 2nd in MVP voting in any full season of his career.  But, then something was said that I thought was absolutely insane – should the Angels trade him?  My initial reaction was, “You don’t trade arguably the best player of this generation while he’s in his prime!”  It was an absurd suggestion.  Unheard of.  Unthinkable.  But, then . . .

15133579244_7652b07359_oThe same Angels team that finished just 1 game out of the playoffs last season, has turned in one of the more disappointing first halves this year.  At the time of my writing, they are 14 games below .500 (36-50), 16.5 games behind division-leading Texas, and 11 games behind in the Wild Card standings.  They possess the 3rd worst record in the American League – in spite of having the 6th highest Opening Day payroll in all of baseball.  If this could all be explained away by injuries to key players, then there would be no need for this article.  You would expect a bounce-back year in 2017, if not sooner.  But, that simply isn’t the case.  Yes, they’ve had a reasonably high number of pitchers with injuries.  But, it isn’t like they were lighting it up before going on the DL.

So, the injury bug isn’t to blame for this team’s lackluster performance.  They simply don’t have much talent surrounding Trout.  The greatest evidence to that point is the fact that Trout is the only All-Star representing the Angels on Tuesday.  How does that happen?  You have one of the best players in the game (at 24 years old).  You’re operating in the 2nd largest TV market in the country (giving you a significant revenue advantage over most of the teams in the game).  And, yet you have only been able to put it all together once in this player’s 5-year career – a brief playoff appearance in 2014, when you were swept in the ALDS.  I feel bad for Mike Trout.  I feel bad for a guy who goes out there and plays as hard as he does, and who performs at such an incredibly high level – and has nothing but individual awards to show for it.

And, do you know what makes it even worse?  It isn’t getting better any time soon.  The Angels have the consensus WORST farm system in baseball.  If you look at any ranking of current minor league systems, you’ll see the Angels at the bottom every time.  I read one analyst who said that not only were the Angels the worst farm system right now, but they might be the worst system in baseball history.  The absolute best prospect they have right now is a catcher currently playing in A-ball, who isn’t even ranked in the top 100 prospects in all of baseball.  One analyst went so far as to say that he didn’t think the Angels’ best prospect would even crack the top 10 of any other team!  So, not only is there little-to-no help coming up from the minors any time soon, but they have no trade chips to offer teams willing to trade high-quality players.

So, maybe the Angels could just spend more money to get better, right?  Not this offseason.  Strasburg signed a new contract with the Nationals, so the one legit ace that was going to be on the market is no longer available.  And, if you’re looking for significant offensive help, there’s only one real option this year:  Yoenis Cespedes (assuming he opts out of his Mets contract).  And, considering how thin the free agent market is, someone is going to significantly overpay for his services.  Not that the Angels are unfamiliar with doing that very thing (Pujols, Wilson, Hamilton, etc.), but one bat is not turning this team around.  And, once you get past Cespedes, this free agent class really looks more like a list of quality pieces that will help a team on the cusp of the playoffs.  And, the Angels need a lot more impact than that.

What’s the answer?  What should they do?  In case you didn’t see it coming:

The Angels should trade Mike Trout.

The longer they hold on to him, the longer it is going to take for this team to become relevant again.  Trout is the kind of franchise player that would help the Angels restock their farm system.  His talent level is so high, that I wouldn’t be shocked to see a team willing to offer 4-6 A-list prospects, and perhaps a couple B-listers, too.  That kind of return on a trade could potentially make the Angels competitive as early as 2018.  Because they’re already going to have a top-5 pick in the 2017 draft, which would likely add to their haul for Trout.

The tricky part of a trade like this is deciding who has the talent in their farm system to offer what the Angels need, and who would be willing to take on Trout’s salary (which isn’t going down anytime soon – $20 mil. in 2017, and $34 mil. in ’18-’20).  Considering how much the Angels should be looking for ways to win sooner rather than later, I would think they should be willing to pay a portion of Trout’s salary, if the right prospects are coming back in return.  After all, when have the Angels shied away from spending money?

So, after looking through several farm systems, considering what the team has on its payroll in the next few years, I believe there’s one team that stands out as a potential trade partner:

The Atlanta Braves.

Think about that for a minute.  The Braves are opening a new stadium next season.  Isn’t a trade like this something that can get fans excited again?  Especially a trade for a guy that would immediately become the face of your franchise for the next 4 years (at least).  The Braves also have one of the deepest farm systems in the game right now.  They are consistently ranked in the top 2-3.  And, it’s a system that is absolutely loaded with pitching talent – something for which the Angels have a desperate need (starting rotation with an ERA well over 4.00, closer with an ERA approaching 5.00, etc.).

The Braves are in the #9 television market in the U.S. – right behind Boston, and just ahead of Houston.  What this means is that they don’t have to be stingy with their payroll.  They may not want to climb into the $175 million echelon (where the Angels actually are), but a payroll in the $140-150 million range sits comfortably in the middle of the league, right around where other competitive teams sit (Royals, Blue Jays, Orioles, etc.).  And, to offset some of the cost, initially, the Braves could send Nick Markakis to the Angels, which eliminates $11 million over each of the next two seasons.  If the Angels are willing to cover some of Trout’s salary, in exchange for the right prospects, even better.

A move like this, for the Braves, would give a much needed spark to a fan base that has grown weary of seeing their favorite stars traded away.  It’s also reasonable for a team like Atlanta to take on a contract the size of Trout’s, because the vast majority of their core players are young, and will be making league minimums for the next 3-5 years.  Not to mention the young players that are coming up to the majors in the next year or so – like Dansby Swanson, Rio Ruiz, etc.  Just think of it, Braves fans . . . an outfield of Ender Inciarte, Mallex Smith, and Mike Trout.  That could be one of the best defensive outfields in the game.

Of course, the Angels wouldn’t let go of Trout for nothing.  On the Braves’ side, I would say the only player in their system that should be “untouchable” is Swanson.  He’s a top-of-the-order talent that you just don’t trade away (ahem – are you listening, Arizona?).  Outside of that, though, the Braves should be willing to offer almost anything the Angels want.  They have another top-tier shortstop (Albies) in the system that could be blocked by Swanson, unless he switches to 2B.  They have a 3B prospect (Riley) that has great potential, but will take a year or two longer to develop than the previously mentioned Ruiz.  Either or both of these guys could be on the table.  Depending on what position players the Angels might expect in return, seven of the Braves’ top 10 prospects are pitchers.  I would see no problem in sending a couple of those on in a trade for Trout.  Especially since the Braves just drafted a top-tier prospect with the #2 pick in this year’s draft, and look to be set up with a top-5 pick in next year’s draft as well.

So, why not send Nick Markakis, Austin Riley (3B), Kolby Allard (LHP), Tyrell Jenkins (RHP), and Braxton Davidson (OF)?  The Braves farm system is one of just a handful that could absorb a blow like that.  And, it would make the Braves relevant their first year in their new stadium.  Particularly if they went after a quality free agent piece like a Neil Walker, for example.  Consider a lineup with Swanson, Trout, Freeman, Walker, Inciarte, and Smith.  Plus, the Angels would immediately begin building toward the 2018 season, instead of languishing through another 3-4 years (or more) before they finally start seeing results from having high draft picks.

It’s time.  It simply is time for the Angels to pull the trigger, and do what’s right.  Not only what’s right for Mike Trout (who deserves better than what he has around him in LA), but also what’s right for the fans who have little desire to watch Mike Trout and a bunch of also-rans lose for the next 4 years.

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 Shortstops

Continuing with our review of MLB Network’s rankings at each position going into the new season, it’s time to look at shortstops.  This is another position that places a high value on defense.  We have to be careful, however, just how highly we value defense.  If a guy is batting .230 with no power or on-base skills, but is a premium defender, that doesn’t mean he belongs at or near the top of the list.  We’re talking about the best of the best.  And, players ranked this high need to have a good balance to their game.  Here is the “Shredder’s” list:

  1. Francisco Lindor (CLE)
  2. Troy Tulowitzki (TOR)
  3. Carlos Correa (HOU)
  4. Brandon Crawford (SF)
  5. Jhonny Peralta (STL)
  6. Xander Bogaerts (BOS)
  7. Addison Russell (CHC)
  8. Marcus Semien (OAK)
  9. Andrelton Simmons (LAA)
  10. Didi Gregorius (NYY)

My initial reaction to this list is that the Shredder is putting way too much stock in guys with less than a single full season at the major league level.  Lindor, Correa and Russell are guys that I think will be stars.  And, they may very well blossom this year into being among the best at their position.  But, unless the position is generally a weak position (which I don’t believe SS is), I need more evidence that a player can make the adjustments necessary to be impactful long-term.  Correa and Lindor played just 99 games each last year.  Russell played closer to a full season (142), but it’s still just one season.

As with CF, I’ll be looking at the same offensive and defensive metrics to determine my own list – wRC+, OBP, SLG, BsR, DRS & UZR.  I’m also using a category that is a bit more subjective – age.  For example, I anticipate production to improve compared to a player’s age 23-24 seasons, and to decline from around the time he turns 31 or 32.  This is unlikely to have a major impact on my rankings, but could be the difference maker when some players’ stats are close, and I have to make a call between 2 or 3 guys.

Let’s take a quick look at a couple guys that deserve honorable mention before looking at my top 10.  Adeiny Hechavarria (MIA) is probably #11 on my list.  He has very good defensive metrics, which was almost enough to propel him into the top 10.  But, his baserunning skills are middle of the pack, and his offense is at or below average.  Jose Iglesias (DET) is also just barely on the outside looking in – probably #12 or #13 for me.  He has an excellent OBP over the last couple years (.347 – 3rd best among SS’s), but that’s really the only category he excels in.  Slightly below-average offensive production, below-average baserunning, and only average defensive metrics.

  1. 19504105454_d8edd1ede6_zTroy Tulowitzki
  2. Brandon Crawford
  3. Francisco Lindor
  4. Carlos Correa
  5. Addison Russell
  6. Jhonny Peralta
  7. Eduardo Escobar (MIN)
  8. Didi Gregorius
  9. Xander Bogaerts
  10. Andrelton Simmons

You’ll notice that there’s only one new name – Escobar – which means only one name dropped off my list from the “Shredder’s”.  And, that’s Semien.  Semien belongs in probably the same area as Iglesias – #12-14.  He doesn’t really excel in any area – average offensively, average baserunner, and slightly below-average defensively.  There wasn’t really anything for me to sink my teeth into with Semien.  Andrelton Simmons is possibly the most difficult guy to place.  Hands down the best defensive shortstop – possibly the best defensive player in baseball – and, it’s not even close.  But, offensively . . . yikes.  His wRC+ is a 77 – which means his overall offensive production is about 23% lower than league average.  His baserunning is also near the bottom at his position.  If he played anywhere other than shortstop (where there are only 6 guys producing above-average offensively), he probably wouldn’t even make the list.

I’m also not sure I see what pushed Bogaerts so high up the Shredder’s list.  His .327 OBP the last two years is 6th among SS’s, and he’s a top 5 or 6 baserunner at his position.  But, his overall offensive production is below-average, and his defensive metrics are below-average.  He belongs in the top 10, but I can’t justify him being any higher than 9th.  Right behind Gregorius – who didn’t reach any higher than 10th on anyone’s list on MLB Network.  While Gregorius’ offensive production lags behind Bogaerts, he’s middle-of-the-pack at his position, and only slightly below league average.  Meanwhile Gregorius is an even better baserunner than Bogaerts, and he’s significantly better defensively.

8523768122_9463790fae_zI have no idea why Escobar didn’t appear on either the Shredder’s list or any of the analysts’ on the show.  His offensive production is better than Bogaerts (a 35-point edge in OPS), his baserunning is average, and his defensive metrics are average.  In fact, his UZR is very good (even better than Gregorius) – but, it seems that while he gets to a lot more balls than the average shortstop, he has some issues with throwing the ball away.

Peralta and Russell were neck and neck.  Peralta is slightly above-average in offensive production, while Russell is slightly below-average.  But, Russell has a significant edge in baserunning skills.  And, Russell has the better UZR.  What really impressed me about Russell is the fact that he has the same number of defensive runs saved as Peralta, but in 2,000 fewer innings.  Throw in the added subjective nature of my age category (Russell is going into his age 22 season, while Peralta his age 34 season), and the edge, in my opinion, has to go to the up-and-coming youngster.

Lindor & Correa may very well be fighting it out for the #1 spot over the next 10 years.  But, not this year.  99 games is enough to qualify you for ROY honors.  But, even as good as their statistics were (Lindor has a significant edge defensively, while Correa only has a slight edge offensively – in case you were wondering why they’re ranked in the order they are), I can’t bring myself to rank them at the top “right now.”  They’ve proven they are in the discussion.  But, haven’t done it long enough to belong ahead of Tulo or Crawford.

8707712101_f872ec6771_zTulowitzki at the top is probably not a surprise.  Brandon Crawford, however, doesn’t get near the credit he deserves.  He’s a top-5 SS when it comes to offensive production, he’s an above-average baserunner, and he’s second only to Simmons defensively.  He really is the whole package – and, is actually the only SS on my list to rank in the top 10 in every category.  I gave brief consideration to ranking him #1, even ahead of Tulo (which Ripken actually did on the show!).  But, Tulowitzki is very good defensively, and one of the best in all of baseball in offensive production.

2016 Top 10 Centerfielders

MLB Network does their annual series of shows right before spring training, in which they compile a list of the top 10 players at each position.  There’s always a considerable amount of debate, as many of the Network’s analysts don’t even agree with the list.  But, the list itself is generated by something called “The Shredder.”  This is supposedly a computer algorithm that takes into consideration the last two seasons of performance, and puts together the list strictly based on numbers – no emotion involved.  So, you can see why there’s a reasonable amount of debate.  On each of the episodes in which the list is revealed, there is an additional panel of analysts that reveal their own list, which is rarely in line with The Shredder.

It’s been a few years since I analyzed each position enough to come up with my own list.  So, let’s have some fun with this, shall we?  We’ll consider each position in the same order that they have been releasing the episodes on MLB Network.  We’ll start with the list provided by The Shredder.

Top 10 Centerfielders Right Now7260036620_39debc4e94_z

  1. Mike Trout (LAA)
  2. A.J. Pollock (ARI)
  3. Lorenzo Cain (KC)
  4. Andrew McCutchen (PIT)
  5. Jason Heyward (CHC)
  6. Adam Eaton (CHW)
  7. Kevin Kiermaier (TB)
  8. Randal Grichuk (STL)
  9. Carlos Gomez (HOU)
  10. Adam Jones (BAL)

Right off the bat, I have a problem with this list.  And, this is exactly why building a list like this strictly based on numbers is going to skew things from time to time.  Randal Grichuk??  The guy has played a total of 150 games spread out over the last 2 seasons, and spent a total of a little more than 300 innings in CF.  The guy has been their ultimate backup at each outfield position.  He’ll be a starter on a regular basis this year, since they lost Heyward.  And, even though the guy has played pretty well offensively, when he has played – ranking him among the top 10 after a season in which he played 103 games, and has less than 500 total professional plate appearances is ludicrous.  I’m guessing this is also why only 1 of the 4 analysts on the show even had Grichuk in his top 10 (at #10).

Secondly, I get that Kiermaier is a stud defensively.  But, even though that’s especially important in CF, let’s not make defense so important that we forget about offense.  Kiermaier has a combined .305 OBP over the last two seasons (just .298 last year!), to go along with his .737 OPS.  He’s basically right at league average offensively, an average baserunner, and a stellar defender.  #7 out of the 30 centerfielders in the league seemed like a massive stretch to me, when I first saw this list.  Though, when I started looking at the overall numbers, it wasn’t as much of a stretch as I thought it was going to be.

The numbers that I took into consideration were wRC+, OBP, SLG, BsR (the sabermetric stat for baserunning), DRS (defensive runs saved), and UZR (sabermetric stat that measures a player’s ability to get to the ball, defensively).  I also added a category for age.  And, it actually came into play at the very bottom of my list of center fielders.  Here’s how I look at it:  yes, the last two years of performance are going to tell us a lot about a player.  But, if those last two seasons were at the end of his prime years (say, his age 30 & 31 seasons), then I’m expecting a little drop off in production.  By contrast, if those were his age 24 & 25 seasons, I know that he’s just now going to be hitting his stride, and could actually improve.  So, if it’s ever a really close call, and one of the guys is 32 and the other is 26 – I’m going to give the edge to the younger guy.

So, before I reveal my list, let me share a couple names of guys that were just on the cusp of making the top 10.  First of all, Denard Span.  He’s 5th in OBP among CF’ers over the last two seasons, 7th in wRC+, and is an above-average baserunner.  His defensive metrics aren’t great, which is one of the reasons he didn’t make the list.  In the end, however, he probably is my #11 centerfielder, because of his age.  He’s going into his age 32 season, and has played in 150 games in a season only twice in his career (2013 & 2010).  A guy who’s already injury prone, and is heading into the downward slope of his career – that’s not a good combination, even if he is productive offensively when healthy.  Dexter Fowler is probably 12th on my list.  It baffles me that he still doesn’t have a job.  He’s 5th in OBP, 9th in wRC+, and a switch-hitter heading into his age 30 season.  His defensive metrics are underwhelming, but overall, he’s better than a lot of teams’ current starters.

Now it’s time for my top 10.

  1. Mike Trout
  2. Lorenzo Cain
  3. A.J. Pollock
  4. Andrew McCutchen
  5. Jason Heyward
  6. Adam Eaton
  7. Carlos Gomez
  8. Adam Jones
  9. Kevin Kiermaier
  10. Joc Pederson (LAD)

Pederson jumps into my top 10, because he’s similar to both Fowler and Span in his offensive production, but better than both defensively.  And, this is also in anticipation of him playing more like he did pre-All-Star break, compared to post-All-Star break.  His 20 HR and .851 OPS in the first half last year was incredible.  But, he was too committed to swinging for the fences, and pitchers took advantage of that.  I do expect growth in his approach (he is just 23, after all), so I’m willing to slide him in ahead of a couple guys that are several years older.

You see Kiermaier dropped just a couple spots.  I was surprised it wasn’t more, but his defense really is that good – he did win the “Platinum Glove,” which is given to the best overall defensive player in each league.  If he can raise his offensive production even a little, I think he could move up this list next year.

The only other major difference in my list is Lorenzo Cain.  I was pleased to see him get enough respect to be ranked as high as #3 by the Shredder.  But, I’m willing to bump him up one more spot, ahead of Pollock.  Cain is just a notch behind Pollock in offensive production, but he’s a significant step ahead in baserunning and defense.  It’s splitting hairs when you get down to trying to separate the two.  They’re both a lot of fun to watch.

Overall, I don’t think my list is all that different from “The Shredder.”  What do you think?

2015 Predictions: AL West

AL-WestHere we are.  Just a few days away from pitchers and catchers reporting.  Are you excited yet??  I’m fairly excited to see what happens in the AL West.  Because I’m not sure you could say there is a bad team in this division.  The other two divisions have at least one team that you just know aren’t going to be able to compete in 2015.  But, even the bottom of this division has reason to be excited about the 2015 season.  Even if they aren’t competing for the division, they will still be relevant.  So, here’s how I see the division finishing the season…

  1. Oakland A’s (88-74)
  2. Los Angeles Angels (84-78)
  3. Seattle Mariners (81-81)
  4. Houston Astros (76-86)
  5. Texas Rangers (74-88)

As surprised as you may be reading this – I was even more surprised by this result when I looked at the numbers.  Looking at it right now, I want to make changes.  But, I am going to stick with the numbers that got me to this point.  So, here’s how each of the teams got to where they are in my rankings:

Oakland

I have spent most of this offseason questioning every move made by the A’s.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Billy Beane has tossed away his offense the way he has.  They weren’t a bunch of troublesome clubhouse guys.  They weren’t guys that were at the end of their contract, and were suddenly going to be too expensive for Oakland to keep.  And, it’s not like the A’s received top tier prospects in return for them.  So, I still have a lot of unanswered questions about their offense.  They rank as the worst offense in the division, not because they’re going to be terrible.  But, because they have several above-average bats (Zobrist, Reddick, Vogt, Lawrie), without any single batter that’s going to be a big threat to opposing pitchers.  However, in a division that seems lacking in the pitching department, the A’s will have the best rotation top to bottom.  All 5 of their starters had above-average seasons last year, and Gray and Pomeranz have the potential to be aces when they mature a little (24 & 26 years old, respectively).  And, the addition of Tyler Clippard to an already stout bullpen gives them five relievers who finished 2014 with a WHIP below 1.10 – three of whom were below 1.00!  So, the A’s pitching staff – rotation and bullpen – ranks as the best in the division.  Add that to the fact that, even with the losses of Donaldson, Moss and Norris, they will be at or near the top of the division in team defense, and you have a team that will win a lot of 3-2 games.

Los Angeles (or, is it Anaheim?)

And, down the Pacific coast we go to the team that is the anti-Oakland team.  The Angels have easily the best offense in the division, with the likes of Trout, Pujols, Calhoun, and Iannetta leading the way.  And, if Josh Hamilton can contribute after recovering from his surgery, they’ll just be that much more daunting.  But, once you get past the offense, the rest of this team is fairly mediocre.  Richards and Shoemaker had great seasons last year in the rotation.  But, Weaver is aging, and is now an average starter (4.19 FIP last year).  And, the back end of their rotation is highly suspect – Wilson and Santiago both posted FIPs well over 4.00 in 2014.  The bullpen is good – not great.  Street’s strikeout rate has been in decline since 2012.  And, the rest of the bullpen doesn’t really have anyone that just jumps out at you as a premier reliever.  The team defense and speed are near the bottom of the division.  If there hadn’t been two teams at the bottom of this division for the Angels to beat up on last year, they never would have won as much as they did.  With everyone else in the division finding ways to improve themselves, I see the Angels taking a significant step backward this year.

Seattle

Names.  I’ve decided that’s what Seattle continues to go after.  Year after year they are signing big names, rather than the kinds of players they need.  Nelson Cruz had the best year of his career in a favorable hitter’s park – so, the Mariners sign him for his age 34-38 seasons.  Seth Smith had the best year of his career at age 31, so the Mariners sign him.  I won’t even go into how big of a mistake the Cano contract was.  Their lineup has the look of being a great offense.  But, with Cano at 33, they simply have too many guys that are going to be declining in their production.  Felix Hernandez will carry their rotation (170 ERA+ last year!), but beyond him are a lot of question marks.  Iwakuma turns 34 in April, and had an average season last year.  Paxton pitched well in his 13 starts, and has top-of-the-rotation potential – but, he’s unproven.  Then you have an aging Happ, and a mediocre Elias at the back end.  And, unfortunately, the bullpen in Seattle is not built to pick up the slack – it’s easily the worst in the division.  Two of their best relievers going into this season had a WHIP over 1.30 last year.  And, a middle-of-the-pack team defense and speed isn’t really going to help them win.

Houston

I believe the Astros will likely be a force to be reckoned with in 2016.  But, they aren’t quite there yet.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they approached a .500 season, but they have some fairly major holes to fill before they’re competing for the playoffs.  The biggest of which is their starting rotation.  It’s definitely the worst in the division.  I was surprised at how excited some Astros fans were at the signing of Scott Feldman – a mediocre #3 starter, at best.  McHugh and Keuchel had career years last year.  So, does that mean they will continue to be strong pitchers (and, by strong, I mean quality #2 starters), or will they digress?  And, then, there’s the #4 & #5 spots.  Dan Straily‘s coming off of a season in which his ERA was 6.75, and Brett Oberholtzer‘s was 4.39 – yuck.  Perhaps management was anticipating the struggles of the starting rotation when they went out and signed 3 quality free-agent relievers (Qualls, Gregorson, and Neshek).  But, even those three only raise the Astro’s bullpen to above-average status – and, Qualls & Neshek are 36 & 34, respectively.  The biggest bright spot for Houston has to be their offense.  But, unfortunately, they reside in an offense-heavy division, so they aren’t really going to stand out.  But, Altuve and Springer are just going to get better as they mature.  Carter and Gattis will provide plenty of pop.  They’ll be young and exciting.  But, not a complete enough team just yet.

Texas

Before looking at the numbers, I was expecting the Rangers to take a significant step forward this season.  But, in this division, they could win several more games, and still finish in last.  And, that’s honestly what I expect to happen.  Even with a healthy Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, this offense is going to rank in the middle of the division at best (what does that tell you about these offenses?!).  And, they are easily the worst defensive team in the division.  They do have a young, blossoming, bullpen.  Feliz, Mendez, and Cline are all quality relievers, and all under the age of 28.  But, the reason I don’t see Texas making a move in the division is their rotation.  Darvish is very good at the top.  But, then you have nothing but mediocrity the rest of the way down.  And, that’s being kind, considering how poorly Lewis, Martinez and Tepesch pitched last year.  The addition of Yovani Gallardo might push their overall rotation ahead of Houston’s depending on what kind of bounce-back year he could have.  But, that’s as good as it’s going to get.  There will be a lot of high-scoring, exciting games in this division.  Unfortunately for Rangers fans, they’re going to see their team lose too many 8-6 and 7-5.