The Best Players from Each State (Kansas, Kentucky, & Louisiana)

As we are going in alphabetical order, it just so happens that we have come upon two states that are heavily invested … in college basketball.  Not exactly baseball-rich states.  And, to be totally honest, it shows.

Kansas

Only two professional players from The Sunflower State have appeared in as many as three All-Star Games:  Darren Daulton and Bill Russell (no, not that Bill Russell).  Outside of these two, there are really only three players of note.

Johnny Damon is actually 2nd in career WAR (according to Baseball Reference).  He certainly deserves some credit for being an integral part of two World Series championship teams.  He was a 2-time All-Star, and a clubhouse leader.  The other name of note is the only other Hall-of-Famer, aside from the one chosen as the best.  His name was Joe Tinker.  He played shortstop for the Chicago Cubs during the early days of the 20th century.  He was a part of the fabled Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double-play combo.

But, far and away, the best from the state of Kansas is…

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Walter Johnson – some regard this Humboldt native as the greatest pitcher to ever play the game.  He holds the career record for shutouts with 110, he’s second on the all-time wins list with 417, is 12th in career ERA (2.17), and he won two MVP awards, while playing for a lot of less-than-exciting Washington Senators teams.

Kentucky

The state of Kentucky has produced marginally better talent at the major league level when it comes to total volume.  Paul Derringer appeared in 6 All-Star Games; Travis Fryman appeared in five.  There’s also the likes of Bobby Veach and Carl Mays who played before there was an All-Star game, and had reasonably respectable careers.

But, Kentucky can’t lay claim to one of the game’s elites, the way Kansas can.  There are three Hall-of-Famers from the state, though.  Earle Combs was the lead-off hitter and centerfielder for the “Murderers Row” Yankees.  Jim Bunning retired with the 2nd most career strikeouts (2nd only to Walter Johnson), and is one of only two pitchers to win 100 games and strike out over 1,000 in both leagues – leading to 9 All-Star game appearances.

But, the best player from The Bluegrass State can do one better than that…

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Pee Wee Reese – born and raised in Louisville, Reese was a shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He appeared in 10 All-Star games, and likely would have appeared in more, had he not lost 3 prime years to WWII.  While he never won it, Reese finished in the top 10 in MVP voting an impressive eight times.

Louisiana

In spite of the fact that Louisiana sits right in between Kansas and Kentucky, when it comes to the quantity of major league players produced, the quality of players to come from Louisiana far outshines either of the two basketball states.  Before we even get to the Hall of Fame caliber players, we have names on the list like Andy Pettitte, Will Clark, Ron Guidry, Rusty Staub, and Vida Blue.

The Pelican State has also produced 5 Hall of Fame players.  Lee Smith, who was the career saves leader when he retired.  Bill Dickey was an 11-time All-Star as a catcher for the Yankees team that won 7 rings with him behind the plate.  Ted Lyons pitched for 21 seasons with the White Sox and won 260 games.  There’s also Willard Brown, who only played one season with the St. Louis Browns in 1947.  But, he was a force as the centerfielder for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues.  He was also the first African American to hit a HR in the AL.

But, despite all of these great players, when it came down to the absolute best from Louisiana, the choice was clear.

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Mel Ott – the Gretna native was a power-hitting force for the New York Giants in the ’30’s and ’40’s.  Amassing 511 career HR, Ott led the league in HR six times, was a 12-time All-Star, and helped lead the Giants to 3 NL pennants, and one World Series Championship in 1933.

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The Best Players from Each State (California, Colorado, & Connecticut)

As we roll on through the great states of the USA, we’ve come to the C’s.

California

Not surprisingly, the state of California has produced a large number of high quality players. Before we even get to the Hall of Farmers, there are so many names of players who appeared in multiple All-Star games…

Graig Nettles, CC Sabathia, Dwight Evans, Chase Utley, Mark McGwire, Keith Hernandez, Dave Stieb, David Wells, Jason Giambi, Ryan Braun, Nomar Garciaparra, Darryl Strawberry, and on and on the list goes. But, ahead of this list are the 24 Hall of Famers from The Golden State.

On the list from California, you have everything from the really old-school greats (like Frank Chance, the player/manager of the game’s first dynasty – the Chicago Cubs who went to 4 of 5 World Series from 1906-1910) to much more modern iterations of baseball greatness (like Dennis Eckersley and Trevor Hoffman who were inducted primarily for pitching one inning per game). On the pitching side, you have some of the absolute best there ever were. Randy Johnson, who struck out more than 4,800 batters in his career – the 2nd most all time. Tom Seaver, who won 311 games with a career ERA of 2.86.

But, for the absolute greatest, I have to go with a batter from California. No, it isn’t Barry Bonds, even though he technically has the highest WAR among all of them, and technically hit more HR than anyone. I just don’t think his pre-steroids numbers are quite as good. And, no, it isn’t even the great Joe DiMaggio, who only had 8 more strikeouts in his career than home runs.

For me, the greatest player to ever come out of California was a contemporary of DiMaggio – which turned out to be unfortunate for him, because his demeanor wasn’t as nice as Joe’s, which cost him more than one MVP award. I have to go with the last man to hit .400 for a season…

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Ted Williams – a career .344 batting average, with over 500 HR, and 2600 hits. 2 MVP’s (should have been about 5), 2 Triple Crowns, and holds the highest career OBP in history (.482). It’s hard to fathom what his total numbers might be had he not lost essentially five years to service in the military during WWII and Korea. For my money, Williams is the best pure hitter the game has ever seen. Which made this an easy choice, in spite of all the great players from California.

Colorado

The state of Colorado hasn’t produced a ton of major league talent. Just 94 players have come from The Centennial State. And only 7 of those have ever appeared in a single All-Star Game.

But, despite this seeming lack of quality production from this state, there are two Hall of Famers from Colorado. And, the choice of the greatest definitely came down to these two. It was a somewhat difficult choice, because they are both pitchers, but pitchers from very different eras, with very different roles.

Ultimately, I did not choose Rich “Goose” Gossage, in spite of his 300+ saves, 9 All-Star Games, and World Series championship in 1978. Instead I went with the only other pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the postseason, besides Don Larsen‘s perfect game in 1956…

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Roy HalladayHalladay won 2 Cy Young’s, and was runner-up on two other occasions. He led the league in shutouts on multiple occasions, as well as strikeout-to-walk ratio. He finished as high as 6th in MVP voting, and has an impressive career win pct. of .659. He was also selected for 8 All-Star games, and was inducted into the HOF just last month.

Connecticut

Can you believe that the little state of Connecticut has produced more than twice as many major league players as Colorado? And, many of them had decent careers – Mo Vaughn, Charles Nagy, Brad Ausmus, Dick McAuliffe, and Jim Piersall.

But, there are only three Hall of Famers from The Constitution State. And every one of them played in the dead-ball era. So, for now, the greatest player to come from the state of Connecticut is…

Connor Roger 751.86 PD

Roger Connor – this Waterbury native played from 1880-1897 for the Troy Trojans, New York Gothams, and St. Louis Browns. Connor was a power-hitter, leading the league in SLG multiple times, and finished 2nd in the league in HR in multiple seasons. He finished his career with an impressive … 138 career HR, which was actually the all-time record. It was a record that would stand for 23 years after his retirement. And, in spite of the fact that he didn’t hit what we would consider to be a lot of home runs, he still had a career OPS of .883 – higher than the likes of Jackie Robinson, Sammy Sosa, Mark Teixeira, and Jose Canseco.

But, Mr. Connor may not hold his grip on this title much longer. There’s a young right fielder born in New Britain, CT that is charging up the leaderboard, by the name of George Springer.

The Best Players From Each State (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, & Arizona)

If you’ve ever been to places like Texas or South Carolina, you know what I mean when I say … some people are VERY proud of their home state.  Some might even say, a little TOO proud?  But, that’s neither here nor there.  The purpose of the next series of posts will be to highlight the best players from each of the 50 states in the USA.  It will be based on the state the player was born in, so there may be some argument from those who know that a player graduated from high school in a state that was different from his birth state.  Be that as it may, we will begin today with all of the A’s.

Alabama

The state of Alabama has produced a surprising number of major league players, and several Hall of Famers.  Even a couple of the more dominant pitchers of this era can trace their roots to the Yellowhammer State – Corey Kluber and Craig Kimbrel.  But, let’s take a moment to appreciate just how many names are on plaques in Cooperstown from a state known more for college football…

Satchel Paige, Don Sutton, Joe Sewell, Heinie Manush, Monte Irvin, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Early Wynn, and Ozzie Smith, to get us started.  These are some great names in the history of the game.  But, as great as these are … they aren’t the best.  In fact, there are two names that stand out ahead of all these.  And, it was a terribly difficult decision.  Runner-up in the state of Alabama goes to…

Hank Aaron.  That’s right.  The man who holds the all-time record for RBI, total bases, and legitimate home runs is the runner up.  I think if he’d been born in pretty much any of the other 49 states, he would be #1 in that state.  But, it just so happens that Hank Aaron was born in the same state as…

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Willie Mays – Yes Aaron has more career HR and RBI than Mays.  But, did you know Aaron also has about 1500 more plate appearances?  The equivalent of more than two years’ worth of playing time.  And, Mays missed the entire 1953 season, serving in the military, which was right at the prime of his career.  These two players have nearly identical career batting numbers, with Aaron having the slight edge in batting avg. (.305 to .302), while Mays has the edge in OBP (.384 to .374).  And, even though Aaron has the lead in HR, Mays has the higher SLG.  For me, it came down to speed and awards.  Mays stole 338 bases, compared to Aaron’s 240.  It was also Mays’ speed that allowed him to play an amazing CF, and win 12 Gold Gloves at one of the most important positions on the field.  Mays also won ROY and 2 MVPs, while Aaron won just one MVP.  What a crazy choice to have to make right off the bat!  I have a feeling it will only get easier from here.

Alaska

Not surprisingly, the largest state in our country has actually produced very few major league ballplayers.  Only 12 players to don a professional baseball jersey were born in “The Last Frontier.”  And, of those twelve, only one is currently on a major league team’s 40-man roster (Tony Barnette – Chicago Cubs).  The most prolific batter to come from Alaska was Josh Phelps, who really only spent about 5 seasons at the major league level, primarily with the Blue Jays.  He showed some promise as a rookie, winning AL rookie of the month in August and September of 2002.  But, he never produced as a consistent major league player.

Which leaves us with pitching options, and the obvious choice for the best player from Alaska …

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Curt Schilling – In my opinion, this Anchorage native belongs in the Hall of Fame.  Considering his contributions to two different World Series teams, including co-MVP of the 2001 champion Diamondbacks, he belongs in the Hall.  But, for now, he can claim the title of greatest from the state of Alaska.  With 216 wins, 3,116 strikeouts, 6 All-Star appearances, and three runner-up finishes in the Cy Young, Schilling stands out head and shoulders above the rest.

Arkansas

The Natural State has probably produced more quality baseball players than you would expect, considering the size of the state.  Even among those who aren’t enshrined in Cooperstown, there are some very good players here:  Torii Hunter, Preacher Roe (a fellow alum of my alma mater), Cliff Lee, Rick Monday, A.J. Burnett, and Johnny Sain.

Six Hall of Famers hail from Arkansas, including Dizzy Dean, Travis Jackson, Arky Vaughan, George Kell, and Brooks Robinson.  It turns out that not picking Robinson here was every bit as difficult as not picking Aaron in Alabama.  Robinson won 16 Gold Gloves at 3B, an MVP in ’64, two World Series championships with the Orioles in ’66 and ’70, and was the World Series MVP in ’70.  But, as impressive as those numbers are, I have to give the nod to…

Cards Brock

Lou Brock – I would dare to say that both Brock and Robinson’s careers are remembered primarily for one particularly amazing skill.  Robinson for his defense at third, and Brock for his ability to steal bases.  And since these two men set the gold standard in those categories (two categories that are impossible to compare), the decision had to come down to something that could be compared.  And, when you compare overall offensive production, Brock comes out on top.  He has more hits than Robinson (3,023), more doubles and more triples, in spite of having about 500 fewer plate appearances.  Brock has the higher batting average, OBP, SLG, and OPS.

Arizona

I was shocked by the numbers I saw from the state of Arizona.  Alabama and Arkansas rank 24th and 33rd, respectively, in the nation in population.  Both have produced a large number of high-quality, and even Hall of Fame worthy baseball players.  So, when I turned to Arizona, knowing that it is the 14th largest state by population, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that there have only been 115 players to even come from this state – only 8 of whom have even appeared in a single All-Star game.

Choosing the best player produced by The Grand Canyon State was actually quite easy.  He has more All-Star Game appearances (4), hits (1,998), 2B (416), 3B (41), HR (256), RBI (907), and stolen bases (243) than anyone else.  And, since he is an active player, his claim as the greatest from Arizona should hold up for a while (or, so one might think).  For now, I give you…

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Ian Kinsler – in addition to his offensive production, Kinsler, born in Tucson, has won two Gold Gloves.  But, how long will his numbers remain at the top?  Because lurking not far behind him, with just 3 years under his belt is …. Cody Bellinger.

Don’t Be the 2017 Royals

As we’re coming out of the All-Star break, and we are nearing the trade deadline, there are always those teams that are right there on the bubble.  And, it seems as though there are always a couple teams that miss their chance to capitalize on the opportunity to build for the future.  Teams like the 2017 Kansas City Royals who decided to hold on to several players that were headed to free agency, only to finish the season below .500, and 5 games out of the Wild Card race.  And, today, they have the worst record in the AL, and they don’t have a single prospect in the top 100.

Imagine what the Royals could have picked up in trade for the likes of Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, etc.  But, because they thought they still had one last playoff run left in them, they missed out on their chance to begin building a team that could compete sooner rather than later.  And, the way I see it, there are two teams that are in danger of making the same mistake in 2018.  I would have included the Angels and Cardinals here, because they both probably need to admit they aren’t in legitimate playoff contention. But, they also don’t really have tradable pieces that would make a significant difference to a contender, with perhaps the lone exception of Ian Kinsler.  So, here are the two teams that – barring an incredible run in the next week – need to stop fooling themselves, and plan for the future.

San Francisco Giants

Yes, they currently have a winning record.  But, they’re in 4th place in the division, and are trailing by 4 games in the Wild Card with 5 teams ahead of them.  Meanwhile, they have some very appealing pieces that, if traded, could give this team a boost into the next year or two.

Andrew+McCutchen+San+Franciso+Giants+v+Los+GTZAcN0EeYplAndrew McCutchen plays a premium position, and currently has a .764 OPS in a very pitcher-friendly ballpark.  Nick Hundley would be a nice pick-up for a team needing some help at catcher.  Derek Holland hasn’t been lights out, but he could add depth to a contender’s bullpen.  All of these will be free agents at the end of this season.

If you really wanted to go into rebuild mode, and start planning for 2020, can you imagine the haul the Giants could get for Madison Bumgarner (who has one year left after this one before becoming a free agent)??  Relievers Will Smith and Tony Watson would also fetch a nice price on the trade market, and they will be free agents after 2019.  The Giants have a nice long-term core in Posey, Longoria, Cueto, Crawford, and Belt.  But, they also have a payroll over $190 million, and only one prospect in the top 100.  If now isn’t the time to start building momentum for the future, then I’m not sure when is.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals, more than any other team, are almost exactly where the Royals were a year ago.  They have several key pieces that will be free agents at the end of the year.  They have recent postseason experience.  And, they’re not technically out of the race this year.  But, let’s be realistic…

They’re 5.5 games behind the Phillies, who are likely going to make a trade to get even better before the trade deadline.  They’re 5 games out of the Wild Card, with half a dozen teams ahead of them.  And, since the end of May, they’ve gone 15-25.  This is not a team that is headed in the right direction.

But, take a look at the players that will be free agents at the end of this year:

  • Gio Gonzalez
  • Daniel Murphy
  • Ryan Madson
  • Shawn Kelley
  • Kelvin Herrera
  • Matt Adams
  • Jeremy Hellickson
  • And … hmmm … I keep thinking I’m forgetting someone … oh yeah … BRYCE HARPER!

19623203605_914875df50_kWith the exception of perhaps Madson and Murphy, every one of these names would be appealing to contending teams.  The Nats have a great young core in place with Trea Turner, Juan Soto, and Michael Taylor.  Plus, Victor Robles is on his way.  Add to that the prospects they could rake in by trading away these names … never mind “rebuild.”  The Nationals could be ready to compete again in 2019!

Well, that is, if they don’t make the same mistake as the 2017 Royals.

2016 All-Star Ballot (part 1)

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

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

Catcher

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

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

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

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

 

First Base

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

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

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

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

 

Second Base

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

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

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

Other to watch:  Ben Zobrist (CHC)

 

Shortstop

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

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

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

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

 

Third Base

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

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

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

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

 

Outfield

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

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

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

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

 

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

2016 BOLD Predictions

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

MVP

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

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

CY YOUNG

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

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

SURPRISE TEAMS

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

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

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

DISAPPOINTING TEAMS

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

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

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

2016 Top 10 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.