2016 All-Star Ballot (part 1)

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

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

Catcher

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

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

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

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

 

First Base

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

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

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

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

 

Second Base

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

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

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

Other to watch:  Ben Zobrist (CHC)

 

Shortstop

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

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

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

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

 

Third Base

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

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

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

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

 

Outfield

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

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

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

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

 

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

2016 Top 10 Second Basemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Top 10 Left Fielders

Left field is an interesting position, to me.  Typically, it’s where a lot of guys get . . . well . . . stuck.  The guy that has a bat you want in your lineup – but, doesn’t get around very well, and doesn’t have the strongest or most accurate arm.  Those guys usually end up at either first base or left field.  So, if you have a quality bat in LF, and a quality defensive player, that’s just icing on the cake.  But, because the position is such an enigma – depending on why the guy’s playing the position in the first place – it’s difficult to pin down exactly how to designate the “best” left fielders.  Is it the best offensive players, even if they’re bad defensively?  Is it the rare ones who are also defensive assets – even if they don’t measure up offensively?  I believe I would lean toward the importance of offensive production, simply because of the lack of necessary defensive skills to play the position (it’s not like they’re playing SS).  Let’s take a look at MLB Network’s list:

  1. Michael Brantley (CLE)7476690220_bfa2c9cc61_z
  2. Starling Marte (PIT)
  3. Justin Upton (DET)
  4. Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)
  5. Alex Gordon (KC)
  6. David Peralta (ARI)
  7. Christian Yelich (MIA)
  8. Matt Holliday (STL)
  9. Corey Dickerson (TB)
  10. Brett Gardner (NYY)

Wow.  Just looking at that list should tell you how confusing this position is.  Peralta? Yellich? Dickerson?  Marte is #2??  And, when you look at the lists made by the analysts on the show, you’ll see that it gets even more convoluted, because they included the likes of Kyle Schwarber (CHC – a guy with all of 69 games at the big league level), Khris Davis (OAK), Melky Cabrera (CHW), Colby Rasmus (HOU), and Michael Conforto (NYM – even less experience than Schwarber).

As I began looking through the numbers, one of the most difficult parts was figuring out who would actually be playing LF this season.  Again, because so many end up there by default, it’s difficult to nail down.  So many who have stats there over the last couple years aren’t projected to be playing there this season.  And, many of them don’t even have starting jobs at this point.  I decided not to consider Schwarber or Conforto, because neither of them even have 70 games of experience at the major league level, and neither has played as many as 400 innings in left field.  So, while they do seem to have great potential (will both be in the top 10 next year, if they keep playing like they have), there just isn’t a large enough sample to consider.

This left me with 15 potential candidates for my top 10.  Melky Cabrera didn’t even make it onto my radar.  No idea why anyone would have him in their top 10.  Honorable mention for my list goes to Khris Davis, who has good offensive production, but when it came down to deciding on the bottom of my list, I was having to split hairs.  And, Davis is only average defensively, and he’s a bad baserunner (-2.9 BsR).  Nori Aoki (SF) was also in consideration, but ultimately wound up somewhere around 15th, because his only really productive area is OBP (.351 – 8th).  So, here are my top 10:

  1. Michael Brantley
  2. Yoenis Cespedes
  3. Justin Upton
  4. Alex Gordon
  5. Starling Marte
  6. David Peralta
  7. Matt Holliday
  8. Jayson Werth (WSH)
  9. Andre Ethier (LAD)
  10. Christian Yelich

So, you can see there’s a definite discrepancy between my list and MLB Network’s.  First of all, let’s consider the two guys I left off my list.  Corey Dickerson is a guy I can’t even consider for the top 10 until I see him play a full season away from Colorado.  His home/away splits are insane – nearly a 400-point difference in OPS!  And, he has only played a total of 265 games spread out over the last three seasons.  So, I don’t really care that he has the best SLG among left fielders over the last two seasons, when he hasn’t played as many as 70 games in two of the last three years.  Gardner was left off my list primarily because I give preference to offensive performance in LF.  And, of the 15 left fielders I considered, only Aoki had worse overall offensive production than Gardner.  Yes, Gardner is the best baserunner currently playing LF, and he’s still a top-10 defender. But, the others in consideration were well ahead of Gardner offensively, and didn’t lag far behind defensively (if at all).

20856226896_b6876507f2_zBrantley leads the way on my list, because in addition to having the best overall offensive production (145 wRC+), he’s also a top-5 baserunner, and an average defender.  Well, average for left fielders, that is.  I definitely leaned toward offense-first in my rankings.  That’s why Cespedes and Upton are next on my list.  Their offensive numbers were nearly identical, and Cespedes has slightly better defensive numbers.  Gordon and Marte were also difficult to determine.  Their OPS is identical, their wRC+ is separated by 2, they’re both in the top 10 in baserunning, and they’re both Gold Glove defenders.  It really came down to the fact that Gordon’s UZR of 31.8 (1st) far outshines Marte’s 9.4 (which is still good enough for 4th).

Holliday technically moved up on my list, but he’s ranked lower than some might expect.  Holliday is an on-base machine (.377 – 2nd only to Brantley), and he has good SLG (.432 – 11th).  And, even though he’s easily one of the worst baserunners in LF (-5.1 BsR), and is below average defensively, he might would rank higher, if it wasn’t for the “age factor.”  He’s going into his age 36 season, and has already been dealing with a number of injuries lately.  Yelich also slipped down my list a little, because of the emphasis on offense in LF.  He will compete for a Gold Glove one day, if he stays in LF.  But, his overall offensive production is middle of the pack, at best.  He has a nice OBP (.364 – 3rd best), but everything else is lagging behind the others.

My additions to the list that didn’t seem to be on anyone else’s radar are Werth and Ethier.  Yes, Werth is getting long in the tooth, and has had to miss time due to injury in the last year.  But, he still managed to rank 5th in OBP, and 3rd in BsR, while maintaining average defensive metrics in LF.  Ethier is just a notch behind Werth in offensive production (2-point difference in wRC+), but he’s one of the worst baserunners in LF.  His defensive metrics are better than Werth, but he’s only slightly above average.

I will say this has probably been the most difficult list to decipher.  What do you think?

2016 Top 10 Starting Pitchers

Now we’ve come to a position that is going to require an entirely different approach.  The challenge for both starting pitchers and relief pitchers is deciding which stats matter, and which stats don’t.  I’m going to choose 6 statistical categories to determine my list, and will continue to use the one subjective category of “Age Factor.”  I do think the age factor is a little different for pitchers than it is for position players.  For many pitchers, they can be very successful even into their age 33 and 34 years.  So, I might not allow that to be as big of a factor as it has been with other positions.  Before we look any further at my thoughts, let’s take a look at MLB Network’s list:

  1. 4517209236_440480f40e_zClayton Kershaw (LAD)
  2. Jake Arrieta (CHC)
  3. Zack Greinke (ARI)
  4. David Price (BOS)
  5. Chris Sale (CHW)
  6. Max Scherzer (WAS)
  7. Corey Kluber (CLE)
  8. Dallas Keuchel (HOU)
  9. Felix Hernandez (SEA)
  10. Adam Wainwright (STL)

This strikes me as a bizarre list.  First of all, Wainwright lost nearly an entire season last year, due to injury.  Now, he’s going into his age 34 season.  Is that not cause for concern?  After all, we are talking about the 10 best starters in all of baseball – of which there are approximately 150.  Second, the placement of Arrieta and Keuchel baffles me.  My initial thoughts are that they’ve both had one breakout season – winning the Cy Young in their respective leagues.  But, if that one season is enough to push Arrieta all the way to #2, why is Keuchel all the way down at #8?  And, if Keuchel is down at #8 because of a lack of previous success, how can Arrieta be #2?  Third, I know Chris Sale strikes out a lot of people – but, shouldn’t wins count for something?

Even after writing that last sentence, I realize I’m not even taking wins into account in the categories I’m going to use.  I am, however, taking into consideration one of the many win probability metrics.  It’s RE24, which is a stat that considers how a pitcher handles various situations related to runners on base, and the likelihood they will score.  I also used a metric known as SIERA, or Skill Interactive ERA.  This is a fairly new metric, which attempts to more accurately depict a pitcher’s skill by using a combination of many of the usual stats (K’s, BB’s, HR’s, etc.) as well as some batted ball statistics.  On top of these two metrics, I used four of the more mainstream stats: ERA, WHIP, K/BB, and BAA.

Before looking at my top 10, I’d like to give honorable mention to Carlos Carrasco (CLE).  He’s definitely #11 on my list.  He’s tied for 7th in WHIP over the last two seasons, 9th in BAA, 3rd in SIERA and 15th in K/BB.  But, he ranked so low in the other two categories (32nd in ERA, 20th in RE24), that I just couldn’t quite bring myself to rank him ahead of anyone on my list.  But, he’s just barely on the outside looking in. So, here is the list I came up with:

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Jake Arrieta
  3. Zack Greinke
  4. Chris Sale
  5. Max Scherzer
  6. Felix Hernandez
  7. Dallas Keuchel
  8. Johnny Cueto (SF)
  9. David Price
  10. Jacob deGrom (NYM)

This is by far the most deviation from the Shredder’s list.  The top 3 remained the same, which was a bit of a surprise to me.  Primarily, because I didn’t expect Arrieta to stay that high.  But, over the last two years he’s second only to Kershaw in ERA and WHIP, 1st in BAA, and top 5 in both RE24 and SIERA.  Greinke is 14th in SIERA and 16th in K/BB ratio, so he’s just a notch behind Arrieta.

13440444663_1dfc1849ba_zI actually moved Chris Sale up a spot!  His worst ranking was 12th in RE24, and he’s 2nd only to Kershaw in SIERA.  He’s also in the top 10 in each of the other categories, which is something no one else remaining on the list can claim.  I also moved Felix Hernandez up to 6th, and it was a very close call between him and Scherzer.  Felix’s worst category is K/BB ratio (20th), while Scherzer’s worst category is ERA (16th).  They’re tied with the exact same WHIP over the last two years, and their BAA is .003 apart, so it really came down to the sabermetrics.  Scherzer ranked 4th and 5th in RE24 & SIERA, respectively, while Hernandez ranked 9th and 8th.

David Price dropped down my list quite a bit, and I can’t figure out why he was ranked so high on the Shredder’s list.  In fact, of the 5 analysts on MLB Network’s show, 2 of them didn’t have Price on their list, and no one had him higher than 6th.  You’ll also see that two names have fallen from my list.  Corey Kluber, right now, is probably 12th on my list – even behind his own teammate, Carrasco.  Only the sabermetric stats had him in the top 10 on my list.  He’s 14th in ERA & WHIP, 12th in K/BB, and 20th in BAA.  Those aren’t horrible numbers, but they aren’t enough to put him in my top 10.  Wainwright also fell from my list.  His ERA and WHIP are excellent (4th & 5th, respectively).  But, that’s the end of his resume for this list.  He’s 28th in K/BB, 13th in BAA, 14th in RE24, and 30th(!) in SIERA.  Top-15 starting pitcher? – probably, along with Bumgarner and Lester.  But, top 10? – no way.

14136005620_1e0be50b98_zHere’s a bold prediction for 2016 – Johnny Cueto will be in the NL Cy Young discussion.  I don’t know why Cueto doesn’t get more credit than he does.  I certainly understand that he will have a terrible outing, on occasion.  But, consider the fact that he ranks 8th in ERA, 7th in WHIP, 3rd in BAA and 7th in RE24 over the last two seasons – 3/4 of which was played in what is considered one of the best hitters’ parks in the league.  And now he’s going to be pitching in one of, if not the best pitchers’ parks.  Plus, he’s likely to benefit from what I call the “Greinke-effect.”  Cueto is a top-tier pitcher, but will consistently be going up against the opposing team’s #2 starter (something Greinke has benefited from his last few years in LA).  Another prediction: Cueto will be on everyone’s top 10 list on next year’s show (he didn’t make it onto anyone’s list this year).

Lastly, you almost had to expect one of the Mets’ hurlers on this list.  deGrom (whose name autocorrect wants to turn into “legroom” – haha) ranks 5th in ERA, 11th in WHIP and 5th in BAA over the last two seasons.  He’s also in the top 15 in both RE24 and SIERA, which can only be claimed by the 10 guys on my list, and Bumgarner.  This was definitely the most challenging list to compile, but I enjoyed it!  What about you?

2016 Top 10 First Basemen

When compared to the previous two posts in this series, deciding who the top 10 first basemen are is a much more straightforward task.  This is an offense-first position.  Not to say that defense is entirely irrelevant – we will certainly consider it.  But, it will not weigh nearly as heavily on the decision-making process as it did for CF and SS.  Let’s take a look at the list from MLB Network’s “Shredder.”

  1. goldschmidtPaul Goldschmidt (ARI)
  2. Joey Votto (CIN)
  3. Miguel Cabrera (DET)
  4. Anthony Rizzo (CHC)
  5. Edwin Encarnacion (TOR)
  6. Jose Abreu (CHW)
  7. Adrian Gonzalez (LAD)
  8. Freddie Freeman (ATL)
  9. Chris Davis (BAL)
  10. Brandon Belt (SF)

Perhaps it’s because of the more singular focus of the position – but, when I first look at this list, I don’t see any glaring weaknesses.  I might re-order a couple of them – I know Adrian Gonzalez has an excellent glove, but his age makes me think he might slide down on my list.  I love Eric Hosmer as a leader and clutch player,  but I would be surprised if his stats from the last couple years will be enough to push him into the top 10.

Here is my top 10, after crunching the numbers:

  1. Paul Goldschmidt
  2. Anthony Rizzo
  3. Joey Votto
  4. Miguel Cabrera
  5. Edwin Encarnacion
  6. Jose Abreu
  7. Lucas Duda (NYM)
  8. Brandon Belt
  9. Freddie Freeman
  10. Adrian Gonzalez

thedudejpg-6ae460fd45583e12The first thing I did after compiling my list, was go look at what the various analysts on MLB Network did with Duda.  Not a single one had him ranked in their top 10.  I don’t get it.  I mean, I understand that he doesn’t belong in the top 5.  But, the guy ranks in the top 10 in every offensive category I considered over the last two years at first base – something none of the guys ranked below him can claim.  And, he’s not a detriment defensively – I’d say he’s average.  I can’t, for the life of me, explain his exclusion.

The inclusion of Duda meant someone was going to be left out – and, for me, that was Chris Davis.  I know he has the excellent power (ranks 7th in SLG at 1B), but he just doesn’t quite have enough in the other categories to overtake any of the others.  When it came down to Davis or Gonzalez, it actually came down to defense.  They are neck and neck offensively, and Gonzalez is the Gold Glove winner.  As I expected, Gonzalez did move down on my list, due to his age.  Belt & Freeman’s overall offensive production is better than Gonzalez – and Gonzalez is one of the worst baserunners at 1B.  Plus, Belt has the best UZR at 1B the last two years, while Freeman is no detriment defensively.

Anthony-RizzoThe biggest mover on my list (aside from Duda) is Anthony Rizzo.  There’s only one first baseman who ranked in the top 5 in every category I considered – wRC+, OBP, SLG, BsR, DRS, UZR – and, it’s Rizzo.  A couple guys might have the upper hand on him in one or two categories, but Rizzo is the more complete player.  Add to this the fact that he’s entering his age 26 season, and there are a lot of reasons for him to move up the list.  Goldschmidt has a strong hold on the #1 spot (his #7 ranking in UZR is the only spot he wasn’t ranked #1 or #2 over the last two seasons), but Rizzo might be closing the gap.

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 Managers of the Year

As the World Series gets under way tonight, it’s time for us to begin looking at 2015 in review.  And, I’d like to start by taking a look at the managers who made the biggest difference for their respective teams.  In this category, I believe there’s more room for debate in the AL than there is in the NL.  No one really emerged from the pack in the AL.  For this particularly award, I’ll give my top 3.

American League

  1. Ned Yost (KC)38605223-mct_sports_bba-alcs-rainout_3_kc
  2. A.J. Hinch (HOU)
  3. Jeff Bannister (TEX)

The Royals had one month in which they finished below .500 – September/October, when they finished 2 games below .500 as they cruised into the postseason because they had such a lead in their division.  Yost kept this team hungry after losing in 7 games in the World Series a year ago (the other three teams to lose in that fashion since the turn of the century weren’t able to advance past the first round of the playoffs the following year).  KC was easily the most consistent team in the American League from beginning to end.  They didn’t always have the best record (though, they did finish with it).  Other teams, like the Astros, Rangers and Blue Jays, went through considerable peaks and valleys.  But, Yost kept this team focused, and prepared for making another run at a championship.  Hinch’s team started out on fire – 11 games over .500 through the first two months of the season.  But, they were essentially a mediocre team the rest of the way, as they saw their substantial division lead slowly leak away while they played to just an 86-76 record in the end.  Still, give Hinch credit for leading a young team into the postseason.  I give Bannister the nod here for bringing his team back from an abysmal start to their season.  They fought and clawed their way back to a division title, going 38-21 from August 2nd on.

National League

  1. Joe Maddon (CHC)1439342344735
  2. Terry Collins (NYM)
  3. Mike Matheny (STL)

Each of these managers did something special this year, and unlike the AL, they each separated themselves from the pack in their own way.  Let’s start with Matheny – 100 wins is very impressive.  Even more so, when you consider they lost their ace for nearly the entire season, their cleanup hitter for half the year, and their All-Star catcher down the stretch.  The only reason he isn’t at the top is because I’m even more impressed with what the other two have done this year.  Collins managed a team that had won 79 games a year ago, and led them to 90 wins and a division title over a team that was supposed to have run away with it (Nationals).  This, in spite of missing his team leader and All-Star 3B for 3/4 of the year, and his up-and-coming catcher for more than half the year.  They made it through July as a 53-50 team, which was respectable considering what they had lost.  But, with the return of Wright & D’Arnaud, the additions of Cespedes and Uribe, and calling up Conforto and Matz, the team took off, finishing 37-22.  But, Joe Maddon deserves a ton of credit for getting the Cubs to where they were.  A 24-game turnaround, compared to 2014, was the best in the majors.  Now, detractors will point to all of the talent on the Cubs roster, particularly the young talent (Bryant, Schwarber, Soler, & Russell were all rookies – Castro & Rizzo were both just 25 when the season started).  But, talent does not equal performance – especially when you’re talking about young talent.  The only reason you know about all the young talent the Cubs have is because Maddon was able to get them to perform.  Not too many were talking about Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain and Perez in 2012 – they were definitely a bunch of talented young players, but they weren’t performing at a high level yet.  Bringing so many young players together, along with other new faces (Fowler, Lester, Montero, Ross, etc.), is not going to automatically work (see San Diego Padres).  But, Maddon led this team to the third best record in all of baseball – 97-65.

2015 Playoff Confidence Picks

Even though the playoffs have technically already begun, it’s now time for playoff predictions.  The only reason I don’t like trying to make predictions for the Wild Card game is because it’s a single game, and pretty much anything can happen in those games.  And, that’s why baseball is usually played in series.  The better team is almost always going to come out on top in a series.  Single games can be decided by a pitcher who’s blazing hot (Arrieta last night), an offense that has caught fire at the right time (Kansas City last year), or any number of individual players or plays that send one game spiraling out of control for one team.  This is also the argument some use who are opposed to there being any portion of the playoffs decided by a single game.  But, I happen to like the Wild Card game as it is, and that’s really a discussion for another post.

Now that the final 8 teams are set, I’m going to give you my “confidence” picks.  I will rank each team in 5 categories: starters, bullpen, offense, defense, and manager.  These rankings might be based on the full season of work, but will be influenced by the last month or two of the season (just look at last year’s World Series teams to understand why that’s so important).  The team with the lowest score will automatically advance to the next round of the playoffs.  So, here we go…

Starters

American League

  1. Toronto
  2. Houston
  3. Texas
  4. Kansas City

Not only does Toronto have a Cy Young candidate at the top, but Marcus Stroman has been lights out since his return from the DL.  And, when your #3 and #4 starters are R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, you’re in pretty good shape.  Keuchel and McHugh are a great 1-2 punch in Houston.  But, beyond those two, there isn’t really anything terribly impressive.  Cole Hamels is great in Texas, but he can’t start every game for them, unfortunately.  And, I think the Kansas City starting rotation’s issues have been well documented, so let’s move on.

National League

  1. New York
  2. Los Angeles
  3. St. Louis
  4. Chicago

The Mets have 4 studs that could go out and pitch shutout baseball on any given day.  That’s a nice commodity to have in the playoffs.  The Dodgers have 2, and then a lot of question marks.  St. Louis doesn’t really have one single dominating starter.  But, they don’t really have a glaring weakness #1-4, and Wainwright could be the ace up their sleeve.  The Cubs have one legit Cy Young candidate (who will only get to pitch once in the NLDS), one starter whose playoff resume is excellent, and then some pretty huge question marks.

Bullpen

American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Houston
  3. Toronto
  4. Texas

No question the Royals’ bullpen is stellar.  What’s interesting is that the remaining three teams in the AL all have bullpens that are . . . well, less than impressive.  Houston’s closer has an ERA over 3.00.  Toronto doesn’t have a single guy with an ERA under 2.50.  And, Texas has multiple guys with ERA’s over 4.00.  These teams better hope they score early and often.

National League

  1. St. Louis
  2. Chicago
  3. New York
  4. Los Angeles

The Cardinals have one of the most reliable bullpens in baseball right now.  The only team in the NL that would have ranked higher than them would have been Pittsburgh, had they won last night.  The Cubs have a closer that has been lights out since July 1st (1.21 ERA, and just one blown save), and Rodney has turned out to be a great pick up.  The Mets have an excellent closer . . . and not much else.  The Dodgers have an up-and-down Jansen, and the hopes that Kershaw & Greinke can pitch 8 innings.

Offense

American League

  1. Toronto
  2. Texas
  3. Kansas City
  4. Houston

This gets really tight once you get past Toronto.  No question the Blue Jays have the best offense in the AL.  But, the remaining three teams are in varying order depending on which stat you go with.  I’m going to give Texas the nod, because they really caught fire the last two months of the season.  And, I’ll give KC the slightest edge over Houston, because in the playoffs I trust a team that is able to get on base and pressure their opponents’ pitchers/defense, more than I trust a team that relies so heavily on the HR.

National League

  1. Chicago
  2. New York
  3. Los Angeles
  4. St. Louis

The Cubs scored more runs than any NL team remaining in the playoffs.  The Mets’ addition of Cespedes and the return of D’Arnaud has made them a much more serious threat the last couple months.  The Dodgers have the best OPS in the group, but somehow managed to finish 8th in the NL in runs scored.  And, St. Louis’ best stat is OBP, where they finished 6th in the NL, which is just 3rd best in this group.

Defense

American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Houston
  3. Toronto
  4. Texas

All around the diamond, KC is impressive defensively.  Three Gold Glove winners last year, and a 4th who was a finalist last year.  There are no holes in their defense.  But, Houston is right on their tail.  Correa is outstanding, and they are solid all the way around.  Toronto has some excellent fielders (Donaldson & Tulo), but they also have some aging guys that aren’t exactly elite fielders (Martin, Bautista, etc.).  They’re still above average, but they definitely lag behind KC & Houston.  And, Texas . . . well, let’s just say it’s a good thing their offense is as good as it is.

National League

  1. Los Angeles
  2. New York
  3. St. Louis
  4. Chicago

The Dodgers had the best fielding percentage in the NL this year.  And, that’s probably the only team on the NL side that I would suggest might have an excellent defense.  The Mets are second on this list, because they’re good, not great.  Meanwhile the Cardinals and Cubs have to put their hopes in other parts of the game.

Manager

American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Toronto
  3. Texas
  4. Houston

Ned Yost is the only “known” quantity here.  While I don’t place a ton of confidence in him (kinda felt like KC got to the World Series in spite of some of his moves last year), he does have the experience that none of the others do.  I’ll give Gibbons a lot of credit for keeping his team’s confidence high when they were struggling early in the season.  Bannister and Hinch are virtual unknowns.  The only reason I’ll give Bannister a slight edge is because he managed the team that overtook Hinch’s team in the last month of the season.

National League

  1. Chicago
  2. New York
  3. Los Angeles
  4. St. Louis

Let me start by saying that I don’t lack confidence in any of these guys.  Unlike the American League choices, all of the NL options have proven to be quality leaders.  Maddon should be Manager of the Year, considering how many rookies are on that team.  Collins did a good job with a very young pitching staff, and some new faces at the trade deadline.  Mattingly received a lot of undeserved heat in last year’s playoffs, but he still needs to prove he can carry the team deeper into the postseason.  Matheny has led his team far, but there are a lot of question marks regarding some of his decisions.

There you have it.  Those are my rankings.  Now, let’s see how that all adds up.  The numbers in parentheses are each team’s totals from the above categories.

ALDS

  1. Toronto Blue Jays (10) def. Texas Rangers(16)
  2. Kansas City Royals (10) def. Houston Astros (14)

NLDS

  1. New York Mets (10) def. Los Angeles Dodgers (13)
  2. Chicago Cubs (12) def. St. Louis Cardinals (15)

ALCS

Kansas City Royals (10) def. Toronto Blue Jays (10)  [I gave the tie-breaker to the team that was ahead of the other team in the rankings more often.]

NLCS

New York Mets (10) def. Chicago Cubs (12)

 

World Series

Kansas City Royals defeat the New York Mets in 7 games.

I think this could be a great Series.  I give the edge to KC, because I think they have the edge in bullpen, defense, and manager.  The Mets definitely have the edge in starting pitching, but I don’t think that’s enough.  No matter what, I think this is going to be an exciting postseason!

Cy Young Preview

With about 7 weeks left in the regular season, most pitchers only have around 8-9 starts left.  Which means around 70% of their season is behind them.  With that in mind, I think it’s time for us to consider who has a shot at winning some regular season awards.  And, we’ll start with the Cy Young.  We’ll divide the candidates into three categories:  Frontrunners, Contenders, and Dark Horse.  With around 30% of their starts ahead of them, there will be a number of guys who have a chance to climb up in the conversation.  So, we’ll take into consideration what a guy’s season might look like if he wins 6 or 7 more games in dominant fashion, in this stretch run.  Keep in mind that some of these stats fluctuate rapidly, so don’t be surprised if I missed a start between this article being written, and it posting.

Frontrunners

American League

Dallas Keuchel (HOU) – By now, everyone should be familiar with Keuchel (pronounced kai’kl).  He started off blazing hot at the beginning of the season, and was 7-1 with a 1.76 ERA by the end of May. He has definitely cooled since then (7-5, 2.90 ERA), but is still leading the league in wins, with 14.  He’s also 3rd in the league in WHIP (1.01), 4th in FIP (fielding independent pitching – 2.74), 6th in BAA (.212), and 6th in K’s (151).  His 3.78 K/BB ratio just ranks 11th in the AL, but his other numbers are very impressive.  Barring a drop-off in production over his remaining starts, he should remain a frontrunner for the award.

sonny-graySonny Gray (OAK) – With the A’s floundering in last place, I doubt many have paid that much attention to Sonny.  But, his numbers stack up with the best of the best in the AL.  In fact, he leads the league in a number of important categories:  BAA (.197), ERA (2.06), and WHIP (0.96).  He’s also one of only three pitchers in the AL with multiple shutouts.  And, with 12 wins already under his belt (and just 4 losses), 18-19 wins seems very attainable.  He only ranks 7th in FIP (2.93), and doesn’t strike out as many guys as others on this list (136 – ranks 10th in the AL).  But, leading the league in those other categories more than makes up for it.

Chris Sale (CHW) – Just 11 wins (t-9th) and a 3.32 ERA (12th) doesn’t exactly sound like a frontrunner for any pitching award, does it?  But, Sale seems to have been the recipient of some bad luck.  How else would you explain the fact that he leads the league in FIP (2.40), K’s (208), K/9 (11.9), is 2nd in K/BB ratio (6.5), and tied for 3rd in WHIP (1.04)?  I think the evidence is seen in the fact that he’s 8th in the AL in BAA (.222), but has the 7th highest BABIP (.317) in the entire AL – that’s some incredible bad luck.  He might only end up with 16-17 wins, but his dominance on the mound could easily lead to him winning this award.

 

National League

Clayton Kershaw (LAD) – The way his season started, I had zero expectations for Kershaw contending for the Cy Young.  Yet, here he is . . . again.  Sure, he may only have 10 wins right now.  But, have you seen him lately?  In his last 6 starts, he’s 5-0 with a 0.75 ERA, .167 BAA, 0.69 WHIP, and 58 K’s in just 48 IP – which, by the way, included 37 consecutive scoreless innings.  Kershaw now leads the league in K’s (205), FIP (2.18), and K/9 (11.4).  He’s also 3rd in ERA (2.39), 4th in BAA (.201), 4th in WHIP (0.92), and 2nd in K/BB (6.83).  Another dominant 7 weeks could put Kershaw in the driver’s seat for his fourth Cy Young.  But, I think the biggest thing standing in his way is…

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego PadresZack Greinke (LAD) – Greinke is having an incredible year.  And, unlike many others on this list (in both leagues), he hasn’t really gone through a “rough” patch.  The closest thing to that on his resume is from May 11th – June 23rd, when in 9 starts he went 0-2.  But, it was certainly no fault of his own, as he posted a 1.79 ERA, and 1.03 WHIP, while striking out 54 in 60.1 IP.  Just imagine how much better his 12-2 record might look if he had picked up just half the wins he deserved in that stretch (allowed 1 run or less in 7 of those starts!).  As it is, Greinke still leads the league in win pct. (.857), ERA (1.59), WHIP (0.86), BAA (.189), and H/9 (6.1).  He’s also 2nd in FIP (2.59).  And, while Greinke isn’t a big strikeout pitcher (142 – 11th), he doesn’t walk many guys either, so he ranks 6th in K/BB (5.07).  If I had the award to give out today, Greinke would be my NL choice.

Jacob deGrom (NYM) – What a fantastic follow-up to his rookie year this guy is having.  deGrom may not be leading the league in any significant stat.  But, he’s right there with the leaders.  He’s 2nd in ERA (2.03), 3rd in FIP (2.62), 2nd in WHIP (0.89), 2nd in BAA (.192) and 5th in K/BB (5.43).  If either Kershaw or Greinke falter down the stretch, deGrom could easily follow his ROY award with a Cy Young.

 

Contenders

American League

price.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxDavid Price (TOR) – A reinvigorated Price is exactly what the Blue Jays were hoping for when they traded for him.  Since joining Toronto, Price has gone 2-0 in three starts, with a 1.61 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and has struck out 24 in 22.1 IP.  His numbers with Detroit weren’t bad, mind you (9-4, 2.53 ERA, 1.13 WHIP).  But, his numbers north of the border have pushed him to the brink of being a frontrunner.  His name now appears near the top in several categories:  4th in K’s (162), 4th in ERA (2.41), 6th in FIP (2.92), 7th in K/BB (4.76), 9th in WHIP (1.09).  If he keeps pitching like has been since joining the Blue Jays, don’t be surprised if he wins his second Cy Young.

Corey Kluber (CLE) – After winning last year’s award, people should know who Kluber is, and know what he’s capable of.  But, Corey didn’t do himself any favors the way his season started.  Through his first seven starts, he was 0-5, with a 5.04 ERA.  But, since then, he has done much better, and he has really turned it on since the end of July. In his last 4 starts, Kluber has three complete games, and is 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA, .165 BAA, 0.70 WHIP, and 27 K’s in 32.2 IP.  He already ranks 3rd in the league in WHIP (1.04), 2nd in FIP (2.59), 3rd in K/BB (5.68), and is 3rd in K’s (193).  He will need some help from those that are ahead of him, because he only has 8 wins at this point – but, the potential is there for 15.

 

National League

Jake Arrieta (CHC) – If I told you to take a guess at which NL pitcher was tied for the league lead in wins (14), tied for 3rd in ERA (2.39), 4th in FIP (2.67), 5th in WHIP (0.99), 5th in BAA (.205), and 5th in K’s (163), how many guesses do you think you’d need before coming up with Arrieta’s name?  Just two years ago, he was given up on by the Orioles, after being one of their top prospects in 2009/10.  Now, he’s looking like a legit ace.  And, if he carries his current momentum (last 8 starts: 6-1, 1.41 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 55 K’s in 58.1 IP) through the rest of the season, he could surprise a lot of people by taking this award.

Max Scherzer (WSH) – In addition to having a near-perfect game (which still resulted in a no-hitter), Scherzer is having a very good year.  But, if Arrieta is on an upward trend, Scherzer is going the opposite direction.  In his last three starts, he’s 0-1, with a 7.80 ERA, and 1.60 WHIP.  He still ranks among the league leaders in several categories (1st in K/BB – 8.43; 2nd in K’s – 194; 2nd in BB% – 3.6%; 3rd in WHIP – 0.90; 4th in BAA – .202; 6th in FIP – 2.68; 10th in ERA – 2.73).  But, if he wants to be considered a frontrunner, he will need to reverse the trend of his last few outings.

 

Dark Horse

American League

 

Chris Archer (TB) – If the Rays make a late-season push for the playoffs (just 2.5 GB in the Wild Card), Archer will have a lot to do with it.  He’s another one that I doubt many are paying attention to, primarily because his 10-9 record is a bit underwhelming.  But, he ranks 6th in ERA (2.93), 2nd in K/9 (10.91), 3rd in FIP (2.65), 2nd in K’s (194), tied for 5th in WHIP (1.06), and 6th in BAA (.214).  If he carries those kinds of numbers through the rest of the season, and finishes with 16 or more wins, he will likely be on everyone’s short list.

Untitled23Carlos Carrasco (CLE) – Carrasco’s biggest hindrance to winning the Cy Young might be the fact that he plays on the same team as Kluber.  But, don’t underestimate the young Venezuelan.  He already has 11 wins (same as Price), and has really turned it on in his last three starts (1.04 ERA, 0.38 WHIP, .085 BAA, and 22 K’s in 26 IP).  He ranks 5th in the league in K’s (155), 5th in FIP (2.90), 4th in K/9 (9.67), 5th in K/BB (5.64), and 5th in WHIP (1.05).  Cy Young award or not, keep an eye on this guy in the coming years.

 

National League

Gerrit Cole (PIT) – He leads the league in wins (14), and 15-20 years ago, that would put him in the “frontrunner” category.  But, the rest of his stats are lagging behind the frontrunners.  He’s 5th in ERA (2.48), 8th in K’s (149), 5th in FIP (2.67), and tied for 10th in WHIP (1.12).  Don’t get me wrong – Cole is having an excellent season.  But, he’s actually on a bit of a downward trend.  Since the All-Star break, he’s 1-3 in 5 starts, with a 3.16 ERA, and 1.24 WHIP.  He will need to step it up the next few weeks to get back on everyone’s short list.

matt-harvey-smi2Matt Harvey (NYM) – Harvey is slowly creeping up the leader boards.  Prior to the All-Star break, he was just 8-6 with a 3.07 ERA.  But, since that time, he has gone 3-1 with a 1.23 ERA, .162 BAA, 0.74 WHIP, and 26 K’s in 36.2 IP.  After that impressive run, he now is tied for 5th in WHIP (0.99), ranks 7th in ERA (2.61), and 6th in BAA (.211).  If he really turned it on down the stretch, and came away with 18 wins (he has 11 already), he could sneak into contention.

 

That’s my list.  Who do you think I forgot?  Who do you think is ranked too high?  Too low?  Let your voice be heard in the comments below.

They Just Don’t Get It (part 1)

During this offseason, there was a flood of action.  Big name free agents were available.  Big names were traded.  The face of some franchises was completely changed.  Several teams made moves that could push them into playoff contention (both Chicago teams, Boston, San Diego, Miami, etc.).  Some teams made less appealing moves (I’m looking at you, Billy Beane), but we’ll have to wait and see how they work out.  But, today’s article is the first of six in which I hope to highlight some of the recent history with a handful of teams.  We’re going to begin with the teams that simply don’t seem to understand how to build a championship caliber team.

As soon as you read that sentence, I imagine a team or two popped into your head.  Most teams in the league go through ups and downs – good years and bad.  But, these teams fail repeatedly.  They’re the teams that can’t seem to get out of their own way.  They’re the Oakland Raiders of MLB.  They’re the teams that you almost feel bad for a guy when he’s traded there (unless, of course, you happen to be a fan of that team).  And, for a litany of reasons, they will continue to fail unless they stumble by sheer luck into a great player, or some drastic changes are made in the front office.

“Honorable” Mention:

Chicago Cubs:  Until they prove that they can actually win – and win consistently – all the impressive talent in their minor league system is just that: the minor leagues.  Prior to the signing of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, et al., by new ownership, I would have absolutely included the Cubs in one of these posts (the previous front office spent money in all the wrong places).  But, while they have finished in last place each of the last 5 seasons, the new regime has used their advantageous draft position (as well as timely trades) to turn one of the leagues most dilapidated farm systems into one of (if not the) best in the game.  Additionally, with the acquisitions of Jon Lester, Dexter Fowler and Miguel Montero, they have added key pieces to a team that is likely to see that young talent start producing.  It all remains to be seen whether or not it will work – but, for now, we will avoid accusing them of simply “not getting it.”

Now, for today’s team that just doesn’t get it…

NewYorkMetsSecondarylogo

New York Mets

Over the last 26 years, the Mets have made 3 playoff appearances.  And, they haven’t even sniffed the playoffs since 2008.  But, what will drive Mets fans crazy is the fact that they have only finished in last place three times, in that same stretch of time.  They consistently field a . . . mediocre team.  They aren’t the laughing stock of the league, like the franchise was when it first got its start in 1962.  But, they aren’t ever able to really put it all together.  Why?  There are a plethora of reasons.  Let’s start with the farm system.  The Mets currently have a respectable farm system (generally considered to be one of the top 10 in the game at the moment).  But, they can’t seem to translate minor league potential into major league talent.  Even when guys make it into the major leagues and do well (Jason Isringhausen), they immediately plummet back to earth, and are soon traded away – in Isringhausen’s case, he went on to great success as a closer, after the Mets gave up on him as a starter, and traded him away.  But, think about some of the big-time talent over the last several years that didn’t pan out from the Mets’ farm system:  Lastings Milledge (their #1 draft pick in ’03), Jason Tyner (#1 draft pick in ’98), Paul Wilson (#1 overall pick in ’94), Bill Pulsipher (2nd round pick in ’91 – one of the supposed “Generation K” group of pitching prospects in the Mets farm system, which included Wilson and Isringhausen).  Then there’s prospects they’ve picked up in trades.  Alex Ochoa was the prospect that the Mets were waiting for, in order to pull the trigger on a trade that sent Bobby Bonilla to Baltimore.  And, while the jury’s still out on him, wasn’t Travis d’Arnaud supposed to be the key piece of the R.A. Dickey trade with Toronto?  Yet, despite destroying AAA pitching for two years, in his 139 games at the major league level, he has a whopping .233/.299/.384 stat line.  All of these, at various times, were considered top-quality prospects.

Some might suggest that it’s unfair to judge a team or front office by their drafting abilities, because it’s so difficult to get from the minors to the majors.  And, while I do think that better scouting and better minor league coaching is going to have a significant impact on your major league team, I can see why some would defend these moves by the Mets as something they couldn’t have necessarily seen coming.  But, that doesn’t excuse the moves they should have seen coming.

One thing the Mets seem to be interested in doing is waiting to see a player blossom into a great talent, spend his prime years with another team, and then overpay him when he’s past his prime (but still a recognizable name in the league, so their fans will think they’re getting someone great).  The list is long.  And sad.  And, it begins with Bobby Bonilla.  Five years and $29 million is a quality second baseman’s contract these days (see Howie Kendrick).  But, in 1991, it made Bonilla the richest player in the game.  But, the richest player in the game was far from the best player in the game.  Before being traded in the midst of his 4th year of the contract (see above discussion of Ochoa), he made 2 All-Star game appearances (never as a starter), and never received a single MVP vote.  Bonilla wasn’t a bad player – but, richest contract in baseball?  Not even close.

But, the saddest part about all this is – that’s not even the worst decision the Mets made regarding a Bonilla contract.  When they re-signed him before the ’99 season (at the age of 36), it was for two years at nearly the same salary, after having played just 100 games the previous season due to injury.  The ’99 season was a disaster – only 60 games, batting .160, and creating all kinds of havoc in the clubhouse.  It made perfect sense that the Mets wanted to buy out Bonilla’s contract for 2000.  What didn’t make sense, was the way they bought him out.  Instead of doing the logical thing, and paying him his $5.9 million, they decided to defer the payment until 2011.  Why would Bonilla agree to this?  Because that $5.9 million would turn into $30 million.  From 2011 through 2035, the Mets will owe Bobby Bonilla about $1.2 million per year.  Only the Mets…

Want more bad contracts from the Mets?  How about a 4-year, $66 million contract for a 31-year-old Jason Bay in 2010?  That one was so bad that after his pitiful 2012 season, they were willing to pay him $21 million to go play somewhere else.  What about the “power-hitting” and “can’t miss defender” that was Kaz Matsui?  Three years and $20 million later, the Mets realized he was actually a singles hitter at best (.256/.308/.363 stat line in NY), and an average defender.  Six years, $137-million for a 29-year-old Johan Santana doesn’t sound ridiculous.  That is, until you realize he was coming off the worst season of his career.  And, when he wasn’t injured, and could actually play for the Mets, he only won 46 games.  That’s about $3 million per win.  Pedro Martinez is a Hall of Fame pitcher.  But, signing him at the age of 33, for 4 years and $54 million in 2004??  He only reached double-digit wins once in NY.  For more bad ideas, see the Mets’ signings of Oliver Perez in 2009, Luis Castillo in 2008, Vince Coleman in ’91, Roger Cedeno in 2002, and so on.

There’s a reason the Mets have just 7 playoff appearances in their 53-year history.  And, unless they get some legitimate batting talent, all this talk of their vaunted pitching prospects isn’t going to matter, and they will continue to view the postseason from their couch at home.