3 Up 3 Down

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

3 UP

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

3 DOWN

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

2016 All-Star Ballot (part 1)

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

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

Catcher

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

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

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

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

 

First Base

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

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

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

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

 

Second Base

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

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

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

Other to watch:  Ben Zobrist (CHC)

 

Shortstop

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

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

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

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

 

Third Base

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

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

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

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

 

Outfield

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

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

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

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

 

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

Three Biggest Head-Scratchers of 2015

9454932_origTeam owners, general managers and coaches have a lot of decisions to make throughout the season.  Many of them are very difficult decisions to make.  But, this season has seen its fair share of confusing decisions.  For the purposes of today’s article, we’re going to focus on the front office.  Some bizarre decisions made by GM’s and owners.  Here are the three most confusing, and nonsensical decisions thus far this season…

#1 – Ron Roenicke Retained … Then Fired

The Brewers were not playing well this season, so I don’t think a ton of people were shocked that Roenicke was let go.  But, here’s the confusing part – why fire him 25 games into the season?  Yes, they were a miserable 7-18 through those 25 games, and had just won consecutive games for the first time all season.  But, why bother starting the season with him as your manager if his leash is going to be that short?  Frankly, I was shocked that Roenicke still had his job after the collapse the Brewers suffered at the end of 2014.  On August 19th, last year, the Brewers won their 71st game of the season.  They were 16 games over .500, in first place by 2.5 games, and had more series left against teams with losing records than winning records.  If they had only played .500 ball the rest of the way, they would have won 89 games – which would have, at worst, put them just 1 game out of first, and they would have hosted the Wild Card game.  Instead, they managed to lose 25 of their remaining 36 games, to finish just 82-80.  In spite of that meltdown, for some reason, Roenicke kept his job.  Well, for 25 games, he did.  Then it was handed over to the always underwhelming Craig Counsell, who has managed only a nominally better 40-45 record thus far.  If you don’t improve the team from a year ago (which Milwaukee did not), and keep the same manager – why would you expect different results?  And, why would you be so disappointed less than a month into the season that your only recourse is to get rid of the manager?  Maybe these types of moves are why the Brewers have only made the postseason four times in their 47-year history.

#2 – Reliable Bud Black … Gone

Wow.  So, you throw together a team full of other teams’ castaways, and you expect the coach to figure out how to make them play together?  And, when he has the team right around .500 through barely more than 1/3 of the season, it’s simply not good enough?  Based on what, exactly?  The team has no ace – in spite of having a couple really solid #2 starters.  The team has no legit center fielder, and the closest to one you had has been injured most of the year (which has been Will Myers’ M.O. already at a young age).  So, instead of trusting that injuries and a lack of cohesiveness have contributed to the team’s stutter-step start, you get rid of the manager that has been with the team over 8 years, and who repeatedly helped the team to actually over-perform??  A.J. Preller has not only caused the 2015 Padres to have no shot at the playoffs, but in making the trades he did (and the ones he didn’t at the trade deadline), he has decimated a farm system that had some promise.  Bud Black was never the problem in San Diego.

#3 – Building a Consistent Winner Isn’t Good Enough … Apparently

How diluted is Mike Ilitch??  Dave Dombrowski is one of the most successful and respected GM’s in the game.  He was responsible for putting together the Marlins team that won the ’97 World Series.  He took a Tigers team that had nothing when he got there in 2002 (and subsequently lost 100+ games each of the first two seasons), and turned them into a team that has been a World Series contender the last four seasons, and only had one losing season out of the last nine.  What exactly was it that led to Ilitch firing Dombrowski after the trade deadline?  The Tigers are not the Yankees or Red Sox or Dodgers, who have seemingly unlimited resources.  There are going to be times when they will need to shed some of their veteran players in order to restock the farm system, to prepare for the years ahead.  And, that’s exactly what Dombrowski did this year.  People talk about the Tigers only being 3.5 games out of the Wild Card.  But, that’s a mirage – just ask the White Sox.  They were also 3 games below .500, and one of about 6 teams fighting for one playoff spot.  Dombrowski did exactly what Ruben Amaro should have done 2-3 years ago with the Phillies.  Instead of clinging to aging players who aren’t likely to help you win anything significant now – you trade them for prospects who will help your franchise bounce back more quickly.  In trading away just two of their aging players (Price & Cespedes – both of whom are going to be free agents at the end of the season anyway), they managed to procure 5 prospects that are now all among the top 15 prospects in their entire system (#1, #5, #8, #9 & #15).  Three of whom are pitchers that have the potential to be on the major league team as early as next season.  A brilliant move by an obviously under-appreciated  GM.  Don’t feel bad for Dombrowski, though – he won’t be unemployed for long.

2015 Predictions: NL Central

nl_centralThis is easily the most competitive division in the National League.  I’m not quite ready to say it’s the best division in the NL, but it might very well be.  If Milwaukee hadn’t collapsed at the end of last season, we might have seen three playoff teams from this division in consecutive years.  And, the Reds would have been much more competitive if they hadn’t had their lineup decimated by injuries.  The Cubs . . . well, they were the Cubs.  But, they have high hopes for this coming season.  Here’s how I see the division playing out this year:

  1. Pittsburgh Pirates (90-72)
  2. Chicago Cubs (88-74)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals (86-72)
  4. Milwaukee Brewers (73-89)
  5. Cincinnati Reds (71-91)

For those of you who know me well enough to know who my favorite team is, let me say this:  I really did use the numbers to develop this analysis.  In fact, I made a couple minor adjustments to move my team down a spot, just because the first result didn’t make any sense at all to me.  Okay, so now that I feel like I have kept most people from calling me a “homer,” let’s take a look at why each team landed where they did…

Pittsburgh

The Pirates are an impressive team.  They have the best offense in the division, without a doubt.  Marte and Harrison are excellent bats – and, will only get better as they approach their prime years (26 & 27 years old, respectively).  The addition of Cervelli behind the plate will make for a nice replacement for Martin, who signed with Toronto.  A full season of Gregory Polanco at age 23 will be exciting to see.  And, we haven’t even mentioned the perennial MVP candidate, McCutcheon (who’s only 28 years old!).  Their bullpen is excellent, with 3 relievers with WHIPs below 1.10 (Melancon’s was 0.87 last year!).  Their defense is also very good – but, will probably only be 3rd best in this division.  The starting rotation is a bit of a concern.  But, Cole, Worley and Locke are all very young (24, 27 & 27) and look to be coming into their own.  And, they brought back Burnett, who was a nice veteran presence and influence on the young pitching staff his last stint in Pitt.

Chicago

Until I did my own analysis of the stats, I expected the Cubs to be contenders in 2016 – not 2015.  But, when you look carefully at how they stack up in this division, it’s pretty impressive.  The additions of Lester and Hammel will give them the best rotation in the division, top to bottom.  Lester, Arrieta, and the fairly unknown Kyle Hendricks all had an ERA+ over 150 last year.  The addition of Motte also helps bolster what is now the best bullpen in the division as well.  Four excellent relievers in Motte, Rondon, Strop, and Ramirez (all with WHIPs under 1.10 and K/9 rates of 9.5 or higher) are going to make it difficult to score on the Cubs in late innings.  The offense is the biggest unknown.  If everything remains about the same, they will rank in the middle of the pack in this division.  But, Rizzo, Castro and Soler haven’t even reached their prime years yet.  And, who knows what eventual starting 3B Kris Bryant will bring to Wrigley.  And, Fowler will be a great addition in CF.  The team defense and speed will be better, but still near the bottom of the division.

St. Louis

It’s no surprise that the Cardinals remained mostly under the radar this offseason.  That has been their M.O. for several years.  The trade for Jason Hayward surprised me, because while it fills a need in RF after the tragic loss of Oscar Taveras, they only get Hayward for 1 year, while giving up 4 years of Shelby Miller, who has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.  But, I’ve been proven wrong more than once by this organization.  And, even with the loss of Miller, they do still possess the second best starting rotation in the division, thanks to Wainwright, Lynn and Wacha.  However, Wainwright is no spring chicken anymore (33), and the back end of their rotation is highly questionable (Lackey’s another year older, and whoever their #5 starter ends up being, will be unproven).  A rotation with question marks could be overcome by a stellar bullpen (see 2014 Orioles).  But, the Cardinals bullpen is only middle-of-the-pack in this division.  Granted they are very young, but they’re also very unproven – several of their best relievers had a WHIP over 1.40 last year.  The offense is also rather mediocre.  Aging Holliday and Peralta are two of the best weapons available, and Hayward is best known for his defense – not his offensive prowess.  They do have the best team defense and speed combination in the division, which will help them be competitive.  But, this division is significantly better than it was a year ago, so I think they will take a slight step backwards.

Milwaukee

Were it not for the Red Sox & Braves collapses of 2011 (the worst I can remember), I think more attention may have been paid to how badly the Brewers finished last season.  On August 25th, the Brewers were 73-58 – 1st place in the division with a 2 game lead on St. Louis, and a 6 game lead on Pittsburgh.  They only won 9 games in their next 31, finishing 82-80 – well out of the playoff picture.  How Roenicke kept his job, I’ll never quite figure out.  And, management in Milwaukee hasn’t done anything significant this offseason to improve the team either.  If anything, they’re slipping further away from being a winning team.  With other teams getting better, Milwaukee is getting older, and less talented.  Their rotation is the worst in the division, with the only bright spots being the potential of Fiers and Peralta who are young, and already above-average pitchers.  Also, once you get past Broxton, the Brewers’ bullpen is uninspiring.  There has been talk of re-signing Francisco Rodriguez, or trading for Papelbon.  But, even that would only bring them to mediocre level.  The offense is the lone bright spot for Brewers fans.  They’re second only to Pittsburgh in this division.  Braun, Lucroy and Gomez are an excellent middle of the order.  But, that’s not enough to overcome the rest of this competitive division.

Cincinnati

Cueto is stellar, and might very well have been the best pitcher in the division last year.  Chapman is a lights-out closer, who is just now coming into his prime years (turns 27 later this month).  But, once you get past these two well-known commodities, the pitching staff in Cincy is sub-par.  They’re counting on Leake, Cingrani and Axelrod to make significant strides, since they traded away the only two starters outside of Cueto that finished 2014 with an above-average ERA.  And, Bailey has only had 2 completely healthy seasons out of the last six.  The bullpen is also lack-luster, with two of their best relievers sporting WHIPs in excess of 1.50 last year.  And, it’s not like they have the offensive fire-power to cover up some of their lack of pitching, like Milwaukee does.  If everyone is healthy, Votto, Bruce, Mesoraco and Frazier are formidable.  But, not frightening.  They will be one of the best defensive teams in their division.  But, they are lacking in so many other areas that they will fall well behind the other teams in this division.

All-Time Greatest: Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee has a long history with baseball, and so do the Brewers . . . but, not necessarily the franchise that is now the Milwaukee Brewers.  The original Brewers franchise was established as a part of the Western League in 1894, which was a minor league.  When the league changed its name to the American League, and declared itself a competing professional league, they remained in Milwaukee for one season, finishing last in the American League in 1901.  After that season, the team was moved to St. Louis, and became the St. Louis Browns (who eventually moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles).  In 1902, the Milwaukee Brewers were resurrected as a minor league team in the American Association.  In 51 seasons, they won 8 American Association pennants.  But, in 1953, Milwaukee finally got the professional team they had long been coveting, as the Braves moved in from Boston.  The Brewers moved to Toledo, and became the Mud Hens.  But, the Braves didn’t last long in Milwaukee, as they moved to Atlanta in 1966.

By 1967, expansion of both the National League and American League was eminent – each league making plans to add two more teams.  Several cities made bids to receive a team, including Milwaukee.  But, in the end, the National League awarded new franchises to San Diego and Montreal, while the American League awarded franchises to Kansas City and Seattle.  The Seattle Pilots won the bid in spite of not having plans for a new stadium in place.  Instead, they were planning on renovating Sick’s Stadium, which had been used for their minor league team.  The agreement with MLB was that they would renovate the stadium to allow for 30,000 seats, instead of the current 8,000.  Numerous delays occurred and by opening day in 1969, the stadium still only had 19,500 seats, and the scoreboard had just been finished the night before.  By season’s end, the stadium still only had 25,000 seats, and the Pilots had managed to only draw 678,000 in attendance for the entire season.  After a series of attempts to resolve the situation failed, the team was declared bankrupt on April 2, 1970 – 5 days before opening day.  As a result, the team was then allowed to move to Milwaukee, where Bud Selig had made a bid to purchase and relocate the team.  In fact, as the team awaited word on the bankruptcy hearing, their equipment was sitting in Provo, Utah, with drivers waiting to hear whether to drive toward Milwaukee or Seattle.

Selig named the team after the minor league Brewers that he had grown up watching, but because of the delay in getting the team to Milwaukee, there was no time to order new uniforms, or change the team’s colors (Selig had wanted to revert back to the original Brewers’ red and blue).  So, to this day, the Brewers franchise still uses the blue and gold colors from the Seattle Pilots.  In their 45-year existence, the team has made 4 playoff appearances (’81, ’82, ’08 & ’11).  They won the AL pennant in 1982, but lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals.  After moving to the National League in 1998, they appeared as the Wild Card team in 2008, losing in the NLDS to eventual world champion Philadelphia, and won their first NL division title in 2011, but lost the NLCS to eventual world champion St. Louis.  The Brewers have retired 4 players’ jerseys – all of whom are HOFers.  They’ve had 2 Rookie of the Year winners, 2 Cy Young winners, and 3 players have won 4 MVPs.  Overall, the Brewers history isn’t exactly littered with much success.  But, from 1978-1983, they were definitely a force to be reckoned with, as the team fielded 3 future HOFers at SS, 3B & closer, along with a Gold-Glove winning, power-hitting first baseman.  Needless to say, all 4 of these made the top-5 list:

original5. Prince Fielder (’05-’11) – in the end, Braun’s numbers will be better than Fielder’s.  But, we don’t know just how inflated Braun’s numbers are due to PED’s.  And, we do know that Braun benefited substantially by having Fielder bat behind him.  So, I give Fielder the edge here.  In 7 seasons with the Brewers, Fielder led the league in HR once, RBI once, and BB once.  He appeared in 3 All-Star games (in a very crowded NL 1B field, which included Pujols, Lee, Berkman, Howard, etc.), and finished in the top 4 in MVP voting three times (’07, ’09 & ’11). On the Brewers’ all-time lists, he ranks 1st in OBP (.390), 2nd in SLG (.540), 2nd in OPS (.929), 8th in total bases (1904), 2nd in HR (230), 7th in RBI (656), 2nd in OPS+ (143), and 5th in runs created (763).

20140113-120027.jpg?w=4904. Rollie Fingers (’81-’82, ’84-’85) – Fingers’ prime years were definitely not played in Milwaukee.  But, he was a vital part of a team that made two playoff appearances.  In fact, in 1981, he won both the Cy Young award and the MVP in the AL, when he sported a measly 1.04 ERA and 0.87 WHIP, while leading the league with 28 saves in a strike-shortened season.  And, even though he only pitched for 4 seasons in Milwaukee (a little more than 250 innings), he easily outranks every other pitcher they’ve had come through, in terms of success on the mound.  In his first three seasons with the Brewers, his average ERA+ was 199!  And, while baseball-reference.com only ranks players that have at least 500 IP on their career rate lists, compared to the guys on those lists, Fingers would rank 1st in ERA (2.54), 1st in WHIP (1.08), 8th in K/9 (6.8), 3rd in saves (97), 2nd in K/BB (3.02), and 1st in ERA+ (150 – which is well ahead of 2nd place).  What’s especially impressive about these numbers is that it includes his last season in Milwaukee, which was an incredibly subpar season, with a 5.04 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and just 17 saves – which led to his retirement.

1-t441482-5003. Paul Molitor (’78-’92) – After being drafted in the first round of the ’77 draft by the Brewers, Molitor made an immediate impact, joining the team in ’78, and finishing 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting.  In 15 seasons with the Brewers, he appeared in 5 All-Star games, and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 3 times.  While many remember Molitor as a hits machine (over 3300 in his career), he also was a threat on the bases.  To this day, he still owns 4 of the top 10 stolen base seasons in Brewers history.  He ranks 3rd all-time on the Brewers’ batting list (.303), 5th in OBP (.367), 10th in OPS (.811), 2nd in runs scored (1275), 2nd in hits (2281), 2nd in total bases (3338), 2nd in doubles (405), 10th in HR (160), 3rd in RBI (790), 1st in stolen bases (412), 6th in OPS+ (125), and 2nd in runs created (1287).

cecil_cooper2. Cecil Cooper (’77-’87) – Cooper is one of the frequently overlooked stars of his era.  In fact, when you compare his stats to the likes of Molitor, it’s eerily similar.  The primary difference between the two is that Moliter simply played longer, and while Molitor was a hits and stolen base guy, Cooper possessed the greater power and drove runners in, while also accumulating hits at about the same pace.  In 11 seasons in Milwaukee, he had five All-Star game appearances, two Gold Gloves, and four consecutive years appearing in the top-8 in MVP voting.  His average season in Milwaukee was an OPS+ over 120, an OPS above .800, batting over .300, with 20+ HR and 100+ RBI.  He holds the Brewers record for most hits in a season (219 in ’80), and owns 3 of the top 5 single-season hits totals in Brewers history.  He also owns 3 of the top 8 RBI seasons in Brewers history, and held the record until 2009, when Fielder broke it.  If there was ever a player in Brewers history who deserved to have his jersey retired, in spite of not making it to the HOF, it’s Cecil Cooper.  He ranks 4th all-time on the Brewers’ batting list (.302), 7th in SLG (.470), 3rd in hits (1815), 3rd in total bases (2829 – behind just Molitor & Yount, but producing at a rate higher than either of them), 3rd in doubles (345), 6th in HR (201), 2nd in RBI (944), 9th in OPS+ (123), and 3rd in runs created (939).

robin-yount1. Robin Yount (’74-’93) – a similar argument could be made against Yount’s HOF candidacy as Craig Biggio’s.  Generally, a good hitter, though not a great one throughout his career (a .285 avg.).  Lasted just long enough to eclipse the coveted 3,000 hits barrier, in spite of the fact that his last 4 seasons saw him bat just above .250 with a .712 OPS, and an OPS+ below 100.  But, here’s the difference: in his prime, Yount won 2 MVP’s, including his best season, which was 1982, when he led the league in hits, doubles, SLG, OPS and total bases.  He also won a Gold Glove that year at SS.  When he won the MVP later in ’89, he was playing CF, becoming just the 3rd player in MLB history to win MVP’s at two positions.  He is the all-time leader in Brewers history in runs (1632), hits (3142), total bases (4730), doubles (583), triples (126), HR (251), RBI (1406), and runs created (1655).

That’s my list.  Any disagreement?

Overshadowed

Yasiel Puig is getting the lion’s share of rookie exposure from the media.  And, I’m not going to say he doesn’t deserve credit for what he’s doing (1.024 OPS in his first 54 games).  But, because the media is so infatuated with the Dodgers’ rookie, we are missing out on some of the other rookies around the league that are playing exceptional baseball.  Take a look at these young players who might not be on your radar – but should be:

  • Wil Myers (TB) – he was called up to Tampa in mid-June.  In 39 games he has 8 HR, 30 RBI, is batting .329 with a .912 OPS, and has yet to commit an error in 300+ innings in right field.  He’s a legit contender for AL ROY.
  • Matt Adams (STL) – when Lance Berkman went on the DL for the second time, the Cardinals called up the left-handed hitter for his second stint with the team this year.  He started out primarily as a pinch-hitter who would occasionally give a regular starter the day off.  But, since late June, he has been St. Louis’ near-everyday first baseman (while Craig has played a lot in LF).  His numbers have slipped since he started playing every day, but overall, he has done well this season: .286, 8 HR, 32 RBI, .832 OPS, 134 wRC+.
  • Yan Gomes (CLE) – since being called up in early April, he has forced the Indians to find ways to get him in the game.  Starting catcher Carlos Santana has played several games at 1B and DH this year, allowing Gomes to play behind the plate.  In 47 games, Gomes has a .310 avg. with 7 HR, 26 RBI, an .874 OPS (which includes a massive .529 SLG), and 142 wRC+.
  • Jose Fernandez (MIA) – the Marlins’ lone representative in the All-Star game continues to pitch very well.  In 21 starts this season, he has dominated NL hitters to the tune of a 2.54 ERA, and a measly 1.01 WHIP.  Meanwhile, he’s striking out batters at a rate of 9.73 K/9.  He’s only 8-5, but that has more to do with his pitiful 3.67 RS – one of the worst in the NL.
  • Jim Henderson (MIL) – the Brewers’ “new” closer (he turns 31 in October) has done very well for them.  He has 15 saves in 18 save opportunities, along with a minuscule 1.94 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.  He also carries a very impressive 10.37 K/9 rate.

On the Horizon

There also are a number of young players who have been performing very well in the brief amount of time they’ve been playing thus far.  Keep an eye on these guys, because if they keep playing as well as they are, they will be a force to be reckoned with by the end of the season.

  • Darin Ruf (PHI) – 23 games; .299/.413/.494/.907, 3 HR, 154 wRC+
  • Junior Lake (CHC) – 18 games; .333/.351/.533/.884, 4 HR, 142 wRC+
  • Alex Torres (TB) – 34.1 IP; 0.26 ERA, 0.61 WHIP, 11.01 K/9, .088 BAA
  • Jarred Cosart (HOU) – 4 starts; 1-0, 0.96 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, .194 BAA

2013 All-Star Ballot #1

It’s hard to believe, but by the end of this week, we will already be 1/3 of the way through the 2013 season.  That means a lot of things:  1) I believe we should be seeing the teams that are legitimate playoff contenders emerge.  There are going to always be a couple teams that fade or catch fire the last month or so of the season, and make things interesting.  But, for the most part, we’ve seen enough of each team to see who they really are going to be in 2013.  2) With just two months left until the non-waiver trade deadline, it’s time for some teams to start thinking seriously about whether they will be buyers or sellers.  That might be a little premature for teams hovering around .500 who have had a little bad luck here and there.  But, most teams know who they are, and can recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and should know what kind of season they will be able to sustain with their current lineup.  3) We’re just a little more than a month from the All-Star game!

I was in Cincinnati last Saturday to see the Reds and Cubs play each other, and it caught me off guard when the usher handed me an All-Star ballot.  How quickly this season has already gone!  So, it’s time for us to take a look at the players who deserve to be the starters in the All-Star game.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

C:  Carlos Santana (CLE) – this is an incredibly close race right now.  Santana and Joe Mauer (MIN) are clearly the two to choose from right now (though, J.P. Arencebia might have something to say before the voting is over).  Santana leads Mauer in HR (8-4), RBI (22-16) SLG (.512-.484) OPS (.909-.892) and wRC+ (150-143).  Mauer’s defense is a good bit better, but I can’t ignore the fact that he only leads Santana in OBP (by .011) and batting average, offensively.  It’s a tight race – and one that will be fun to keep watching.

1B:  Chris Davis (BAL) – he has been unconscious so far this season! An incredible 1.165 OPS, 17 HR, and 47 RBI through just the first 1/3 of the season.  He is well on his way to the best season of his career, which could be 40+ HR, 120+ RBI fairly easily at his current rate.  At this point, Davis is the only option that makes sense.  But, if he falters over the next month, there are some who could overtake him (Edwin Encarnacion, Nick Swisher, and Prince Fielder, to name a few).

2B:  As usual, the debate comes down to Dustin Pedroia (BOS) or Robinson Cano (NYY).  Pedroia has the OBP edge, while Cano has the SLG edge, which is why their OPS’s are only .015 apart.  Cano has the HR & RBI edge, but Pedroia has the SB, batting average, and fielding edge.  So, the tipping point for me came down to wRC+ – a stat that measures the player’s ability to produce runs for his team.  Both are doing very well, but at the moment Dustin Pedroia has a slight edge over Cano (136-132).  Obviously, this could change fairly easily over the next few weeks, so keep an eye on this race.  And, don’t snooze on Ian Kinsler, either.  He’s playing very well.

SS:  Jhonny Peralta (DET) – .339/.389/.494 . . . that’s really all I need to say.  Peralta leads the league in every one of those stats.  He also leads the league in wRC+ (138).  J.J. Hardy may be the big home run hitter (10 HR, 32 RBI), but Peralta has him beat in every other offensive category.  Plus, Hardy’s measly .284 OBP demonstrates the weakness in his game – it’s an all-or-nothing type of swing.  I would consider voting for Jed Lowrie (OAK), before Hardy at this point.  But, Peralta is the clear choice for now.

3B:  Miguel Cabrera (DET) – were it not for Chris Davis and his 17 home runs, guess who would be leading the league in all 3 Triple Crown categories again?  .373, 14 HR, 57 RBI.  As great of a season as last year was for Cabrera, he’s on pace for an even better one this year.  There are some other guys at this position having excellent seasons right now (Evan Longoria, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado), but no one holds a candle to Cabrera at this point.

OF:  Jose Bautista (TOR – .299, 12 HR, 28 RBI, .995 OPS, 166 wRC+), Kelly Johnson (TB – .299, 10 HR, 33 RBI, .931 OPS, 154 wRC+), and Mike Trout (LAA – .299, 10 HR, 37 RBI, .932 OPS, 154 wRC+).  Johnson is probably the only surprise here.  I doubt many outside of Tampa realize how well he’s playing.  As for other contenders, keep an eye on Adam Jones (BAL – .318, 10 HR, 35 RBI, .880 OPS, 134 wRC+), Alex Gordon (KC – .333, 6 HR, 31 RBI, .869 OPS, 136 wRC+), and Alex Rios (CHW – .289, 10 HR, 28 RBI, .867 OPS, 130 wRC+).  Overall, though, this was a much easier decision than I expected.

DH:  David Ortiz (BOS) – no big surprise here, since the DH position has been fairly weak over the last few years.  I honestly have no idea why we’re voting for a DH All-Star, when there won’t even be a DH in the All-Star game (played in a NL park).  But, be that as it may, Ortiz’ stats are pretty good – .339, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 1.000 OPS, 162 wRC+.  Kendrys Morales (SEA – .300, 6 HR, 28 RBI, .852 OPS, 139 wRC+) and Travis Hafner (NYY – .258, 8 HR, 25 RBI, .886 OPS, 138 wRC+) are the only legit contenders with Ortiz right now.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

C:  Buster Posey (SF) – for now.  His stats are at the top of the league for catchers, offensively (.304, 7 HR, 31 RBI, .906 OPS, 153 wRC+), and he’s throwing out 21% of base-stealers which is about league average.  But, there are three other catchers that have legit arguments at this point.  1) Evan Gattis (ATL) – the only reason I don’t have him as my vote right now is because he has only played about half as many games behind the plate as the rest, so his defensive stats are inconclusive with so little data.  But, offensively, he’s a beast – .271, 12 HR, 32 RBI, .946 OPS, 155 wRC+.  2) Yadier Molina (STL) – as usual, he’s throwing out better than 41% of baserunners, but his offense is lagging behind the others – .346, 3 HR, 27 RBI, .862 OPS, 141 wRC+.  3) Russell Martin (PIT) – very impressive defensively, throwing out more than 41% of baserunners, and currently has a spotless fielding pct. (1.000).  But, his offense is even a notch behind Molina – .255, 6 HR, 12 RBI, .802 OPS, 127 wRC+.  Keep an eye on this race!

1B:  Joey Votto (CIN) – at first glance, you would think the choice should be Paul Goldschmidt (ARI), with his stats: .324, 12 HR, 40 RBI, 1.002 OPS.  And, his HR & RBI numbers are definitely ahead of Votto.  But, Votto leads Goldschmidt by 30 batting average points, nearly 30 OPS points, and has a significant edge in wRC+ (183-169).  His low RBI total (just 26) has more to do with the runners ahead of him than his ability to drive them in.  Goldschmidt is having a great year, but for now, I’ll give the nod to Votto.

2B:  Matt Carpenter (STL) – 4 HR and 18 RBI doesn’t usually sound like All-Star talent.  But, Carpenter’s .309/.394/.455 stat line is the best combination at this position in the NL.  And, at the moment, he leads NL second basemen in wRC+ (142), while playing very well in the field.  But, there are several waiting in the wings, if his stats falter in the slightest: Brandon Phillips (CIN), Chase Utley (PHI), Nick Punto (LAD), and Jedd Gyorko (SD).

SS:  Jean Segura (MIL) –  this is a very tight race between Segura and Troy Tulowitzki.  Segura leads the way in wRC+ (168), batting avg. (.365), OBP (.400), and SB (14 – and Tulo doesn’t have a single stolen base).  He also has 8 HR, 22 RBI, and a .969 OPS.  Tulowitzki has the lead in HR (10), RBI (40) and OPS (.982), which combined with his .327 batting average and 155 wRC+ puts him just a hair behind Segura.

3B:  Eric Chavez (ARI) – that’s right – the 35-year-old veteran who hasn’t played a full season since 2005.  He’s having a ridiculously good year: .325, 7 HR, 25 RBI, .956 OPS, 153 wRC+.  Right behind him, though, is David Wright (NYM): .295, 7 HR, 30 RBI, .893 OPS, 153 wRC+.  Chris Johnson (ATL) is playing very well, and might close the gap over the next month, but for now it’s between Chavez & Wright.

OF:  Shin-Soo Choo (CIN – .296, 10 HR, 20 RBI, 5 SB, .982 OPS, 173 wRC+), Bryce Harper (WSH – .287, 12 HR, 23 RBI, 2 SB, .973 OPS, 166 wRC+), and Carlos Gomez (MIL – .326, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 10 SB, .966 OPS, 165 wRC+).  The top of the league is so bunched together at this position, that I decided to just sort them by wRC+, and go with the top three.  The list of other legit contenders at this point includes: Justin Upton (ATL), Michael Cuddyer (COL), Carlos Gonzalez (COL), and Ryan Braun (MIL).  Then, there’s a group just barely on the outside looking in, who could make a run over the next month: Carlos Beltran (STL), Carl Crawford (LAD), Lucas Duda (NYM), and Starling Marte (PIT).  An intriguing race for sure.

So, that’s my vote . . . for now.  Your thoughts??

2013 Preview: NL Central

Much like the AL Central, the NL Central is not as strong as the other divisions in its league.  However, I do think the NL Central could be a bit stronger than the AL Central this year, because there are at least 2 potential playoff contenders in the division, and there were 3 teams that finished above .500 last year.  It will be very interesting to see how this division fairs, now that the Astros aren’t around to beat up on.  Here’s what I see:

  1. Cincinnati Reds (96-66)reds_home_cincinnati_reds_wallpaper-1024x768
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (83-79)
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates (81-81)
  4. Chicago Cubs (78-84)
  5. Milwaukee Brewers (70-92)

Reds:  If you assumed you knew the Nationals had the best team ERA in 2012, who would you think was just 0.01 behind them in second place?  The Giants?  The Phillies?  The Braves?  Nope – it was the Reds.  Granted they pitch in the NL Central, which isn’t exactly overrun with offensive talent.  But, this is a very nice pitching staff, and the bullpen (which had an impressive 2.65 ERA) looks to be even better with Jonathan Broxton there for the whole year.  Shin-Soo Choo will be a very nice addition to the middle of an already powerful lineup, with Votto, Bruce and Phillips.  Ryan Ludwick’s resurgence last year was also a pleasant surprise, and if he can stay healthy, it will be quite the outfield in Cincy.  But, then there’s this guy in AAA – Billy Hamilton.  If you don’t know that name, get used to hearing it.  The guy broke Vince Coleman’s minor league steals record, stealing 155 bases last year!  He is developing the plate discipline, and learning better ways to get on base.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we saw him in Cincinnati before the All-Star break.  With a nice pitching staff, and an offense that can put up runs in chunks, this team looks poised to win again – especially against the pool of mediocrity that is the NL Central.

Cardinals:  You look at this lineup, and it’s hard to fathom how it ended up 3rd in the NL in OPS in 2012.  Can they really pull it all together again?  I say . . . kinda.  In part, because they play in the NL Central.  Don’t get me wrong – Beltran and Holliday are nice at the center of that lineup.  But, they’re also not getting any younger.  And, I’m not sure Allen Craig or Matt Carpenter aren’t due for some sophomore slump issues.  Injuries are also going to be an issue for this team, as Furcal and Chris Carpenter already look like they’re done for the season.  Carpenter is the bigger loss, in my opinion.  Wainwright has had glimpses of “ace”-type stuff, but he’s had more years where he looked like a .500 pitcher with an ERA hovering close to 4.00.  And, once you get past him, you’re looking at Westbrook, Lynn, Garcia and a rookie (albeit, a highly touted one) in Shelby Miller.  Nothing about this team screams “playoff contender,”  but they seem to find a way to surprise us on a regular basis.

Pirates:  It was tempting to put the Pirates ahead of St. Louis.  And, I wouldn’t be completely surprised if they finally broke the streak of losing seasons, and finished in 2nd this year.  The addition of Wandy Rodriguez was smart, because he will continue to play in a division he’s familiar with.  And, when Francisco Liriano comes off the DL, I expect he will fair better in the NL than he did in the AL.  They didn’t do anything to improve their offense (an offense that finished tied for 11th in the NL with a .699 OPS), so they will have to rely heavily on Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutcheon.  But, the bigger concern for me is the bullpen.  Hanrahan is gone to Boston, and they’ve moved Jason Grilli into the closer spot – a guy who only saved 2 of his 5 opportunities a year ago.  That gives me cause for concern, and combined with the lack of offensive moves, I can’t justify putting the Pirates any higher than .500.

Cubs:  There’s no doubt they’re rebuilding.  Every trade they’ve made since Epstein & Co. took over has been to rid themselves of the money-wasting contracts left over from the previous clueless GM, and rebuild the program from the ground up.  And, so far, it seems to be moving in the right direction.  Only one bad contract remains (Soriano – who happened to hit 25 HR last year), and the talent in the farm system is definitely improving.  As for the talent on the major league team . . . well, it’s definitely younger.  Starlin Castro is a star in the making, and Anthony Rizzo could become very Joey Votto-like.  And, Darwin Barney did win a Gold Glove at 2B, though his bat isn’t exactly electric.  But, the biggest reason for what I expect to be a significant uptick in their win total is the improved starting rotation.  Samardzija has improved every year; Garza (when he gets off the DL) will be a very nice #2; the addition of Edwin Jackson in the #3 spot will do nicely, and then Travis Wood, Carlos Villanueva and Scott Feldman can fight it out for the last 2 spots.  The bullpen is likely to blow several leads (or make deficits even more impossible to overcome), but Kyuji Fujikawa might be able to help with that.  It’s definitely an improved team, though still not a winning team.

Brewers:  Why the drop so far down after they finished above .500 just a year ago?  I’ll give you three reasons:  1) “Winning”:  In the NL, only the Reds had more wins last year against sub-.500 teams, and only the Astros had fewer wins against winning teams than the 2012 Brew Crew.  And, now that they don’t get to play the Astros for 12-15 games, the Brewers are likely to take a step back.  2) Injuries: Cory Hart won’t be back until mid-May at the earliest; Mat Gamel (the prospect they’ve been expecting to replace Prince) is out for the season, again; and, not long before I wrote this, Aramis Ramirez was put on the DL, and will be out until probably the end of April.  Ryan Braun is awfully good, but he can’t be expected to carry this offense alone.  3) Pitching: can you name 3 pitchers in Milwaukee?  Yovani Gallardo is pretty well known.  John Axford has become more notorious than anything else of late.  I wonder how many knew they signed Kyle Lohse.  But, all in all, this is not an impressive pitching staff.  They had the worst bullpen ERA in the NL a year ago, and were middle-of-the-pack with their starters.  They’ve brought in some new guys to help, but only Tom Gorzelanny had an ERA under 3.00 last year (2.88), and only Burke Badenhop (who??) had a WHIP below 1.30.  I see this team taking significant steps backwards.

2013 Top 10 C

Now, you want to talk about a tricky position to evaluate?  Catcher might be the most difficult.  How do you measure a guy’s ability to call a game?  How do you measure a guy’s leadership with the pitching staff?  There’s so much more than numbers that goes into a catcher’s ability.  But, in lieu of having numbers that can measure those intangibles, we’ll have to just go by what we can measure.  Offensively, we’ll use much of the same stats we’ve been using for other positions.  But, defensively, there are two important statistics that are unique to catchers: rSB & RPP.  rSB measures a catcher’s ability to save runs be eliminating stolen bases.  RPP measures a catcher’s ability to block pitches behind the plate.  Both have the same standard: 0 is league average, and above or below that shows how well the catcher is doing compared to the rest of the league.  So, here’s how MLB Network ranked them:

  1. Buster Posey (SF)buster-posey-handsome
  2. Yadier Moline (STL)
  3. Carlos Ruiz (PHI)
  4. Miguel Montero (ARI)
  5. Joe Mauer (MIN)
  6. Salvador Perez (KC)
  7. Carlos Santana (CLE)
  8. Matt Weiters (BAL)
  9. Alex Avila (DET)
  10. A.J. Ellis (LAD)

I have some issues with this list because it appears to me that MLBN has not placed a significant enough value on a catcher’s defense, and because they’ve assumed a lot about a couple guys that don’t have much time put in at the position.  And, that brings me to honorable mention:  Alex Avila & A.J. Ellis.  Avila has some nice offensive numbers the last three seasons: .781 OPS, 114 wRC+.  But, his defense is simply not good:  -2 rSB & -10.5 RPP (the worst of anyone I even considered).  Ellis was a close call at #10.  But, ultimately, the reason I didn’t go with him is because he only has one full season behind the plate, and he turns 32 in April – which tells me we may have already seen his best.  So, here’s how I would rank them.

10. Jonathan Lucroy (MIL) – his offense has been pretty nice the last two years: .778 OPS, 12 HR, 112 wRC+, on average. His ability to hold baserunners isn’t very good (-4 rSB), but his pitch-blocking skill is already above average (4.1 RPP).  Also, he has plenty of time to continue to improve, as he doesn’t turn 27 until June.

9. Salvador Perez – once again, MLBN is jumping the gun on a young, unproven player.  Perez has just 115 games at the major league level.  Granted, they have been a pretty impressive 115 games – .810 OPS, 14 HR, 119 wRC+, 8 rSB.  But, we’ve yet to see a full season out of him, and his ability to block pitches behind the plate needs some work (-1.5 RPP).  That being said, he does look to have the skills to be a force both offensively and defensively – and he turns just 23 years old in May.

8. Brian McCann (ATL) – so, exactly what is it that pushed him off this list?  His .784 OPS? His 22 HR per year? His 111 wRC+ the last 3 years?  His 15.2 RPP the last three seasons?  I’ll give you the fact that his 0 rSB for three years is only “average.”  But, if he’s above average everywhere else, I don’t see him completely missing the list.  Especially when you can see pretty big holes in the game of some of the others.

7. Carlos Santana – a 122 wRC+ in his first two full seasons in the big leagues is really nice.  He’s just going to be 27 in April, and he’s already averaging 20+ home runs per year with a .797 OPS.  He’s already above average at holding baserunners (3 rSB), but his skills at stopping the ball behind the plate could use some work (-9.0 RPP).  However, at his young age, and with just 223 starts behind the plate, I think that will improve significantly with time.

6. Matt Weiters – his defense is arguably the best in baseball (2 Gold Gloves in just 3 full seasons – 16 rSB & 13.5 RPP), and he doesn’t turn 27 until May.  His offense is lagging behind, which is the only reason I have him this far down the list.  Just a 108 wRC+ the last two years, and a .771 OPS.  He has averaged 22 home runs the last two years, so I expect his offense to catch up with his superb defense.  And, when it does . . . look out

5. Miguel Montero – well above average offense (.826 OPS & 120 wRC+ the last two seasons), and above average defense (6 rSB & 0.2 RPP) make this 29-year-old impossible to ignore.  Granted, his defense isn’t that far above average, and that’s why I don’t think he belongs ahead of Mauer, whose offense is quite a bit better.  But, if Montero keeps this up, he’ll find himself pushing into the top-3 soon.

4. Joe Mauer – he’s second only to Posey in wRC+ (130) and OPS (.862) in the two full seasons he’s played the last three years.  But, the reason he slips down the list is because his defense is slightly below average (-4 rSB, -2.8 RPP).  But, he doesn’t turn 30 until April, so he should have a few more “prime” years left in him.

3. Carlos Ruiz – I think it’s interesting (if not suspicious) that his career has really improved once he surpassed the age of 30.  At the age of 33, he set career highs in avg., HR, RBI, and OPS.  Should we expect him to continue to produce at the age of 34? I’m not sure.  But, the fact of the matter is he’s had an .842 OPS and 128 wRC+ over the last three years.  He’s also slightly above average at holding baserunners (1 rSB), while being one of the best at blocking pitches behind the plate (10.8 RPP).

2. Yadier Molina – I give him a slight edge over Ruiz because he’s younger (turns 31 in July), and because of his ability to stop baserunners (14 rSB).  Molina is superb behind the plate (5 straight Gold Gloves) – he and Weiters set the standard.  And, in recent years, his offense has caught up with his impressive D – .789 OPS, 14 HR, 8 SB, and 117 wRC+ over the last three seasons.

1. Buster Posey – easiest choice on the list.  Take out the few games he played in 2011 before breaking his leg, and look at what you have:  .911 OPS, 21 home runs per year, 145 wRC+, a catcher well above average in the field (top-5, I’d say), and a guy that has won a batting title, ROY, MVP, and 2 World Series.  All in the only two full seasons he’s played, before he even turned 26 years old.

2013 Top 10 3B

Ah, the “hot corner.”  The position where many sluggers are placed these days.  Sometimes out of necessity (Cabrera), and sometimes because their quick reflexes allow them to put a stop to many potential doubles down the line (Longoria).  But, whatever the reason a player is posted here, it’s a position that often is expected to perform well offensively and defensively.  Let’s take a look at how MLB Network ranked their top 10 right now at the hot corner:

  1. Miguel Cabrera (DET)miguel-cabrera-getty2
  2. Adrian Beltre (TEX)
  3. David Wright (NYM)
  4. Evan Longoria (TB)
  5. Ryan Zimmerman (WSH)
  6. Aramis Ramirez (MIL)
  7. Chase Headley (SD)
  8. Brett Lawrie (TOR)
  9. David Freese (STL)
  10. Pablo Sandoval (SF)

Interestingly, I have very little to argue with on this list.  Even when I tried to find potential replacements for the guys on this list, I was hard pressed to do so.  So, let’s start with honorable mention: Mike Moustakas (KC) and Kyle Seager (SEA).  Both are up-and-comers who have demonstrated that they have what it takes to play at the big-league level.  They each hit 20 HR last year with OPS’s right around .700.  Seager is a little better on the basepaths (13 SB last year), but Moustakas is already showing flashes of greatness with his glove.  Don’t be surprised if one or both make this list a year from now.  So, with very little change, here’s how I would rank them.

pablo-sandoval-si-p110. Pablo Sandoval – I was tempted to put Sandoval ahead of Freese, but he has struggled with some injury issues the last couple seasons.  If it wasn’t for that, however, I have a feeling his numbers would be enough to push him a spot or two higher on this list.  He’s just 26 years old, has Gold Glove potential at third, and 30 HR potential at the plate.  If he can stay healthy, he could possibly jump into the top 5.

9. David Freese – he played his first full season in 2012.  And yet, he turns 30 next month.  So, I’m not sure we can expect anything more from Freese than what we’ve already seen.  Not to say he’s played poorly:  .820 OPS, 128 wRC+, and 30 home runs over the last 2 seasons (or, more like 1.5, based on the number of games he’s played).  But, I think we know what to expect from Freese, while others will likely grow past him in the next year.  He’s also just an average fielder at 3B.

lawrie-brett_940-8col8. Brett Lawrie – at first glance I didn’t really understand why MLBN would have him ranked higher than Freese.  Freese’s offensive numbers, in general, look better than Lawrie’s.  But, I dug a little deeper, and I think I see what they see now.  Lawrie is just 23 years old, has yet to play a full season, and has a lot of growing yet to do.  And, in spite of that, he’s already a significantly better fielder than Freese.  And, if you look at Lawrie’s 168 games over the last two years (similar to one full season), you’ll see a guy that already could be a 20/20 player, and definitely has 30/30 potential.  Expect big things from Lawrie in the coming year or two.

7. Aramis Ramirez – I moved him back one spot for two reasons: a) he turns 35 this summer; and b) he’s easily the worst defensive third baseman on this list.  Granted, he hasn’t shown a lot of signs of slowing down, but I just can’t help but think it’s going to happen sooner rather than later.  That being said, he’s had an excellent run offensively the last few seasons: .845 OPS, 26 home runs, 126 wRC+ the last three years.

display_image6. Chase Headley – who led the league last year in RBI? Headley.  Who won the NL Gold Glove? Headley.  Who hit 31 home runs, 13 of which were in cavernous Petco park? Headley.  Granted most of this was fairly unexpected, and is out of the norm for Headley.  But, his run production the last 3 seasons has still been very nice (122 wRC+), helped in large part by the fact that he’s also a threat on the bases (16 SB average for 3 years).  And, he’s just now entering his prime (he’s 28).  So, with the fences moved in a bit, and Headly on the upswing of his career, I wouldn’t be surprised if he continues to perform well.

5. Ryan Zimmerman – had he not gone through such a tough first half in 2012, he might have ended up higher on this list, because he caught fire in the second half, and ended up with numbers similar to what he has the last couple seasons.  His defensive metrics put him slightly above average.  And, he’s had a very nice OPS the last three years (.843).  What you might not realize is how young he is – 28.  It seems like he’s been playing forever, and he does have 7 full seasons already under his belt.  But, this first ever draft pick by the Nationals franchise started playing full-time at the age of 21.  So watch out, because this guy’s just now in his prime years.

111781954. David Wright – he only gets the slightest of edge here over Zimmerman.  This was an incredibly tough call to make.  In the end, it came down to base-running.  Wright has averaged 16 stolen bases each of the last three seasons (in spite of missing nearly half of 2011), compared to Zimmerman’s 4.  They have identical SLG the last three years (.420), Wright has hit just 2 more home runs, he has a .002 advantage in OBP, and a 130-128 edge in wRC+.  Neither are spectacular with their glove, though Zimmerman has committed one less error than Wright in three years.  So, what Wright gives his team on the basepaths ended up being the difference-maker.

3. Evan Longoria – I don’t see any statistic that would suggest Longoria should be behind Wright on this list.  He’s younger (27), has the better OPS of late (.872 the last 3 years), has hit more home runs (70 the last 3 years – in spite of missing half of last season with injury), had better run production (139 wRC+), and is arguably the best defensive third baseman in the game.  If he had played a full season last year, his offensive stats might would be enough to push him even higher on this list.

Daily-Fantasy-Baseball-Must-Starts262. Adrian Beltre – the only guy who might be better than Longoria with his glove at 3B (4 Gold Gloves the last 6 seasons) also happens to be the only guy with better offensive stats (other than the guy sitting at #1).  A .911 OPS over the last three seasons, averaging 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI.  He’s getting a little older (turns 34 the first week of the season), but he really hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.  And, he’s likely to continue to be productive while playing in Arlington.

1. Miguel Cabrera – no, he’s certainly no Mike Schmidt with the glove (13 E, .966 fld. pct. last year).  But, his offensive prowess is so far ahead of the rest of the group, you just can’t argue with this choice.  His run production (171 wRC+ the last 3 seasons) is more than 30 points ahead of the next best at 3B.  His OPS (1.024 the last 3 years) is more than 100 points higher than anyone else!  He’s also finished in the top-5 in MVP voting each of the last 4 years.  We’re not just talking about an excellent player at this point – we’re talking potentially a future HOFer.