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 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 Shortstops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 Rookies of the Year

How can you not be impressed with the wave of young talent in baseball??  Several of MLB’s preseason top 100 prospects made their way into the big leagues in 2015, and nearly every one was productive right away.  For me, this makes 2016 even more exciting – will these youngsters continue to produce?  Will there be yet another wave of talent coming up from the minors?  But, it also makes deciding on this award much more difficult than it has been in recent years.  Most years, there are 2 or 3 rookies that separate themselves from the group, and they clearly are in the running.  Not so, this year.  Compared to typical rookie production – both leagues had several outstanding performances, which makes this year’s ROY award a challenge to determine.  Well, sorta.  In the AL, at least.  Since there are so many great rookies to choose from, we’ll consider the top 5 in each league.  So, here they are, in order…

American League

  1. Francisco Lindor (CLE)francisco-lindor-indians
  2. Carlos Correa (HOU)
  3. Miguel Sano (MIN)
  4. Carson Smith (SEA)
  5. Lance McCullers (HOU)

Let’s start at the bottom.  McCullers had a very good year in 22 starts.  But, his season mirrored the success of the Astros.  His first 13 starts were excellent (5-3, 2.48 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .207 BAA), but from August 1st on, he struggled (1-4, 4.38 ERA, 1.30 WHIP).  He definitely looks like he has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, and if he refines his game (he’s just 22), Houston will be pleased.

Quick . . . show of hands . . . if you aren’t a Mariners fan, how many of you have heard of Carson Smith??  Anybody?  He’s the perfect example of just how deep this rookie class is.  No one that I’ve heard even noticed the 25-year-old reliever who made 70 appearances for Seattle.  He’s the reason the Mariners didn’t mind trading away their closer.  He stepped in, and picked up 13 saves, along with a sparkling 2.31 ERA, 2.12 FIP, 1.01 WHIP, a staggering 11.83 K/9 and just 2.83 BB/9.

And, now we come to the offensive onslaught of rookies.  There wasn’t even room on this list for the likes of Devon Travis, Gregory Bird, etc. etc.  What’s most impressive about the top three candidates is that none of them appeared in even 100 games this year.  Miguel Sano looks like a beast at the plate – 18 HR, 52 RBI, .530 SLG, and all in just 80 games.  The AL Central better be on notice – this guy looks a lot like a young Miguel Cabrera.

Deciding between Lindor and Correa at the top was not easy.  Correa clearly has the better power (22 HR, .512 SLG), and is going to be a middle-of-the-order bat for the rest of his career (68 RBI in 99 games).  Their baserunning looks to be nearly identical (12 steals for Lindor, 14 for Correa).  But, if this postseason (or, really, the last 2 postseasons) has taught us anything, it’s that power should not be the decisive offensive stat.  And, with that in mind, Lindor leads Correa in batting by more than 30 points, and OBP (in spite of the fact that Correa walked 15 more times), and he strikes out less often.  And, what else have we learned the last two years from the Royals?  Defense matters!  Not that Correa is a poor defensive shortstop, but the defensive metrics show that he’s only average.  Meanwhile, the argument could be made that Lindor is already the best defensive SS in the AL (led the league in UZR & DRS – and Alexei Ramirez being a finalist for a gold glove over Lindor is preposterous!).  So, when I had to make a choice, I see that their offensive skills even out: Correa being the power guy, and Lindor being the on-base guy.  But, Lindor is clearly the better defensive player, which gives him the edge for the award.

National League

  1. Kris Bryant (CHC)
  2. Noah Syndergaard (NYM)
  3. Matt Duffy (SFG)
  4. Randal Grichuk (STL)
  5. Jung-ho Kang (PIT)

I want you to take a moment to think about who isn’t even on this list.  Names you probably know.  Names like Conforto, Schwarber, Pederson, Matz, Heston, etc.  Names that are likely to be impact players the rest of their careers.  It’s incredible to think about the level of talent that rose to the majors this year.  But, these ended up being my top 5, in spite of hefty competition.  Kang split time between 3B and SS, as the Pirates had a series of injuries to the left side of their infield.  And, Kang took advantage, making himself a bat the Pirates couldn’t take out of the lineup.  Before being injured in mid-September, he was the spark in the middle of Pittsburgh’s offense.  His stat line was .287/.355/.461, with 15 HR and 58 RBI.

Grichuk burst onto the scene in St. Louis, and had an immediate impact on the offense of the division winners.  In just 103 games, he slugged 17 HR, and drove in 47, with a nice .877 OPS.  His defense isn’t stellar, but it isn’t a liability either.  Through the end of June, there were many suggesting that Duffy was the frontrunner for ROY honors.  And, with an .825 OPS, he was looking to be a significant threat.  But, as the season wore on, his numbers began to decline.  He still finished with a nice .295/.334/.428 stat line with 12 HR and 77 RBI.  Plus, his defensive metrics are excellent.

But, the decision in the NL came down to either the best pitcher or the best hitting rookie in the league this year.  Syndergaard had an excellent year, going 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 9.96 K/9, and an incredible 1.86 BB/9.  But, as nice as those numbers are, the award has to go to Bryant, who is likely to get some MVP votes after the year he had (in terms of WAR – which some people still lean heavily on – he was the 5th best position player in the NL).  Bryant led all NL rookies in OBP (.369), runs (87), RBI (99), and was tied for the league lead in HR (26).  He also finished 2nd in OPS (.858), 3rd in stolen bases (13), and is an above-average fielder at 3B.  In a year when there were a plethora of talented rookies, Bryant is the clear choice in the NL.

2015 Predictions: AL Central

alcentralEasily the tightest division in the American League.  By my predictions, this one division will have four of the top seven teams in the league.  Which is actually a bad thing for that fourth team, because they might would fair better had they been playing in a different division.  But, so many teams in this division are going to be good that it was a very difficult division to sort out.   Other than the last place team, I wouldn’t be surprised by just about any reordering of my picks by the end of the year.  So, here we go…

  1. Kansas City Royals (89-73)
  2. Cleveland Indians (87-75)
  3. Detroit Tigers (86-76)
  4. Chicago White Sox (83-79)
  5. Minnesota Twins (67-95)

You’ll notice that the gap between 1st place and 4th place is only 6 games.  No one is running away with this division.  And, they might just beat up on each other enough to allow someone from another division to sneak into the playoffs ahead of them.  But, that remains to be seen.  Here’s my analysis of each team:

Kansas City

Speed.  Defense.  Bullpen.  It’s what led them to the World Series this past year.  And, no one in the division has caught up with them in any of those categories.  They certainly lost two key pieces to what was already the weakest part of their team – the rotation: Sheilds; the offense: Butler.  But, they’ve added Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales, who are above-average players.  And, in case you hadn’t noticed, their starting rotation and offensive players are still very young.  Hosmer and Perez are still not in their prime years.  Ventura and Duffy are going to be nice starting pitchers in the years to come.  Of the four competitive teams in this division, the Royals may have the worst rotation & offense.  But, they are so far ahead of everyone else in the other categories, I still give them the edge.

Cleveland

This might surprise a few people.  Primarily because I’m not sure how many people realize that Cleveland won 85 games last year.  So, for them to improve just a little makes them a very competitive team in this division.  With defending AL Cy Young winner, Kluber, at the top of this rotation, followed by the underrated Carrasco, they have a 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation that is as good as anyone in the division.  Now, #3-#5 in that rotation are a little bit of a wild card (Bauer, Salazar, and perhaps House?), but they’re all young and blossoming pitching talents.  Their bullpen doesn’t have the household names that the Royals do (yet), but they have four guys who posted WHIPs below 1.10 last season – two of which are still very young.  Michael Moss was a nice addition to the offense, and their team speed is well above average.  Defense is probably the lone area of concern, but if they call up Lindor from the minors to play SS, that will be a dramatic improvement.

Detroit

Too many losses.  Not enough additions.  Over the last couple seasons, the Tigers’ starting rotation has lost Scherzer, Porcello, and Fister.  What have they added?  David Price, Alfredo Simon, and Shane Greene.  Add that to the fact that Verlander has seen dramatic decline in his capabilities, and their starting rotation is middle-of-the-pack in this division (at best).  The bullpen is also a concern, as their closer, Joe Nathan, had a bit of a troublesome year (1.53 WHP), and is now another year older (40).  Joakim Soria was a nice pick-up late last season, but the rest of the bullpen is suspect.  Their offense is easily the best in the division (and got better with Cespedes), which is why I think they will remain competitive.  But, they have just sustained too many losses to their pitching staff for them to be as dominant as they have been the last couple years.

Chicago

I have a feeling a lot of people will pick the White Sox to win this division.  And, signing the top relief pitcher on the market, trading for a top-of-the-rotation starter, and adding offense like LaRoche and Melky Cabrera are going to make any team look significantly better.  But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  The White Sox lost 89 games last year – even with the likes of Chris Sale and Jose Abreu having spectacular seasons.  And, adding an aging LaRoche and injury-prone Melky aren’t exactly as exciting as they might first appear.  Meanwhile, the reason they needed to sign a top-notch reliever is because the rest of their bullpen is pretty underwhelming.  And, they didn’t do anything to help the worst team defense and speed in the division.  I’m okay with giving them the nod as the best starting rotation in the division, top to bottom.  But, the rest of their team is middle-of-the-pack at best.  And, there are more complete teams in this division that will make it difficult for them to take a more substantial stride forward.

Minnesota

The Twins have good team defense and speed.  In fact, they’re probably second only to Kansas City in this division.  But, that’s the end of the list of things to be excited about in the Twin Cities.  The best pitcher on the team is Phil Hughes – a guy who really should be a #3 starter.  They have some young hitters that look nice (like Danny Santana), but it’s still the worst offense in the division.  Once the young hitters develop some more, and they’re able to start calling up the likes of Buxton and Sano, they could have a very nice offense.  They’ll need to figure out a way to get some legitimate pitching, but that’s not something they’ll need to worry about until 2016 or 2017.  With so many other good teams in this same division, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Twins ended up losing 100 games.

All-Time Greatest: Minnesota Twins

The franchise currently known as the Minnesota Twins has gone through a couple facelifts in its time.  They were originally founded in 1894, as the Kansas City Blues, and were a part of the Western League (a minor league).  In 1901, they moved to Washington, and became one of the original eight teams to comprise the, now professional, American League.  They were the Washington Senators, and for 60 seasons, they played in the nation’s capitol.  And, over those six decades of play, they managed to make it to the postseason all of 3 times.  In fact, they finished in last or next-to-last place more times (24) than they even finished with a winning record (18).  Then, in 1960, MLB granted Minnesota an expansion team.  But, Calvin Griffith, the owner of the Senators, convinced the league to allow him to move his team to Minnesota, and grant the expansion franchise to Washington (which only lasted 11 seasons before they moved, and became the Texas Rangers).  So, from 1961 to present day, we have the Minnesota Twins franchise, named after the “Twin Cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  And, in their 53 seasons in Minnesota, they’ve enjoyed significantly more success – 11 postseason appearances, including 3 World Series appearances, and 2 championships.

In spite of limited success in Washington, they did have some excellent players to come through (as you’ll see below).  In the history of the franchise, 7 different players have won 8 MVP awards.  They’ve also seen 3 players win 4 Cy Young awards, and have had 7 Rookie of the Year winners.  They have retired 6 players’ jerseys (all of them in Minnesota), and currently have 8 Hall of Famers whose primary careers were spent with the franchise (4 Senators & 4 Twins).  So, you know someone is going to be left off this list that was a great player.

johan5. Johan Santana (2000-2007) – yes, I know that there are some great pitchers that have been left off of this list in favor of Santana.  Yes, I know that they may have reached more lofty career numbers than Santana has reached.  But, in his time with this franchise, Santana had an amazing run.  Consider for a moment that the first 4 years of his career with the Twins, he was primarily used out of the bullpen.  From 2000-2003, he appeared in 117 games, but only started 41.  And, once you take out his rookie season (6.49 ERA), he performed well out of the bullpen.  But, no one would have thought that when they moved him into the starting rotation for the 2004 season that he would have a stretch of years like he did from ’04-’07.  Two Cy Young awards, two more top-5 finishes, led the league in WHIP every year, led the league in strikeouts 3 times, ERA+ 3 times, ERA twice, K/9 three times, wins once, appeared in 3 All-Star games, and won a Gold Glove.  Compare all of that to the best 4 years of Blyleven or Kaat’s careers (and that’s any 4 years, not just 4 consecutive years), and you’ll see why Santana is on this list, and they aren’t.   Santana ranks at the top of the Twins’ all-time win pct. list (.679), 2nd in career WHIP among pitchers with at least 1,000 IP (1.09), 1st in K/9 (9.5), 6th in K’s (1381 – everyone else in the top-10 has at least 400 more IP than him, and all 4 of his seasons as a starter rank in the top 9 all-time for single-season strikeout totals in franchise history!), 1st in K/BB ratio (3.79 – all 4 of his seasons as a starter rank in the top 13 in franchise history), and 2nd in ERA+ (141 – second only to . . . well, you’ll see).

dyYcFhRx4. Kirby Puckett (’84-’95) – Puckett is my personal favorite Minnesota Twin.  I never got to see the rest of this list play, but Puckett was the kind of player you simply enjoyed watching.  He loved playing baseball, and you could tell.  Which made his sudden retirement at the age of 36, due to loss of vision in his eye, an especially sad day.  Puckett was the 4th player since the turn of the 20th century to record 1,000 hits in his first 5 seasons, and just the 2nd to accumulate 2,000 hits in his first 10 calendar years (he was called up from the minors in mid-May, his rookie season).  It felt like he could do nearly anything on the diamond.  He hit 20+ HR six times, drove in 90+ RBI six times, stole double-digit bases seven times, won 6 Gold Gloves in center field, won the batting title in ’89, led the league in hits 4 times, and appeared in 10 consecutive All-Star games.  He never won an MVP, but had one runner-up (’92), and finished in the top-7 five more times.  And, who could ever forget his game 6 performance in the ’91 World Series?  A triple in the 1st to drive in the first run of the game; a leaping catch against the plexiglass in center field in the 3rd inning to rob Ron Gant of extra bases; and the dramatic walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Twins the victory, sending the Series to a deciding game 7.  Puckett ranks 6th on the Twins all-time batting list (.318 – the highest career average for a right-hander since DiMaggio), 10th in career SLG (.477), 4th in runs scored (1071), 2nd in hits (2304), 3rd in total bases (3453 – and the two ahead of him have at least 2,000 more PA’s than Puckett), 3rd in doubles (414), 6th in HR (207), 3rd in RBI (1085), and 4th in runs created (1201).

7195g_lg3. Rod Carew (’67-’78) – .334 – over the span of 12 seasons in Minnesota, Carew bat .334.  Think about that.  He hit below .300 just twice in those 12 seasons – his first two years in the league, which includes his ROY campaign in ’67 when he hit .292.  He reached as high as .388 in 1977, when he led the league in batting, OBP, OPS, runs, triples and hits (239 – the most hits by anyone in the previous 45 years), leading to an MVP award.  Carew finished his career with a .328 average – 34th all-time, and ahead of the likes of Honus Wagner, Jimmie Foxx, and Joe DiMaggio.  While in Minnesota, he won 7 batting titles, including 6 out of 7 from ’72-’78 (and came within .008 – or, 5 hits – of winning all seven).  He also appeared in the All-Star game all 12 seasons he was with the Twins.  In addition to ranking at the top of the Twins’ all-time list in batting, he also ranks 2nd in OBP (.393), 10th in OPS (.841), 9th in runs scored (950), 5th in hits (2085), 8th in total bases (2792), 7th in doubles (305), 5th in stolen bases (271), 3rd in OPS+ (137), and 5th in runs created (1112).

harmon-killebrew-photo2. Harmon Killebrew (’54-’74) – as I continue to do these team-by-team lists, I’m constantly reminded of the unsung heroes of the game.  Now, Killebrew is a name that I know a lot of people already know.  But, I wonder how often we consider just how powerful of a hitter he was.  The bulk of his career was played during one of the most pitching-dominant eras in the last century (the ’60’s).  Yet, during that decade, Killebrew hit 393 of his 573 career homers – that’s more than anyone else in the decade!  More than Mays or Aaron or Robinson or Banks.  What impresses me even more is that during that decade, the only time he didn’t hit at least 39 HR’s, was in ’60, ’65 & ’68 – seasons in which he missed a month or more due to injuries.  Injuries were a major factor in Killebrew’s career.  It was his injured quad that led to the Twins moving him from 3B to LF in 1962.  It was knee surgery that led to him being moved from LF to 1B in 1964.  But, this also led to another impressive feat: when elected to the All-Star game in 1965 at first base (one of 11 in which he appeared), he became the first player ever elected to play in the All-Star game at three different positions (3B, LF & 1B).  Imagine, though, just how astounding his numbers might be, had he not been haggled so much by injury.  You see, he wasn’t an everyday player until 1959 with the then-Washington franchise (playing in just 113 games his first 5 seasons), and the final 3 seasons of his career were far from injury free (averaging less than 100 games per season).  So, when you box out those first 5 seasons, and those last 3, you really get a staggering picture – 14 seasons, 530 HR, 1424 RBI, .917 OPS.  And, even that includes 3 seasons shortened by injuries.  If he’d been able to play 16-18 healthy seasons, he might have ended up with Mays-like numbers.  As it is, he ranks 1st on the Twins’ all-time SLG list (.514), 1st in OPS (.892), 2nd in runs scored (1258), 6th in hits (2024), 1st in total bases (4026), 1st in HR (559 – 573 in his career ranks 7th all-time among non-PED users), 1st in RBI (1540), 1st in OPS+ (145), and 1st in runs created (1567).

walter-johnson.ap1. Walter Johnson (’07-’27) – part of the inaugural HOF class in 1936, and considered by many to be the greatest pitcher in the history of the game.  It’s difficult to put into words exactly how dominant Johnson was.  So, I’ll show you the numbers.  Over the span of 21 seasons, he won 60% of the games he started, leading to 417 wins (2nd only to Cy Young in the history of the game).  His career ERA is 2.17 – 12th all-time, but no one ahead of him comes within 4 years or 1,000 IP of his tenure.  And, of the 25 best single-season ERA’s in history, you’ll find Johnson’s name 4 times – more than anyone.  His career WHIP is 1.06 – 8th all-time, and again, no one within 1,000 IP.  He struck out 3,508 batters – the record for more than 50 years (and still 9th all-time).  In fact, no one else even eclipsed 3,000 K’s until 1974.  He still holds the career record for shutouts, with 110.  Think of it this way: Johnson has more shutouts than Zack Greinke has wins thus far in his 10-year career.  He won 2 MVP awards – one in 1913, at the age of 25, and one in 1924, at the age of 36!  He led the league in wins 6 times, ERA 5 times, K’s 12 times (most in the history of baseball), ERA+ 6 times, WHIP 6 times, and K/BB ratio 9 times (something no one else in the top-10 in career strikeouts accomplished more than 4 times).  He is the all-time leader in the Washington/Minnesota franchise’s history in ERA, wins, strikeouts, complete games, shutouts, and ERA+ (147).

2013 AL Rookie of the Year

The American League saw several teams call up guys from their minor league systems well after the season had begun.  In fact, no rookie in the AL played in even 140 games this season, and only 5 played in as many as 100 games.  So, overall in the AL, the stats for this year’s ROY candidates aren’t overwhelming.  But, I do believe there’s a clear choice.  For this, and all future awards, I’m going to list the top 5 candidates in ascending order, leading up to my winner.  So, here goes:

Oswaldo Arcia#5 – Oswaldo Arcia (MIN).  His .251 batting average isn’t very exciting, and his defense in the outfield wasn’t stellar.  But, he’s just 22, and he had pretty nice numbers otherwise in the 97 games he played: 14 HR, 43 RBI, .734 OPS, 103 wRC+

#4 – Dan Straily (OAK).  Dan started 27 games for the A’s – more than any AL rookie pitcher.  He also led all AL rookies with 124 K’s, to go along with his 3.96 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.  The league only bat .229 against him, and yet his record was just 10-8.  But, all in all, he had a very good year.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Boston Red Sox#3 – Tanner Scheppers (TEX).  This guy was relied on time after time after time in late innings by the Rangers.  He pitched in 76 games, and accumulated just a 1.88 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.  He had 27 holds – the most of any AL rookie – and just one blown save.  While his stats might not wow you, just wait and see if this guy isn’t a premier closer in a couple years.

#2 – Jose Iglesias (DET).  Boston must have a lot of confidence in Bogaerts for them to trade away a guy with as much talent as Iglesias just 60+ games into his career.  Iglesias played an excellent SS, while batting .303 in 109 games with a .735 OPS and a 102 wRC+.  If he could improve his baserunning skills a little, he could become a premier leadoff hitter.

img22445570#1 – Wil Myers (TB).  There’s really no debate here.  Even though Myers only played in 88 games, it’s clear who this year’s best AL rookie was.  In spite of the fact that he barely played more than half a season, he still led all AL rookies in RBI (53), OPS (.832), and wRC+ (131).  He also ranked 2nd in the league in HR (13), and bat .293 in 373 plate appearances.  A full season with Myers in the lineup in 2014 is likely going to help that TB offense be much more consistent.