Buy or Sell

One week down . . . 25 to go. With that much baseball left to play, you would think people would hold off on making too much of what has happened in just 5-7 games. But, as we often do, we get wrapped up in stories that get us excited early in the season. So, here are 3 trends I think we should “sell” (aka – don’t expect it to continue), and 3 we can “buy.”

SELL

1. The 5-1 Cincinnati Reds. Beating the Pirates 2 out of 3 is nice. But, it was at home, and neither win was dominant. And a sweep of the Phillies? Not exactly something to brag about, since the Phillies are probably the worst team in the NL. So, that 5-1 record is pretty deceptive. 

2. The 5-0 Orioles. The last remaining undefeated team. Sounds pretty good, right? Well… who exactly did they beat? The Twins and Rays. Two teams likely to finish at or near the bottom of their respective divisions. And, Baltimore’s offense wasn’t exactly on fire – 4.5 runs per game. When they face some good competition, we’ll have a better idea who Baltimore is. 

3. Trevor Story (COL). It’s a nice story (yeah, I said it), the way he has started the season. But, let’s be real, folks. Every game he has played thus far has been against a lot of mediocre pitching in the thin air of Coors Field. The guy had an .817 OPS in the minors. Don’t get me wrong – that’s not bad. But, this isn’t the next Tulowitzki. He’s going to come back down to earth, and I hope you weren’t foolish enough to trade for him in your fantasy league. 

BUY

1. The 4-1 Royals. So many “experts” were picking the Tigers or Indians or maybe even the White Sox to win this division. Here’s my question: what has changed? The Royals still have the best defense in baseball. They still have one of the top 2 or 3 bullpens. They still have an offense that puts the ball in play and pressures your defense and pitching. And, they still have starting pitchers that – while they may not be All-Stars – will pitch a lot of innings with a bend-don’t-break approach. It should surprise none of us if KC reaches a 3rd consecutive World Series. 

2. The Chicago Cubs offense. Through their first 6 games, they are averaging 7 runs per game – best in the NL. Obviously they won’t keep up that pace, especially this week in the cold air in Chicago. But, the additions of Heyward and Zobrist have helped round out an offense that got a little too homer-happy when it got to the NLCS. This now is an offense that is 2nd in the NL in OBP, leads the league in walks, and has some pop as well (6th in HR). 

3. The mediocrity that is the AL West. I was shocked to see a lot of folks picking one or more Wild Card teams to come out of the AL West before the season started. But, if you look at the division today, you’ll see what I expect we’ll see at season’s end. There’s only one team with a winning record right now – the 4-3 A’s. I’m not saying Oakland will win the division. Just that 84-86 wins is probably all you’ll need here. Every team has major holes that will be exploited by the better teams in the AL. Whether it’s offense (OAK – 3.28 runs/gm against so-so pitching; LAA – nothing beyond Trout), pitching (HOU – worst ERA in AL; TEX – very suspect beyond Hamels & eventually Darvish), or just plain mediocrity (SEA – middle of the pack in pretty much everything), this is not an exciting division. 

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2016 Top 10 Third Basemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 Managers of the Year

As the World Series gets under way tonight, it’s time for us to begin looking at 2015 in review.  And, I’d like to start by taking a look at the managers who made the biggest difference for their respective teams.  In this category, I believe there’s more room for debate in the AL than there is in the NL.  No one really emerged from the pack in the AL.  For this particularly award, I’ll give my top 3.

American League

  1. Ned Yost (KC)38605223-mct_sports_bba-alcs-rainout_3_kc
  2. A.J. Hinch (HOU)
  3. Jeff Bannister (TEX)

The Royals had one month in which they finished below .500 – September/October, when they finished 2 games below .500 as they cruised into the postseason because they had such a lead in their division.  Yost kept this team hungry after losing in 7 games in the World Series a year ago (the other three teams to lose in that fashion since the turn of the century weren’t able to advance past the first round of the playoffs the following year).  KC was easily the most consistent team in the American League from beginning to end.  They didn’t always have the best record (though, they did finish with it).  Other teams, like the Astros, Rangers and Blue Jays, went through considerable peaks and valleys.  But, Yost kept this team focused, and prepared for making another run at a championship.  Hinch’s team started out on fire – 11 games over .500 through the first two months of the season.  But, they were essentially a mediocre team the rest of the way, as they saw their substantial division lead slowly leak away while they played to just an 86-76 record in the end.  Still, give Hinch credit for leading a young team into the postseason.  I give Bannister the nod here for bringing his team back from an abysmal start to their season.  They fought and clawed their way back to a division title, going 38-21 from August 2nd on.

National League

  1. Joe Maddon (CHC)1439342344735
  2. Terry Collins (NYM)
  3. Mike Matheny (STL)

Each of these managers did something special this year, and unlike the AL, they each separated themselves from the pack in their own way.  Let’s start with Matheny – 100 wins is very impressive.  Even more so, when you consider they lost their ace for nearly the entire season, their cleanup hitter for half the year, and their All-Star catcher down the stretch.  The only reason he isn’t at the top is because I’m even more impressed with what the other two have done this year.  Collins managed a team that had won 79 games a year ago, and led them to 90 wins and a division title over a team that was supposed to have run away with it (Nationals).  This, in spite of missing his team leader and All-Star 3B for 3/4 of the year, and his up-and-coming catcher for more than half the year.  They made it through July as a 53-50 team, which was respectable considering what they had lost.  But, with the return of Wright & D’Arnaud, the additions of Cespedes and Uribe, and calling up Conforto and Matz, the team took off, finishing 37-22.  But, Joe Maddon deserves a ton of credit for getting the Cubs to where they were.  A 24-game turnaround, compared to 2014, was the best in the majors.  Now, detractors will point to all of the talent on the Cubs roster, particularly the young talent (Bryant, Schwarber, Soler, & Russell were all rookies – Castro & Rizzo were both just 25 when the season started).  But, talent does not equal performance – especially when you’re talking about young talent.  The only reason you know about all the young talent the Cubs have is because Maddon was able to get them to perform.  Not too many were talking about Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain and Perez in 2012 – they were definitely a bunch of talented young players, but they weren’t performing at a high level yet.  Bringing so many young players together, along with other new faces (Fowler, Lester, Montero, Ross, etc.), is not going to automatically work (see San Diego Padres).  But, Maddon led this team to the third best record in all of baseball – 97-65.

2015 Playoff Confidence Picks

Even though the playoffs have technically already begun, it’s now time for playoff predictions.  The only reason I don’t like trying to make predictions for the Wild Card game is because it’s a single game, and pretty much anything can happen in those games.  And, that’s why baseball is usually played in series.  The better team is almost always going to come out on top in a series.  Single games can be decided by a pitcher who’s blazing hot (Arrieta last night), an offense that has caught fire at the right time (Kansas City last year), or any number of individual players or plays that send one game spiraling out of control for one team.  This is also the argument some use who are opposed to there being any portion of the playoffs decided by a single game.  But, I happen to like the Wild Card game as it is, and that’s really a discussion for another post.

Now that the final 8 teams are set, I’m going to give you my “confidence” picks.  I will rank each team in 5 categories: starters, bullpen, offense, defense, and manager.  These rankings might be based on the full season of work, but will be influenced by the last month or two of the season (just look at last year’s World Series teams to understand why that’s so important).  The team with the lowest score will automatically advance to the next round of the playoffs.  So, here we go…

Starters

American League

  1. Toronto
  2. Houston
  3. Texas
  4. Kansas City

Not only does Toronto have a Cy Young candidate at the top, but Marcus Stroman has been lights out since his return from the DL.  And, when your #3 and #4 starters are R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, you’re in pretty good shape.  Keuchel and McHugh are a great 1-2 punch in Houston.  But, beyond those two, there isn’t really anything terribly impressive.  Cole Hamels is great in Texas, but he can’t start every game for them, unfortunately.  And, I think the Kansas City starting rotation’s issues have been well documented, so let’s move on.

National League

  1. New York
  2. Los Angeles
  3. St. Louis
  4. Chicago

The Mets have 4 studs that could go out and pitch shutout baseball on any given day.  That’s a nice commodity to have in the playoffs.  The Dodgers have 2, and then a lot of question marks.  St. Louis doesn’t really have one single dominating starter.  But, they don’t really have a glaring weakness #1-4, and Wainwright could be the ace up their sleeve.  The Cubs have one legit Cy Young candidate (who will only get to pitch once in the NLDS), one starter whose playoff resume is excellent, and then some pretty huge question marks.

Bullpen

American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Houston
  3. Toronto
  4. Texas

No question the Royals’ bullpen is stellar.  What’s interesting is that the remaining three teams in the AL all have bullpens that are . . . well, less than impressive.  Houston’s closer has an ERA over 3.00.  Toronto doesn’t have a single guy with an ERA under 2.50.  And, Texas has multiple guys with ERA’s over 4.00.  These teams better hope they score early and often.

National League

  1. St. Louis
  2. Chicago
  3. New York
  4. Los Angeles

The Cardinals have one of the most reliable bullpens in baseball right now.  The only team in the NL that would have ranked higher than them would have been Pittsburgh, had they won last night.  The Cubs have a closer that has been lights out since July 1st (1.21 ERA, and just one blown save), and Rodney has turned out to be a great pick up.  The Mets have an excellent closer . . . and not much else.  The Dodgers have an up-and-down Jansen, and the hopes that Kershaw & Greinke can pitch 8 innings.

Offense

American League

  1. Toronto
  2. Texas
  3. Kansas City
  4. Houston

This gets really tight once you get past Toronto.  No question the Blue Jays have the best offense in the AL.  But, the remaining three teams are in varying order depending on which stat you go with.  I’m going to give Texas the nod, because they really caught fire the last two months of the season.  And, I’ll give KC the slightest edge over Houston, because in the playoffs I trust a team that is able to get on base and pressure their opponents’ pitchers/defense, more than I trust a team that relies so heavily on the HR.

National League

  1. Chicago
  2. New York
  3. Los Angeles
  4. St. Louis

The Cubs scored more runs than any NL team remaining in the playoffs.  The Mets’ addition of Cespedes and the return of D’Arnaud has made them a much more serious threat the last couple months.  The Dodgers have the best OPS in the group, but somehow managed to finish 8th in the NL in runs scored.  And, St. Louis’ best stat is OBP, where they finished 6th in the NL, which is just 3rd best in this group.

Defense

American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Houston
  3. Toronto
  4. Texas

All around the diamond, KC is impressive defensively.  Three Gold Glove winners last year, and a 4th who was a finalist last year.  There are no holes in their defense.  But, Houston is right on their tail.  Correa is outstanding, and they are solid all the way around.  Toronto has some excellent fielders (Donaldson & Tulo), but they also have some aging guys that aren’t exactly elite fielders (Martin, Bautista, etc.).  They’re still above average, but they definitely lag behind KC & Houston.  And, Texas . . . well, let’s just say it’s a good thing their offense is as good as it is.

National League

  1. Los Angeles
  2. New York
  3. St. Louis
  4. Chicago

The Dodgers had the best fielding percentage in the NL this year.  And, that’s probably the only team on the NL side that I would suggest might have an excellent defense.  The Mets are second on this list, because they’re good, not great.  Meanwhile the Cardinals and Cubs have to put their hopes in other parts of the game.

Manager

American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Toronto
  3. Texas
  4. Houston

Ned Yost is the only “known” quantity here.  While I don’t place a ton of confidence in him (kinda felt like KC got to the World Series in spite of some of his moves last year), he does have the experience that none of the others do.  I’ll give Gibbons a lot of credit for keeping his team’s confidence high when they were struggling early in the season.  Bannister and Hinch are virtual unknowns.  The only reason I’ll give Bannister a slight edge is because he managed the team that overtook Hinch’s team in the last month of the season.

National League

  1. Chicago
  2. New York
  3. Los Angeles
  4. St. Louis

Let me start by saying that I don’t lack confidence in any of these guys.  Unlike the American League choices, all of the NL options have proven to be quality leaders.  Maddon should be Manager of the Year, considering how many rookies are on that team.  Collins did a good job with a very young pitching staff, and some new faces at the trade deadline.  Mattingly received a lot of undeserved heat in last year’s playoffs, but he still needs to prove he can carry the team deeper into the postseason.  Matheny has led his team far, but there are a lot of question marks regarding some of his decisions.

There you have it.  Those are my rankings.  Now, let’s see how that all adds up.  The numbers in parentheses are each team’s totals from the above categories.

ALDS

  1. Toronto Blue Jays (10) def. Texas Rangers(16)
  2. Kansas City Royals (10) def. Houston Astros (14)

NLDS

  1. New York Mets (10) def. Los Angeles Dodgers (13)
  2. Chicago Cubs (12) def. St. Louis Cardinals (15)

ALCS

Kansas City Royals (10) def. Toronto Blue Jays (10)  [I gave the tie-breaker to the team that was ahead of the other team in the rankings more often.]

NLCS

New York Mets (10) def. Chicago Cubs (12)

 

World Series

Kansas City Royals defeat the New York Mets in 7 games.

I think this could be a great Series.  I give the edge to KC, because I think they have the edge in bullpen, defense, and manager.  The Mets definitely have the edge in starting pitching, but I don’t think that’s enough.  No matter what, I think this is going to be an exciting postseason!

2015 Predictions: AL West

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

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

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

Oakland

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

Los Angeles (or, is it Anaheim?)

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

Seattle

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

Houston

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

Texas

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

All-Time Greatest: Texas Rangers

Texas_RangersThe Texas Rangers franchise traces its roots to the Washington Senators.  But, wait, you say – weren’t the Minnesota Twins originally the Washington Senators?  And, the answer is, Yes!  When the Senators moved to Minnesota after the 1960 season, there was a great deal of displeasure among Washington fans – which included some powerful names in government.  In order to avoid losing their antitrust exemption, major league baseball decided to move forward with expansion a year earlier than originally planned.  And, two cities were awarded expansion franchises – Los Angeles (the Angels), and Washington.

The expansion Senators were not good.  They finished with the worst or 2nd worst record in the entire American League 7 of their 11 seasons in Washington.  They only achieved one winning season in Washington (with Ted Williams as their manager).  Their ownership never seemed to be able to stabilize their situation – going through two different ownership groups in their first decade of existence.  Finally, owner Bob Short was able to get approval to move the team to Arlington, TX.  Despite how lousy the team had been for so long, Senators fans were still livid.  At their final game in Washington, over 10,000 fans just walked into the stadium without paying – as security had already left.  And, with two outs in the 9th, fans began running onto the field to take souvenirs – including first base.  With no security, and first base missing, the umpires decided the game would be forfeited to the Yankees.

After moving to Texas, and changing the name to the Texas Rangers, it didn’t take long for the franchise to turn things around.  They had their first winning season in 1977, which was followed by winning records in 5 of their next 6 seasons.  However, the playoffs remained elusive until 1996, when they won their first of five division titles.  They would go on to lose the ALDS in 3 of 4 seasons (’96, ’98, ’99).  They later reached the playoffs in three consecutive years from 2010-2012 – which included two American League pennants (though, they would lose both World Series).  Five different players have won six MVP awards while with the Rangers franchise, and they have had two Rookies of the Year.  And, one player has been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Ranger.  Here are the top 5 players in Rangers history, based on their play while in Texas:

6a00e54f7fc4c58833017d41b2860a970c5. Nolan Ryan (’89-’93) – Long-tenured Rangers are hard to come by.  Especially when you look at the pitchers in their franchise history.  Only three pitchers in the franchise have even totaled 100 wins.  So, as the only Hall of Fame member wearing a Texas Rangers hat on his plaque, I’ll place Ryan here.  While he only spent five seasons with Texas, he was still able to lead the league in strikeouts twice (at the ages of 42 & 43!), WHIP twice, and K/9 three times (though, he may be remembered more for a fight with Robin Ventura than any of that).  He appeared in the All-Star game once, and finished 5th in Cy Young voting that same season (’89).  He also pitched his sixth and seventh no-hitters while in Texas.  On the Rangers’ all-time lists, he ranks 5th in ERA (3.43), 8th in win pct. (.567), 1st in WHIP (1.13), 2nd in K/9 (10.06), 4th in K’s (939 – and everyone ahead of him pitched over 1,000 more innings in Texas), 5th in K/BB ratio (2.66), and 4th in ERA+ (116).

4. Josh Hamilton (’08-’12) – Hamilton may not have been in Texas very long, but he had a major impact while there.  He was an All-Star all 5 seasons he was in Texas, compiled a stat line of .305/.363/.549, led the league in RBI once, and total bases once.  In 2010, he won a batting title, led the league in OPS, and won the AL MVP.  That was also the first of consecutive years he helped lead the Rangers to the World Series – and he won the 2010 ALCS MVP along the way.  Hamilton ranks 5th in Rangers history in batting, 3rd in SLG, 2nd in OPS (.912), and 4th in OPS+ (137).

7233105360_1370812c19_o3. Frank Howard (’65-’71) – Howard had a run from 1967-1970 that, if he had sustained it through more of his career, would have made him a shoe-in for the HOF.  In those 4 seasons, he averaged 43 HR, 108 RBI, and a .923 OPS.  He led the league in HR twice, RBI once, walks once, SLG once, and total bases twice.  While with the then-Senators franchise, Howard appeared in 4 All-Star games, and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 3 times.  He ranks 8th on the Rangers’ all-time OBP list (.367), 7th in SLG (.503), 8th in OPS (.870), 6th in total bases (2,074), 3rd in HR (246), 6th in RBI (701), and 2nd in OPS+ (153 – 2nd only to the highly questionable stats put up by A-Rod).

2. Juan Gonzalez (’89-’99, ’02-’03) – the only Ranger with multiple MVP awards (’96 & ’98), Gonzalez spent nearly his entire career in Texas.  He led the league in HR twice, doubles once, SLG once, and RBI once.  Somehow, he finished in the top-10 in MVP voting more often than he was elected to the All-Star game (4 times to 2, respectively).  He also won 5 Silver Sluggers.  In 1996, he had one of the most impressive playoff series performances in history (in spite of a 4-game loss to the Yankees).  He hit 5 HR, drove in 9, and compiled a .438/.526/1.375 stat line, for a ridiculous 1.901 OPS!  He is the Rangers’ all-time leader in HR (372) and RBI (1,180).  He also ranks 2nd in SLG (.565), 3rd in OPS (.907), 4th in hits (1,595), 2nd in total bases (3,073), and 6th in OPS+ (133).

RodriguesSmiling1. Ivan Rodriguez (’91-’02, ’09) – Rodriguez should be on everyone’s top-3 list of catchers all time (only Bench & Berra can match him).  He appeared in 10 consecutive All-Star games from ’92-’01, during which time he also won an amazing 10 consecutive Gold Gloves.  He is the all time leader in putouts at catcher – having more than 2,000 more than anyone else in baseball history.  He also won the MVP while in Texas in 1999.  While he never led the league in any significant offensive stat, Rodriguez was a very good hitting catcher.  On the Rangers’ all-time lists, he ranks 8th in batting (.304), 9th in SLG (.488), 10th in OPS (.828), 2nd in hits (1,747), 2nd in doubles (352), 4th in HR (217), and 4th in RBI (842).

2013 AL Rookie of the Year

The American League saw several teams call up guys from their minor league systems well after the season had begun.  In fact, no rookie in the AL played in even 140 games this season, and only 5 played in as many as 100 games.  So, overall in the AL, the stats for this year’s ROY candidates aren’t overwhelming.  But, I do believe there’s a clear choice.  For this, and all future awards, I’m going to list the top 5 candidates in ascending order, leading up to my winner.  So, here goes:

Oswaldo Arcia#5 – Oswaldo Arcia (MIN).  His .251 batting average isn’t very exciting, and his defense in the outfield wasn’t stellar.  But, he’s just 22, and he had pretty nice numbers otherwise in the 97 games he played: 14 HR, 43 RBI, .734 OPS, 103 wRC+

#4 – Dan Straily (OAK).  Dan started 27 games for the A’s – more than any AL rookie pitcher.  He also led all AL rookies with 124 K’s, to go along with his 3.96 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.  The league only bat .229 against him, and yet his record was just 10-8.  But, all in all, he had a very good year.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Boston Red Sox#3 – Tanner Scheppers (TEX).  This guy was relied on time after time after time in late innings by the Rangers.  He pitched in 76 games, and accumulated just a 1.88 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.  He had 27 holds – the most of any AL rookie – and just one blown save.  While his stats might not wow you, just wait and see if this guy isn’t a premier closer in a couple years.

#2 – Jose Iglesias (DET).  Boston must have a lot of confidence in Bogaerts for them to trade away a guy with as much talent as Iglesias just 60+ games into his career.  Iglesias played an excellent SS, while batting .303 in 109 games with a .735 OPS and a 102 wRC+.  If he could improve his baserunning skills a little, he could become a premier leadoff hitter.

img22445570#1 – Wil Myers (TB).  There’s really no debate here.  Even though Myers only played in 88 games, it’s clear who this year’s best AL rookie was.  In spite of the fact that he barely played more than half a season, he still led all AL rookies in RBI (53), OPS (.832), and wRC+ (131).  He also ranked 2nd in the league in HR (13), and bat .293 in 373 plate appearances.  A full season with Myers in the lineup in 2014 is likely going to help that TB offense be much more consistent.