Three Biggest Head-Scratchers of 2015

9454932_origTeam owners, general managers and coaches have a lot of decisions to make throughout the season.  Many of them are very difficult decisions to make.  But, this season has seen its fair share of confusing decisions.  For the purposes of today’s article, we’re going to focus on the front office.  Some bizarre decisions made by GM’s and owners.  Here are the three most confusing, and nonsensical decisions thus far this season…

#1 – Ron Roenicke Retained … Then Fired

The Brewers were not playing well this season, so I don’t think a ton of people were shocked that Roenicke was let go.  But, here’s the confusing part – why fire him 25 games into the season?  Yes, they were a miserable 7-18 through those 25 games, and had just won consecutive games for the first time all season.  But, why bother starting the season with him as your manager if his leash is going to be that short?  Frankly, I was shocked that Roenicke still had his job after the collapse the Brewers suffered at the end of 2014.  On August 19th, last year, the Brewers won their 71st game of the season.  They were 16 games over .500, in first place by 2.5 games, and had more series left against teams with losing records than winning records.  If they had only played .500 ball the rest of the way, they would have won 89 games – which would have, at worst, put them just 1 game out of first, and they would have hosted the Wild Card game.  Instead, they managed to lose 25 of their remaining 36 games, to finish just 82-80.  In spite of that meltdown, for some reason, Roenicke kept his job.  Well, for 25 games, he did.  Then it was handed over to the always underwhelming Craig Counsell, who has managed only a nominally better 40-45 record thus far.  If you don’t improve the team from a year ago (which Milwaukee did not), and keep the same manager – why would you expect different results?  And, why would you be so disappointed less than a month into the season that your only recourse is to get rid of the manager?  Maybe these types of moves are why the Brewers have only made the postseason four times in their 47-year history.

#2 – Reliable Bud Black … Gone

Wow.  So, you throw together a team full of other teams’ castaways, and you expect the coach to figure out how to make them play together?  And, when he has the team right around .500 through barely more than 1/3 of the season, it’s simply not good enough?  Based on what, exactly?  The team has no ace – in spite of having a couple really solid #2 starters.  The team has no legit center fielder, and the closest to one you had has been injured most of the year (which has been Will Myers’ M.O. already at a young age).  So, instead of trusting that injuries and a lack of cohesiveness have contributed to the team’s stutter-step start, you get rid of the manager that has been with the team over 8 years, and who repeatedly helped the team to actually over-perform??  A.J. Preller has not only caused the 2015 Padres to have no shot at the playoffs, but in making the trades he did (and the ones he didn’t at the trade deadline), he has decimated a farm system that had some promise.  Bud Black was never the problem in San Diego.

#3 – Building a Consistent Winner Isn’t Good Enough … Apparently

How diluted is Mike Ilitch??  Dave Dombrowski is one of the most successful and respected GM’s in the game.  He was responsible for putting together the Marlins team that won the ’97 World Series.  He took a Tigers team that had nothing when he got there in 2002 (and subsequently lost 100+ games each of the first two seasons), and turned them into a team that has been a World Series contender the last four seasons, and only had one losing season out of the last nine.  What exactly was it that led to Ilitch firing Dombrowski after the trade deadline?  The Tigers are not the Yankees or Red Sox or Dodgers, who have seemingly unlimited resources.  There are going to be times when they will need to shed some of their veteran players in order to restock the farm system, to prepare for the years ahead.  And, that’s exactly what Dombrowski did this year.  People talk about the Tigers only being 3.5 games out of the Wild Card.  But, that’s a mirage – just ask the White Sox.  They were also 3 games below .500, and one of about 6 teams fighting for one playoff spot.  Dombrowski did exactly what Ruben Amaro should have done 2-3 years ago with the Phillies.  Instead of clinging to aging players who aren’t likely to help you win anything significant now – you trade them for prospects who will help your franchise bounce back more quickly.  In trading away just two of their aging players (Price & Cespedes – both of whom are going to be free agents at the end of the season anyway), they managed to procure 5 prospects that are now all among the top 15 prospects in their entire system (#1, #5, #8, #9 & #15).  Three of whom are pitchers that have the potential to be on the major league team as early as next season.  A brilliant move by an obviously under-appreciated  GM.  Don’t feel bad for Dombrowski, though – he won’t be unemployed for long.

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 West

Base_580I’m at least grateful that James Shields had enough courtesy to sign with a team of which I had yet to write.  That certainly made life easier for me as I worked on all of these posts.  The Padres certainly have been the busiest team in the west.  But, the question always is – did they make the right moves?  Every year, there is a team or two that makes several huge moves in an attempt to become suddenly relevant.  But, there are as many times (if not more times) in which it fails to make any difference.  Most recently, I recall everyone thinking the Blue Jays were going to run away with the AL East after several acquisitions in the offseason leading up to the 2013 season.  And, a season before that, it was the Marlins who signed several big-name free agents, and were expected to jump to the front of the division.  Both of those teams actually finished in last place, rather than first.  So, beware.  There’s no guarantee that making a big splash in the offseason will bring about any amount of success when the games are actually played.  With that in mind, here is how I see the NL West playing out:

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)
  2. San Diego Padres (87-75)
  3. San Francisco Giants (82-80)
  4. Colorado Rockies (74-88)
  5. Arizona Diamondbacks (72-90)

You might say I’m drinking the Padres Kool-Aid . . . sort of.  The signing of Shields actually did make a significant difference – but, you’ll see why when it comes time for my playoff predictions next week.  For now, let’s see how we got to this point…

Los Angeles

While it is a little bit tighter of a race, the Dodgers still have the best rotation in the division, top to bottom.  Kershaw is obviously not just the best pitcher in the division, but he’s the best in the National League, and possibly in the entire game right now.  Greinke would be the ace on every other team’s staff in this division – and he’s #2 in LA.  Ryu and McCarthy are average pitchers, which is fine if they’re in the #4 & #5 spots.  The wild card might be Brett Anderson.  If he can remain healthy, he has the stuff to be a legit top-of-the-rotation guy.  And, he might only be LA’s 3rd best pitcher.  The offense is still the best in the division, even after losing Kemp, Ramirez and Gordon.  Kendrick may not have Gordon’s speed, but he’s a much better defensive and all-around offensive player at 2B.  Joc Pederson is a stud, and can be a 30/30 guy at the top of the lineup.  Mix those in with Puig, Gonzalez, Uribe and Crawford and this lineup has very few holes.  The team defense and speed will be at or near the top of the division, as well – for basically the same reasons I just mentioned the offense will be excellent (Kendrick, Pederson, et al.).  The one area of concern for the Dodgers is one that didn’t rear its ugly head until the playoffs – the bullpen.  A below-average bullpen is an easy weakness to mask in the regular season if you have 3 or 4 quality starting pitchers.  But, come playoff time, you need a strong bullpen (just ask Kershaw). But, when League & Frias are two of your best relievers (1.46 & 1.24 WHIPs last year, respectively), you aren’t exactly elite. It isn’t the worst in the division.  But, don’t be surprised if it’s an issue yet again come playoff time.

San Diego

With the signing of Shields, the Padres starting rotation went from middle-of-the-pack in this division, to just a notch behind the Dodgers.  Assuming Shields would now be the ace of the staff, you have Shields, Cashner and Ross at the top.  That’s an impressive combination.  Despaigne isn’t exactly anything to write home about, but as a #4 or #5 starter, he’s more than adequate.  The real question might be whether or not Ian Kennedy can get back to his Arizona days.  Back when he was winning 20+ games with an ERA below 3.00.  It’s not like he was terrible last year (3.63 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) – but, if he improves just a little, the Padres could have the best overall rotation in the division.  The bullpen is also one of the best in the division – four players posting a WHIP at or below 1.10 last season.  And, their team defense and speed will be even better this year than last – when they were actually quite good already.  But, the reason they will fall short of the Dodgers is the offense.  Kemp and Upton are nice middle-of-the-order guys.  But, beyond those two, the Padres only have one other batter that is even somewhat significantly above average (Derek Norris – who has never played more than 127 games in a season).  This will create some problems in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

San Francisco

Their bullpen is probably the best in the division – Casilla, Machi & Romo all posted WHIPs below 1.00 last year.  But, they’re gonna have to lean heavily on that bullpen in order to be successful at all this year.  Bumgarner was the only above-average starter on the team in 2014 (117 ERA+).  Hudson, Peavy, Vogelsong and Cain combined for an average FIP over 4.00.  It may not be the worst rotation in this division – but, it’s still in the bottom 1/3 of the league.  And, while everyone around them was working toward improving their offense, the Giants lost a valuable leader, quality fielder, and above-average bat in Sandoval.  Posey and Pence are comparable to Upton & Kemp, and they do have a few more above-average bats (Belt, Pagan, Panik).  So, they’re a notch above the Padres offensively, but that’s as far as it goes.  And, while they aren’t bad defensively or on the base-paths, they are definitely the worst in this division.  Once again, it looks like the odd year is not going to be kind to the Giants.

Colorado

Anyone know who won the NL batting title last year?  Anyone?  How many guesses do you think you’d need before you guessed Justin Morneau?  And, he’s not even considered the biggest threat in their lineup.  If Tulo & Cargo can remain healthy (and, that’s a big “if”), this offense could be stellar.  And, it’s a good thing, because otherwise this would likely be the worst team in the division.  Only two starters in the rotation posted even slightly above-average seasons last year (an aging DeLaRosa & a young Tyler Matzek – though, both finished with ERA’s above 4.00).  Four of the five best relievers on the team finished 2014 with a WHIP of 1.19 or worse – including Rex Brothers at 1.85!  And, while the team defense and speed isn’t bad – it still manages to be near the bottom in this division.  The Rockies will really need their offense to be spectacular, to keep this team from ending up in the cellar of this division.

Arizona

The only reason I have Arizona below Colorado is because of the Rockies offense.  While the Rockies can at least expect some excitement in that part of their game – the Diamondbacks have nothing above middle-of-the-pack in their entire team makeup.  The rotation is easily the worst in the division.  Collmenter is the only starter on the team who finished last season even a little above average (11-9, 3.46 ERA, 1.13 WHIP).  Their #3-5 starters had three of the five worst seasons as starters last year . . . in the entire division.  Their bullpen is only slightly better than Colorado’s.  Four of their five best relievers finished 2014 with a WHIP above 1.20 (though, none worse than 1.36).  Their offense is mediocre.  Goldschmidt – who has also had health issues of late – is a stud.  Tomas has 30-HR potential, but he likely will take a year or more to adjust and mature (just 24 years old).  A.J. Pollock has the potential to be very good – but, he has yet to play a full season either.  And, beyond these three, the Diamondbacks offense is nothing to get excited about.  Which is pretty much what I would say for their upcoming season.

An All-Time Great Loss

The baseball world has lost one of the best players in history.  Tony Gwynn passed away at the age of just 54.  What an incredible loss this is to the baseball community.  Not only was Gwynn one of the finest hitters baseball has ever seen, but he was one of the few gentlemen in the game in an era that saw so many cheating, spitting, and disgracing the game.  Gwynn was a steady force on the playing field, who was also quick with a big, friendly smile.

Gwynn hit safely in an amazing 75% of the games in which he played, leading to a career .338 average (18th in baseball history).  He won 8 batting titles – the second most in the history of the game.  He also led the league in hits 7 times.  He appeared in an impressive 15 All-Star games, won 5 Gold Gloves, and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 7 times.  When the baseball strike prematurely ended the ’94 season in mid-August, Gwynn was batting .394 – the highest average by any NL player since 1930.  He was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 by the 7th highest percentage in history (97.6%), just 13 votes shy of unanimous selection.

In recent years, Gwynn had been a television commentator, and had taken on a coaching position with his alma mater, San Diego State University.  Gwynn was a guy that had a genuine passion for the game.  He absolutely loved baseball.  And, I could listen to him talk about hitting for hours.  One of the most respected, well-loved, and fantastic players in baseball history.  Tony Gwynn will most certainly be missed.

tony-gwynn-ap-30457689_12279_ver1.0_320_240

All-Time Greatest: San Diego Padres

The Padres have been a part of the city of San Diego as far back as 1936.  Though, not in their current form.  The original San Diego Padres were a minor league team in the PCL.  They were led to the 1937 PCL championship by an 18-year-old San Diego native named Ted Williams.  In 1969, San Diego was one of 4 cities that debuted expansion franchises (others included the Seattle Pilots (Milwaukee Brewers), Montreal Expos (Washington Nationals), and Kansas City Royals).   They have had very little success in their 45 seasons. In fact, they have had more seasons in which they finished in last place (17), than seasons in which they even finished with a winning record (13).  They have 5 playoff appearances in their history (’84, ’96, ’98, ’05 & ’06), and can lay claim to 2 National League pennants, but were handily defeated in both World Series appearances (only 1 win in 9 games).  To this date, they also are the only team in all of MLB to have never had a pitcher throw a no-hitter, and are one of just two teams (Marlins) to have yet to have a player hit for the cycle.

Perhaps a lack of overall success is a part of the oddity that is their uniform.  I don’t mean that their current uniforms look strange, but the curious tour they took to get to where they are today.  In just 45 years of existence, the Padres have had six different logos, and four different color combinations.  In fact, since 2001, the team has undergone 5 different changes to their uniforms, color scheme, and/or logo.  One might could interpret this as a continuing struggle for an identity, as the team historically has had very few star players that they were able to keep around long enough for the fan base to identify with.  But, that’s really a discussion for a different post.  In their history, the Padres have fielded 1 MVP, 4 Cy Young winners, and 2 Rookie of the Year winners.  And while there is only one player in the HOF who spent the majority of his career with the Padres, there is one other player with a Padres hat on his plaque.  But, we’ll discuss them momentarily.  For now, let’s consider the 5 greatest Padres of all time:

5. Jake Peavy (’02-’09) – from 2004-2008, it looked as though Peavy was going to be a premier pitcher in the league for a long time.  Over that period of time his average ERA was 2.95 (leading the league twice), his average WHIP was 1.14 (leading the league once), and he averaged over 200 K’s per season (leading the league twice, and finishing 2nd once).  But, injuries have taken their toll (everything from ankles, to ribs, to back muscles), and today he is a fraction of the pitcher he was with the Padres.  But, his time with the Padres was impressive.  In addition to the aforementioned accolades, he was named the starter for the NL in two All-Star games (’05 & ’07), and won the Cy Young in 2007, when he completed the pitching triple crown.  Among pitchers with at least 900 IP with the Padres, Peavy ranks 4th in ERA (3.29), 2nd in wins (92), 2nd in win pct. (.575), 3rd in WHIP (1.186), 2nd in K/9 (9.04), 1st in K’s (1348), 2nd in K/BB ratio (3.099), and 2nd in ERA+ (119).

dave-winfield4. Dave Winfield (’73-’80) – many who write about Winfield speak of him as though he were an amazingly gifted athlete who could do anything on the baseball diamond.  And, in many respects, that is an accurate description.  Winfield was a Gold Glove rightfielder (won 2 while in San Diego), who could hit for power, and steal a sizable number of bases.  But, the cynic in me looks at his stats from another perspective, too.  You could easily look at his numbers and come to the conclusion that while he did everything well, he didn’t excel at anything – which is why he’s ranked this low on my list.  He may have 465 career HR, but it took him 22 years to accumulate that many (around 22 per season).  He may have 3,110 hits, but he never had 200 in a season, and only had 180+ 4 times (a career .283 batter).  He may have been able to steal some bases, but the most he ever stole in a single season was 26, and he averaged just 11 per season for his career.  And, he only ever led the league in anything one time.  His best season was in ’79, while still with the Padres.  He led the league in RBI (118 – the highest total of his career, and one of just 8 seasons he eclipsed 100), and hit 34 HR, to go along with his .308/.395/.558/.953 stat line.  All of which led to him finishing 3rd in the MVP voting (the highest he would ever finish in his career).  While with the Padres, he also appeared in 4 All-Star games.  Winfield was an excellent player, and I believe deserves to be in the HOF (elected on first ballot in ’01).  But, I think his lore outshines reality.  That being said, he is certainly one of the greatest to play for the Padres, and even though he spent one more season with the Yankees than he did with the Padres, he chose to have the Padres logo on his Hall of Fame plaque.  Winfield ranks 7th all-time in San Diego history in SLG (.464), 8th in OPS (.821), 3rd in hits (1134), 4th in HR (154), 2nd in RBI (626), 6th in stolen bases (133), 5th in OPS+ (134), and 2nd in runs created (666).

adrian-gonzalez-smiling3. Adrian Gonzalez (’06-’10) – while with the Padres, Gonzalez was a 3-time All-Star, 2-time Gold Glove winner at first base, and finished 4th in MVP voting his final season in San Diego.  His average season with the team included 32 HR, 100 RBI, and an .888 OPS, in spite of playing half of each season in one of the most difficult parks to hit in.  Interestingly, the only statistic of significance in which he led the league while with the Padres was walks in 2009.  But, compared to someone like Winfield, I think you’ll see that the only time Winfield is ranked ahead of Gonzalez in Padres history, is when Winfield benefited from having 3 more seasons to accumulate numbers in San Diego.  In franchise history, Gonzalez ranks 7th all-time in batting (.288), 9th in OBP (.374), 3rd in SLG (.514), 3rd in OPS, 6th in hits (856), 4th in total bases (1529), 2nd in HR (161), 4th in RBI (501), 3rd in OPS+ (141), and 3rd in runs created (565).

trevor-hoffman-padres2. Trevor Hoffman (’93-’08) – one of the longest tenured Padres in their history, Hoffman ranks 6th all-time in the number of games he appeared in for San Diego – all while working as their closer, which meant he usually appeared in only 60-70 games each season.  He came over to the Padres in the middle of the ’93 season in the deal that sent Gary Sheffield to Florida.  In ’94, he became their primary closer, and saved 20 games.  That would turn out to be the only season a healthy Hoffman would save fewer than 30 games for San Diego (he missed nearly all of the ’03 season from shoulder surgery).  From ’95-’08, Hoffman set MLB records for most 30-save seasons (13), and most 40-save seasons (8) in a career (he would extend his 30-save season record by 1 in 2009 with the Brewers).  Hoffman was the first player ever to reach the 500-save and 600-save marks.  He held the all-time save record from 2006-2011.  A 6-time All-Star with the Padres, he also was runner-up for the Cy Young in ’98 & ’06 – the only two years he led the league in saves.  Among pitchers with at least 900 IP in San Diego, Hoffman ranks 1st in ERA (2.76), 10th in wins (54), 1st in WHIP (1.04), 1st in K/9 (9.725), 1st in saves (552), 3rd in K’s (1029), 1st in K/BB ratio (4.035), and 1st in ERA+ (146).

917b07af-df46-485f-8f1d-53fe4d1cacad_lg1. Tony Gwynn (’82-’01) – there are some players who are the face of the franchise.  And, not just for a particular era, but will forever be associated with that team.  Gwynn is one of those.  His entire career was spent in San Diego.  The address of Petco Park is 19 Tony Gwynn Dr. (San Diego retired Gwynn’s #19 in 2004)  He was drafted by the Padres in June of ’81 out of San Diego State, and made his debut for the Padres just a little over a year later.  And, so began the career of, in my opinion, the greatest pure hitter of his era.  Gwynn was not a power hitter, and he didn’t drive in a lot of runs.  He usually was batting at or near the top of the order, and was actually quite fast in his earlier days – he stole 56 bases in ’87 (2nd best in the NL)!  But, Gwynn’s claim to fame was that he was a hits machine.  He won 8 batting titles – the second most in the history of baseball.  He also led the league in hits 7 times.  He appeared in an impressive 15 All-Star games, won 5 Gold Gloves, and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 7 times (though, he never won).  When the baseball strike prematurely ended the ’94 season in mid-August, Gwynn was batting .394 – the highest average by any NL player since 1930.  He never got closer to .400.  He was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 by the 7th highest percentage in history (97.6%), just 13 votes shy of unanimous selection. Gwynn is the all-time leader in Padres history in batting (.338), runs (1383), hits (3141), total bases (4259), doubles (543), triples (85), RBI (1138), walks (790 – and, interestingly, isn’t even in the top 10 in strikeouts; averaged just 22 K’s per season for his career!), stolen bases (319), and runs created (1636 – including 2 of the top 3 single seasons in Padres history).

2013 NL Rookie of the Year

Okay, so writing this post is really more of a formality.  I don’t think there’s any doubt who this year’s ROY in the NL is.  However, I would like to make sure we don’t overlook the guys that also had great years.  Because, unlike the AL, the NL is littered with guys who had tremendous first years at the big-league level.  In fact, it was very difficult for me to narrow it down to the top 5.  I even considered a top-10, just to demonstrate how many guys had good first years, but decided against it.  If you want an idea of how tough this decision was, go look at the stats of guys like Trevor Rosenthal, Evan Gattis, Darin Ruf, Luis Avilan, and Justin Wilson.  So, let’s take a look at who did make the cut.

#5 – Hyun-jin Ryu/Shelby Miller (LAD/STL).  Okay, so I added one more guy to this list, because it was absolutely impossible for me to choose between the two.  Their stats are incredibly similar.  Ryu: 14-8, 3.00 ERA, 154 K’s, 1.20 WHIP, 3.14 K/BB.  Miller:  15-9, 3.06 ERA, 169 K’s, 1.21 WHIP, 2.96 K/BB.  Both of these guys have the potential to be top-of-the-rotation guys in the near future.

Jedd-Gyorko#4 – Jedd Gyorko (SDP).  So, the guy who finishes 4th on my NL rookie list might could have won the award in the AL.  Gyorko had a great year, in spite of having to play half of his 125 games at cavernous Petco Park: .745 OPS, 23 HR, 63 RBI, and a 110 wRC+.  He also played a solid 2B.

#3 – Matt Adams (STL).  Adams wasn’t a regular starter until July.  And, even after that he was often used in a platoon role with Allen Craig.  But, Adams definitely made the best use of his opportunities.  In 319 plate appearances in 108 games, he finished with a .284 avg., 17 HR, 51 RBI, an .838 OPS, and 136 wRC+.  His defense may have been a little below average, but I expect the Cardinals will be looking for ways to get him more AB’s in 2014.

041312_jose-fernandez_600#2 – Jose Fernandez (MIA).  The lone Marlins All-Star, he was pretty much the only bright spot in a dismal season in Miami.  In his first big-league season, he has already established himself as the ace of an albeit depleted pitching staff.  His numbers are quite impressive, especially considering he was pitching for a team that was averaging barely more than 3 runs per game.  In 28 starts, he amassed a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA, 187 K’s, 0.98 WHIP, and the league batted a paltry .180 against him.  If it wasn’t for Puig, everyone would be talking about this guy.

#1 – Yasiel Puig (LAD).  I know I’ve said it before, but all you really have to know about Puig is that before he arrived in LA, the Dodgers were in last place.  After he arrived, they played consistently stellar baseball, and made it to the NLCS (and maybe further – we’ll see).  But, for the sake of argument, here are Puig’s astounding numbers:  104 games, .319 avg., 19 HR, 42 RBI, 11 SB, .925 OPS, 160 wRC+.

2013 Preview: NL West & Playoffs

And, so we’ve come to the last division in our “preview” (albeit after the season has already started) of the 2013 season.  The NL West is another very interesting division.  Over the last 4 seasons, every team in this division has made the playoffs at least once, except the Padres (though, they did win 90 games in 2010, finishing just 2 games behind the eventual World Series champion Giants).  The Giants have won 2 of 3 World Series, the Dodgers have had a major facelift with all the money they’ve spent, the Rockies have some impressive offense, the Diamondbacks have some very good pitching, and the Padres . . . well, they moved the fences in a little.  So, on to this year’s predictions:

  1. San Fransisco Giants (95-67)World Series - San Francisco Giants v Detroit Tigers - Game 3
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks (90-72)
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers (88-74)
  4. Colorado Rockies (82-80)
  5. San Diego Padres (70-92)

Giants:  Pitching . . . wins . . . championships.  That’s our NL West theme.  And, it’s something the Giants have a lot of.  Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Vogelsong and Zito is an impressive 1-5 (5th best ERA in the NL in 2012 – 3.73).  Then comes a nasty bullpen with six guys that finished 2012 with an ERA well under 3.00.  Now let’s talk hitting: for the season, the Giants were 7th in the NL with a .724 OPS.  Nothing to get too excited about, but consider this: after the All-Star break last year, they were 4th in team OPS (.755) and 3rd in runs scored (380).  They have speed at the top with Pagan and Blanco, followed by a bunch of guys that can drive in runs – Posey, Sandoval, Pence and Belt.  Not to mention Scutaro, who was an integral piece of their championship puzzle a year ago.  This is definitely the most complete team in the NL West.

Diamondbacks:  Pitching … wins … championships.  This is why the Diamondbacks have a decided advantage over everyone else in this division (besides SF).  Wade Miley (remember him? LHP, ROY runner-up, won 16 games last year, etc. etc.) is #4 in their rotation.  #4!!  Following Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy.  Now, their bullpen is a little suspect (middle-of-the-pack ERA in 2012), but Putz still managed to save 32 of 37 opportunities a year ago.  I’ll be curious to see how their offense does without Justin Upton in the mix (though, his 17 HR and .785 OPS weren’t exactly striking fear in pitcher’s hearts last year), but they finished 2012 scoring the 4th most runs in the NL (754) with the 5th best team OPS (.746).  They still have plenty of pop with Kubel, Hill and Goldschmidt in the middle.  And, insisting that Martin Prado be a part of the trade that sent Upton to Atlanta was very smart.  I think this is a team that was unlucky in a lot of ways last year (fewest wins in 1-run games in the NL), and will make a big turnaround this year.

Dodgers:  Pitching … wins … championships.  All that money the Dodgers spent, and all the big names they traded for, and what did they do to improve their pitching?  Picked up two back-of-the-rotation guys that appear to be on the downslope of their careers.  Once you get past Clayton Kershaw (who is amazingly good), the Dodgers don’t really have a starter you can sink your teeth into.  They have high hopes for Ryu (the rookie from Korea), but again, it’s a lot of “hopes.”  Yes, they finished 2012 with the 2nd best team ERA (tied with Cincinnati), but I think that was a bit deceptive, as they were middle-of-the-pack in WHIP, and had the 2nd best BABIP in the NL (.283).  Offensively, surely they couldn’t do worse than they did in 2012.  Only the Marlins, Cubs and Astros finished 2012 with a worse team OPS (.690).  But, here’s what concerns me:  Matt Kemp was injured in the first half of the season (not the second), Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford all came over to the Dodgers after the All-Star break, and guess what LA’s post-All-Star-break OPS was . . . .695.  Even in the month of September, when they were trying to make a push for the division, it was a miserable .689.  The Dodgers have some good pitching, but with all the question marks offensively, they need more pitching than they have.

Rockies:  Pitching … wins … championships.  I don’t think it would come as a total shock to anyone that the Rockies finished 2012 with the worst ERA in the NL (5.22).  Pitching in the thin air in Denver wouldn’t be my preference if I were a major league pitcher.  But, what really tells the tale is that they also ranked 12th in the NL in ERA on the road, with a miserable 4.41.  Now, Jorge De La Rosa is completely healed from his Tommy John surgery, and will be able to fill the #2 spot in the rotation for the entire season.  I’m not saying he’s an All-Star, but he is serviceable in the #2 slot, and that makes a big difference when the other guys can slide down a spot.  The reason I think the Rockies could actually put together a winning season is because of their offense.  Tulowitzki is back from his injury, and Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, and Michael Cuddyer make for a nice lineup.  I think they will score a lot of runs.  They don’t have the pitching to be competitive in this division, but they definitely won’t be as bad as last season.

Padres:  Pitching … wins … championships.  And, the Padres simply don’t have any.  Their “ace” finished 2012 with a 4.14 ERA.  Their closer is Huston Street, who actually had a nice year in 2012 – when he had a chance to actually save a game.  And, other than Street & Luke Gregerson, no one in that bullpen stands out as exceptional.  It’s no wonder this team finished with a team ERA over 4.00 last year.  And, all that was before they moved the fences in.  Add to the poor pitching the fact that the offense finished 2012 ranked 11th in OPS (.699) and 10th in runs scored (651), and you have a team that has no chance against a division loaded with talent.

So, now it’s time for my NL postseason predictions.  Here’s how I see it playing out:

Wild Card:  Nationals def. Diamondbacks

NLDS:  Reds def. Nationals (3-2) & Braves def. Giants (3-2)

NLCS:  Braves def. Reds (4-2)

And, that leads us to the World Series.  Tigers vs. Braves.  The Tigers won’t have to sit around and wait a week this time, after taking 7 games to put away the Blue Jays.  The Braves will put up a decent fight in every game – nothing decided by more than 3 runs. But the Tigers prove to be too much, and Detroit brings home the World Series trophy in 5 games.

Coming next week:  my postseason award predictions.

2013 Top 10 3B

Ah, the “hot corner.”  The position where many sluggers are placed these days.  Sometimes out of necessity (Cabrera), and sometimes because their quick reflexes allow them to put a stop to many potential doubles down the line (Longoria).  But, whatever the reason a player is posted here, it’s a position that often is expected to perform well offensively and defensively.  Let’s take a look at how MLB Network ranked their top 10 right now at the hot corner:

  1. Miguel Cabrera (DET)miguel-cabrera-getty2
  2. Adrian Beltre (TEX)
  3. David Wright (NYM)
  4. Evan Longoria (TB)
  5. Ryan Zimmerman (WSH)
  6. Aramis Ramirez (MIL)
  7. Chase Headley (SD)
  8. Brett Lawrie (TOR)
  9. David Freese (STL)
  10. Pablo Sandoval (SF)

Interestingly, I have very little to argue with on this list.  Even when I tried to find potential replacements for the guys on this list, I was hard pressed to do so.  So, let’s start with honorable mention: Mike Moustakas (KC) and Kyle Seager (SEA).  Both are up-and-comers who have demonstrated that they have what it takes to play at the big-league level.  They each hit 20 HR last year with OPS’s right around .700.  Seager is a little better on the basepaths (13 SB last year), but Moustakas is already showing flashes of greatness with his glove.  Don’t be surprised if one or both make this list a year from now.  So, with very little change, here’s how I would rank them.

pablo-sandoval-si-p110. Pablo Sandoval – I was tempted to put Sandoval ahead of Freese, but he has struggled with some injury issues the last couple seasons.  If it wasn’t for that, however, I have a feeling his numbers would be enough to push him a spot or two higher on this list.  He’s just 26 years old, has Gold Glove potential at third, and 30 HR potential at the plate.  If he can stay healthy, he could possibly jump into the top 5.

9. David Freese – he played his first full season in 2012.  And yet, he turns 30 next month.  So, I’m not sure we can expect anything more from Freese than what we’ve already seen.  Not to say he’s played poorly:  .820 OPS, 128 wRC+, and 30 home runs over the last 2 seasons (or, more like 1.5, based on the number of games he’s played).  But, I think we know what to expect from Freese, while others will likely grow past him in the next year.  He’s also just an average fielder at 3B.

lawrie-brett_940-8col8. Brett Lawrie – at first glance I didn’t really understand why MLBN would have him ranked higher than Freese.  Freese’s offensive numbers, in general, look better than Lawrie’s.  But, I dug a little deeper, and I think I see what they see now.  Lawrie is just 23 years old, has yet to play a full season, and has a lot of growing yet to do.  And, in spite of that, he’s already a significantly better fielder than Freese.  And, if you look at Lawrie’s 168 games over the last two years (similar to one full season), you’ll see a guy that already could be a 20/20 player, and definitely has 30/30 potential.  Expect big things from Lawrie in the coming year or two.

7. Aramis Ramirez – I moved him back one spot for two reasons: a) he turns 35 this summer; and b) he’s easily the worst defensive third baseman on this list.  Granted, he hasn’t shown a lot of signs of slowing down, but I just can’t help but think it’s going to happen sooner rather than later.  That being said, he’s had an excellent run offensively the last few seasons: .845 OPS, 26 home runs, 126 wRC+ the last three years.

display_image6. Chase Headley – who led the league last year in RBI? Headley.  Who won the NL Gold Glove? Headley.  Who hit 31 home runs, 13 of which were in cavernous Petco park? Headley.  Granted most of this was fairly unexpected, and is out of the norm for Headley.  But, his run production the last 3 seasons has still been very nice (122 wRC+), helped in large part by the fact that he’s also a threat on the bases (16 SB average for 3 years).  And, he’s just now entering his prime (he’s 28).  So, with the fences moved in a bit, and Headly on the upswing of his career, I wouldn’t be surprised if he continues to perform well.

5. Ryan Zimmerman – had he not gone through such a tough first half in 2012, he might have ended up higher on this list, because he caught fire in the second half, and ended up with numbers similar to what he has the last couple seasons.  His defensive metrics put him slightly above average.  And, he’s had a very nice OPS the last three years (.843).  What you might not realize is how young he is – 28.  It seems like he’s been playing forever, and he does have 7 full seasons already under his belt.  But, this first ever draft pick by the Nationals franchise started playing full-time at the age of 21.  So watch out, because this guy’s just now in his prime years.

111781954. David Wright – he only gets the slightest of edge here over Zimmerman.  This was an incredibly tough call to make.  In the end, it came down to base-running.  Wright has averaged 16 stolen bases each of the last three seasons (in spite of missing nearly half of 2011), compared to Zimmerman’s 4.  They have identical SLG the last three years (.420), Wright has hit just 2 more home runs, he has a .002 advantage in OBP, and a 130-128 edge in wRC+.  Neither are spectacular with their glove, though Zimmerman has committed one less error than Wright in three years.  So, what Wright gives his team on the basepaths ended up being the difference-maker.

3. Evan Longoria – I don’t see any statistic that would suggest Longoria should be behind Wright on this list.  He’s younger (27), has the better OPS of late (.872 the last 3 years), has hit more home runs (70 the last 3 years – in spite of missing half of last season with injury), had better run production (139 wRC+), and is arguably the best defensive third baseman in the game.  If he had played a full season last year, his offensive stats might would be enough to push him even higher on this list.

Daily-Fantasy-Baseball-Must-Starts262. Adrian Beltre – the only guy who might be better than Longoria with his glove at 3B (4 Gold Gloves the last 6 seasons) also happens to be the only guy with better offensive stats (other than the guy sitting at #1).  A .911 OPS over the last three seasons, averaging 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI.  He’s getting a little older (turns 34 the first week of the season), but he really hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.  And, he’s likely to continue to be productive while playing in Arlington.

1. Miguel Cabrera – no, he’s certainly no Mike Schmidt with the glove (13 E, .966 fld. pct. last year).  But, his offensive prowess is so far ahead of the rest of the group, you just can’t argue with this choice.  His run production (171 wRC+ the last 3 seasons) is more than 30 points ahead of the next best at 3B.  His OPS (1.024 the last 3 years) is more than 100 points higher than anyone else!  He’s also finished in the top-5 in MVP voting each of the last 4 years.  We’re not just talking about an excellent player at this point – we’re talking potentially a future HOFer.

2012 NL MVP

Wow – that’s all I can say at this point.  The AL MVP was a tough choice, and I thought it would get easier when I got to the NL – wrong!  This race is wide open, in my opinion.  I heard an awful lot of Buster Posey talk during the postseason, as though he is the obvious choice.  But, that’s not necessarily true when you look at the stats.

There are five players with overall WAR’s of 7.4-8.0.  Four of those five have wRC+ scores of 145-162.  And 3 of those 4 have an OPS over .900.  So, I guess the second-tier guys would be David Wright – NYM (.306, 21 HR, 93 RBI, .883 OPS, 15 SB, .974 fld. pct.), and Chase Headley – SD (.286, 31 HR, 115 RBI, .875 OPS, 17 SB, .976 fld. pct.).  Some might make the argument in favor of LaRoche, or maybe Bruce, or Beltran, or perhaps Heyward.  I’d say those guys each have holes (though, not glaring ones) in their overall game that the rest didn’t this year, so they’d be that third tier, just a slight step behind Wright & Headley.

So, in my opinion, the vote has to come down to Ryan Braun (MIL), Andrew McCutcheon (PIT), or Buster Posey (SF).  This is one of those situations where I know a lot of people are going to immediately point to the fact that Posey is the only one that made it to the playoffs.  I’ve never understood that rationale when it comes to the MVP.  While I did use it as a portion of the deciding factor for the AL MVP this year (since the stats were so close, and Cabrera excelled late in the season when his team needed him), I don’t like using that as a go-to point, because you can’t fault a guy for the team he plays on.  He’s just one guy.  He could be the Most Valuable Player, and just happen to have a lousy team around him.

So, here’s the breakdown of the top three:  Posey & Braun are tied at the top with 162 wRC+, and McCutcheon is 3rd with 158.  Posey’s WAR is 8.0, Braun 7.9, McCutcheon 7.4.  Braun hit 41 HR, McCutcheon 31, and Posey 24.  Braun had 112 RBI, Posey 103, McCutcheon 96.  Posey batted .336, McCutcheon .327, Braun .319.  Braun’s OPS was .984, Posey’s .957, McCutcheon’s .953.  Posey struck out 96 times, Braun 128, McCutcheon 132.  McCutcheon grounded into 9 DP’s, Braun 12, Posey 19.  Braun had 30 SB, McCutcheon had 20, Posey had 1.  McCutcheon had just 1 error all season, Braun had 6, and Posey had 8.  Braun also had 7 DRS, the only one in the group with a positive number in that category.

Well, those stats didn’t help me as much as I hoped they would, though I’m starting to get a little clearer picture.  How about with runners in scoring position?  Those key at-bats are important to your team.  Posey: .340, .952 OPS, 68 RBI.  McCutcheon: .326, .975 OPS, 60 RBI.  Braun:  .307, .961 OPS, 62 RBI.  Posey looks to have a slight edge here, but I also noticed that he had around 10 more AB’s in these situations than the other two.

Here’s the stats with RISP & 2 outs:  Braun – .288, .900 OPS, 22 RBI.  McCutcheon – .261, .740 OPS, 18 RBI.  Posey – .211, .717 OPS, 13 RBI.

One last stat – post-All-Star break numbers:  Braun – .333, .983 OPS, 17 HR, 51 RBI.  Posey – .385, 1.102 OPS, 14 HR, 60 RBI.  McCutcheon – .289, .860 OPS, 13 HR, 36 RBI.

I think the first thing we can do in making this choice is eliminate McCutcheon.  He places last of the three in too many categories, and is only at the top of the errors & GIDP list.  A fantastic year, but just a little short of MVP-winning.  I think that’s in large part due to the fact that his 2nd half was a considerable step back from the first half.

Posey has the edge when it comes to his post-All-Star numbers.  For the season, he also has the edge over Braun in strikeouts, batting average, and WAR (by 0.1).  But, Braun has the advantage in HR, RBI, OPS, SB, defense, GIDP, and overall numbers with RISP & 2 outs.  Braun also has comparable numbers in the few areas that Posey leads – not really lagging behind in anything except perhaps strikeouts.

So, even though his team didn’t make the playoffs, and even though there was all the controversy during the offseason over whether or not he used PED’s, I think I would still have to consider Braun’s season a very slight notch better than Posey’s.  My ballot would be:  1. Braun, 2. Posey, 3. McCutcheon.  But, that certainly doesn’t mean I’d be upset if Posey wins, because the numbers are just so close.

First Half Wrap: Trade Deadline Buyers and Sellers

Whether you like the new format of baseball’s playoffs or not, you have to admit that it certainly has made things interesting as we approach the trade deadline.  Based on my post this past Tuesday, you can see that as many as 18 teams have a reasonable shot at making the playoffs, if they either maintain their level of play, or make the right moves.  So, let’s take a moment to look at a few teams that might should be buying or selling this year.

AL Buyers:

Baltimore – they’ve managed to hang on to a playoff spot this long, but they really are overachieving.  Their starters have the 3rd worst ERA in the AL, so their primary goal should be a solid starting pitcher.  And while they hit a lot of home runs (4th in the league), they’re batting just .244 as a team.  So, they could use another bat, most likely at the top of the order where they need someone that’s going to get on base and be more of a spark for a powerful lineup.

Cleveland – their hitting isn’t terrible, as they’re basically in the middle of the pack in most categories, and are playing in a poor division.  But, they really could use a power bat, as they’re near the bottom of the league in slugging and home runs.  They also need to decide what they want to do this year – are they happy making the playoffs, or are they wanting to make a deep run in the postseason?  If they want more than just an appearance in the playoffs, they need help with their pitching staff.  They have the worst bullpen ERA in the league, and are also near the bottom of the league in starter’s ERA.

Boston – their offense is actually playing fairly well, and Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury are working their way back.  Pitching, however, has been an issue.  Their bullpen has one of the best ERA’s in the league.  But, starting pitching has kept them out of too many games.  They need a top-of-the-rotation guy in a bad way.

Detroit – another team whose offense is going to be very good, but needs help in the starting rotation.  Beyond Verlander, they don’t really have anyone they can rely on consistently.

AL Sellers:

Toronto – I listed them as a team that might could turn things around in the second half of the season, but realistically, they just don’t have the pitching to keep up in the AL East.  They would need to pick up a couple high-end starters to compete, and that’s not likely to happen.  So, why not make the most of what you have?  Edwin Encarnacion is having a career year, and they only have him signed through the end of this season.  Kelly Johnson is a left-handed bat that some teams might be interested in.  Toronto should pick up something reasonable in trade, and try to sign some free agent pitching in the offseason.

Seattle – they certainly aren’t competing this season, and they have a couple pieces that might be intriguing to the right team.  Kevin Millwood‘s stats aren’t quite as good as they were a year ago, but he’s pitching against Texas and LA instead of San Diego and last year’s Giants.  An NL team might be interested.  Jason Vargas might also be the left-handed starter someone’s looking for – if they can overlook the league-leading home runs allowed (22).

NL Buyers:

New York – they’re scoring a lot of runs, but they still need that big bat in the middle of the lineup.  They don’t have a lot of power that’s going to make opposing pitchers nervous.

Atlanta – their batting is playing fairly well – upper half of the league in OPS and runs scored.  But, their starting pitching ERA is closer to the bottom of the league.  Adding a quality #2 or #3 starter would go a long ways toward making this a serious playoff (and possibly more) contender.

St. Louis – their team batting is one of the best in the league.  Starting pitching is in the upper-half of the league.  But, their bullpen could use some help.  One of the worst bullpen ERA’s in the league, and that will come to haunt you if nothing is done about it.

Los Angeles – it’s no surprise that they are tied for the fewest home runs in the league, since their two biggest home-run hitters are out with injuries.  Regardless of the timetable for Ethier and/or Kemp to return, they need some help in the middle of that lineup to keep them in the race.

NL Sellers:

Philadelphia – World Series champs in 2008 . . . trade deadline sellers just 4 years later.  They’re getting old, and they need to be looking to the future.  Carlos Ruiz is 33 and only signed through the end of this season.  Meanwhile, he’s batting .356 with an OPS of 1.000!  Shane Victorino is also just signed through this year, and is 31.  How many teams could use a switch-hitting center-fielder that plays hard every day at the top of their lineup?  Orioles?  White Sox?  Dodgers?  And, what about Cole Hamels?  His contract is up this year, and the Phillies better get something for him now, in case they can’t re-sign him in the offseason.  Especially since he would most likely be the most sought-after pitcher on the trading block.

San Diego – they obviously aren’t going anywhere this season, so why hang on to Chase Headley?  He’s a switch-hitter whose OPS is .789 … at Petco! Imagine if he was playing his home games in Cleveland, or Cincinnati.

Chicago – it’s no secret they have some contracts they’d like to get rid of.  The question might be – how much are they willing to eat in order to get a deal done?  Alfonso Soriano is playing well, and there are several teams that would like another bat in the middle of their lineup.  Ryan Dempster‘s contract ends after this season, and he currently has the 2nd best ERA and 5th best WHIP in the league – though, his injury likely would push any deal back a couple weeks until he returns.  Even Matt Garza‘s numbers are good enough to get attention from teams wanting help in the middle of their rotation (Atlanta? Boston? Detroit?).

Milwaukee – this one might depend on how they perform in the first week or two after the break.  If they fall further behind, then it’s time to start talking to teams about Shaun Marcum.  His numbers are solid, though not flashy.

Miami – another team that might have to wait until closer to the deadline to decide, but if they aren’t in contention, there’s no reason to hang onto Anibal Sanchez, who could be very helpful to some teams’ rotation.