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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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 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?

2015 Predictions: NL East

NL-EastThe NL East has been one of the busier divisions this offseason.  Of course, everyone knows about the Scherzer deal, and the Stanton contract, and all the moves the Marlins have been making.  But, is it really going to make a difference in the playoff picture?  Well, that remains to be seen.  I’ll be revealing my playoff picks after reviewing each division.  If Shields signs with Miami (one of the rumored suitors), then that would likely change things.  But, for now, here is how I see this division playing out:

  1. Washington Nationals (96-66)
  2. Miami Marlins (84-78)
  3. New York Mets (79-83)
  4. Atlanta Braves (76-86)
  5. Philadelphia Phillies (67-95)

I’m not very surprised by these standings.  Even before I did my own statistical analysis, this is about what I would have predicted.  You might could make the argument that the Braves and Mets could be switched.  But, that’s about it.  Here’s where I came down on each team…

Washington

They will finish with the best record in baseball for a number of reasons.  They have the best starting rotation – not just in their division, but also in all of baseball.  They have the best bullpen, offense and defense in the division as well.  And, as if that wasn’t going to make life easy enough, they have possibly the worst team in baseball in their division, and two of the worst offenses in the entire game in their division.  The Nationals will get some competition out of Miami, but the rest of the division pales in comparison.

Miami

The Marlins’ front office has done a nice job this off-season, in putting together their major-league team.  Granted, I do believe that it was at the expense of their farm system, which may come back to bite them in a couple years.  But, they have put together a very competitive team at the major league level.  While the Nationals are running away with the best . . . well, everything . . . the Marlins are right behind them in this division with a very nice starting rotation (Fernandez, Alvarez, Cosart & Latos).  That alone would lead to a lot of wins.  But, even though they have probably the second best offense in the division, once you get past Stanton, it isn’t exactly going to make pitchers nervous.  Morse was a nice addition, but he’s getting older, and you’re counting on his out of the ordinary production from last year (his highest OPS since 2011, and one of only two seasons he has remained healthy his entire career).  Beyond that, the lineup has some above-average hitters (Ozuna & Yellich), but it’s certainly not a dominant offense.  And, what concerns me even more is the fact that the bullpen in Miami is not stellar.  It isn’t ugly.  But, it is going to allow a decent number of hits and walks (average WHIP among the best relievers is 1.21). In a different division, I’m not sure how well Miami would do.

New York

Mets fans should be excited about the future – just, not 2015.  They have some very nice young pitching (Harvey, DeGrom, Wheeler) that’s likely to get even better when prospects like Noah Syndergaard make their way to the majors.  But, that’s about the extent of what there is to be excited about in New York.  The bullpen might be the second best in the division (Parnell, Familia & Edgin are very good), but it’s still not exactly elite.  And, the offense, which was middle-of-the-pack in the NL last year, isn’t getting any better.  The addition of Michael Cuddyer sounds nice.  But, closer inspection reveals that he’s going into his age 36 season, only played 49 games last year, and has had inflated stats from playing in Colorado.  Until they can bring in (or up) some quality offensive production outside of Duda, this team won’t get very far.

Atlanta

2017.  I believe that’s the target.  That’s when the Braves will move into their new stadium north of Atlanta, and that’s likely the next time they will field a competitive team.  I think the Braves have made some good moves that have provided some quality prospects (3 of their top 6 prospects have come as a part of the Gattis & Upton trades).  But, it has left an already weak offense with just one batter to be excited about – Freddie Freeman.  So, here’s my question:  how close do you think Freeman gets to a .400 OBP this season?  He’s going to be pitched around so often that, if he can be patient, he’ll draw well over 100 walks.  But, don’t be surprised if his power numbers drop even more from last year.  Because he is the Atlanta offense, and even an aging Nick Markakis can’t help.  Kimbrel is phenomenal, and Teheran, Wood & Hale look to make a decent rotation.  But, those guys are likely going to lose a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games with this offense.

Philadelphia

If it wasn’t for Atlanta’s putrid offense, the Phillies would be the worst in the division in every single category.  Once you get past Hamels, you may not have even an average pitcher left in the entire rotation.  Other than Papelbon, the bullpen is littered with guys whose WHIPs are 1.34, 1.40, 1.42.  And, the only reason I rank their offense a notch above Atlanta’s is because they have some young guys that played decently last year, and who look like they may improve to be above average batters (Ben Revere & Cody Asche).  The Phillies’ farm system isn’t terrible, but it could use a boost.  Why a team headed toward almost 100 losses is trying to hang on to Papelbon and Hamels, I do not know.  Those two could net the quality and volume of prospects that could have this team competing again in just 2-3 years.  If this team loses less than 90 games – Sandberg should be manager of the year.

All-Time Greatest: Miami Marlins

The Marlins were an expansion franchise in 1993, along with the Colorado Rockies.  When MLB announced in 1990 that it intended to add two teams to the National League, Wayne Huizenga (then CEO of Blockbuster Entertainment, 15% owner of the Miami Dolphins, and 50% owner of Joe Robbie Stadium), announced that he was going to aggressively pursue an expansion franchise.  It was nearly a foregone conclusion that one of the NL’s new teams would be in the state of Florida, but Orlando and Tampa were also making an aggressive bid.  After Miami won their franchise (and at least considered the name Florida Flamingoes – aren’t you glad that didn’t pan out?!),eff-mbf-53h they began play in 1993, after an expansion draft at the end of the 1992 season.

The Marlins have 2 World Series titles already, in their only two playoff appearances.  In both 1997 and 2003, they were the NL Wild Card team, and they went all the way to championships.  On the flip side of that coin, they’ve also been known for the fact that after each of their World Series titles they’ve made fairly drastic changes to their roster, which eliminated a large amount of their payroll, in favor of younger, cheaper players.  Over the last decade, this has become a growing trend for the Marlins, as they have traded away some of their best talent, in order to continue to remain toward the bottom of MLB in terms of payroll.  This, and other factors, have played into the reasons why this franchise has never had an MVP-winner, or a Cy Young-winner, yet, they have had 4 different players win Rookie of the Year.  These moves have also played a major role in the team finishing in last place (7 times) more often than they’ve even achieved a winning record (6 times).  With all of this in mind, here are the five best Miami/Florida Marlins.

5. Josh Beckett (’01-’05) – something you will have to keep in mind as we go through all of these names is the fact that this list is not indicative of these players’ overall career.  This is just ranking them based on their performances while with the Marlins.  While in Miami, Beckett never led the league in anything, and never received a single vote for any award.  But, that’s primarily because the Marlins traded him before he really hit his prime.  But, in 2003, he was an integral part of the championship team.  In that postseason, he started 5 games (pitched in 6), had a 2.11 ERA, and a 0.77 WHIP, while striking out 47 in just 42.2 innings.  He won World Series MVP honors after the Marlins won it in 6 over the Yankees.  And, in spite of his short time in Miami, he still ranks 2nd on the Marlins’ all-time ERA list (3.46), 8th in wins (41), 5th in win pct. (.547), 2nd in WHIP (1.24), 2nd in H/9 (7.82), 1st in K/9 (8.97), 7th in K’s (607), 2nd in K/BB ratio (2.72), and 2nd in ERA+ (118 – including the 9th best single season in team history in 2003, when he posted a 138).

sfl-hyde-top-50-sofla-athletes-20130711-0404. Gary Sheffield (’93-’98) – Sheffield made one All-Star game appearance while with the Marlins – though, if they had kept him at least until the All-Star break in ’98 instead of trading him to the Dodgers, he would have made a second appearance for them.  His best season in Miami was ’96, when he led the league in OBP and OPS, and finished 6th in MVP voting.  In fact, the argument could be made that it was Sheffield’s best season of his career (42 HR, 120 RBI, .320/.465/.624/1.090).  He was also an important part of the ’97 championship team, as he had a .943 OPS in the World Series with a home run and 5 RBI.  On the Marlins’ all-time lists, he ranks 8th in batting (.288), 1st in OBP (.426), 1st in SLG (.543), 1st in OPS (.970), 6th in HR (122), 8th in RBI (380), 1st in OPS+ (156), and 8th in runs created (465 – though, no one ahead of him on the list produced them at a higher per-plate-apperance rate).

3. Josh Johnson (’05-’12) – it’s unfortunate that Johnson came to the Marlins organization when he did.  Drafted in ’02, he wasn’t ready to be a part of the ’03 World Series team.  From the time he came up in ’05 until he was traded to Toronto after the 2012 season, he saw as many last-place finishes as he did winning seasons.  And, he never saw the team win more than 87 games, or reach the playoffs.  But, in spite of some of the lousy teams he pitched for, he is definitely the best pitcher the Marlins have had (at least, while in Miami).  He finished 4th in ROY voting, appeared in 2 All-Star games, and finished 5th in Cy Young voting when he led the league in 2010 with a 2.30 ERA.  He probably would have finished a little higher if his team had managed to get him a record better than 11-6 out of his 28 starts.  But, even with a consistent lack of support, Johnson performed well in Florida.  He ranks 1st all-time on the team’s ERA list (3.15), 3rd in wins (56), 2nd in win pct. (.602), 1st in WHIP (1.23), 3rd in H/9 (8.07), 2nd in K/9 (8.17), 2nd in K’s (832), 3rd in K/BB ratio (2.70), and 1st in ERA+ (133 – including 2 of the top 7 ERA+ seasons in Marlins history).

Hanley_Ramirez_012. Hanley Ramirez (’06-’12) – while playing for the Marlins, Ramirez won ROY in 2006, he was the starting shortstop in 3 consecutive All-Star games, and finished runner-up in the MVP voting in 2009, when he won the batting title (.342).  He also received MVP votes each of the previous two seasons, finishing 10th & 11th respectively.  He led the team in stolen bases 5 consecutive years from ’06-’10, which included back-to-back 50-stolen base campaigns in ’06 & ’07 (when he finished 3rd in the NL both years).  On the Marlins’ all-time lists, he ranks 2nd in batting (.300), 3rd in OBP (.374), 6th in SLG (.499), 5th in OPS (.873), 2nd in runs scored (666), 2nd in hits (1103), 1st in total bases (1831), 2nd in doubles (232), 3rd in triples (26), 2nd in HR (148), 4th in RBI (482), 2nd in stolen bases (230), 5th in OPS+ (129), and 1st in runs created (711).

1. Miguel Cabrera (’03-’07) – In just 5 years with the Marlins, Cabrera finished 5th in ROY voting, appeared in 4 All-Star games, had back-to-back top-5 MVP finishes, and won two Silver Sluggers (one in the OF, and one at 3B).  His average full season in Miami was 32 HR, 115 RBI, and a .318/.396/.551/.947 stat line.  He owns 3 of the top 8 batting average seasons in Marlins history, 3 of the top 9 SLG seasons, 2 of the top 6 OPS seasons, 3 of the top 6 HR seasons, and 4 of the top 8 RBI seasons.  And, he only played there for essentially 4 and a half seasons (only played 87 games his rookie year – at the age of 20).  On their all-time list, Cabrera ranks 1st in batting (.313), 2nd in OBP (.388), 2nd in SLG (.542), 2nd in OPS (.929), 5th in runs scored (449), 5th in hits (842), 3rd in doubles (183), 4th in HR (138), 3rd in RBI (523), 2nd in OPS+ (143), and 5th in runs created (556).

2013 NL Rookie of the Year

Okay, so writing this post is really more of a formality.  I don’t think there’s any doubt who this year’s ROY in the NL is.  However, I would like to make sure we don’t overlook the guys that also had great years.  Because, unlike the AL, the NL is littered with guys who had tremendous first years at the big-league level.  In fact, it was very difficult for me to narrow it down to the top 5.  I even considered a top-10, just to demonstrate how many guys had good first years, but decided against it.  If you want an idea of how tough this decision was, go look at the stats of guys like Trevor Rosenthal, Evan Gattis, Darin Ruf, Luis Avilan, and Justin Wilson.  So, let’s take a look at who did make the cut.

#5 – Hyun-jin Ryu/Shelby Miller (LAD/STL).  Okay, so I added one more guy to this list, because it was absolutely impossible for me to choose between the two.  Their stats are incredibly similar.  Ryu: 14-8, 3.00 ERA, 154 K’s, 1.20 WHIP, 3.14 K/BB.  Miller:  15-9, 3.06 ERA, 169 K’s, 1.21 WHIP, 2.96 K/BB.  Both of these guys have the potential to be top-of-the-rotation guys in the near future.

Jedd-Gyorko#4 – Jedd Gyorko (SDP).  So, the guy who finishes 4th on my NL rookie list might could have won the award in the AL.  Gyorko had a great year, in spite of having to play half of his 125 games at cavernous Petco Park: .745 OPS, 23 HR, 63 RBI, and a 110 wRC+.  He also played a solid 2B.

#3 – Matt Adams (STL).  Adams wasn’t a regular starter until July.  And, even after that he was often used in a platoon role with Allen Craig.  But, Adams definitely made the best use of his opportunities.  In 319 plate appearances in 108 games, he finished with a .284 avg., 17 HR, 51 RBI, an .838 OPS, and 136 wRC+.  His defense may have been a little below average, but I expect the Cardinals will be looking for ways to get him more AB’s in 2014.

041312_jose-fernandez_600#2 – Jose Fernandez (MIA).  The lone Marlins All-Star, he was pretty much the only bright spot in a dismal season in Miami.  In his first big-league season, he has already established himself as the ace of an albeit depleted pitching staff.  His numbers are quite impressive, especially considering he was pitching for a team that was averaging barely more than 3 runs per game.  In 28 starts, he amassed a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA, 187 K’s, 0.98 WHIP, and the league batted a paltry .180 against him.  If it wasn’t for Puig, everyone would be talking about this guy.

#1 – Yasiel Puig (LAD).  I know I’ve said it before, but all you really have to know about Puig is that before he arrived in LA, the Dodgers were in last place.  After he arrived, they played consistently stellar baseball, and made it to the NLCS (and maybe further – we’ll see).  But, for the sake of argument, here are Puig’s astounding numbers:  104 games, .319 avg., 19 HR, 42 RBI, 11 SB, .925 OPS, 160 wRC+.