Opening Day … What A Day!

And so it begins.

The 2018 season began with a BLAST as Ian Happ launched the first pitch he saw from Jose Urena into the right field seats. And Marlins Park erupted … thanks to the overwhelming presence of Cubs fans in Miami. So, the first pitch of the Major League season included the first strike, first hit, first extra-base hit, first run scored, first home run, and the first (of what looks to be many) Marlins deficits.

Giancarlo Stanton hit his first HR as a Yankee – and, wouldn’t you know it, he did so with a little flair. In his first AB in the new uni, he hit the hardest opposite field home run in baseball, since 2015. Oh, and just for kicks, he also was the first Yankee to have 3 XBH and 4 RBI on Opening Day since Roger Maris.

The Orioles’ pitching dominated the Twins all day long. And, with a 2-0 lead going into the 9th, the Orioles sent in their closer. But, a lack of control by Brad Brach, led to some very patient at-bats by the Twins hitters. And, after giving up 2 walks and 2 hits, the game was all tied up. But, two innings later, it was Adam Jones who stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th. And, on the first pitch he saw from Fernando Rodney … swing, drive, home run, game over. 3-2 Orioles.

The Red Sox looked like they were going to cruise to an easy victory over the Rays, as they were up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the 8th. But, the Rays scored six runs in the inning. It culminated in an impressive at-bat by the veteran, Denard Span. With the bases loaded, a full count, and two outs in the inning, Span turned on a pitch, and drove a triple into right field, giving the Rays a 5-4 lead. They would go on to win 6-4.

The A’s came from behind twice to tie up the Angels. Once, when they were trailing by 4 in the 5th inning, and again in the 7th when they were down a run. Then, it was a wild 11th inning. With one out, Boog Powell hit a drive that just barely went off the top of left-fielder Justin Upton’s glove. Powell hustled out a triple, on a close play at 3rd. Then, Scioscia decided to walk the next batter, and go with a 5-man infield, with a slider-pitcher on the mound – hoping the batter would roll over a pitch and into a double play. Marcus Semien didn’t oblige – hitting a line drive into center-field (where no one was located) for a walk-off single.

The Phillies were up by five going into the bottom of the 6th. But, after 2 runs by the Braves in the 6th, and 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th, it was a whole new ballgame. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, and a runner on 2nd, the Phillies decided to intentionally walk Freddie Freeman. So, what does Nick Markakis do? He drives a 3-run walk-off HR into right-center.

Extra innings, walk-off home runs, 21 runs scored in a single game . . . this is why Opening Day is one of the best days of the year.

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2016 Top 10 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 Cy Young Awards

Tonight, we will find out the winners of this year’s Cy Young Awards.  I believe this is easily the most difficult choice for the BBWAA this offseason.  Manager of the year doesn’t have a lot of pressure behind it; Rookie of the Year was obvious in one league, and you couldn’t go wrong between two guys in the other; MVP is pretty clear in both leagues.  But, Cy Young?  In the National League you have a nearly impossible choice to have to make between three fantastic pitchers.  In the AL, there wasn’t one especially dominant pitcher, so they all have flaws.  You just have to figure out which one’s flaws matter the least.  Due to the nature of this year’s candidates, I’m only going to give my top 3 in the NL, but a top 4 in the AL.

American League

  1. 21212873379_d9c1e213a9_zDavid Price (DET/TOR)
  2. Dallas Keuchel (HOU)
  3. Sonny Gray (OAK)
  4. Chris Sale (CHW)

Let’s start with Sale.  I wanted to include him on this list, because even though he wasn’t a finalist for this award, he deserves some recognition.  I can understand why he wasn’t a finalist (10th in ERA, 13th in BAA), but Sale still had an excellent season.  He led the league in FIP, K’s and K/BB ratio.  And, if he had received just a little more run support (38th among starters with at least 140 IP in the AL), he likely would have finished well above 13 wins.

There were only three pitchers in the AL that finished in the top 10 in wins, ERA, WHIP, FIP, and BAA.  And, those are your three “finalists” for the award.  While Sonny Gray had an excellent season (14-7, 2.73 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), and deserved to finish in the top 3, his FIP (3.45) only ranked 8th, and he was definitely not a strikeout pitcher (169 K’s – good for 12th in the league).  So, in the end, this came down to a two-man race.  And, trying to decide between these two pitchers is splitting hairs.  Looking at seven major pitching statistics (wins, ERA, WHIP, FIP, K’s, K/BB, & BAA), Keuchel ranks in the top 5 in every single one.  The lone blemish on Price’s resume is that he ranks 8th in BAA (.227), though it’s just .009 points behind Keuchel, who ranks 2nd.  Keuchel led the league in wins (20) and WHIP (1.02).  But, Price led the league in ERA (2.45), and is ahead of Keuchel in FIP, K’s & K/BB ratio.  If you toss wins aside (which seems to be a habit of many analysts these days), you’re left with six primary categories.  And, Price leads Keuchel in four of them.

There were a few deciding factors, for me, in choosing Price.  One is the aforementioned lead Price has over Keuchel in 4 of 6 categories.  Second, one of those categories is FIP – which tells me that if Price had Keuchel’s defense behind him, his numbers would have been even better.  Third, when it came to crunch time at the end of the season, Price was practically unbeatable – 9-1, 2.30 ERA from August 1st on.  Keuchel wasn’t awful during that same stretch (8-3, 2.78 ERA), but not nearly the dominance Price demonstrated.  Like I said, this is splitting hairs.  But, I would give my vote to Price.

National League

  1. 21854585988_0422f1d293_bJake Arrieta (CHC)
  2. Zack Greinke (LAD)
  3. Clayton Kershaw (LAD)

What’s the only thing more difficult than splitting hairs between two quality candidates?  Splitting hairs between three.  Kershaw led the league in FIP and K’s.  Arrieta led the league in wins and BAA.  Greinke led the league in ERA and WHIP.  So, how am I supposed to figure this one out?  Well, here’s how I came to the decision that I did.  In the categories that Kershaw doesn’t lead, he’s 3rd behind the other two guys on the list.  So, he’s just a notch behind them.  Arrieta and Greinke ranked 1 & 2 in the league in 4 major categories (wins, ERA, WHIP, & BAA).  So, what about the two categories in which Kershaw led the league?  Arrieta ranked 2nd in FIP and 3rd in K’s.  Greinke ranked 5th in FIP and 11th in K’s.

And, for the same reason I chose Price over Keuchel, it’s important we consider crunch time of the season.  Over the last two months of the season Greinke had numbers very similar to Price – 9-1, 2.12 ERA, 0.88 WHIP.  Very impressive.  But, Arrieta’s numbers weren’t just impressive . . . they were historic.  The last time someone had a run of starts similar to Arrieta’s within a single season, they decided to lower the pitching mound because the pitchers had too much of an advantage over the batters (Gibson in ’68).  The four best 10-start stretches, in terms of ERA, in the history of baseball include two guys from the dead ball era (Johnson in 1918 – 0.44 ERA, and Meadows in 1919 – 0.47 ERA), Gibson’s ’68 season (0.20 ERA), and Jake Arrieta from August 1st – Sept. 22nd.  Over those 10 starts, Arrieta was 9-0, with a 0.48 ERA and 0.69 WHIP.  After the All-Star break, Arrieta had arguably the greatest second half of a season in the history of the game (15 GS, 12-1, 0.75 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, .148 BAA, 113 K’s, 2 HR).  All while knowing each start mattered, as his team was in the midst of a division & playoff race.  As great of a season as Greinke and Kershaw had – Arrieta deserves this award.

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.

2015 Predictions: Playoffs

Yes, we’re barely on the cusp of Spring Training, and I’m already talking about October baseball.  But, what’s the point of making division-by-division predictions, if we aren’t going to try and guess who will finish the season on top??  So, here’s how I see the playoff picture coming into focus at the end of the year:

American League

Division Winners:  Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Oakland A’s

Wild Card Teams:  Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers

I don’t believe the Red Sox have improved enough with their pitching staff to overtake Baltimore.  And, I honestly don’t think they’ve done enough to end up even as a Wild Card team.  It will be a tight race between Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, and the White Sox – I only have 4 games separating them all.  But, in the end, the AL Central will have 3 playoff teams.

 

National League

Division Winners:  Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers

Wild Card Teams:  Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres

Until the Padres signed Shields, I had them two games behind the Cardinals for that second Wild Card spot.  But, I think Shields will make just enough of a difference to push them over St. Louis.  To me, the Cubs are the bigger surprise here.  Everyone has heard about their stellar young offensive players that are on the cusp of breaking through for big years.  But, if their bullpen and rotation perform as well as last year, they could have the best overall pitching staff in the league.

 

Now that we have the general playoff picture set, let’s talk winners…

AL Wild Card:  Cleveland def. DetroitSan_Diego_Padres_041e44_fcfefcCleveland_Indians

NL Wild Card:  San Diego def. Chicago

 

ALDS:

orioles-badgeBaltimore def. Cleveland (3-1)Oakland_Athletics

Oakland def. Kansas City (3-2)

 

NLDS:

Washington_NationalsWashington def. San Diego (3-0)th_Pittsburgh_Pirates

Pittsburgh def. Los Angeles (3-2)

 

 

ALCS:athletics-vs-orioles

Baltimore def. Oakland (4-2)

 

NLCS:Pirates-vs-Nationals

Washington def. Pittsburgh (4-1)

 

WORLD SERIES:

Washington def. Baltimore (4-2)

Washington_Nationals

2015 Predictions: AL West

AL-WestHere we are.  Just a few days away from pitchers and catchers reporting.  Are you excited yet??  I’m fairly excited to see what happens in the AL West.  Because I’m not sure you could say there is a bad team in this division.  The other two divisions have at least one team that you just know aren’t going to be able to compete in 2015.  But, even the bottom of this division has reason to be excited about the 2015 season.  Even if they aren’t competing for the division, they will still be relevant.  So, here’s how I see the division finishing the season…

  1. Oakland A’s (88-74)
  2. Los Angeles Angels (84-78)
  3. Seattle Mariners (81-81)
  4. Houston Astros (76-86)
  5. Texas Rangers (74-88)

As surprised as you may be reading this – I was even more surprised by this result when I looked at the numbers.  Looking at it right now, I want to make changes.  But, I am going to stick with the numbers that got me to this point.  So, here’s how each of the teams got to where they are in my rankings:

Oakland

I have spent most of this offseason questioning every move made by the A’s.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Billy Beane has tossed away his offense the way he has.  They weren’t a bunch of troublesome clubhouse guys.  They weren’t guys that were at the end of their contract, and were suddenly going to be too expensive for Oakland to keep.  And, it’s not like the A’s received top tier prospects in return for them.  So, I still have a lot of unanswered questions about their offense.  They rank as the worst offense in the division, not because they’re going to be terrible.  But, because they have several above-average bats (Zobrist, Reddick, Vogt, Lawrie), without any single batter that’s going to be a big threat to opposing pitchers.  However, in a division that seems lacking in the pitching department, the A’s will have the best rotation top to bottom.  All 5 of their starters had above-average seasons last year, and Gray and Pomeranz have the potential to be aces when they mature a little (24 & 26 years old, respectively).  And, the addition of Tyler Clippard to an already stout bullpen gives them five relievers who finished 2014 with a WHIP below 1.10 – three of whom were below 1.00!  So, the A’s pitching staff – rotation and bullpen – ranks as the best in the division.  Add that to the fact that, even with the losses of Donaldson, Moss and Norris, they will be at or near the top of the division in team defense, and you have a team that will win a lot of 3-2 games.

Los Angeles (or, is it Anaheim?)

And, down the Pacific coast we go to the team that is the anti-Oakland team.  The Angels have easily the best offense in the division, with the likes of Trout, Pujols, Calhoun, and Iannetta leading the way.  And, if Josh Hamilton can contribute after recovering from his surgery, they’ll just be that much more daunting.  But, once you get past the offense, the rest of this team is fairly mediocre.  Richards and Shoemaker had great seasons last year in the rotation.  But, Weaver is aging, and is now an average starter (4.19 FIP last year).  And, the back end of their rotation is highly suspect – Wilson and Santiago both posted FIPs well over 4.00 in 2014.  The bullpen is good – not great.  Street’s strikeout rate has been in decline since 2012.  And, the rest of the bullpen doesn’t really have anyone that just jumps out at you as a premier reliever.  The team defense and speed are near the bottom of the division.  If there hadn’t been two teams at the bottom of this division for the Angels to beat up on last year, they never would have won as much as they did.  With everyone else in the division finding ways to improve themselves, I see the Angels taking a significant step backward this year.

Seattle

Names.  I’ve decided that’s what Seattle continues to go after.  Year after year they are signing big names, rather than the kinds of players they need.  Nelson Cruz had the best year of his career in a favorable hitter’s park – so, the Mariners sign him for his age 34-38 seasons.  Seth Smith had the best year of his career at age 31, so the Mariners sign him.  I won’t even go into how big of a mistake the Cano contract was.  Their lineup has the look of being a great offense.  But, with Cano at 33, they simply have too many guys that are going to be declining in their production.  Felix Hernandez will carry their rotation (170 ERA+ last year!), but beyond him are a lot of question marks.  Iwakuma turns 34 in April, and had an average season last year.  Paxton pitched well in his 13 starts, and has top-of-the-rotation potential – but, he’s unproven.  Then you have an aging Happ, and a mediocre Elias at the back end.  And, unfortunately, the bullpen in Seattle is not built to pick up the slack – it’s easily the worst in the division.  Two of their best relievers going into this season had a WHIP over 1.30 last year.  And, a middle-of-the-pack team defense and speed isn’t really going to help them win.

Houston

I believe the Astros will likely be a force to be reckoned with in 2016.  But, they aren’t quite there yet.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they approached a .500 season, but they have some fairly major holes to fill before they’re competing for the playoffs.  The biggest of which is their starting rotation.  It’s definitely the worst in the division.  I was surprised at how excited some Astros fans were at the signing of Scott Feldman – a mediocre #3 starter, at best.  McHugh and Keuchel had career years last year.  So, does that mean they will continue to be strong pitchers (and, by strong, I mean quality #2 starters), or will they digress?  And, then, there’s the #4 & #5 spots.  Dan Straily‘s coming off of a season in which his ERA was 6.75, and Brett Oberholtzer‘s was 4.39 – yuck.  Perhaps management was anticipating the struggles of the starting rotation when they went out and signed 3 quality free-agent relievers (Qualls, Gregorson, and Neshek).  But, even those three only raise the Astro’s bullpen to above-average status – and, Qualls & Neshek are 36 & 34, respectively.  The biggest bright spot for Houston has to be their offense.  But, unfortunately, they reside in an offense-heavy division, so they aren’t really going to stand out.  But, Altuve and Springer are just going to get better as they mature.  Carter and Gattis will provide plenty of pop.  They’ll be young and exciting.  But, not a complete enough team just yet.

Texas

Before looking at the numbers, I was expecting the Rangers to take a significant step forward this season.  But, in this division, they could win several more games, and still finish in last.  And, that’s honestly what I expect to happen.  Even with a healthy Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, this offense is going to rank in the middle of the division at best (what does that tell you about these offenses?!).  And, they are easily the worst defensive team in the division.  They do have a young, blossoming, bullpen.  Feliz, Mendez, and Cline are all quality relievers, and all under the age of 28.  But, the reason I don’t see Texas making a move in the division is their rotation.  Darvish is very good at the top.  But, then you have nothing but mediocrity the rest of the way down.  And, that’s being kind, considering how poorly Lewis, Martinez and Tepesch pitched last year.  The addition of Yovani Gallardo might push their overall rotation ahead of Houston’s depending on what kind of bounce-back year he could have.  But, that’s as good as it’s going to get.  There will be a lot of high-scoring, exciting games in this division.  Unfortunately for Rangers fans, they’re going to see their team lose too many 8-6 and 7-5.