Opening Day … What A Day!

And so it begins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2016 Top 10 Second Basemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Top 10 Left Fielders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Top 10 Centerfielders

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

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

Top 10 Centerfielders Right Now7260036620_39debc4e94_z

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

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

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

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

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

Now it’s time for my top 10.

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

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

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

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

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

Cy Young Preview

With about 7 weeks left in the regular season, most pitchers only have around 8-9 starts left.  Which means around 70% of their season is behind them.  With that in mind, I think it’s time for us to consider who has a shot at winning some regular season awards.  And, we’ll start with the Cy Young.  We’ll divide the candidates into three categories:  Frontrunners, Contenders, and Dark Horse.  With around 30% of their starts ahead of them, there will be a number of guys who have a chance to climb up in the conversation.  So, we’ll take into consideration what a guy’s season might look like if he wins 6 or 7 more games in dominant fashion, in this stretch run.  Keep in mind that some of these stats fluctuate rapidly, so don’t be surprised if I missed a start between this article being written, and it posting.

Frontrunners

American League

Dallas Keuchel (HOU) – By now, everyone should be familiar with Keuchel (pronounced kai’kl).  He started off blazing hot at the beginning of the season, and was 7-1 with a 1.76 ERA by the end of May. He has definitely cooled since then (7-5, 2.90 ERA), but is still leading the league in wins, with 14.  He’s also 3rd in the league in WHIP (1.01), 4th in FIP (fielding independent pitching – 2.74), 6th in BAA (.212), and 6th in K’s (151).  His 3.78 K/BB ratio just ranks 11th in the AL, but his other numbers are very impressive.  Barring a drop-off in production over his remaining starts, he should remain a frontrunner for the award.

sonny-graySonny Gray (OAK) – With the A’s floundering in last place, I doubt many have paid that much attention to Sonny.  But, his numbers stack up with the best of the best in the AL.  In fact, he leads the league in a number of important categories:  BAA (.197), ERA (2.06), and WHIP (0.96).  He’s also one of only three pitchers in the AL with multiple shutouts.  And, with 12 wins already under his belt (and just 4 losses), 18-19 wins seems very attainable.  He only ranks 7th in FIP (2.93), and doesn’t strike out as many guys as others on this list (136 – ranks 10th in the AL).  But, leading the league in those other categories more than makes up for it.

Chris Sale (CHW) – Just 11 wins (t-9th) and a 3.32 ERA (12th) doesn’t exactly sound like a frontrunner for any pitching award, does it?  But, Sale seems to have been the recipient of some bad luck.  How else would you explain the fact that he leads the league in FIP (2.40), K’s (208), K/9 (11.9), is 2nd in K/BB ratio (6.5), and tied for 3rd in WHIP (1.04)?  I think the evidence is seen in the fact that he’s 8th in the AL in BAA (.222), but has the 7th highest BABIP (.317) in the entire AL – that’s some incredible bad luck.  He might only end up with 16-17 wins, but his dominance on the mound could easily lead to him winning this award.

 

National League

Clayton Kershaw (LAD) – The way his season started, I had zero expectations for Kershaw contending for the Cy Young.  Yet, here he is . . . again.  Sure, he may only have 10 wins right now.  But, have you seen him lately?  In his last 6 starts, he’s 5-0 with a 0.75 ERA, .167 BAA, 0.69 WHIP, and 58 K’s in just 48 IP – which, by the way, included 37 consecutive scoreless innings.  Kershaw now leads the league in K’s (205), FIP (2.18), and K/9 (11.4).  He’s also 3rd in ERA (2.39), 4th in BAA (.201), 4th in WHIP (0.92), and 2nd in K/BB (6.83).  Another dominant 7 weeks could put Kershaw in the driver’s seat for his fourth Cy Young.  But, I think the biggest thing standing in his way is…

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego PadresZack Greinke (LAD) – Greinke is having an incredible year.  And, unlike many others on this list (in both leagues), he hasn’t really gone through a “rough” patch.  The closest thing to that on his resume is from May 11th – June 23rd, when in 9 starts he went 0-2.  But, it was certainly no fault of his own, as he posted a 1.79 ERA, and 1.03 WHIP, while striking out 54 in 60.1 IP.  Just imagine how much better his 12-2 record might look if he had picked up just half the wins he deserved in that stretch (allowed 1 run or less in 7 of those starts!).  As it is, Greinke still leads the league in win pct. (.857), ERA (1.59), WHIP (0.86), BAA (.189), and H/9 (6.1).  He’s also 2nd in FIP (2.59).  And, while Greinke isn’t a big strikeout pitcher (142 – 11th), he doesn’t walk many guys either, so he ranks 6th in K/BB (5.07).  If I had the award to give out today, Greinke would be my NL choice.

Jacob deGrom (NYM) – What a fantastic follow-up to his rookie year this guy is having.  deGrom may not be leading the league in any significant stat.  But, he’s right there with the leaders.  He’s 2nd in ERA (2.03), 3rd in FIP (2.62), 2nd in WHIP (0.89), 2nd in BAA (.192) and 5th in K/BB (5.43).  If either Kershaw or Greinke falter down the stretch, deGrom could easily follow his ROY award with a Cy Young.

 

Contenders

American League

price.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxDavid Price (TOR) – A reinvigorated Price is exactly what the Blue Jays were hoping for when they traded for him.  Since joining Toronto, Price has gone 2-0 in three starts, with a 1.61 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and has struck out 24 in 22.1 IP.  His numbers with Detroit weren’t bad, mind you (9-4, 2.53 ERA, 1.13 WHIP).  But, his numbers north of the border have pushed him to the brink of being a frontrunner.  His name now appears near the top in several categories:  4th in K’s (162), 4th in ERA (2.41), 6th in FIP (2.92), 7th in K/BB (4.76), 9th in WHIP (1.09).  If he keeps pitching like has been since joining the Blue Jays, don’t be surprised if he wins his second Cy Young.

Corey Kluber (CLE) – After winning last year’s award, people should know who Kluber is, and know what he’s capable of.  But, Corey didn’t do himself any favors the way his season started.  Through his first seven starts, he was 0-5, with a 5.04 ERA.  But, since then, he has done much better, and he has really turned it on since the end of July. In his last 4 starts, Kluber has three complete games, and is 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA, .165 BAA, 0.70 WHIP, and 27 K’s in 32.2 IP.  He already ranks 3rd in the league in WHIP (1.04), 2nd in FIP (2.59), 3rd in K/BB (5.68), and is 3rd in K’s (193).  He will need some help from those that are ahead of him, because he only has 8 wins at this point – but, the potential is there for 15.

 

National League

Jake Arrieta (CHC) – If I told you to take a guess at which NL pitcher was tied for the league lead in wins (14), tied for 3rd in ERA (2.39), 4th in FIP (2.67), 5th in WHIP (0.99), 5th in BAA (.205), and 5th in K’s (163), how many guesses do you think you’d need before coming up with Arrieta’s name?  Just two years ago, he was given up on by the Orioles, after being one of their top prospects in 2009/10.  Now, he’s looking like a legit ace.  And, if he carries his current momentum (last 8 starts: 6-1, 1.41 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 55 K’s in 58.1 IP) through the rest of the season, he could surprise a lot of people by taking this award.

Max Scherzer (WSH) – In addition to having a near-perfect game (which still resulted in a no-hitter), Scherzer is having a very good year.  But, if Arrieta is on an upward trend, Scherzer is going the opposite direction.  In his last three starts, he’s 0-1, with a 7.80 ERA, and 1.60 WHIP.  He still ranks among the league leaders in several categories (1st in K/BB – 8.43; 2nd in K’s – 194; 2nd in BB% – 3.6%; 3rd in WHIP – 0.90; 4th in BAA – .202; 6th in FIP – 2.68; 10th in ERA – 2.73).  But, if he wants to be considered a frontrunner, he will need to reverse the trend of his last few outings.

 

Dark Horse

American League

 

Chris Archer (TB) – If the Rays make a late-season push for the playoffs (just 2.5 GB in the Wild Card), Archer will have a lot to do with it.  He’s another one that I doubt many are paying attention to, primarily because his 10-9 record is a bit underwhelming.  But, he ranks 6th in ERA (2.93), 2nd in K/9 (10.91), 3rd in FIP (2.65), 2nd in K’s (194), tied for 5th in WHIP (1.06), and 6th in BAA (.214).  If he carries those kinds of numbers through the rest of the season, and finishes with 16 or more wins, he will likely be on everyone’s short list.

Untitled23Carlos Carrasco (CLE) – Carrasco’s biggest hindrance to winning the Cy Young might be the fact that he plays on the same team as Kluber.  But, don’t underestimate the young Venezuelan.  He already has 11 wins (same as Price), and has really turned it on in his last three starts (1.04 ERA, 0.38 WHIP, .085 BAA, and 22 K’s in 26 IP).  He ranks 5th in the league in K’s (155), 5th in FIP (2.90), 4th in K/9 (9.67), 5th in K/BB (5.64), and 5th in WHIP (1.05).  Cy Young award or not, keep an eye on this guy in the coming years.

 

National League

Gerrit Cole (PIT) – He leads the league in wins (14), and 15-20 years ago, that would put him in the “frontrunner” category.  But, the rest of his stats are lagging behind the frontrunners.  He’s 5th in ERA (2.48), 8th in K’s (149), 5th in FIP (2.67), and tied for 10th in WHIP (1.12).  Don’t get me wrong – Cole is having an excellent season.  But, he’s actually on a bit of a downward trend.  Since the All-Star break, he’s 1-3 in 5 starts, with a 3.16 ERA, and 1.24 WHIP.  He will need to step it up the next few weeks to get back on everyone’s short list.

matt-harvey-smi2Matt Harvey (NYM) – Harvey is slowly creeping up the leader boards.  Prior to the All-Star break, he was just 8-6 with a 3.07 ERA.  But, since that time, he has gone 3-1 with a 1.23 ERA, .162 BAA, 0.74 WHIP, and 26 K’s in 36.2 IP.  After that impressive run, he now is tied for 5th in WHIP (0.99), ranks 7th in ERA (2.61), and 6th in BAA (.211).  If he really turned it on down the stretch, and came away with 18 wins (he has 11 already), he could sneak into contention.

 

That’s my list.  Who do you think I forgot?  Who do you think is ranked too high?  Too low?  Let your voice be heard in the comments below.

2015 Predictions: AL East

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

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

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

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

Baltimore

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

Boston

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

Tampa

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

Toronto

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

New York

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

 

All-Time Greatest: Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays were an expansion team in 1998 (Devil Rays at the time – new ownership dropped the “Devil” part before the 2008 season).  In 1995, expansion teams were awarded to the Tampa Bay area, and to Phoenix.  Oddly enough, by the time the Rays began play, their stadium was already in need of upgrades.  This was due to the fact that the stadium had been built in 1990, when the city had hopes of luring a team to Florida.  The San Francisco Giants nearly moved there after the 1992 season, but the sale of the team was halted by an 11th hour vote by MLB owners, who were hearing a great deal of outcry from San Francisco representatives.  So, the Giants were sold to a group that kept them in San Fran (kinda makes you wonder what 3 of the last 5 World Series’ would have looked like, huh?).  This is part of the reason that the Rays, one of the newest franchises in baseball, is already looking for a new stadium, and is considering a move across the bay into Tampa (they currently are in St. Petersburg).

Historically, the Rays have had little success.  Their first 10 seasons saw them finish in last place 9 times, and even when they didn’t happen to finish in last, they were still 21 games below .500 (though, it was their first season to break the 70-win plateau).  Then came the 2008 season.  While they were all very young, manager Joe Maddon led the talented team to its first winning season.  Not only did they finish with a winning record, but they actually won the AL East division, and went on to win the AL pennant, before losing the World Series to the Phillies.  Since that time, the Rays have reached the postseason 3 of the last 6 seasons (twice as a Wild Card, and once more as the AL East champions).  However, they have failed to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs.

With a team so young, it should come as no surprise that they have very few award winners.  No MVP winners as of yet, but they have had a Cy Young winner, and three Rookies of the Year.  It also comes as no surprise, given their limited success, that there are no Hall of Fame members that spent the majority of their careers with Tampa Bay – though, a couple have suggested they would like to wear the TB hat on their plaque (Boggs & Dawson), which never came to fruition.  With all of that being said, “all-time greatest” is probably going to seem like an odd list, because so many of their successful players are still playing.  But, here goes…

Shields-strong-outing-snaps-Rays-skid-R21AKIMJ-x-large5. James Shields (’06-’12) – I never did understand the nickname “Big Game James,” because his postseason ERA in Tampa was 5.97, outside of one 5.2 inning shutout in the ’08 World Series.  Maybe I just missed something.  Be that as it may, Shields did lead the league in complete games & shutouts in 2011, and finished 3rd in Cy Young voting.  That was also his lone All-Star game appearance.  He has won more games (87) and struck out more batters (1,250) than any other pitcher in Rays history.  Though, one would have to also recognize that a portion of the reason for that is that he has pitched over 300 more innings than any other pitcher in Rays history – which is why he is ranked this low.  But, he also ranks 2nd all-time among Rays pitchers in WHIP (1.22), 4th in ERA (3.89), and 1st in K/BB ratio (3.68).

4. Ben Zobrist (’06-present) – This might be a name you weren’t expecting.  You might expect to see Carlos Pena or Matt Garza here.  But, when you really start to look at where Zobrist ranks on a number of franchise lists, I think it’s hard to keep him off this list.  He is easily the most versatile player the franchise has ever seen.  He has played over 200 games at SS, 2B, and RF.  He has also started at least one game at every other position on the field, and has played DH in several games.  He hasn’t ever led the league in anything, but has been consistently around a 20 HR/20 SB kind of player.  He has also made 2 All-Star game appearances.  He leads all Rays batters in doubles (229), and is 3rd all-time in OBP (.354), 5th in OPS (.783), 2nd in hits (1,016), 5th in HR (116), 3rd in RBI (511), 3rd in stolen bases (102), and 5th in OPS+ (117).

a4s_spshelton061411_179310a_8col3. Carl Crawford (’02-’10) – Before he signed for big money in Boston, Carl Crawford was a staple for the Rays franchise in LF.  Crawford led the league in stolen bases 4 of his first 5 full seasons in the majors, and he stole at least 46 bases 7 times.  He also led the league in triples 4 times while with the Rays.  He appeared in 4 All-Star games, won a Gold Glove (though, he absolutely deserved several more – he was a fantastic fielder for TB), and reached as high as 7th in MVP voting. Crawford leads all Rays batters in batting (.296), hits (1,480), total bases (2,217), triples (105), and stolen bases (409).  He also ranks 6th in OPS (.781), 3rd in doubles (215), 6th in HR (104), 2nd in RBI (592), and 7th in OPS+ (107).

2. David Price (’08-’14) – There’s really no debate over who the best pitcher is to ever wear the Rays jersey.  Price is a four-time All-Star, Cy Young award winner (’12), and was runner-up in Cy Young voting in 2010.  He has led the league once each in wins, ERA, strikeouts, and K/BB ratio.  And, when you take into consideration that Price really only played the equivalent of about 5.5 seasons in TB (’08 was just 5 games, and he was traded in 2014), it’s impressive what he was able to accomplish.  He’s the Rays’ all-time leader in ERA (3.18), win pct. (.636), WHIP (1.14), and ERA+ (122).  He’s also second only to Shields in wins (82), strikeouts (1,065), and K/BB ratio (3.45).

5884523039_fa70530b76_z1. Evan Longoria (’08-present) – There’s a reason the Rays locked up Longoria early on in his career, unlike any other player to come through their franchise.  Gold Glove winning, clubhouse leading, MVP candidate third basemen don’t exactly grow on trees.  But, that’s exactly the kind of player Longo is.  Already 3-time All-Star, 2-time Gold Glove winner, Rookie of the Year, who has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times . . . who just turned 29.  His stats may not overwhelm you at first, since he hasn’t ever led the league anything.  But, he’s consistently good, and that puts him at or near the top of almost every offensive category in Rays history.  Check it out:  5th in OBP (.351), 1st in SLG (.494), 2nd in OPS (.845), 3rd in hits (975), 2nd in total bases (1,777), 2nd in doubles (226), 1st in HR (184), 1st in RBI (635), and 1st in OPS+ (131).