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.

Advertisements

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 BOLD Predictions

Can you smell the grass?  Can you hear the crack of the bat?  Can you feel the excitement as each team has a fresh start?  We are less than a week from Opening Day.  And, that means it’s time for some bold predictions (see what I did there?).  Or, at least, some predictions.  I’m not sure how “bold” they are – you can be the judge of that for yourself.

MVP

25300218310_f88b4faee6_zJustin Upton (DET) and Anthony Rizzo (CHC).  Upton was an All-Star a year ago, and hit 26 HR . . . at Petco Park . . . in the midst of a terrible offense (ranked 28th in baseball in team OPS).  Now, Upton isn’t the centerpiece of the offense.  He’s an important cog, to be sure.  But, he isn’t the only one pitchers have to worry about.  He’ll be batting 2nd or 3rd, most likely.  And, behind him in the lineup will be the likes of Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, and Victor Martinez.  Translation:  I see 2016 being Upton’s best offensive year of his career.  He might only bat around .280, but he’ll hit 35-40 HR, drive in 100+, and be the spark for a team that returns to the playoffs.

Rizzo hit 31 HR, drove in 101, and had an .899 OPS last season . . . his age 25 season.  The Bryce Harpers and Mike Trouts of the world make us forget that 25 is still very young.  And, when you look at Rizzo’s season in 2015, you see a guy who went through some significant droughts in his production (.785 OPS and just 4 HR in the month of July, for example).  As he matures as a hitter, those dry-spells are likely to get smaller and smaller.  He has 40+ HR potential, and could win a Gold Glove at 1B, as well.  Don’t be surprised if he leads this Cubs team to a World Series appearance, if not the unthinkable…

CY YOUNG

Marcus Stroman (TOR) and Johnny Cueto (SF).  Many times, a pitcher can build on the way he finished the previous season, and turn it into a great year the following season.  Jake Arrieta is a great example of that, after he finished the 2014 season by going 4-1 with a 2.29 ERA and 0.89 WHIP over his last six starts.  Stroman is poised for this in 2016.  After coming back from a knee injury that cost him nearly all of 2015, Stroman made four starts at the end of the regular season.  His first start was mediocre – 5 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K.  But, the next three were impressive: 22 IP, just 2 ER (for a 0.82 ERA), 0.91 WHIP, and 16 K’s.  Obviously, he wouldn’t be able to keep that up for an entire season.  But, I think he’s well on his way to becoming an elite pitcher.

14136005620_1e0be50b98_zIf you look back at my top 10 starting pitchers for 2016, you’ll see that Cueto ranked 8th.  And, that’s based on the numbers he has put up over the last couple years, while pitching primarily in a hitter’s park.  Now, he’s moving out to San Fran – one of the parks where home runs go to die.  Add to that the fact that he will have a much better defense behind him than he has ever had in Cincinnati.  And, the fact that he isn’t expected to be the ace of that pitching staff.  Now you have a situation that could allow Cueto to have a season as good or better than his 2014 season, when he won 20 games, led the league in K’s, and had an ERA under 2.50.

SURPRISE TEAMS

Everyone’s talking about the improvements the Tigers made, and the fact that it’s an even year and the Giants made significant improvements to their starting rotation.  Lots of people are picking the Cubs to win their division, and possibly more.  The Diamondbacks made all that noise in the offseason, and people will be watching them now.  But, let me give you two teams that aren’t getting nearly as much publicity:  the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Just a few years ago, no one would have ever expected these two teams to be flying below the radar.  But, think for a moment about what we have heard regarding these two teams.  Sure, the Red Sox made a pretty huge splash by signing David Price.  But, that was back in early December.  So much has happened since then that has overshadowed that bold move.  By signing Price, they now have a legit ace – something they were obviously missing last year.  And, now they can slide Buchholz into the #2 spot, followed at #3 by Porcello, and then they have lots of options for the back end of their rotation – including one of the best pitching prospects in the game, Henry Owens.  They also added significant depth to their bullpen with the addition of Craig Kimbrel.  They’ll get a full season of Rusney Castillo, and you can’t possibly expect Sandoval & Hanley to underperform again as badly as they did last year.

And, did you notice all the moves the Yankees made??  Oh, you didn’t?  Well, there’s a good reason for that.  The Yankees are the only team in baseball that didn’t sign a single free agent to a major-league contract.  How’s that for flipping the tables?  That’s not to say they sat on their hands.  They made two very shrewd trades that should pay significant dividends.  First, they traded for Starlin Castro.  The Yankees got a .683 OPS out of their second basemen last season.  Even at the young age of 26, Castro’s career OPS is more than 40 points higher than that – despite his sub-par season in 2015.  And, when the Dodgers backed out of the Aroldis Chapman trade, the Yankees swooped in.  Even with the 30-game suspension, Chapman figures to be a significant part of what may very well be the best bullpen in the AL.  So, even if guys like Pineda, Sabathia or Nova can’t get past the 5th or 6th inning – this is a bullpen that can keep them in the game (and KC won a World Series that way).  The offense may be old – but, they have highly-ranked prospects at RF, 2B and C that could contribute as early as this year.  Part of the reason Cashman probably didn’t think he needed to go sign a big-name free agent.

DISAPPOINTING TEAMS

High expectations can often be difficult to deal with.  And, there are a number of teams that have either made moves in the offseason, or performed so well last season, that nearly everyone expects them to be at or near the top of their division in 2016.  But, as we have all witnessed over the years, there always seems to be at least one team that falls flat (remember my World Series picks from last year?? – Nationals vs. Orioles!).  So, here are my picks to underachieve in 2016:  Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Astros started off last season on an incredible tear.  They won 62% of their games through May 30th, and were 31-19.  But, the rest of the year? They went 55-58 (11-16 in September!), and ended up losing what had been a hefty lead in their division, and finished as the 2nd Wild Card team, just one game ahead of the Angels.  Add to that the fact that they were an astonishingly good team at home (.654 win pct.), but were abysmal on the road (.407 win pct.), and you have the makings of a team that could fall on hard times in 2016.  They’re also starting the season with their #3 starter on the DL.  Don’t be surprised if the Astros are closer to a .500 team than a playoff contender.

The D-backs made a lot of noise this offseason.  They landed the most sought after starting pitcher.  They traded for another with top-tier potential.  They already had one of the best offenses in the National League. Many are already penciling them in as the AL West favorites.  But, I say we can’t hand them the crown yet.  First of all, I’m not convinced Zack Greinke has what it takes to lead a rotation.  By far, his best years have been behind Kershaw in LA, and his mental makeup has been shaky in the past.  Secondly, they seriously overpaid for Shelby Miller.  Yes, he’s young, but I’m not sure he has done enough to warrant the package they sent to Atlanta.  In 3 full seasons at the big league level, Miller has a nice 3.27 ERA.  But, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that he has a 1.24 WHIP and a 3.87 FIP.  These aren’t horrendous numbers, but they are more the type of numbers you want from a #3 starter – not a guy you decimate the top of your farm system for (sent their two best prospects), and give up a top-of-the-order outfielder with excellent defensive skills.  But, Miller will be expected to be the #2 starter in Arizona, primarily because beyond Miller and Greinke, their rotation is suspect. Add to this the fact that Arizona’s bullpen is mediocre at best, and they will have the Dodgers and Giants to deal with on a regular basis – and, I’m not sold on Arizona as anything more than a .500 team.

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 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 Predictions: AL East

AL-EastAs I’m working on evaluating all the teams in each league, I realize that some of these predictions are likely to change.  Injuries during Spring Training are an impossible circumstance to forecast.  And, even as I’m writing this, there’s still one impact free-agent who could have a significant impact on where I would expect a team to land (James Shields).  I was hoping he would sign before I started these posts, but it seems more and more likely that he may not have a home even by the beginning of Spring Training.  There’s also the outside chance of a major trade for someone like Hamels, Tulowitzki, etc.  But, for now, we will move forward assuming that each teams’ roster is all but set, as we are just a couple weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting.

Let’s begin with how I see the division shaking out in 2015:

  1. Baltimore Orioles (90-72)
  2. Boston Red Sox (85-77)
  3. Tampa Bay Rays (79-83)
  4. Toronto Blue Jays (75-87)
  5. New York Yankees (73-89)

I think there are a couple surprises in there for most of you reading this.  So, allow me to explain how I came to these conclusions.

Baltimore

For much of this offseason, the focus has been on the GM, rather than the team.  And, many analysts have lamented the fact that the Orioles have only lost assets (Markakis & Cruz), without adding any help.  But, oh how quickly we forget what Baltimore’s offense could have been last year.  Matt Wieters, a phenomenal switch-hitting catcher, played in only 26 games before having to undergo Tommy John surgery.  Manny Machado only played half a season, and was on his way to his best offensive season yet (and, he’s still only 22 years old!).  Chris Davis missed about a month of the season, and clearly wasn’t himself last year.  Add to these factors that the Orioles have added Delmon Young and Travis Snider, and I believe their offense will be every bit as potent as it was last season.  They also have easily the best bullpen in the division, and are the best defense as well.  With 5 above-average starting pitchers, I see a team that might come back down to the pack a little – but, is still the team to beat in this division.

Boston

As much as they may want to talk about signing some big names like Sandoval & Ramirez, I don’t believe the Red Sox addressed enough of their needs.  When you lose 91 games one year, you don’t win 91 the next year by signing two big-name bats.  Keep in mind that Sandoval (outside the postseason) is only an above-average hitter at best.  What concerns me the most is the starting rotation.  Buchholz, Porcello, Miley, Masterson, Kelly.  A lot of names you recognize.  But, a lot of guys that have under-performed of late.  If you want to consider any of these guys a #1 starter, it would have to be Porcello, based on his performance.  But, in reality, Boston has a #2 starter, two #3’s, and a couple bottom-of-the-rotation guys.  I would have thought that with a rotation like this, they would have bolstered their bullpen.  But, once you get past Uehara, there’s nothing terribly impressive.  Their offense will be one of the top 2 in the division, and they will play very good defense.  But, they will have to win a lot of 9-7 games.

Tampa

Yes, they lost one of the best coaches in the game.  Yes, they have traded away some significant pieces (Zobrist, Myers, etc.).  But, have you taken a good look at their pitching staff?  From top to bottom, they are 2nd only to Baltimore in this division.  Cobb, Archer and Odorizzi are formidable (though unknown at this point) starting pitchers.  And, their bullpen is rock solid, including the likes of McGee, Boxberger, and Beliveau – all averaging 10+ K/9 last season with WHIPs of 0.89, 0.84, and 1.08, respectively.  But, the Rays fall short in offense and defense – potentially the worst in the division in both areas.  Their biggest offensive threat outside of Longoria looks to be a young right-fielder named Kiermaier, who will be entering his first full season in the majors (though, he did play 108 games last year).

Toronto

This might come as a surprise to many, because everyone seems to think the Blue Jays are on the rise.  And, the additions of Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson are going to make an already potent offense that much more dangerous – easily the best offense in the division.  But, you know how I said Tampa has a great overall pitching staff?  Well, the polar opposite is true of the Blue Jays.  In this division, they have the worst starting rotation (Dickey & Buehrle at the top are getting old, and are both more suited to be #3 starters), and the worst bullpen (a closer with a 1.37 WHIP? Yikes.).  They will be much improved on defense with the additions of Russell and Donaldson, but as a team they will remain middle-of-the-pack at best.  If the Red Sox will need to win a lot of 9-7 games – the Blue Jays will have to win a lot of 12-10 games, if they are going to compete in this division.  And, I just don’t see that happening.

New York

I’m not sure this comes as much of a surprise to anyone.  They managed to outperform everyone’s expectations a year ago, and finished with a winning record, though 12 games out of first place.  However, they have lost their anchor – their captain – #2.  No, he wasn’t lighting up the stat sheet in his final season, but there’s no question he was the leader and inspiration in that clubhouse.  Now, it’s Girardi’s team.  And, it just keeps getting older.  Tanaka is probably the best pitcher in the division.  But, the rotation has nothing but question marks after that.  Can Pineda stay healthy?  Can Sabathia even be a shadow of his former self?  Can Eovaldi and/or Capuano perform as even average pitchers?  I will give GM Brian Cashman credit for recognizing that if he was going to have this starting rotation, he would need a stellar bullpen.  And, with Betances and Miller leading the way (along with a little-known rookie named Chasen Shreve – who could be phenomenal), they likely have the best bullpen in the division.  But, with a below-average starting rotation, and an offense that seems to be aging before our eyes (your best legit weapon might be Chase Headley!!), I don’t see how they could overcome others in the division who continue to improve.

 

All-Time Greatest: New York Yankees

The Yankees franchise is one that actually started in Baltimore.  In 1901, when the American League played its first professional season, the Baltimore Orioles were one of the charter franchises.  The American League had originally tried to put a team in New York, but the National League’s Giants had enough political clout to prevent it.  Halfway through their second season in Baltimore, the Orioles’ manager (and part owner), John McGraw, began feuding with American League President, Ban Johnson.  McGraw secretly jumped to the Giants organization, and helped the Giants gain a controlling interest in the Orioles team.  So, the Giants began raiding the Orioles of their best players (which apparently didn’t help them too much, because they still finished in last place).  But, the American League stepped in to put a stop to it all, and in the offseason, a conference was held to try and come to a compromise.  Johnson petitioned for an American League team to be allowed to play in New York.  Of the 16 Major League presidents, only Giants president, John T. Bush, voted against the proposal.  So, the new Orioles owners found a site for their stadium (one that wasn’t blocked by the Giants), and moved their team to New York.

Hilltop Park was built in Manhattan, at one of the island’s highest points, between 165th & 168th streets.  The New York Highlanders played there for 10 seasons – taking their nickname both from their elevated location, and a connection between their president, Joseph Gordon, and the British military unit – The Gordon Highlanders.  In 1911, the Polo Grounds (home of the Giants) burned to the ground.  The Highlanders allowed the Giants to play home games at Hilltop Park, while reconstruction was taking place.  Relationships between the two teams warmed, and when the new Polo Grounds was completed, the Highlanders began playing their home games at the newer, larger stadium.  Except, now that they were playing on the banks of the Harlem River, the nickname Highlanders didn’t seem to apply.  As early as 1904, the New York Press had referred to the team as the Yankees (or Yanks), because it was easier to fit on headlines.  And, while many had referred to the team as such, they never adopted the nickname officially until the 1913 season, when they began play at the Polo Grounds, where they played until 1923.

By 1915, the Yankees owners were estranged and in need of money, so they decided it was time to sell the team.  One of the principal buyers was Colonel Jacob Ruppert.  Ruppert had inherited a brewery fortune, and he was ready to spend his money.  Ruppert paid large sums of money for players from the Red Sox and White Sox, in order to try and build a championship team (and you though only George Steinbrenner was willing to “buy a World Series”!).  And, it paid off.  After purchasing you-know-who after the 1919 season, the team’s attendance, and winning, skyrocketed.  Having just 2 winning seasons in the previous 9 years (from 1911-1919), they enjoyed immediate success with 5 consecutive winning seasons, and they appeared in 3 consecutive World Series from 1921-1923, winning their first championship in ’23.  The team moved into Yankee Stadium for the 1923 season – the first ever triple-decker stadium, which seated an unheard of 58,000 people.  It was appropriately nicknamed “The House That Ruth Built”, since it was Ruth’s prowess that drew in the fans and revenue that had allowed Ruppert to pay for such a large stadium.  And, from there, you likely know the rest of the story.

In trying to come up with a list of the top 5 Yankees of all time, I ran into a numbers problem.  27 – the number of championships the Yankees have won in the last 91 seasons (better than 1 every 4 years).  18 – Hall of Fame members who spent their primary careers in New York.  13 – players’ jerseys that have been retired by the Yankees.  For pretty much every other team in baseball, I think I can make a strong argument for my top-5.  You might disagree a little on the order, or you might have one guy that you believe was snubbed.  But, if you asked 10 people to come up with the top-5 Yankees of all time . . . you could have 10 very different looking lists.  So, I am going to give you my top 5, and fully expect you to disagree with every one of them.

dimaggiojoebio5. Joe DiMaggio (’36-’42, ’46-’51) – I have yet to face a more difficult decision in writing these posts, than trying to rank Mantle & DiMaggio.  The statistics where they both excelled are nearly identical.  Mantle possessed more raw power, and greater speed.  DiMaggio was a hits machine, and drove in runs at an incredible rate.  DiMaggio’s accumulated stats are often lower than Mantle’s, but that’s because he missed 3 prime years due to military service.  So, how do you compare two of the greatest centerfielders of all time?  I’m sure there will be many who disagree, but here was where I found enough of a difference to make a choice: Black Ink & OPS+.  If you aren’t familiar with the first term, it’s a reference to a player’s ability to lead the league in a particular category.  DiMaggio was great – but, he only led the league in runs once, triples once, HR twice, RBI twice, batting twice, and SLG twice.  He never won a triple crown, in spite of his 3 MVP’s (two of which very arguably belong to Ted Williams, but we won’t get into that).  And, then there’s OPS+ – this is a stat that compares how a player’s OPS compares to other players in the league, and is adjusted by the player’s ballpark.  While DiMaggio and Mantle have a nearly identical career OPS (.9771 & .9773, respectively), there’s nearly a 20-point difference between their career OPS+ scores.  It’s one of the few ways in which we can attempt to compare players from different eras.  So, DiMaggio and his unbreakable 56-game hitting streak, and his 13 All-Star games (never played a season that he wasn’t voted in!), and his ridiculously low average of just 28 K’s per season, rank fifth on my list of the greatest Yankees.  On the Yankees’ all-time lists, he ranks 3rd in batting (.325), 7th in OBP (.398), 3rd in SLG (.579), 4th in OPS (.9771), 5th in runs (1390), 6th in hits (2214), 5th in total bases (3948), 6th in doubles (389), 3rd in triples (131), 4th in HR (361), 3rd in RBI (1537), 4th in OPS+ (155), and 5th in runs created (1569).

Mickey Mantle (1961-09-03)4. Mickey Mantle (’51-’68) – Mantle also won 3 MVP’s, but only one of his could have arguably belonged to Ted Williams (who was 38 at the time!!), and he did win the Triple Crown in ’56.  And, he appeared in 16 All-Star games.  But, like I’ve already said, what really separates Mantle from DiMaggio is the Black Ink and OPS+.  Mantle led the league in runs 5 times, triples once, HR four times, RBI once, walks 5 times, batting once, OBP 3 times, SLG 4 times, and OPS 6 times.  And, when it comes to OPS+, Mantle really surges ahead of DiMaggio.  In my opinion, while Mantle and DiMaggio’s numbers are very similar, Mantle played in the more difficult era, when it comes to pitching.  The ’50’s and especially the ’60’s were rife with dominant pitchers.  Yet, in Mantle’s 3rd MVP season (1962), he possessed an incredible 1.091 OPS.  And, I believe the OPS+ statistic bears out this otherwise anecdotal claim:  Mantle’s 172 is 17 points (or about 11%) higher than DiMaggio’s.  Oh, and Mantle did all of this while being a switch-hitter! So, I give the slightest of edge to Mantle on this list.  Mantle also ranks 3rd on the Yankees’ all-time OBP list (.421), 4th in SLG (.557), 3rd in OPS (.9773), 4th in runs (1676), 4th in hits (2415), 4th in total bases (4511), 9th in doubles (344), 2nd in HR (536), 4th in RBI (1509), 10th in stolen bases (153), 3rd in OPS+ (172), and 3rd in runs created (2038).

rivera3. Mariano Rivera (’95-’13) – Don’t shoot!  I know just seeing Rivera this high on the list is probably going to make a lot of Yankees fans mad.  But, hear me out.  First of all, I don’t think closers get enough respect (which is born out by the fact that only 4 true closers are in the HOF – a travesty, especially considering who is and who isn’t).  Part of the reason is that there are too many Eric Gagnes out there, who had an amazing 3-year stretch where he averaged more than 50 saves per season, won a Cy Young . . . and then did basically nothing the rest of his career.  Then, there are the Ryan Dempsters of the world, who are decent starting pitchers (though, not great), who move to the closer roll out of a team need, and perform well there for a period of time, saving 25-30 games per season.  It almost gives us the impression that any halfway decent pitcher can be a closer – which is far from the truth.  Getting the last 3 outs of the game are often the most stressful 3 outs to be made – especially when you’re called into a situation in which a save can be awarded, because it doesn’t take much for your opponent to suddenly have the tying or winning run at the plate.  So, for a guy to be considered not only one of the best ever, but the greatest closer in the history of the game (not to mention the greatest closer the postseason has ever seen), he deserves some serious respect.  Of the 16 seasons he was the Yankees’ closer (his first two years, he was a set-up man, and in 2012, he missed nearly the entire year to an injury), he ranked in the top 4 in the league in saves 11 times (and ranked in the top 10, every time).  He also wasn’t one of those closers that makes you nervous by putting a couple guys on every time he went out.  He finished the season with a WHIP below 1.00, 9 times.  His career WHIP is 1.00!  And, in addition to possessing the all-time record for career saves (652), he also possesses the all-time record for career ERA+ (205 – which is a stat calculated for pitchers similar to the OPS+ stat for batters).  And, in the postseason, he was even more unhittable.  In the 32 postseason series in which he appeared, his ERA was 0.00 in 22 of them – resulting in a career 0.70 postseason ERA!  His career postseason WHIP is 0.76.  He was flat out incredible, which is why I have him ranked this high.  On the Yankees’ all-time pitching lists, among pitchers with at least 1,000 IP, he ranks 1st in ERA (2.21), 1st in WHIP (1.00), 2nd only to Clemens in K/9 (8.22), 1st in saves (652 – and 2nd place is over 400 behind!), 8th in K’s (1173 – and everyone else in the top 10 has at least 300 more IP), 1st in K/BB ratio (4.10), and 1st in ERA+ (205 – and 2nd place is nearly 30 points behind).

GehrigLou2. Lou Gehrig (’23-’39) – if there was no Ruth, what might people say about Gehrig?  Since their careers overlapped, Gehrig played second fiddle to Ruth for the majority of his career.  If there were no ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), what might his career have looked like?  Because if he could have played 4 or 5 more seasons, he most likely would have approached 600 HR.  He almost definitely would be the all-time RBI king (he ranks 5th all-time as it is!).  The Iron Horse didn’t just play every day.  He played excellent baseball.  He surpassed 200 hits 8 times in 13 full seasons.  He hit 30+ HR 10 times.  He drove in 150+ RBI’s seven times!  His career stat line is: .340/.447/.632/1.080 (a career OPS that actually ranks higher than even all the juicers – 3rd all time).  And, even while playing on the same team as Ruth, he won two MVP’s (including a Triple Crown year in ’34), finished runner-up twice, and in the top-5 another four times.  On the Yankees’ all-time lists, he pretty much ranks 2nd in everything (batting; OBP; SLG; OPS; runs – 1888; hits – 2721; total bases – 5060; OPS+ – 179; and runs created – 2233).  Though, he also ranks 1st in doubles (534), triples (163) and RBI (1992), and 3rd in HR (493).

Babe Ruth New York Yankees1. Babe Ruth (’20-’34) – there’s really almost nothing that I could ever say about Ruth that you haven’t already heard.  But, since I’m such a numbers guy, I’ll try to show you some numbers that you might not have known.  For the first 12 seasons Ruth was in New York, he led the league in HR, SLG and OPS 11 times (the only exception being the ’25 season, in which he only played 98 games due to an illness).  And, just so you know, he did the same the previous two seasons when he was in Boston – giving him 13 of 14 consecutive seasons.  When he retired after the 1935 season, he was the all-time leader in HR, RBI, walks, SLG and OPS.  To this day, he is still the all-time career leader in SLG, OPS and OPS+ (205).   His career stat line is .342/.474/.690/1.164.  Just to give you an idea of what that means – in the last 50 years, only Bonds (in obvious PED years), Larry Walker (playing in the thin air), McGwire (in ’98, which was another obvious PED year), Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell (both in the strike-shortened ’94 season), have had a single season with an OPS as high as Ruth’s career OPS.  On the Yankees’ all-time lists, he is the leader in batting, OBP, SLG, OPS, runs (1959), total bases (5131), HR (659), walks (1852), OPS+ (209), and runs created (2446).