The Best Players From Each State (New Mexico, New York, North Carolina & North Dakota)

New Mexico

The Land of Enchantment has only produced 30 major league baseball players, only five of whom have appeared in an All-Star game, and only one of whom is in the Hall of Fame.  So sparse are the players from New Mexico, that the best hitter and best pitcher may eventually be from the current generation.  The argument could be made that the best pitcher from New Mexico already is Ken Giles.  Now that he seems to have found his mojo again in Toronto, he will only need another season or so to have more saves and strikeouts than any other pitcher from the state.  And, the career 2.71 ERA isn’t too bad either.

One day, we may also be talking about the best hitter from New Mexico being Alex Bregman.  With a couple All-Star games already under his belt, and looking like a consistent 30 HR, 100 RBI kind of player, the third baseman from Albuquerque is well on his way to an excellent career.  But, there’s one name already established in Cooperstown as an all-time great…

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Ralph Kiner – the 6-time All-Star was one of the most feared hitters of his generation.  He was the first player in baseball history to lead the league in HR for seven consecutive years (’46-’52 – averaging 42 HR per season).  It’s too bad he played on so many losing teams (only 2 winning records his whole career), because he definitely deserved more serious consideration for the MVP on multiple occasions. His career was also cut short because of back problems, which is why Bregman may very well surpass him in the years to come.

New York

What’s interesting to me about the players originally from New York is that, while there are some historically great players to come from The Empire State … recent generations are a bit lackluster.  Among current players, there are some that may have decent careers (Patrick Corbin, Nick Markakis, etc.), but none appear destined for greatness.  And, when you start scrolling back through time, it takes a while before you see really great players …

Alex Rodriguez was certainly spectacular, though it’s tough to know exactly how much his numbers are boosted by PED’s.  Going further back, you’ll find Craig Biggio, who retired 12 years ago (and doesn’t really belong in the HOF); Edgar Martinez, who retired 15 years ago (ditto on the HOF); and then you’ve got to really start going back to names like Bobby Bonilla, Orel Hershiser, and Lou Whitaker to even find guys that were consistent All-Star caliber players.  Obviously, the heyday for New York baseball players has passed.

That being said, some of the absolute best of the best have come from New York:  Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Hank Greenberg, Carl Yastrzemski, Warren Spahn, and the often underrated Eddie Collins.  But, fittingly, it’s the Bronx native that takes the prize here…

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Lou Gehrig – where do we begin?  Triple Crown in ’34; two MVP’s and two runner-ups; 6-time World Series champion.  How about this – his illness-shortened career amounted to essentially 14 seasons (only 31 games outside those years).  His average full season looked like this:  .340/.448/.634/1.082, 35 HR, 142 RBI, 193 hits, 38 2B, 12 3B, and … 56 K’s.

North Carolina

There are some pretty big names playing in the big leagues today that are from the Tar Heel State:  Ryan Zimmerman, Kyle Seager, Corey Seager, Chris Archer, and Madison Bumgarner.  That’s pretty good representation for a state that doesn’t have a history of producing a ton of great players.

There are over 400 players that have come from North Carolina (12th all-time), and 6 of them are in the Hall of Fame.  But, when you read through the list of players historically that have come from NC, it doesn’t exactly impress you.  For instance:  Corey Seager’s five years in the league already put him in the top 9% of all players from the state, based on career WAR.

Runner-up goes to Hall-of-Famer Luke Appling.  In 20 seasons with the White Sox, he had over 2,700 hits, won two batting titles, and was a 7-time All-Star.  He had more extra-base hits (587) in his career than strikeouts (528).  But, the obvious choice for the greatest is…

Perry Gaylord 1614.2001_Act_NBL

Gaylord Perry – the Williamston native won over 300 games in his 22 years.  He also won 2 Cy Youngs (the first ever to win in both leagues), struck out more than 3,500 batters, and was on 5 All-Star teams.  He played for 8 different teams, but never seemed to play for many good ones.  His stellar career was limited to just one postseason appearance with the Giants in the NLCS in ’71.

North Dakota

Only 17 players have made it to the majors from the Peace Garden State (…the what???).  There is one playing today – Matt Strahm, a middle reliever for the Padres.  A couple have had decent careers.  Rick Helling pitched for 12 seasons, and won 20 games in 1998 (leading the league).  Travis Hafner played 12 years mostly with the Indians.  He led the league in OPS in ’06 with a 1.097 OPS, to go along with 42 HR’s and 117 RBI.

But, there’s only one player from North Dakota that has ever appeared in an All-Star game…

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Darin Erstad – one of the most important pieces of the 2002 World Series champion Angels, Erstad won one of his 3 Gold Gloves in center field that year.  He was a 2-time All-Star, and led the league in hits in 2000, with 240!  That’s a total only achieved by 11 other players in the history of the game.

The Best Players From Each State (Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, & Montana)

Minnesota

There isn’t exactly a ton of major league talent that has come from the state of Minnesota (170 players in total).  But, some of the guys that have come from the North Star State have had very respectable careers, and made a decent name for themselves in the majors.  Names like Aaron Sele, Kent Hrbek, Terry Steinbach, and Jerry Koosman.

There are actually some surprisingly big names on the list from Minnesota, as well.  Roger Maris is from Hibbing, Jack Morris is from St. Paul, and Chief Bender (the HOF pitcher credited with inventing the slider) is from Crow Wing County.  Then, of course, there’s hometown hero Joe Mauer, who was born and raised in St. Paul, and drafted #1 overall by the Twins in 2001.  Mauer is a very interesting case, when it comes to his Hall-of-Fame potential.  He was dominant for about 8 years.  Was it long enough?  That remains to be seen.

The choice for the best player from Minnesota, though, came down to two guys who played in essentially the same era of the game (’70’s to ’90’s), both are from St. Paul, both attended the University of Minnesota, both were drafted in the first round out of college (both in the top 4 overall picks!), both are in the 3,000-hit club, both played more than 20 years in the majors, both were in several All-Star games, and … here’s a weird one … both won their only World Series ring late in their careers playing for the Toronto Blue Jays (but, in different seasons!).  But, for all their similarities, they were very different types of players – which has turned out to make this the most difficult choice since I started writing these posts.

In fact … I can’t do it.  I can’t choose between the two.  So, I’m not going to.

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Dave Winfield & Paul Molitor – they debuted in the majors about 5 years apart.  Molitor played in 7 All-Star games, and Winfield in 12.  Winfield was obviously the better power-hitter, as he hit 465 HR’s, compared to Molitor’s 234.  But, Molitor had more hits in fewer at-bats, and stole more than twice as many bases (504-223).  While Winfield won 7 Gold Gloves in right field, Molitor technically has the higher career WAR (by more than 10 points, in spite of playing in nearly 300 fewer games).  This was an impossible choice, so I just decided there was no sense in splitting hairs.

Mississippi

208 major league players have come from Mississippi, and there are some All-Star level players in the game today from this state – Brian Dozier, Corey Dickerson, Mitch Moreland, and Brandon Woodruff (though, each of these have only appeared in 1 ASG each).  But, that’s about as good as it gets for the Magnolia State.  No Hall of Fame players, and only 13 have appeared in multiple All-Star games.

However, there are some names you’ll recognize from Mississippi – Frank White and George Scott are both from Greenville, Ellis Burks is from Vicksburg, Roy Oswalt is from Kosciusko, and Chet Lemon is from Jackson.  But, this is one of those times when I can’t quite figure out how WAR is calculated.  Because, bWAR (from Baseball Reference) ranks Chet Lemon as the best player from Mississippi. But, none of his numbers stack up against…

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Dave Parker – this Grenada native appeared in 7 All-Star games, more than anyone else from the state.  He has more hits, doubles, and RBI than anyone else.  And, he’s 2nd in HR and OPS (behind the thin-air-aided Ellis Burks in both).  He won 2 batting titles, 3 Gold Gloves, and was the MVP in ’78.  He was also an integral part of two World Series champions, a decade apart (Pittsburgh in ’79 and Oakland in ’89).

Missouri

More than 600 players have come from Missouri, and many of them have plaques in Cooperstown.  In fact, beyond the players, there are 3 managers and 1 pioneer of the game that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame – Casey Stengel, Earl Weaver, Dick Williams, and Clark Griffith.  Those are some big-time names in the history of the game.

But, since we are focused on players in these posts, let’s recognize a few of them.  Max Scherzer already has the 6th highest WAR among pitchers from Missouri, so who knows where he might end up.  Mark Buerhle had a fine career.  David Cone was an All-Star and Cy Young winner.  Ken Boyer went to multiple All-Star games and won an MVP in his oft-overlooked career.

Many of the members of the Hall of Fame from the Show Me State are from the dead-ball era, which is an incredibly difficult era to compare to modern times.  So, I’ll give honorable mention here to Carl Hubbell, the pitcher for the New York Giants from 1928-1943.  In an era when players had most certainly begun to hit the ball far, Hubbell had a career ERA of 2.98.  He went to 9 All-Star games, and won 2 MVP awards.  But, I think the title of “greatest” from Missouri has to go to one of the biggest characters the game has ever seen…

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Yogi Berra – the catcher for 10 World Series champions, and appeared in 4 more.  A 3-time MVP, and 18-time All-Star, Berra is one of the best ever.  He trails only Ryan Howard in OPS & HR from the state of Missouri.  He’s also 2nd in RBI and 5th in the state in hits, behind only dead-ball era players who saw pretty much just fastballs.

Montana

This may be the easiest choice I’ll have to make on these posts.  Only 24 players have ever played in the majors that have hailed from the Treasure State.  And, to be completely honest, I hadn’t ever heard of any of them.  The last time a player from Montana played in the majors was in May of this year, when a guy named Caleb Frare pitched to one batter for the White Sox – walking him on 4 pitches.  Only one player from the state ever appeared in an All-Star game, and that also happens to be the only player with a career WAR in double-digits.

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Dave McNallythis Billings native appeared in 3 All-Star games, won 2 World Series with the Orioles (’66 & ’70), and is a part of the answer to the question – “which teams have had four 20-game winners in a season?”  (By the way, it’s the 1920 White Sox, and the 1971 Orioles – McNally, Palmer, Cueller, and Dobson)

2016 Top 10 Second Basemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Top 10 Left Fielders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Top 10 Third Basemen

The sun is shining a little brighter.  The air is warming up.  The grass is turning green again.  And, games are being played in Arizona and Florida.  It’s an exciting time of year!  As we continue to look through MLB Network’s “Top 10 Right Now” lists, we’ve come to the hot corner.  There is some impressive young talent at this position right now.  Several names that weren’t even in consideration just a year ago.  So, let’s take a look at MLB Network’s list:

  1. Josh Donaldson (TOR)21665415229_16f1a71113_k
  2. Kris Bryant (CHC)
  3. Adrian Beltre (TEX)
  4. Manny Machado (BAL)
  5. Justin Turner (LAD)
  6. Nolan Arenado (COL)
  7. Jung Ho Kang (PIT)
  8. Matt Carpenter (STL)
  9. Kyle Seager (SEA)
  10. Todd Frazier (CHW)

Before I even look at the numbers, my initial reaction is that this list is probably a little closer to what I would expect than the other lists have been.  The biggest question mark, for me, is Kris Bryant.  Yes, there seems to be an incredible amount of potential there, and yes he won the Rookie of the Year award.  But, he also led the league in strikeouts (199!), and has just one season under his belt.  Ranking him as high as #2 seems to be putting an enormous amount of stock in what he probably will be, rather than what he is right now.  Arenado seems a bit low, considering the year he just had.  And, while names like Justin Turner, Kyle Seager and Jung Ho Kang don’t strike me as guys that I would assume would be on the short list of great third basemen, I don’t immediately know who should be ahead of them.

After looking at the statistics, I see that my list ends up being even more similar to MLB Network’s list than I first imagined.  There just aren’t a lot of third basemen that are performing at a high level in today’s game.  Or, perhaps the best way of saying it is this:  there are very few third basemen that are excelling in a wide number of categories.  The difficult part of putting this list together ended up being where to place emphasis.  One guy gets on base a lot (Carpenter), but doesn’t really excel at anything else, and is actually atrocious defensively.  One guy has huge power numbers (Arenado), and is a top-5 defender, but his overall offensive production is mediocre because he doesn’t run well, and doesn’t get on base much.  Some guys have health concerns, some guys don’t have a lot of experience, and so on.

My list ended up with 12 guys being considered seriously, when it was all said and done.  Honorable mention goes to Matt Duffy, of the Giants.  It was a very close call at the bottom of my list.  Trying to decide between three guys for the last spot was nearly impossible.  Duffy is a top-10 defender, and an excellent baserunner.  But, his overall offensive production is closer to the middle of the pack, because his power just isn’t there.  It may still come, as he’s just going into his age 25 season.  But, for now, I had to put him at #11.  So, here are my top 10:

  1. Josh Donaldson
  2. Kris Bryant
  3. Manny Machado
  4. Adrian Beltre
  5. Anthony Rendon (WSH)
  6. Justin Turner
  7. Todd Frazier
  8. Jung Ho Kang
  9. Kyle Seager
  10. Nolan Arenado

Let’s start with the name left off my list – Matt Carpenter.  He ranks 12th for me.  He ranks 2nd only to Turner in OBP over the last two seasons, which is the primary reason his wRC+ is 5th among third basemen.  But, beyond these numbers, Carpenter goes from average (12th in SLG), to below average (19th in baserunning), to just plain awful (40th in DRS and 34th in UZR).  The only other person anywhere close to that bad in any category was Arenado (32nd in baserunning).  So, I couldn’t justify placing Carpenter ahead of any of the others who were at least able to be average in most areas.

14430676940_b00412109c_zThe biggest surprise, to me, was Rendon.  Not only was he not on MLB Network’s list – but, he didn’t crack any of the analyst’s lists on the show.  My first thought was – is he actually playing 3rd base?  And, he is projected to be the Nationals’ starter.  I’m guessing that what many have forgotten is how great his 2014 season was.  Yes, he played well below that in 2015 – but, he also only played 80 games due to an injury.  And, he’s going into his age 26 season, which tells me he’s still coming into his own.  So, I believe 2014 is much more the type of player he is than 2015.  And, even with a bad 2015 season, he still ranks 8th in OBP, 8th in DRS, 10th in wRC+, and doesn’t rank below 14th in anything else over the last two seasons.  That’s more than anyone ranked below him can say.

Arenado dropped to the bottom (and nearly out), because his OBP is below average (.325 – 22nd), which impacts his wRC+ (117 – 12th), and his baserunning is poor (-2.4).  Yes, his power numbers are great (.544 SLG – 1st), but don’t forget where he plays – his SLG was 71 points higher at home than on the road last year.  What got Arenado into the top 10, for me, was his defense.  Frazier, Kang & Seager were all very very tight.  The only area Frazier seems to struggle is OBP (.322 – 26th).  Other than that, Frazier is in the top 11 in everything.  Kang is a below-average fielder (17th in DRS & 23rd in UZR), but is very productive overall with his bat (130 wRC+ – 4th).  Seager is good, but not great, at pretty much everything – with the exception of being a terrible baserunner (-6.4 BsR – 40th!).

Justin Turner surprised me – he’s at the top in wRC+ and OBP, and is 3rd in SLG over the last two seasons.  And, while he’s an average defender, and only a below-average baserunner, I just couldn’t bring myself to put him any higher on the list than I did.  I was actually tempted to put him behind the Frazier/Kang/Seager pack.  Turner is going into his age 31 season, and has yet to play a full season.  His 126 games last season were the most he has played in his career.  And, he had knee surgery during the off season.  Yes, he has been very productive over the last two years – when he has played (235 games total).  But, they have also been, by far, the most productive seasons of his career.  I’m just not comfortable expecting great numbers to continue.

Kris BryantThe other surprise, to me, was Kris Bryant.  I tried to find a way to move Machado or Beltre ahead of him, but just couldn’t do it.  Beltre and Machado are clearly the superior defenders (along with Donaldson, they are the gold standard at 3rd), but it isn’t as if Bryant is stinking it up.  He’s 18th in DRS (which is a cumulative stat, and he has only one season under his belt), and 15th in UZR – putting him right in the middle of the pack.  And, Bryant’s offensive production (3rd in wRC+ & OBP, 4th in SLG) and baserunning skills (2nd in BsR) are so far ahead of Machado & Beltre, I just couldn’t justify moving him down.  And, if you throw in my subjective category of “age factor,” Bryant’s only going to get better.

Donaldson was the easiest choice of the entire group.  No one excels both offensively and defensively the way he does, at third base.  He’s in the top two in wRC+, SLG, DRS & UZR, 5th in OBP, and his lone “bad” category is his 2.4 BsR, which ranks 15th.  And, he’s still in his prime (just turned 30 in December), so I don’t expect him to relinquish the top spot anytime soon.

2016 Top 10 Centerfielders

MLB Network does their annual series of shows right before spring training, in which they compile a list of the top 10 players at each position.  There’s always a considerable amount of debate, as many of the Network’s analysts don’t even agree with the list.  But, the list itself is generated by something called “The Shredder.”  This is supposedly a computer algorithm that takes into consideration the last two seasons of performance, and puts together the list strictly based on numbers – no emotion involved.  So, you can see why there’s a reasonable amount of debate.  On each of the episodes in which the list is revealed, there is an additional panel of analysts that reveal their own list, which is rarely in line with The Shredder.

It’s been a few years since I analyzed each position enough to come up with my own list.  So, let’s have some fun with this, shall we?  We’ll consider each position in the same order that they have been releasing the episodes on MLB Network.  We’ll start with the list provided by The Shredder.

Top 10 Centerfielders Right Now7260036620_39debc4e94_z

  1. Mike Trout (LAA)
  2. A.J. Pollock (ARI)
  3. Lorenzo Cain (KC)
  4. Andrew McCutchen (PIT)
  5. Jason Heyward (CHC)
  6. Adam Eaton (CHW)
  7. Kevin Kiermaier (TB)
  8. Randal Grichuk (STL)
  9. Carlos Gomez (HOU)
  10. Adam Jones (BAL)

Right off the bat, I have a problem with this list.  And, this is exactly why building a list like this strictly based on numbers is going to skew things from time to time.  Randal Grichuk??  The guy has played a total of 150 games spread out over the last 2 seasons, and spent a total of a little more than 300 innings in CF.  The guy has been their ultimate backup at each outfield position.  He’ll be a starter on a regular basis this year, since they lost Heyward.  And, even though the guy has played pretty well offensively, when he has played – ranking him among the top 10 after a season in which he played 103 games, and has less than 500 total professional plate appearances is ludicrous.  I’m guessing this is also why only 1 of the 4 analysts on the show even had Grichuk in his top 10 (at #10).

Secondly, I get that Kiermaier is a stud defensively.  But, even though that’s especially important in CF, let’s not make defense so important that we forget about offense.  Kiermaier has a combined .305 OBP over the last two seasons (just .298 last year!), to go along with his .737 OPS.  He’s basically right at league average offensively, an average baserunner, and a stellar defender.  #7 out of the 30 centerfielders in the league seemed like a massive stretch to me, when I first saw this list.  Though, when I started looking at the overall numbers, it wasn’t as much of a stretch as I thought it was going to be.

The numbers that I took into consideration were wRC+, OBP, SLG, BsR (the sabermetric stat for baserunning), DRS (defensive runs saved), and UZR (sabermetric stat that measures a player’s ability to get to the ball, defensively).  I also added a category for age.  And, it actually came into play at the very bottom of my list of center fielders.  Here’s how I look at it:  yes, the last two years of performance are going to tell us a lot about a player.  But, if those last two seasons were at the end of his prime years (say, his age 30 & 31 seasons), then I’m expecting a little drop off in production.  By contrast, if those were his age 24 & 25 seasons, I know that he’s just now going to be hitting his stride, and could actually improve.  So, if it’s ever a really close call, and one of the guys is 32 and the other is 26 – I’m going to give the edge to the younger guy.

So, before I reveal my list, let me share a couple names of guys that were just on the cusp of making the top 10.  First of all, Denard Span.  He’s 5th in OBP among CF’ers over the last two seasons, 7th in wRC+, and is an above-average baserunner.  His defensive metrics aren’t great, which is one of the reasons he didn’t make the list.  In the end, however, he probably is my #11 centerfielder, because of his age.  He’s going into his age 32 season, and has played in 150 games in a season only twice in his career (2013 & 2010).  A guy who’s already injury prone, and is heading into the downward slope of his career – that’s not a good combination, even if he is productive offensively when healthy.  Dexter Fowler is probably 12th on my list.  It baffles me that he still doesn’t have a job.  He’s 5th in OBP, 9th in wRC+, and a switch-hitter heading into his age 30 season.  His defensive metrics are underwhelming, but overall, he’s better than a lot of teams’ current starters.

Now it’s time for my top 10.

  1. Mike Trout
  2. Lorenzo Cain
  3. A.J. Pollock
  4. Andrew McCutchen
  5. Jason Heyward
  6. Adam Eaton
  7. Carlos Gomez
  8. Adam Jones
  9. Kevin Kiermaier
  10. Joc Pederson (LAD)

Pederson jumps into my top 10, because he’s similar to both Fowler and Span in his offensive production, but better than both defensively.  And, this is also in anticipation of him playing more like he did pre-All-Star break, compared to post-All-Star break.  His 20 HR and .851 OPS in the first half last year was incredible.  But, he was too committed to swinging for the fences, and pitchers took advantage of that.  I do expect growth in his approach (he is just 23, after all), so I’m willing to slide him in ahead of a couple guys that are several years older.

You see Kiermaier dropped just a couple spots.  I was surprised it wasn’t more, but his defense really is that good – he did win the “Platinum Glove,” which is given to the best overall defensive player in each league.  If he can raise his offensive production even a little, I think he could move up this list next year.

The only other major difference in my list is Lorenzo Cain.  I was pleased to see him get enough respect to be ranked as high as #3 by the Shredder.  But, I’m willing to bump him up one more spot, ahead of Pollock.  Cain is just a notch behind Pollock in offensive production, but he’s a significant step ahead in baserunning and defense.  It’s splitting hairs when you get down to trying to separate the two.  They’re both a lot of fun to watch.

Overall, I don’t think my list is all that different from “The Shredder.”  What do you think?

2015 Rookies of the Year

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

American League

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

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

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

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

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

National League

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

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

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

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

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: NL Central

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

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

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

Pittsburgh

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

Chicago

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

St. Louis

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

Milwaukee

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

Cincinnati

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