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MLB Trade Deadline 2015: who improved their rotation the most?

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He looks pretty good in Canadian blue.  Photo via ctvnews.ca

He looks pretty good in Canadian blue. Photo via ctvnews.ca

It was by most accounts the busiest trade deadline ever.  Lots of high impact players moved.  And we were worried that the 2nd wild card would curtail the trade market!

Here’s a couple of good summary links: a division-by-division overview of teams post-deadline, BaseballAmerica.com’s Trade Central, with a review of every 2015 trade, and a nice trade-by-trade grade at Minorleagueball.com.

Lets look at those teams that altered their rotations and talk about how much they improved.  In order of perceived impact:

1. Los Angeles: added Mat Latos and Alex Wood, replacing two placeholders who had taken over for the injured Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu.  Add Latos and Wood to what the Dodgers were already rolling out and I feel like they have become the new team to beat in the NL.

2. Toronto: adds the best pitcher on the market David Price to a team that really, really needed a bump in their pitching.  Price is used to the AL East and gives Toronto (coupled with their big Troy Tulowitzki move) a leg up on their divisional rivals.  The rest of the division mostly stood pat in terms of the trade deadline, and the division is there for the taking.  I believe Toronto can catch the Yankees; they’ve been incredibly unlucky by RS/RA and should regress upwards.

3. Kansas City: Johnny Cueto immediately replaces the injured Jason Vargas in a “nice timing” move, and KC solidifies its grip on the division.  This move wasn’t about getting to the post season as much as it was about winning once they get there.  Cueto is their 2015 version of James Shields; the workhorse who they can lean on in the 5- and 7-game series.

4. Houston: added Scott Kazmir and Mike Fiers, who will slide in to the 4th and 5th spots and supplant the under performing Scott Feldman and others who need more time in AAA.  While not as flashy as some other teams’ moves, this makes the back of Houston’s rotation stronger.  And, it should be noted, Houston’s main AL West rival (Los Angeles) not only didn’t make a move but just lost one its key starters to injury (C.J. Wilson).  Houston’s rebuilding plan looks like its at least a year ahead of schedule and coupled with serious injury issues to their competitors look like the favorite in the AL West.

5. Texas: adds Cole Hamels, who Philadelphia *finally* moved after sitting on the pot for 2 years.  I think this move is more about 2016; I don’t really see Texas making a move in 2015.  But it is a significant move: Hamels could give Texas one of the best AL 1-2 punches when Yu Darvish comes back, and then they have a nice collection of arms to choose from to fill out the rotation (Gallardo, Holland, Perez, Lewis, Martinez).

6. San Francisco adds the underrated Mike Leake, who slides into the #3 spot, prevents the Giants from even considering using Tim Lincecum in the rotation any longer, and certainly gives them an upgrade over what they were getting from Tim Hudson.  SF isn’t *that* far back from LA in the division … but more importantly is working hard to secure a WC spot.

7. Pittsburgh makes a minor move in adding J.A. Happ, who slides nicely and fortuitously into the spot that A.J. Burnett may be giving up to injury.

8. Chicago Cubs curiously added Dan Haren to their rotation; adding a mediocre #5 starter to a team that plays in a hitter’s park may back fire.  I would have thought Chicago would have been more aggressive to try to secure the 2nd wild card, but then again is it fair to say their rebuilding plan is also a year ahead of schedule right now?  Maybe they go big in the off-season to add starters behind Lester/Arrieta.


 

Sellers and the Impacts to their rotations:

Detroit moved backwards, selling their ace but acquiring a good prospect in Daniel Norris.  This move also lets them try out a couple of starter prospects for the rest of a season where they’re clearly not going to catch Kansas City.

Oakland was a seller but didn’t augment their rotation very much, getting a #5 starter in Aaron Brooks.  Oakland has been completely snake-bit this season, sporting one of the best run differentials in the game but having lost 75% of the one-run games they’ve played.  Billy Beane isn’t afraid to deal though and he’s got more than enough starting pitching coming off injury to compete in 2016.

Philadelphia got the rotting corpse of Matt Harrison in return for Hamel, along with a whole slew of players; I doubt Harrison ever pitches for them.

Cincinnati sold off their two best pitchers and now are doing open auditions at the MLB level for their 2016 rotation.

Miami finds themselves in a familiar place, selling off assets so as to line the pockets of their owners needlessly.  They lose two rotation guys but augment from the D/L and the farm system.  They’ll regroup for 2016 and continue to challenge as the worst organization to their fan base.

Seattle was sort of a seller, flipping off back of the rotation guys for spare parts.  They did not meaningfully alter their core rotation.  Their problem is simply under-performance.

Atlanta curiously parted with one of the most valuable resources in the game; the effective MLB-minimum starter.   They ended up with draft picks and prospects and a Cuban wild card in Hector Olivera.

Milwaukee parted with a 5th starter, giving those starts to their #1 prospect Taylor Jungmann.  A good deal for them.

 

Remember this Weekend

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Scherzer can't pitch a no-hitter every time; at some point this team needs to start hitting.  Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Scherzer can’t pitch a no-hitter every time; at some point this team needs to start hitting. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

If the playoffs started today, here’s what the match-ups would look like (and frankly the odds of this setup changing seem slim; maybe SF catches Chicago for the 2nd WC but otherwise this seems like it will be the line-up):

  • Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh for the wild card
  • St. Louis hosting the WC winner
  • Washington traveling to Los Angeles.

And in said short series, with the Nats traveling to Los Angeles, they’d likely face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke again in games 1 and 2.

Here’s what the LA 1-2 punch just did to our hapless lineup, on the road no less where Kershaw has a significantly worse stats:

There’s not a pundit in the game who doesn’t think the Nats aren’t going to win the NL East.  That they’re in first place while their #1, #2, #4 and #5 hitters sit on the D/L is pretty amazing (or, perhaps more to the point, a pretty bad indictment of our division in 2015).  But the toll is being seen; between outings against Kershaw, Greinke and (just before the all-star break) Johnny Cueto, we now see the effect of such a weak offense.  MLB-wide Aces will absolutely dominate the Nats.  To the point where we could have Cy  Young himself throwing and not have a chance.  If there’s just one or two legitimate hitters in your lineup, you can pitch around them and attack guys who otherwise would be in AAA or on the bench.  As we just saw.

The question is this: can the Nats offense turn this around?  We have now seen this team make the playoffs twice, each time with the best record in the league, and then each time flail out of the playoffs while barely hitting.  In 2012 they hit .232/.290/.393 and in 2014 they hit .164/.222/.258.

Yes we plan on getting everybody back.  Most of our D/L guys are on rehab assignments as we speak actually.  Can they get their expected form back and make this team respectable on offense?  Can Jayson Werth regain his stroke despite recovering from a broken wrist?  Can Denard Span regain his batting stroke despite a chronic back issue?  I’m less worried about Zimmerman and Rendon; they just need time and luck to stay on the field despite leg/foot issues, and both those guys profile as the kind of middle-of-the-order hitter that would give the Nats lineup some potency back (not to mention some protection for Bryce Harper).

Will it be enough?  Are you worried about looming playoff match-ups?

 

 

State of the Nats at the halfway point 2015

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Per KW’s comment suggestion, here’s a “State of the Nats” at the halfway point of 2015.

Salient key phrase: “Holding On.”  Lets look at some component parts.

Offense

Here’s the full-strength outfield lineup the Nats would optimally like to deploy: Span, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Werth, Desmond, Ramos, Escobar.

Here’s what they lined-up against Red’s ace Johnny Cueto a few days ago: Taylor, Espinosa, Harper, Ramos, Robinson, Uggla, Desmond, den Dekker.  Yeah, its no wonder they wimpered into the night as Cueto threw a 2-hit shutout.  If you’re Cueto, you pitch around Harper (who got a hit and a walk), you attack the rest of the lineup (strike-out prone lead-off hitter Taylor took a hat-trick), and you laugh as you blow through the rest of the lineup (11Ks on the night).

That’s five regulars out, but not just any regulars; the D/L includes your expected #1, #2 #4, and #5 hitters.  Instead they are replaced by a rookie (Taylor), a career minor-leaguer (Robinson), a cast-off veteran failure (Uggla), a career .230 hitter who the team has spent the last 3 years trying to replace (Espinosa) and a 4th/5th outfielder with just a couple hundred MLB at-bats prior to this year (den Dekker).

Frankly, its a miracle the team is in first place.  Only by the grace of Harper’s incredible season does this team manage to stay in games.  For the record, at the halfway point Harper leads the league in bWAR (6.1), OBP, Slugging, OPS and OPS+.  After having a 3-1 K/BB ratio last year, this year he basically has as many walks as strike-outs, one of the primary reasons his average is 60 points higher and his OBP is 130 points higher than it was last year.  Hold your breath that Harper doesn’t crash out and miss a month with some injury like he’s done in the previous seasons.  If he ends the season with this level of an adjusted OPS+, it’ll be one of the 10-12 best offensive seasons in the history of baseball.

Ironically, even given all these injuries the Nats aren’t even close to what some other teams are dealing with; per mangameslost.com, we’re not even close to what the Mets, Rangers, Rays or Oakland has had to deal with.  Though I’d venture to say that perhaps the games lost by Nats players are slightly more “important” than the cumulative games lost by some of these other teams.  I don’t care who you are; if you remove four of the top five batters from any team’s lineup, they’d be lucky to be out of the cellar.

The team has gotten absolutely nothing from presumed bench players McLouth and Johnson (Do you think Rizzo will *ever* buy a 4th outfielder for 8-figures again in his life?).  Guys who should be in AAA are getting starts and (at least in the case of Robinson) holding their own.  We talked before the season about where Taylor should be (on the MLB bench or in AAA getting starts) … well he’s getting playing time, for better or worse.  Instead of worrying about whether Moore was going to get DFA’d to make room, we’re *adding* guys to the 40-man like Burriss to help out.

Rotation

We know about Scherzer.  He’s been amazing, should start the NL All-Star game (of course, he’s scheduled to throw the series ender in Baltimore so we’ll see) and he leads all NL pitchers in bWAR.

What about the rest of the rotation?  Both Fister and Strasburg have missed a  handful of starts, and the Nats have tried a whole AAA-rotation worth of replacements to varying results.  With apologies to “short sample size judgements” I’ll say that Ross was good, Hill has been ok, Cole has been bad, and Jordan has been worse.  Of course, both Cole and Jordan’s delta between ERA and FIP is massive, so their poor ERAs are unlucky to a certain extent.  In the meantime, Ross has a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a FIP of 1.11 in his three starts.  Its safe to say that this person is excited to see what he can do next, and for me he’s at the head of the line for 2016 rotation candidates.

Clearly we know Strasburg has had an off season.  But so has Fister.  And Gonzalez‘ ERA is in the 4’s.   Just how bad is this rotation?  Not as bad as you think; they’re ranked 8th in the league in starter ERA but are 1st in FIP and fWAR.   Last  year they were 1st in all of these categories.  So perhaps we can expect some “progression” in the 2nd half as (hopefully) guys like Strasburg clean up their act and pitch closer to their FIPs than their ERAs.

Bullpen

We knew Rizzo had weakened the bullpen from 2015, which could have been fine had the injury bug not hit.  But the turnover of this bullpen has caught up to the team in some ways.

  • End of 2014: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Thornton, Blevins, and Detwiler.
  • As we stand now: Storen, Janssen, Treinen, Carpenter, Thornton, Rivero, and Roark.

That’s a lot of turnover.  Yes Storen has been typically excellent (as long as its not the post-season, he seems to be one of the most reliable closers in the game).  As we speak, the bullpen is 11th in ERA; last year they were 4th as a bullpen.  Janssen’s injury did not help, as it pushed guys into the 8th inning role they weren’t ready for.  And we saw Treinen and Barrett struggle (3.69 and 5.06 ERA’s respectively).  Granted their FIP shows that those ERAs are unlucky … but those are still runs on the board, blown leads, blown saves.  Roark (predictably) has regressed as he’s pitched in practically every role a pitching staff has (long-man, mop-up, spot-starter, rotation guy, middle reliever, setup guy and even a closer).  Luckily the gambler Rizzo has gotten pretty good performance out of scrap heap guys like Thornton and Carpenter, both of whom have given the team good innings.

Will this last?  It better: there’s practically nothing left in the farm system for reinforcements.  Barrett is set to return soon (probably pushing Carpenter to AAA), but the other options in the minors do not inspire confidence.  Martin got shelled (unfortunately; we were all cheering him on after his call-up and his fantastic start).  Grace and Solis were both mediocre in their auditions, and I can’t quite figure out why Erik Davis is even still on the roster.  Maybe the team will try some more waiver claims or trades (Neftali Felix just got DFA’d…) to shore up middle relief.

Streaks

Lets talk about streaks.  As of the time of this posting, the Nats season can neatly be fit into these four periods, and then talk about what spurred the beginning/ending of each streak.

  • The Slow Start: 7-13 from opening day through 4/27/15.  The team came out of the game 7-13, thanks to a sputtering offense and a make-shift lineup still trying to gel.
  • The Comeback: 21-6 from 4/28/15 to 5/27/15: Uggla hits his sole homer on the season to spur a pretty incredible 13-12 comeback win in Atlanta, and the team goes on a 21-6 tear following it.
  • Rotational Worries: 6-13 from 5/28/15 to 6/19/15.  Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on his 5/28/15 start, putting 40% of the rotation on the D/L and throwing the rhythm of the pitching staff off.
  • The Kid dazzles: 12-5 from 6/20/15 to 7/9/15; A long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with a dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off an easy stretch in the schedule and a mostly full-strength pitching rotation.

Definitely a streaky team so far.  At 7-13, they were 8 games back.  At the end of their 21-6 streak, they were 1.5 games up in the division.  Despite their 6-13 stretch the only lost 3 games in the standings as the Mets faltered equally, and as of 7/9/15 they’re still 3 games up despite getting dominated at home by the Reds.

The team is beating who they should be beating (9-3 against Atlanta, 8-5 against Philly).  And they’ve had some success against other teams that are “good” this year (3-1 against the Yankees, 3-0 against Pittsburgh, and a sweep of San Francisco).  But they’re inexplicably bad against Cincinnati (0-5?), Miami (2-4), and were expectedly weak against the rest of the AL East (a combined 3-7 against Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto).  I’m guessing they’ll struggle against Baltimore this coming weekend since they sputtered against Cincinnati.

Lets just say that the All-Star break is coming at a pretty good time for this team.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats should be healthier coming out of the all-star break.  And they’ll need it; their July schedule is tough.  They host the Dodgers and the Mets to start, then travel to Pittsburgh, Miami and New York.  That’s a slew of games against good teams and their primary divisional rivals.

In August they host some bad teams (Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado) but they also do their big West Coast trip (at Los Angeles, San Francisco and Colorado).  They also get a 3-game set at St. Louis that could be an eye-opener for where they really stand ahead of the playoffs.  September features practically all divisional games against teams that should all be completely out of it by then, so I forsee a team in cruising mode.

Playoff Outlook

The Nats remain in 1st place despite all their issues, and their closest rival is putting out a lineup that most AAA teams could beat.  Philly is already 30 games under .500.  Miami is 15 games under .500 and just lost their best player.  Atlanta sits around .500 but isn’t really trying for 2015 and won’t spend to compete.  So I think its safe to say the Nats are winning the division.  I’ll guess the Mets hang around since their pitching is so good, but in the end the Nats win the division by at least 10 games.

If the season ended today, Pittsburgh hosts the Cubs in the WC, St. Louis hosts the WC winner and Washington would be traveling to Los Angeles to open the playoffs.  And frankly its hard to see this changing much between now and October 1st.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the Nats would be underdogs to both the Dodgers and the Cardinals in a playoff series, not unless Strasburg remembers how to pitch again or the offense gets healthy in time.  Are we looking at another first round playoff exit?

 

 

My 2014 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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No more excuses; Trout has more than earned his MVP.  Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

No more excuses; Trout has more than earned his MVP. Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

First draft of this post: May 8th, 2014, just 5 weeks into the season, with the announcements of MLB players of the month and early MVP watch columns from national baseball writers .  

My Predictions:

  • NL MVP: Kershaw over Stanton, McCutchen and Lucroy
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw over Cueto and Wainwright
  • NL Rookie: deGrom over Hamilton
  • NL Manager: Bochy over Roenicke
  • AL MVP: Trout over Victor Martinez, Cano, Abreu and Cruz.
  • AL Cy Young: Felix, barely over Kluber, Sale, others.
  • AL Rookie: Abreu over Tanaka, Shoemaker, Ventura, and others.
  • AL Manager: Showalter over McLendon, Yost.

So, how did the major awards evolve this year?  Read below for a running diary of the front runners for each major award.  It makes for a fascinating read of the season.  By my sense, the awards kind of went like this from April to September:

  • NL MVP: Tulowitzki early, then Stanton, maybe McCutchen, then Kershaw, back to Stanton and finally Kershaw with Stanton’s injury.
  • NL Cy Young: Cueto at the start, Jose Fernandez til he got hurt, then Bumgarner, Wainwright, then clearly Kershaw.
  • NL Rookie: Chris Owings, then Wong, then Hamilton, maybe Polanco, suddenly deGrom.
  • AL MVP: Abreu then Bautista, Encarnacion, Cruz, then Trout, no doubt.  Everyone else racing for #2.
  • AL Cy Young: Sonny Grey, then Scherzer, then Buehrle, then Felix, maybe Kluber, down to wire.
  • AL Rookie: Abreu, then Tanaka, Ventura, then clearly Abreu with Tanaka’s injury.

Ahead of this post, some non MLB-affiliated awards have been given out.

  • Matt Williams was named The Sporting News’ NL Manager of the Year, which readers here probably laugh at considering the mess he made of his pitching decisions in the NLDS.
  • Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland won the NL and AL reliever of the year awards, named after Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera respectively.
  • The Gold Gloves were announced  yesterday: you’d have to be crazy to try to predict those :-)

 


This year, instead of printing links to writers early and mid-season predictions, I’ll just throw those links into the monthly reviews for context.   This post is more like a season-long diary of the evolution of these awards; the sections were written in each month as the season progressed.


April
:

Players-of-the-month in April do not very frequently win MVPs, Cy Youngs or Rookie of the Year awards, but we may see a surprise in 2014 thanks to some big-time performances.  But here’s where we stand after the first month.

Opinions this month: Corcoran on early candidates.

  • MVP candidatesTroy Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton in the NL.  Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon deserves mention for his amazing April.  Jose Abreu and Jose Bautista in the AL (with apologies to perennial contenders Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, both of whom started slow).
  • Cy Young candidatesJohnny Cueto and Jose Fernandez in the NL.  Sonny Grey and Max Scherzer in the AL.
  • Rookie of the year candidatesChris Owings in the NL, Jose Abreu in the AL.  Masahiro Tanaka could make some noise in the AL though for sure.

May:

Opinions this month: Corcoran’s musings throughout the month.  Stark’s “First Quarter” awards.  BaseballMusing’s Cy Young Tracker analysisScott Lindholm‘s two month predictor.

  • MVP candidates: Still Tulowitzki in the NL (he has a full 1.0 WAR lead midway through the month and had accumulated 4 WAR just six weeks into the season!  Even more impressive; he’s hitting ABOVE .500 at home thus far), but Stanton has also been on fire (as my fantasy team can attest).  Yasiel Puig may be a lightening rod, but he’s also one of the best players in the NL and has put his name into the NL MVP conversation by winning player of the month..   Jody Donaldson has been on fire in the AL and is getting some notice, but also so has Nelson Cruz, who may be the best FA signing of the off-season.  Abreu went on the D/L.  Bautista remains the best offensive WAR player in the AL.  But by months’ end Trout was near the top of the WAR list despite a “slump.”  Edwin Encarnacion cannot stop hitting and is leading Toronto to a big lead in the AL East, and won player of the month in the AL for May, but i’m doubtful he’ll eventually figure in the MVP race.
  • Cy Young candidates: Cueto still leads in the NL when early front-runner Fernandez goes down to TJ Surgery, despite the Nats tagging him for 8 runs in a mid-May game.  Adam Wainwright is quietly having an excellent season, as is Zack Greinke.  Jeff Samardzija might be the best pitcher of them all but still has zero wins thanks to the vagarities of the Win statistic (that and his team’s purposelly awful offense).  Madison Bumgarner won May pitcher of the month, but doesn’t seem like he’s nearly as dominant as the other pitchers mentioned here.  Lastly we need to mention Tim Hudson‘s great start.  Scherzer and Tanaka still involved in the AL race, but Mark Buehrle‘s turn-back-the-clock season is gaining notice and Houston’s Dallas Keuchel is having an amazing season for the 110 loss Astros.   Meanwhile Felix Hernandez is quietly dominant, posting an 8-1 record out in Seattle.  And Yu Darvish is basically unhittable (as the Nats learned in late May).
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Owings remains in the lead in the NL among little competition pending expected mid-season callups (Corcoran’s May #2 is Atlanta’s David Hale, who was demoted to the bullpen after 4 starts when Gavin Floyd was ready to go), but Kolten Wong‘s showing has his name in the discussion (he was May’s MLB rookie of the month).   Abreu hit the D/L (and his numbers may be impressive from a power stand point but little else), while Tanaka continues his dominance and takes over the AL lead.  Meanwhile the amazing arm of Yordano Ventura pokes his head into this race … and then he got hit with injury.  But the new leader in the AL RoY clubhouse may very well be Houston’s George Springer, who hit seven homers in 7 games in late May and is on pace for 40 as a rookie.

June

Opinions: Lindholm’s early Rookie of the Year look.  Lindholm’s Cy Young Predictions (except that he focuses entirely on advanced pitching stats that, lets face it, the voter-base doesn’t care about).  Corcoran take on the Rookies.  Corcoran update on MVP race.  Passan’s half-year awards column.  Brisbee mid-season AL Awards and mid-season NL-Awards (which he thinks are stupid :-).  MLB June Rookies of the month announcement.

  • MVP candidates: Still Tulowitzki in the lead in the NL, though Stanton probably finishes in the top 3 thanks to his first ever healthy season enabling him to chase 50 homers.  Puig has cooled a bit.  Jonathan Lucroy has thrown his name into top-5 consideration thanks to his great offensive season tacked on top of his great defensive prownesses.  And last years’ MVP Andrew McCutchen has thrown his name into the ring with a great June and the MLB player of the month award.  In the AL, Trout’s consistency has giving him the lead over AL east bashers Bautista and Cruz (and he won MLB’s MVP for June).   Tanaka will probably get top 5 votes but won’t win; see the Cy Young section for a statement on his “rookie” season.  One can only hope that a down year (thus far) for Cabrera will finally eliminate the narrative-driven voting for him over Trout that has occurred the last two years; Trout’s numbers right now eclipse his numbers in his first two years.  Meanwhile you have to start giving Jose Altuve some props: at the half-way point of the season he’s leading the AL in Batting Average, Hits and Stolen Bases, each by a considerable margin.  I’d have him in my top5.
  • Cy Young candidates: Wainwright has overtaken Cueto for the NL lead right now, but if Kershaw keeps throwing scoreless innings (he’s on a streak of 28 as of the time of this writing), he’ll move into the lead (MLB just gave Kershaw pitcher of the month for June).   Julio Teheran probably earns a top-5 spot thanks to his breakout season.  And one Jake Arrieta has added his name to the mix thanks to his pretty amazing turnaround in Chicago.  In the AL, Tanaka still leads King Felix, with Texas-based hurlers Darvish and Keuchel knocking on the door but slightly cooling.  But Felix was named AL’s June pitcher of the month and would be a no-brainer if he didn’t have the West Coast anti-bias working against him.
  • Rookie of the year candidates:  In the NL, no candidates are really distinguishing themselves. Right now Owings remains in the WAR lead over Billy Hamilton (who was named Rookie of the Month for June and is in the lead right now) but neither player is that inspiring.   However the eventual favorite may have finally gotten his callup in Gregory Polanco.  Meanwhile the AL race almost certainly is looking like a 1-2 International FA contest between Tanaka and Abreu, with Tanaka easily winning right now (though Abreu won June’s Rookie of the Month award).  There’s almost no reason to mention anyone else, which is unfair to Houston’s budding stars George Springer and Jon Singleton.
  • Comeback Player of the Year: This award always flies under the radar, but we have a couple of decent candidates getting some mention.  In the NL,  Casey McGehee was run out of the MLB thanks to injuries and awful hitting in 2012; after a dominant year in Japan he’s having a nice bounce-back for Miami.  And, after just 8 awful starts in 2013, LA’s Josh Beckett is looking pretty dominant so far this year.  Tim Hudson‘s come-back year after his gruesome ankle injury earns some mentions.   The AL version is harder to find candidates: Passan mentions Joakim Soria and Phil Hughes as early candidates.  I like Hughes; 4-14 with a 5+ ERA last year who is having success this year.
  • Managers of the Year: at the halfway point, we can start to see some clarity in the Manager of the Year (also known as the “guy in charge of the team that has the most shocking W/L record award.”  Right now we’re we’re looking at Bob Melvin, manager of Oakland and their best-in-the-majors 81-game record in the AL and (easily right now) Ron Roenicke, who is leading the surprising Milwaukee Brewers to the best record in the NL at the halfway point.

July

Opinions: Stark “First Half Winners.”  Jonah KeriMidseason Report.”  Schoenfield’s “NL MVP is wide open” post.

  • MVP candidates: In the NL, Colorado’s waning playoff chances are knocking down Tulowitzki’s chances, while Stanton continues to produce staggering offensive numbers.   Meanwhile McCutchen is coming on strong and may lead Pittsburgh on a 2nd half run.  In the AL, the Angels success finally ends the 3-year running narrative based arguments that have prevented Trout from winning an MVP.  At this point, if he doesn’t win, its because some bloc of writers has conspired against him.  Batista and Cruz continue to be 2-3 on my ballot.  At the end of the month, Trout leads the majors in bWAR with Tulowitzki not far behind.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the NL, it is looking like Wainwright versus Kershaw.  Wainwright in the lead now, but Kershaw’s dominance may carry him to the title by the end of the year.  In the AL; Felix Hernandez has overtaken Tanaka, who hit the D/L with a partially torn UCL that may force him into Tommy John.  Chris Sale has put his name into contention as the #3 candidate right now.  Kershaw/Fernandez are 1/2 in bWAR at the end of the month.
  • Rookie of the year candidates:  In the NL, Hamilton still holds off Polanco, but the Pittsburgh rookie has been great since his call up.  Check back on this race later.  In the AL, Tanaka’s D/L trip also may cost him his unanimous Rookie of the Year award, which now goes to the 1-A candidate Abreu.  No one else is close; If I had to guess who was #3 in this race, i’d go Springer.
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Still looking like Hudson and Hughes for now.
  • Managers of the Year: Still Roenicke and Melvin for now.  There’s no other obvious candidates.

August

Opinions: Calcaterra on who is MVP.  A list of most improved players by WAR in mid-August. (which should be a good way to talk about Comeback players, except that it really is just highlighting former role players who are having great  years).  Paul Swydan talked about the NL MVP vote in mid-August.  Keith Law’s mid-august preview of the awards.  Crasnick’s 8/25/14 chat talking about AL Manager of the Year candidates.  Bowden’s rookie Rankings from late august.  HardballTalkDaily video says the Rookie races are pretty clear cut on 8/29/14.

  • MVP candidatesJayson Werth was named July NL player of the month, but seems like a long shot to get anything other than 5th place MVP votes.   Meanwhile previous leaders Tulowitzki AND now McCutchen are both on the D/L and missing at least a month each, so questions abound.  Is Puig the front runner now?  Stanton?  A pitcher?  At this point it may end up being Kershaw thanks to some deficiencies in the cases of both these healthy candidates, except that Kershaw missed quite a few starts and many voters won’t even give him the Cy Young nod as a result.  And there’s the small fact that apparently sportswriters are starting to place Barry Bonds-level hatred on Puig (I heard a 3rd-party story that does not flatter Puig in the least in terms of his attitude and self-opinion, so this does not shock me).  Abreu earned his second AL Player of the Month but seems like a long shot to beat out Trout at this point; the Angels seem set to make the playoffs, removing the “narrative” that has prevented Trout from being the MVP in years past.  In fact, the 2nd best candidate in the AL may very well be Felix Hernandez, who won’t win on some ballots because he’s a pitcher.  Alex Gordon is starting to get some MVP notice, thanks to his leadership on the suddenly-playoff-bound Royals.  I see him as a good top-5 candidate.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the NL, Kershaw has earned his second NL pitcher of the month award and (despite missing several starts) seems like a lock to win another Cy Young award.  Meanwhile in the AL, Grey has earned another pitcher of the month award, but Hernandez and Sale seem to be 1-2 in this race as long as Tanaka stays on the shelf.   Corey Kluber has put together a great season, but he’s chasing Hernandez for 2nd place right now.
  • Rookie of the year candidates:  In the NL, Mets starter Jacob deGrom has put his name into the hat thanks to a slew of dominant starts, and was just named July rookie of the month.  In a weak field, he could push to a victory.  But no sooner did he win the monthly award than go down to injury, likely cementing the award for Hamilton.  In the AL, not only was Abreu named rookie of the month, he was also named player of the month.  The longer Tanaka stays on the D/L, the more Abreu solidifies his hold on this award.  Brandon Shoemaker quietly has a 13-4 season for the Angels but may not even broach the top 5 in voting, thanks to the huge glut of quality AL rookies this year.
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Still looking like Hudson and Hughes for now.
  • Managers of the Year: In the AL, surprising runs by the Mariners, Orioles and Royals have their three managers (respectively, Lloyd McClendon, Buck Showalter and Ned Yost) will get some attention.  In the NL, I still think Milwaukee’s turn-around keeps Ron Roenicke in the lead. 

September

You know its starting to get close to silly season; lots of opinion pieces start popping up right after labor day.: Brisbee’s “handicapping” of the NL awards on 9/1/14 and the same for the AL awards two days later.  Schoenfield’s Heyward for MVP article 9/2/14.  NL awards video from Schoenfield 9/2/14.  USAtoday’s early Sept Awards preview.  Jim Bowden pops up for Executive of the Year predictions.  Schoenfield extolling McCutchen’s credentials in mid September.  Cory DiBenedetto at GammonsDaily talking about the AL RoY and then the NL RoY.  Passan’s late Sept award column.  Jayson Stark’s final prediction column.  Anthony Castrovince’s prediction column.  Schoenfield’s “best rookies” column.

  • MVP candidates: In the NL, it was looking more and more like Stanton’s continued massive offensive season was driving the narrative towards his getting the MVP.  However, an awful-looking HBP likely ended Stanton’s season on 9/11/14 … will those lost two weeks prevent him from taking the top spot now?  It seems so; I’m predicting Kershaw wins both MVP and Cy Young.  A pitcher hasn’t gotten the NL Cy Young in more than 40  years.  The NL WAR leader-board shows the problem with using WAR as a projection tool of MVP (as Brisbee’s column points out: there’s just no way that NL positional player bWAR leader Jason Heyward is getting the MVP no matter how much you believe in defensive stats.  Buster Posey‘s huge summer has put his name into the hat for top-5 candidates.  Speaking of top-5 candidates, do you put Anthony Rendon into that discussion?  In the AL, there’s just no way Trout doesn’t get the award this year, so we’ll discuss runners-up later on.  Brisbee seems to think Robinson Cano will somehow sneak into the discussion but I don’t think so.  Victor Martinez‘s excellent/no-frills offensive season should have him getting some top-5 love.  Michael Brantley looks to earn some top 5 votes too.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the NL, Kershaw has solidified his hold on the award.  The better question may be whether he also wins the MVP.  In the AL I think its safe to say Hernandez-Kluber go 1-2, though a September swoon may cost Felix votes.  It could get really close.  Expecially after Felix got pounded on 9/23/14 in his 2nd to last start. 
  • Rookie of the year candidates: In a weak NL field, DeGrom’s fantastic 2nd half seems to be pushing him over the top of the obvious candidate for most of the  year in Hamilton.   Kyle Hendricks may get top 5 votes.  In the AL, it has to be Abreu, likely unanimously unless a couple of NYC writers do the homer-vote for Tanaka.
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Still looking like Hudson and Hughes, but this award is unpredictable.  Passan’s late Sept column points out a couple of NL candidates to consider, since Hudson’s ERA cratered in the 2nd half.  Casey McGhee returned from Japanese exile to have a great season, and Justin Morneau has come back from the DFA heap to nearly lead the NL in batting.  In the AL one should also consider former Nats AAA pitcher Chris Young, who has absolutely come back from nowhere to stay healthy an entire  year.  He should write the Nats a thank-you card for giving him a paycheck to rehab on our dime.
  • Managers of the Year:  I can’t see the writers giving Manager of the year awards to a team like Washington (which was expected to win) nor the Angels (which has a monster payroll and the best player in the game).  It may be someone like Bruce Bochy in the NL, who has overcome the loss of his two marquee pitchers and a slew of curious signings to keep the Giants in playoff contention.  In the AL, perhaps Showalter deserves some mention for what he’s done in Baltimore … but then again, have we ever seen an AL east meltdown top to bottom like we’re seeing this year?   More and more i’m liking what Showalter is doing with Baltimore and a relatively unknown pitching staff and a ton of injuries. 

 

Post trade-deadline playoff contender rotations

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This year’s MLB trade deadline was crazy.  Never before have so many big-time names moved teams.  And certainly I cannot remember so many big-time pitchers relocating mid-season as well.

Lets look at the playoff contender rotations as they stand right now, with Trade deadline acquisitions highlighted in blue.

NL

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark
  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Nelson
  • Cincinnati: Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Leake, Simon
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Masterson, Lackey, Lynn, Miller
  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Morton, Locke, Volquez, Worley
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Beckett, Haren
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Peavy

St. Louis clearly did the most in the NL, acquiring two mid-rotation guys to help cover for the injured Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, but it is hard to look at their rotation and say they’d have the advantage over some of their potential playoff rivals.  San Francisco lost its ace (thought he hasn’t pitched like an Ace since signing his new deal) Matt Cain, and his replacement was not inspiring confidence (Yusmiero Petit), so they added former Cy Young winner Peavy (who is pitching better than his 1-11 W/L record .. but not a lot better).  Otherwise the NL playoff contenders mostly stood pat.  There was some small surprise that the free-spending Dodgers wouldn’t try to improve upon the suddenly underperforming Josh Beckett and/or the “fool-me-once” Dan Haren.  They’ll struggle to get through the #3 and #4 starts of their planned playoff rotation to get back to their co-aces Kershaw and Greinke (who was good but not shut-down in last year’s playoffs).  The home-town Nats may find themselves with an uncomfortable decision to make if they make the playoffs; which starter to send to the pen?  Roark is the least renound and the least tenured … but he has clearly been more effective than other rotation members.

It continues to amaze that the Braves are competing, given the losses they’ve faced in their rotation.  They are missing (arguably) their planned #2, #3 and #5 starters in Kris MedlenBrandon Beachy and Gavin Floyd but are getting by thanks to two mid-spring acquisitions (Santana and Harang) and the surprise performances of youngsters Wood and David Hale (who didn’t merit his demotion to the bullpen).

AL

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman
  • Toronto: Buehrle, Dickey, Happ, Strohman, Hutchinson
  • New York: Kuroda, Phelps, Capuano, Greene, McCarthy
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Richards, Shoemaker, Santiago
  • Seattle: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Paxton, Elias, Young

I didn’t include fringe playoff contenders such as Cleveland or Tampa Bay here; both of those rotations were purged and weakened, and their odds of catching one of these listed WC contendors is long.  Oakland completely re-made their rotation here, attempting to keep up with Detroit, who now features the last three AL Cy Young winners to go along with Sanchez (who finished 4th last year in a season where he led the league in both ERA and FIP).  That’s quite a lineup.  Meanwhile Seattle likely finishes 10 games back of the Angels and could end up facing them in the coin-flip wild-card game … and could end up throwing the best pitcher in the AL at them (which has been noted as a significant down-side to the 2nd wild-card matchup; who wants to see a team lose out to a divisional rival that they bested by so many games in a play-in game?).

New York is the “Atlanta” of the AL this year; they currently have four planned rotation members on the D/L and (likely) out for the year (CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka).   Their 4th and 5th starters were a 14th and 15th round pick respectively.  They’ve been outscored by nearly 30 runs on the year yet somehow have a winning record.  It seems like just a matter of time before their luck runs out and they settle back below .500.

Who would you rather go to war with, Detroit or Oakland’s rotation?   Probably Detroit’s rotation, given its depth one to four.  But the ALCS could be one heck of a series.

 

 

What’s eating Stephen Strasburg? Some stats and some thoughts

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Strasburg's  having a weird season. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Strasburg’s having a weird season. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Knee-jerk question: who is the best starter on the Washington Nationals?  Who do you call the team’s “Ace?”

For years its been Stephen Strasburg, even when Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann were getting Cy Young votes (Gio 3rd place in 2012 and Jordan 7th place in 2013).  Its been Strasburg even when Zimmermann makes two consecutive all-star teams and the team acquires Doug Fister, who is 13th in the majors in accumulated fWAR over the past four seasons.  Its still Strasburg despite the fact that #5 starter (and someone who people in this space argued rather vociferously for “stashing” in AAA this year in lieu of other pitchers) Tanner Roark leads the team in victories right now.

(all stats on baseball-reference.com and/or fangraphs.com as of 7/31/14).

But this year, something is amiss with Strasburg.  He’s having a complete jeckyl-and-hyde season in many ways.  To wit;

  • He leads the starters in FIP and xFIP,  (indeed; among qualified starters right now in MLB, he’s 11th in FIP and 4th in xFIP, training just leading Cy Young favorites Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Masahiro Tanaka).
  • He leads the Nats starters in fWAR.
  • He leads the NL in strikeouts with 10 more than his closest competitor Johnny Cueto.

I dunno.  If someone told me that a starting pitcher was leading the league in Ks, was 4th in xFIP, 11th in FIP and was 6th in velocity i’d say you had a pretty darn good pitcher.  But he’s been arguably the Nats *least* effective starter this year all in all.

Yet he’s just 7-9 on the season with a 3.55 ERA (one 1/100th of a point better than Zimmermann for last on the Nats rotation).   He has the worst WHIP of any of our starters at 1.240.  The team is just 11-12 in his starts.

So what the heck is going on?  Here’s some interesting statistical splits:

  • Compared to last year, his K/9 is up, his BB/9 is down.  That sounds good.  But his ground ball percentage is down and his line drive percentage is up.  Batters are putting better wood on the ball.  Which leads to…
  • His current BABIP against is an astoundingly high .345.  That’s the third highest BABIP of any qualified starter this year and a good 50 points higher than the league average.
  • Why are hitters getting such good wood on him?  Here’s a hint: for reasons unknown, batters are squaring up his fastballs like never before.  Checking his Pitch F/X data: he’s got a batting average against (BAA) of .294 on his four-seam fastball and an astounding .350 against his two-seam fastball.  Both of those figures are 50 points higher than the comparable BAA for those two pitches from 2013.
  • His velocity is down.  Which is kind of like saying that a model has gained a few pounds, but still.   Last years’ avg MPH on his two fastballs were 95.2 and 95.3.  This year?  94.5 and 94.6.  That’s just 7/10ths of a mph, and even with his loss of velocity he’s still easily in the top 10 in the league in average fastball velocity (6th in four seam velocity among starters), but its still declining.  In his 5 pro seasons his 4-seam average fastball velocity has gone from 97.6 to 96.0 to 95.8 to 95.2 to his current 94.5.

It sounds to me like a combination of slightly declined fastball velocity and some bad luck has led to hitters squaring up his fastballs more this year, resulting in more line drives, higher BABIP and more runs.  That more or less explains the huge delta between his ERA and his FIP.  But why?  Pitch F/X isn’t showing much of a change in fastball movement from last year to this year, so it is hard to argue that he’s lost movement on his fastball.  Could it all just be about location?

A couple more split-related observations (some of these we’ve seen during broadcasts):

  • Home ERA: 2.62.  Away ERA: 4.68.  Yeah, but lots of pitchers have big home/away splits.
  • First Inning ERA: 5.09!  Second Inning ERA: 4.30.  He’s getting hit early and often.
  • He’s improving as the game goes on; his stats against the order the second time through are significantly better than the first time through, something you don’t normally see.

If he’s so bad in the first inning, is he just having difficulties getting loose and finding his spots?  Is he falling behind and grooving fastballs and getting more line drive hits?  Why is he so significantly worse on the road?

On the bright side, the combination of an inflated BABIP and a huge delta between xFIP/FIP and his ERA does tend to indicate that there should be some regression back to the mean.  Maybe we’ll start seeing a bunch more of 7ip, 4hit, 2walk, 10K outings and he’ll break off a slew of dominant starts to help the Nats pull away in the division, just in time to lead the charge with a  home-field start in game 1 of the playoffs.

Thoughts?  Are you worried?  What else do you think is causing his troubles this year?

The Nats should just move Detwiler

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Detwiler's being wasted right now.  Photo: Cathy T via nationalsdailynews.com

Detwiler’s being wasted right now. Photo: Cathy T via nationalsdailynews.com

How do you go from being the 5th most important pitcher on a MLB staff (yes, I believe the 5th starter is more important than the closer or any other bullpen guy, a statsitical fact that can be easily seen by WAR contributions by even the best closers), to being the least important, aka the last guy out of the pen, the swingman or long man, the mop-up guy?

Well, that’s what’s happening to Ross Detwiler so far this year.

Now, its sort of hard to feel a ton of compassion for a guy who is making $3M this year guaranteed, whether he pitches 50 times or five.   So this article isn’t so much about Detwiler or his salary, but about things like “opportunity costs” and the relative value of players in particular roles, and how teams can turn replaceable assets into needed depth.

Coming into this season, I figured (along with many) that Detwiler’s pre-injury 2013 performance, coupled with his break-out 2012 season would earn him the 5th rotation spot.  As it turned out, not only did the team not want to give him that spot … but they have repeatedly passed over Detwiler to make starts when the opportunity has arisen.  When Doug Fister went down with injury, Detwiler wasn’t pulled back into the rotation; the starts were given to Taylor Jordan.  When Jordan proved unreliable and was sent down, the team called up Blake Treinen and gave him a spot start on 5/6/14 instead of throwing Detwiler.

Which makes you wonder; what’s the point of keeping a high-priced/high-talent “swing man” if you never let him do his role??  Detwiler’s usage so far in 2014 has been more like a middle reliever than a long-man; in 9 appearances (before last night) he’s logged 14 2/3 innings.  Now, on the one hand this is a relatively good sign; if you’re never using your swing-man for 4 inning stints it means your starters are pitching well.  But on the other hand … the team is clearly wasting Detwiler’s talents.  Of the 66 batters he had faced prior to 5/6/14’s debacle, only SIX of them were classified as “high leverage” situations by baseball-reference.com.  He’s being used as a mop-up guy.

You don’t use power lefty capable starters as mop-up guys.  Its a waste of their skills and talent, and ends up leading to human-nature meltdowns like we saw out of Detwiler on 5/6/14.

Here’s a quick history of the Nats longmen in recent years: Ross OhlendorfZach DukeTanner Roark (to some extent in late 2013), Tom GorzelannyMiguel BatistaSaul Rivera (to some extent), Stephen Shell, Micah Bowie and Levale Speigner (though honestly, dipping back into the 2007-2008 timeframe is tough because our starters were so bad, it was difficult to find who the designated “long-man” really was because eventually they were starting too).  There’s common features to most all of these guys: they’re generally either veterans signed to MLFA deals or on one year deals for limited money, or they’re rookies who earned their way up and provided some value.  The point is this;  you don’t pay your long-man good money, and you certainly don’t waste a good former starter in the long-man position.

The missed opportunity cost for the Nats is this: they can turn Detwiler into something of value in trade for some other team out there, right now.  Go look at our favorite trade partner Oakland’s #4 and #5 starters stats (Straily and Milone); we could move Detwiler to Oakland and get something of use back in a heartbeat and it’d make both teams better.   The Yankees would kill for a reliable 5th starter right now, with Pineda hurt or suspended, Nova lost to Tommy John and Nuno ineffective.   The Mariners are now 9-deep into their starter depth chart and are treading water.   I’ll bet you couldn’t even name Pittsburgh’s 5th starter right now.   Cincinnati’s two starters down right now and that’s before Johnny Cueto gets his inevitable D/L trip (he made 3 such trips last year).  So there’s definitely teams out there who expect to contend with starter depth issues.

Meanwhile, the Nats have 4 or 5 guys in AAA right now who could fill the role that Detwiler is playing right now, for less money and just as well, and we’d be a better team with Detwiler’s return in trade for it.   Every additional injury further thins this team and highlights more need for backup hitters (right now as we speak, we don’t have a SINGLE middle infielder on the 40-man who could get called-up to cover … and our only two out-field 40-man options Eury Perez and Michael Taylor are basically a pinch runner and a guy who’se got a month above A-ball.   (Admittedly, this situation has somewhat cleared up recently with Hairston‘s return and considering that we also have Souza and Moore back in the minors … but we still need some depth).

Move Detwiler, get some closer-to-the-majors bats, and install Treinen as that last-guy in the bullpen.  Or call back Aaron Barrett or Ryan Mattheus and just leave t hem in the bullpen instead of making them rack up frequent flier miles.  If you want another lefty, re-call Aaron Laffey and/or Xavier Cedeno and leave them on the club for a while.  You don’t need your best prospect pitching mop-up/low-leverage innings in 8-0 games.

(I’m not the only one talking about this right now: WP’s James Wagner has peppered Matt Williams about it and MLBTradeRumors Jeff Todd mentioned it prominently this week as well).

Opening Day Starter Trivia – Updated for 2014

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CC Sabathia continues to be the active leader in Opening Day starts. Photo via wiki/flickr.

Some of my favorite trivia questions  revolves around Opening Day Starters.  With another Opening Day in the books, here’s some useless trivia related to Opening Day starters.  I’ve updated my Opening Day Starters spreadsheet to Google Docs and created a link in the “Nationals Arm Race creation” section along the right.  Fyi, on a team-by-team basis you can query Baseball-Reference.com for the opening day lineups (here’s the Washington/Montreal franchise’ opening day lineup history as an example).

Current Active Leaders in Opening Day Starts

11 CC Sabathia
9 Mark Buehrle
7 Felix Hernandez
7 Justin Verlander
6 Bartolo Colon
6 Tim Hudson
6 Jered Weaver
6 James Shields
5 Josh Beckett
5 Yovanni Gallardo
4 Jake Peavy
4 Tim Lincecum
4 Clayton Kershaw
4 Jon Lester
3 Strasburg, Cueto, Wainwright, Price, Masterson, Nolasco
2 Lee, Samardzija, Liriano, Dickey, Sale, Feldman

Those players bolded in the list above had 2014 opening day starts and added to their totals.   (Note; there’s plenty of guys out there with 2 or 3 opening day starts but who did not extend their count in 2014; they are not included here).  With the retirement of Roy HalladayCC Sabathia extends his active lead in this category.  Mark Buehrle has given over the reigns of opening day starter possibly for good, based on his standing in the Toronto rotation.  Meanwhile the next closest competitors (Justin Vernalder and Felix Hernandez) could eventually supplant Sabathia, especially if he continues to struggle and gets replaced as the Yankees’ ace.

Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander continue to be the best bets to broach the all-time records (see below) based on their ages, their current counts and their new long-term contracts.

Answers to other Opening Day start trivia:

Current Active Leader in consecutive Opening Day Starts: Sabathia with 9 consecutive, split among two teams.  Second is Verlander with 7 straight, albeit all with the same team.  There was talk about how his Cy Young-winning rotation mate Max Scherzer should have gotten the ball this year, given Verlander’s 2013 struggles.

Most ever Opening Day Starts all-timeTom Seaver with 16 in his career.

Most ever Consecutive Opening Day Starts: Hall of Fame lightning rod Jack Morris, who made 14 straight such starts.

Number of first-time opening day starters in 2014: Ten (10) guys got the ball on opening day for the first time, slightly down from last year’s 13.  Injuries gave some pitchers the ball on opening day over other expected rotation mates (this is definitely the case with the likes of Julio Teheran, Tanner ScheppersSonny Gray, Dillon Gee, Jorge De La Rosa), and its probably the case that others got the ball on opening day thanks to their own personal ascention to the “lead-dog” spot on their teams (Jose Fernandez, Madison Bumgarner).  The other three newbies (Andrew CashnerWade Miley, and Chris Tillman) probably fall somewhere inbetween these categories.

Who seems most likely to break Seaver or Morris’ Records at this point? Still Sabathia, who already has 11 opening day starts (and 9 straight), is the #1 in New York, is only 32 and still has four years on his current deal. However, he took a big step backwards in 2013 performance-wise, and the Yankees spent a ton of money on Masahiro Tanaka, and there could be a passing of the torch if Tanaka blows it out in 2014.  Meanwhile Hernandez already has 7 opening day starts, just signed a deal that takes him through 2019 with a relatively easy option for 2020.   That’s many more seasons under contract and he’d only be 34 years of age by its end.   He could be the standard holder if he stays healthy and continues to pitch like an ace.

Most Inconsisent team using Opening Day Pitchers: Oakland.  They’ve used 9 different opening day starters in the last 9 seasons, and that’s likely to continue since both the candidates for this year had injuries that forced them to go to a rookie for 2014.  Pittsburgh is right behind them;  they have used 7 different opening day starters in the last 7 seasons, and 13 different starters in the last 15 seasons. The Nats have at some point employed no less than three former Pittsburgh opening day starters: Ron Villone, Oliver Perez and Zach Duke.   Colorado, Baltimore and Minnesota have also struggled for most of the past decade to find a dominant, reliable “Ace” and constantly cycle through new opening day starters, and once again each is using a different guy in 2014.

 

2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The ace on the best rotation in the game.  Photo: talksportsphilly.com

The ace on the best rotation in the game. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

Last year, with my excitement over Washington’s Dan Haren signing and my supposition that Washington had the best rotation in the game, I ranked all 30 team’s rotations ahead of the 2013 season.  Then, after the season was done, I revisited these pre-season rankings with a post-mortem to see how close (or, more appropriately, how far off) my rankings turned out to be.

Here’s the 2014 version of this same post: Pre-season rankings of the MLB’s rotations; 1 through 30.  Warning; this is another huge post.  I guess I’m just verbose.  At this point midway through Spring Training there’s just a couple of possible FAs left that could have altered these rankings (Ervin Santana being the important name unsigned right now), so I thought it was time to publish.

The top teams are easy to guess; once you get into the 20s, it becomes pretty difficult to distinguish between these teams.  Nonetheless, here we go (I heavily depended on baseball-reference.com and mlbdepthcharts.com for this post, along with ESPN’s transaction list per team and Baseball Prospectus’ injury reports for individual players).

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Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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My 2013 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013.  Photo via wiki.

Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013. Photo via wiki.

This post is months in the making.  In WordPress I looked up the first revision and it was dated May 4th.  Its on at least its 50th revision.  Its crazy.  But its a fun piece to do, to kind of keep track of these awards throughout the season.  But with yesterday’s release of the top-3 candidates for each BBWAA award, I thought it was finally time to publish.  The top-3 announcement didn’t have too many surprises in it, but was eye opening for some of the also-rans in each category.

I like seeing how well I can predict these awards by reading the tea leaves of the various opinions that flow into my RSS feed (here’s 2012’s version of the same post with links to prior years).  The goal is to go 8-for-8 predicting the major awards, with an even loftier goal of going 12-for-12 adding in the unofficial Sporting News awards.  I succeeded in 8-for-8 in 2010 and 2011, but missed out last year by over-thinking the Manager of the Year award in the AL.   This year is going to be tougher; the NL Rookie award and the AL Manager of the Year award are going to be coin-flips.

Here’s links for the MLB Players of the Month, to include Player, Pitcher and Rookies of the month, though frankly these monthly awards don’t amount to much.  But they’re fun to go see who was hot and how they ended up (think Evan Gattis).

Here’s links to some mid-season award prediction columns from Tom Verducci, Matthew Pouliot and Jayson Stark.  Here’s an 8/27/13 post from Keith Law, a 9/5/13 post from Cliff Corcoran, and a 9/25/13 prediction piece from USA Today’s Frank Nightengale that may be very telling about the Cabrera/Trout debate.   Lastly a few end of season pieces from Stark, Passan, Pouliot NL and AL, Gammons, Keri, Olney, Heyman.

Lastly here’s a great Joe Posnanski piece complaining about the faults the typical BBWAA voter has in their methodology.  He touches on some themes I mention below.  Remember this is a prediction piece, not who I necessarily think should actually win.

Without further ado, here’s my predictions and thoughts on the awards (predicted winners in Blue).

  • AL MVP:  Miguel Cabrera (May’s AL player of the month) and was leading the league in nearly every offensive category through a big chunk of the season before injuries cost him a lot of September.  There’s talk of another Cabrera-Mike Trout competition for the MVP in 2013, but I think the same results will hold as in 2012.  It comes down to the simple question; how can you be the “MVP” of a last place team?  That vastly over-simplifies the debate of course, but it is what it is.  I continue to be impatient with holier-than-thou writers who ignore the BBWAA definition of the award and who think this MVP should just be a ranking of the seasonal WAR table.  This award is not (yet) the “Best Player” award, and if it was then Trout would be the easy winner.  Of the also-rans:  Chris Davis tied the AL-record for pre-All Star break homers and finished with 53, but he’s likely #3 in this race.   Rounding out my top 5 would be Josh Donaldson and  Manny Machado.  Names briefly under consideration here earlier in the season (and possible top 10 candidates) include Joe Mauer and Evan Longoria.
  • AL Cy Young: Max Scherzer started the season 13-0 and finished 21-3.  This will propel him to the award despite not being as quite as good overall as his top competition.  Yu Darvish was on pace for nearly 300 strikeouts for a while before finishing with 277 and is likely finishing #2.   Despite a losing record pitching for one of the worst teams in the league, Chris Sale pitched to a 140 ERA+ for the second season in a row and should be rewarded with a top-5 finish.  Hisashi Iwakuma has fantastic numbers in the anonymity and depression of Seattle and will also get top-5 votes.  Rounding out the top 5 could be one of many:  Clay Buchholz was unhittable in April and weathered  accusations of doctoring the baseball from the Toronto broadcast team (Jack Morris and Dirk Hayhurst specifically), but then got hurt and may fall out of the voting.   Felix Hernandez put up his typical good numbers early despite a ton of kvetching about his velocity loss early in the season, but tailed off badly in August to drop him from the race.  Anibal Sanchez‘s 17-strikeout game has him some buzz, and he led the league in both ERA and ERA+.    Matt Moore became the first young lefty to start 8-0 since Babe Ruth and somewhat quietly finished 17-4 for the game-163 winning Rays.  Lots of contenders here.  Predicted finish: Scherzer, Darvish, Iwakuma, Sale, Sanchez.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers may be the winner by default.  Nobody else really stands out, and the biggest off-season narrative involved Myers and the big trade, meaning that nearly every baseball fan and writer knows of Myers’ pre-MLB exploits.  Jose Iglesias put up good numbers in the Boston infield before being flipped to Detroit, and is a great candidate but most of his value resides in his defense, meaning old-school writers won’t vote for him over Myers.   Past that, the candidates are slim.  Justin Grimm‘s fill-in starts for Texas were more than adequate.  Nick Tepesch is also holding his own in Texas’ rotation.  Coner Gillaspie and Yan Gomes are in the mix.  Texas’ Martin Perez put himself in the race with a solid year and got some last-minute exposure pitching in the game-163 tie-breaker.  Leonys Martin is another Texas rookie that has quietly put up good numbers.  Myers’ Tampa Bay teammate Chris Archer could get some votes.  Predicted finish: Myers, Iglesias, Perez, Archer and Martin.
  • AL MgrJohn Ferrell in Boston for going worst to first may be the best managerial job, but Terry Franconia in Cleveland deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done with significantly less resources in Cleveland and should win the award.  Its hard to underestimate what Joe Girardi has done in New York with injuries and the media circus this year, but this award usually goes to a playoff bound team.  I’ll go Franconia, Ferrell, Girardi.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: Initially I was thinking Ben Cherington, Boston.  He traded away all those bad contracts, brought in several guys under the radar, leading to a 30 game swing in its W/L record.  Though, I agree with David Schoenfield; with Oakland’s 2nd straight AL West title it’s hard not to give this to Billy Beane.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Comeback Player of the Year: Nate McLouth has come back from the absolute dead for Baltimore, though technically he was decent last year too.  Josh Donaldson has come out of nowhere for Oakland, but really had nowhere to come “back” from.  John Lackey and Scott Kazmir both rebounded excellently from injury plagued seasons.  I think the winner has to be Kazmir by virtue of his slightly better record over Lackey.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it wrong: Mariano Rivera won for his great 2013 comeback; I completely forgot about him.  We’ll cover the results versus my predictions in a future post.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Fireman of the YearGreg Holland, despite some sympathetic desire to give it to Mariano Rivera on his way out.  Joe Nathan is also in the AL discussion.  Jim Johnson is not; despite leading the league in saves for the 2nd year in a row he blew another 9 opportunities.  I hope the voters see past that.

Now for the National League:

  • NL MVP:  Andrew McCutchen is the shoe-in to win, both as a sentimental favorite for the Pirates first winning/playoff season in a generation and as the best player on a playoff team.  Clayton Kershaw‘s unbelievable season won’t net him a double, but I’m guessing he comes in 2nd in the MVP voting.  Paul Goldschmidt has become a legitimate stud this year and likely finishes 3rd behind McCutchen and Kershaw.  Rounding out the top 5 probably are two from Yadier Molina, Freddie Freeman and possibly Joey Votto as leaders from their respective playoff teams.  Also-rans who looked great for short bursts this season include the following:  Jayson Werth (who is having a career-year and making some people re-think his albatros contract),  Carlos Gomez (who leads the NL in bWAR, won the Gold glove and led the NL in DRS for centerfielders but isn’t being mentioned at all for the NL MVP: isn’t that odd considering the overwhelming Mike Trout debate??  I’ve made this case in this space to little fanfare in the past; if you are pro-Trout and are not pro-Gomez, then you’re falling victim to the same “MVP Narrative” that you are already arguing against), and maybe even Matt Carpenter (St. Louis’ real offensive leader these days).
  • NL Cy Young:  Clayton Kershaw put together his typical dominant season and won’t lose out to any of his darling competitors.  He may be the only unanimous vote of the major awards.  Marlins rookie phenom Jose Fernandez probably finishes #2 behind Kershaw before squeaking out the RoY award.   Matt Harvey was the All-Star game starter and looked like he could have unseated Kershaw, but a later season swoon and a torn UCL in late August ended his season and his chances early.  He still likely finishes #3.   Others who will get votes here and there: Jordan Zimmermann (who nearly got to 20 wins),  Adam Wainwright (who is back to Ace-form after his surgery and is put together a great season), St. Louis teammate Shelby Miller,  Patrick Corbin (Pitcher of the Month in May), Cliff Lee (who has been great for the mediocre Phillies), and perhaps even Zack Greinke (who finished 15-4; did you know he was 15-4?).  Predicted finish: Kershaw, Fernandez, Harvey, Wainwright, Corbin.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Seems like its coming down to one of 5 candidates: Fernandez, Puig, Miller, Ryu and Teheran.  I’d probably vote them in that order.  Shelby Miller has stayed the course filling in St. Louis’ rotation and may also get Cy Young votes and seemed like the leading candidate by mid June.  Evan Gattis, the great feel-good story from the Atlanta Braves, started out white-hot but settled down in to relative mediocracy.  Tony Cingrani continued his amazing K/9 pace from the minors at the MLB level, filling in quite ably for Red’s ace Johnny Cueto but was demoted once Cueto returned and struggled with injuries down the stretch.   Didi Gregorious, more famous for being the “other” guy in the Trevor Bauer trade, has performed well.  Meanwhile don’t forget about Hyun-Jin Ryu, the South Korean sensation that has given Los Angeles a relatively fearsome frontline set of starters.  Yasiel Puig took the league by storm and hit 4 homers his first week on the job.  Jose Fernandez has made the jump from A-Ball to the Marlins rotation and has been excellent.  Julio Teheran has finally figured it out after two call-ups in the last two years and has a full season of excellent work in Atlanta’s rotation.  The question is; will narrative (Puig) win out over real performance (Fernandez)?  Tough call.
  • NL MgrClint Hurdle, Pittsburgh.  No real competition here.  Some may say Don Mattingly for going from near firing in May to a 90 win season … but can you really be manager of the year with a 250M payroll?
  • (Unofficial award) NL GMNeal Huntington, Pittsburgh.  It really has to be Huntington for pulling off the low-profile moves that have paid off with Pittsburgh’s first winning season in 20 years.  Ned Colletti‘s moves may have resulted in the best team in the league, but he has the benefit of a ridiculously large checkbook and I hope he doesn’t win as a result.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Comeback Player of the Year: I’d love to give this to Evan Gattis for his back story but that’s not the point of this award.  I’m thinking Carlos Gomez with Milwaukee for his massive out-of-nowhere season.  But honestly the award has to go to Francisco Liriano.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it right: Liriano indeed won.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Fireman of the YearCraig Kimbrel, who looks to finish the year with a sub 1.00 ERA for the second year running.   Edward Mujica and Aroldis Chapman in the discussion but not really close.