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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.

 

2013 Pre-season Rotation Rankings revisited

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Scherzer's dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top.  Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Scherzer’s dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top. Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

In January, after most of marquee FA signings had shaken out, I ranked the 2013 rotations of teams 1-30.  I was excited about the Nats rotation, speculated more than once that we had the best rotation in the league, and wanted to make a case for it by stacking up the teams 1-30.

I thought it’d be an interesting exercise to revisit my rankings now that the season is over with a hindsight view, doing some post-mortem analysis and tacking on some advanced metrics to try to quantify who really performed the best this season.  For advanced metrics I’m leaning heavily on Fangraphs team starter stats page, whose Dashboard view quickly gives the team ERA, FIP, xFIP, WAR, SIERA, K/9 and other key stats that I’ll use in this posting.

  1. (#2 pre-season) DetroitVerlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Porcello (with Alvarez providing some cover).  Scherzer likely wins the Cy Young.  Three guys with 200+ strikeouts.  The league leader in ERA.  And we havn’t even mentioned Justin Verlander yet.  A team starting pitching fWAR of 25.3, which dwarfed the next closest competitor.  There’s no question; we knew Detroit’s rotation was going to be good, but not this good.  Here’s a scary fact; their rotation BABIP was .307, so in reality this group should have done even better than they actually did.  Detroit’s rotation was *easily* the best rotation in the league and all 6 of these guys return for 2014.
  2. (#3 Preseason): Los Angeles DodgersKershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Nolasco, and Capuano (with Fife, BeckettLilly, Billingsley and a few others helping out); The 1-2 punch of Kershaw (the NL’s clear Cy Young favorite) and Greinke (who quietly went 15-4) was augmented by the stand-out rookie performance of Ryu, the surprisingly good half-season worth of starts from Nolasco, and then the all-hands-on deck approach for the rest of the starts.  This team used 11 different starters on the year thanks to injury and ineffectiveness, but still posted the 2nd best team FIP and 5th best fWAR in the league.
  3. (#8 pre-season): St. LouisWainwright, Lynn, Miller, Wacha and Kelly (with Garcia, Westbrook, and a few others pitching in).  Team leader Chris Carpenter missed the whole season and this team still was one of the best rotations in the league.  Westbrook missed time, Garcia only gave them 9 starts.  That’s the team’s planned #1, #3 and #4 starters.  What happened?  They call up Miller and he’s fantastic.  They call up Wacha and he nearly pitches back to back no-hitters at the end of the season.  They give Kelly a starting nod out of the bullpen and he delivers with a better ERA+ than any of them from the #5 spot.  St. Louis remains the bearer-standard of pitching development (along with Tampa and Oakland to an extent) in the game.
  4. (#22 pre-season): Pittsburgh:  Liriano, Burnett, Locke, Cole, Morton (with Rodriguez and a slew of call-ups helping out).  How did this team, which I thought was so low pre-season, turn out to have the 4th best starter FIP in the game?  Francisco Liriano had a renessaince season, Burnett continued to make Yankees fans shake their heads, and their top 6 starters (by number of starts) all maintained sub 4.00 ERAs.  Gerrit Cole has turned out to be the real deal and will be a force in this league.
  5. (#1 pre-season) WashingtonStrasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler with Jordan, Roark and other starts thrown to Karns and Ohlendorf).   Despite Haren’s continued attempts to sabotage this rotation’s mojo, they still finished 3rd in xFIP and 5th in FIP.  Haren’s 11-19 team record and substandard ERA/FIP values drug this group down, but there wasn’t much further up they could have gone on this list.   If  you had replaced Haren with a full season of Jordan’s production, maybe this team jumps up a little bit, but the teams above them are tough to beat.
  6. (#11 pre-season) Atlanta: Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Teheran and Maholm, (with rookie Alex Wood contributing towards the end of the season).  Brandon Beachy only gave them 5 starts; had he replaced Maholm this rotation could have done better.  Hudson went down with an awful looking injury but was ably covered for by Wood.  They head into 2014 with a relatively formidable  and cheap potential rotation of  Medlen, Minor, Teheran, Beachy and Wood, assuming they don’t resign Hudson.  How did they over-perform?  Teheran finally figured it out, Maholm was more than servicable the first couple months, Wood was great and came out of nowhere.
  7. (#26 pre-season) ClevelandJimenez, Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Kazmir.  Too high for this group?  7th in rotation fWAR, 8th in FIP, and 6th in xFIP.  This group, which I thought was going to be among the worst in the league, turned out to be one of the best.  Jimenez and Masterson both had rebound years with a ton of Ks, and the rest of this crew pitches well enough to remain around league average.  They were 2nd best in the league in K/9.  You can make the argument that they benefitted from the weakened AL Central, but they still made the playoffs with a relative rag-tag bunch.
  8. (#9 pre-season) CincinnatiCueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, Leake (with Tony Cingrani).  Cueto was good … but he was never healthy, hitting the D/L three separate times.  Luckily Cingrani came up from setting strikeout records in AAA and kept mowing them down in the majors.  Latos was dominant,  Leake took a step forward, and Bailey/Arroyo gave what they normally do.  If anything you would have thought this group would have been better.  6th in Wins, 7th in xFIP, 9th in FIP.  Next year Arroyo leaves, Cingrani gets 32 starts, Cueto stays healthy (cross your fingers, cross your fingers, cross your fingers) and this team is dominant again despite their FA hitting losses.
  9. (#25 pre-season) New York MetsHarvey, WheelerNiese, Gee, Hefner and a bunch of effective call-ups turned the Mets into a halfway-decent rotation all in all.  7th in xFIP, 11th in FIP.  Most of this is on the backs of Matt Harvey, who pitched like the second coming of Walter Johnson for most of the season.  Wheeler was more than effective, and rotation workhorses Niese and Gee may not be sexy names, but they were hovering right around the 100 ERA+ mark all year.  One superstar plus 4 league average guys was good enough for the 9th best rotation.
  10. (#12 pre-season) TexasDarvish, Holland, Ogando, Perez, Garza at the end.  Texas’ fWAR was the 2nd best in the league … but their accompanying stats drag them down this far.  Despite having four starters with ERA+s ranging from 114 to Darvish’ 145, the 34 starts given to Tepesch and Grimm drag this rotation down.  Ogando couldn’t stay healthy and Perez only gave them 20 starts.  Garza was mostly a bust.  And presumed #2 starter Matt Harrison gave them just 2 starts.  But look out for this group in 2014; Darvish, a healthy Harrison, and Holland all locked up long term, Ogando in his first arbitration year, and Perez is just 22.  That’s a formidable group if they can stay on the field together.
  11. (pre-season #6) Tampa BayPrice, Moore, Hellickson, Cobb, Archer and Roberto Hernandez.   Jeff Niemann didn’t give them a 2013 start, but no matter, the Tampa Bay gravy train of power pitchers kept on producing.  Cobb was unhittable, Archer was effective and Moore regained his 2011 playoff mojo to finish 17-4 on the year.  An odd regression from Price, which was fixed by a quick D/L trip, and a complete collapse of Hellickson drug down this rotation from where it should have been.  They still finished 12th in FIP and xFIP for the year.
  12. (pre-season #21) SeattleHernandez, Iwakuma, Saunders, Harang, Maurer, and Ramirez.  Seattle featured two excellent, ace-leve performers and a bunch of guys who pitched worse than Dan Haren all year.  But combined together and you have about the 12th best rotation, believe it or not.
  13. (pre-season #7) PhiladelphiaHalladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Lannan (with Cloyd and Pettibone as backups).  The phillies were 13th in xFIP, 10th in FIP on the year and regressed slightly thanks to the significant demise to their #1 guy Halladay.  Lee pitched like his typical Ace but Hamels self-destructed as well.  The strength of one excellent starter makes this a mid-ranked rotation.  Had Halladay and Hamels pitched like expected, they’d have finished closer to my pre-season ranking.
  14. (pre-season #17) BostonLester, Buchholz, Dempster, Lackey, Doubront, and Peavy: Boston got a surprise bounce back season out of Lackey, a fantastic if oft-injured performance from Buchholz, a mid-season trade for the effective Peavy.  Why aren’t they higher?  Because their home stadium contributes to their high ERAs in general.  Despite being 3rd in rotation fWAR and 4th in wins, this group was 17th in FIP and 18th in xFIP.  Perhaps you could argue they belong a couple places higher, but everyone knows its Boston’s offense that is driving their success this year.
  15. (pre-season #16) New York YankeesSabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova, Hughes/Phelps Hughes and Phelps pitched as predictably bad as you would have expected … but Sabathia’s downturn was unexpected.  Are  his years of being a workhorse catching up to him?  The rotation was buoyed by unexpectedly good seasons from Nova and Kuroda.  Pettitte’s swang song was pretty great, considering his age.  Enough for them to slightly beat expectations, but the signs of trouble are here for this rotation in the future.   Pettitee retired, Kuroda a FA, Hughes a FA, a lost season for prospect Michael Pineda and other Yankees prospects stalled.  Are we in for a dark period in the Bronx?
  16. (pre-season #29) Miami: FernandezNolasco, Eovaldi, Turner, Alvarez, Koehler and a few other starts given to either re-treads or MLFAs.  For Miami’s rotation of kids to rise this far up is amazing; looking at their stellar stats you would think they should have been higher ranked still.  Fernandez’s amazing 176 ERA+ should win him the Rookie of the Year.  Eovaldi improved, rookie Turner pitched pretty well for a 22 year old.  The team dumped its opening day starter Nolasco and kept on … losing frankly, because the offense was so durn bad.  Begrudgingly it looks like Jeffry Loria has found himself another slew of great arms to build on.
  17. (pre-season #5) San FranciscoCain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito, Gaudin.  What the heck happened here?  Cain went from an Ace to pitching like a 5th starter, Lincecum continued to completely forget what it was like to pitch like a Cy Young winner, Vogelsong completely fell off his fairy-tale cliff, and Zito completed his $126M journey in typical 5+ ERA fashion.  I’m surprised these guys are ranked this high (14th in FIP, 16th in xFIP but just 27th in fWAR thanks to just horrible performances all year).  What the heck are they going to do in 2014?
  18. (pre-season #10) Arizona: CorbinKennedy, McCarthy, Cahill, Miley and Delgado.  Corbin was 2013’s version of Miley; a rookie that came out of nowhere to lead the staff.  Miley struggled at times but righted the ship and pitched decently enough.  The rest of the staff really struggled.  I thought this was a solid bunch but they ended up ranked 23rd in FIP and 14th in xFIP, indicating that they were a bit unlucky as a group.
  19. (pre-season #15) Chicago White SoxSale, Peavy, Danks, QuintanaSantiago and Axelrod.  Floyd went down early, Peavy was traded.  Sale pitched well but had a losing record.  The team looked good on paper (16th in ERA) but were 26th in FIP and 17th in xFIP.
  20. (pre-season #14) Oakland: ColonAnderson, Griffen, Parker, Straily, Milone, with Sonny Gray giving 10 good starts down the stretch.  This rotation is the story of one amazing 40-yr old and a bunch of kids who I thought were going to be better.   Oakland is bashing their way to success this season and this group has been just good enough to keep them going.  I thought the likes of Griffen and Parker would have been better this  year, hence their falling from #14 to #19.
  21. (pre-season #19) Chicago CubsGarza, Samardzija, JacksonWood, and FeldmanFeldman and Garza were flipped once they showed they could be good this year.  Samardzija took an uncharacteristic step backwards.  Jackson was awful.  The Cubs ended up right about where we thought they’d be.  However in 2014 they look to be much lower unless some big-armed prospects make the team.
  22. (pre-season #20) Kansas CityShields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis, Chen, Mendoza: despite trading the best prospect in the game to acquire Shields and Davis, the Royals a) did not make the playoffs and b) really didn’t have that impressive a rotation.  12th in team ERA but 20th in FIP and 25th in xFIP.   Compare that to their rankings of 25th in FIP and 26th in xFIP in 2012.   But the results on the field are inarguable; the team improved 14 games in the Win column and should be a good bet to make the playoffs next year if they can replace the possibly-departing Santana and the ineffective Davis.
  23. (pre-season #23) Milwaukee: LohseGallardo, Estrada, Peralta, and dozens of starts given to long-men and call-ups.  I ranked this squad #23 pre-season before they acquired Lohse; in reality despite his pay and the lost draft pick, Lohse’s addition ended up … having almost no impact on this team in 2013.  They finished ranked 23rd on my list, and the team was 74-88.
  24. (pre-season #13): Los Angeles AngelsWeaver, Wilson, Vargas, Hanson, Blanton, Williams: The Angels are in a predicament; their two “aces” Weaver and Wilson both pitched well enough.  But nobody in baseball was really that surprised by the god-awful performances from Hanson or Blanton (2-14, 6.04 ERA … and the Angels gave him a two year deal!).  So in some ways the team brought this on themselves.  You spend half a billion dollars on aging offensive FAs, have the best player in the game languishing in left field because your manager stubbornly thinks that someone else is better in center than one of the best defenders in the game … not fun times in Anaheim.  To make matters worse, your bigtime Ace Weaver missed a bunch of starts, looked mortal, and lost velocity.
  25. (#28 pre-season) San DiegoVolquez, Richards, Marquis, Stults, Ross, Cashner: have you ever seen an opening day starter post a 6+ ERA in a cave of a field and get relased before the season was over?  That happened to SAn Diego this year.  Another case where ERA+ values are deceiving; Stults posted a sub 4.00 ERA but his ERA+ was just 87, thanks to his home ballpark.  In fact its almost impossible to tell just how good or bad San Diego pitchers are.   I could be talked in to putting them this high or all the way down to about #28 in the rankings.
  26. (pre-season #27) Colorado: ChatwoodDe La Rosa, Chacin, Nicaso, Francis and a few starts for Garland and Oswalt for good measure.  Another staff who shows how deceptive the ERA+ value can be.  Their top guys posted 125 ERA+ figures but as a whole their staff performed badly.  26th in ERA, 19th in FIP, 26th in xFIP.  Colorado is like Minnesota; they just don’t have guys who can throw it by you (29th in K/9 just ahead of the Twins), and in their ridiculous hitter’s park, that spells trouble.
  27. (pre-season #4) TorontoDickeyMorrowJohnson, Buehrle, Happ, Rogers, and a line of other guys.  What happened here?  This was supposed to be one of the best rotations in the majors.  Instead they fell on their face, suffered a ton of injuries (only Dickey and Buehrle pitched full seasons: RomeroDrabeck were hurt.  Johnson, Happ, Redmond only 14-16 starts each.  This team even gave starts to Chien-Ming Wang and Ramon Ortiz.  Why not call up Fernando Valenzuela out of retirement?  It just goes to show; the best teams on paper sometimes don’t come together.  The Nats disappointed in 2013, but probably not as much as the Blue Jays.
  28. (pre-season #18) BaltimoreHammel, Chen, Tillman, Gonzalez, FeldmanGarcia with a few starts given to Gausman and Britton.  I’m not sure why I thought this group would be better than this; they were in the bottom four of the league in ERA, FIP, xFIP and SIERA.  It just goes to show how the ERA+ value can be misleading.  In their defense, they do pitch in a hitter’s park.  Tillman wasn’t bad, Chen took a step back.  The big concern here is the health of Dylan Bundy, who I thought could have pitched in the majors starting in June.
  29. (pre-season #30) Houston: BedardNorris, Humber, Peacock, Harrell to start, then a parade of youngsters from there.  We knew Houston was going to be bad.  But amazingly their rotation wasn’t the worst in the league, thanks to Jarred Cosart and Brett Olberholtzer coming up and pitching lights-out for 10 starts a piece later in the year.  There’s some potential talent here.
  30. (pre-season #24) MinnesotaDiamond, Pelfrey, Correia, Denudo, Worley and a whole slew of guys who were equally as bad.  Minnesota had the worst rotation in the league, and it wasn’t close.  They were dead last in rotational ERA, FIP, and xFIP, and it wasn’t close.  They were last in K/9 … by more than a strikeout per game.  They got a total fWAR of 4.6 from every pitcher who started a game for them this year.  Matt Harvey had a 6.1 fWAR in just 26 starts before he got hurt.  Someone needs to call the Twins GM and tell him that its not the year 1920, that power-pitching is the wave of the future, that you need swing-and-miss guys to win games in this league.

Biggest Surprises: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Miami and New York Mets to a certain extent.

Biggest Disappointments: Toronto, the Angels, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Baltimore to some extent.

Disagree with these rankings?  Feel free to pipe up.  I’ll use this ranking list as the spring board post-FA market for 2014’s pre-season rankings.

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Ranking the 2013 Playoff Rotations

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Kershaw leads the best rotation in the playoffs. Photo via wiki.

Kershaw leads the best rotation in the playoffs. Photo via wiki.

Now that the playoff fields are set … who has the most formidable playoff rotation?

Unlike previous rotation rankings posts, the playoffs focus mostly on the 1-2-3 guys.  Your 5th starter may not even be on the playoff roster and your 4th starter usually just throws one start in a series where you can line up your guys, and some teams skip the 4th starter altogether if they at least one veteran pitcher who can all go on 3 days rest (there’s enough off-days in the 2-3-2 format to allow most guys to go on regular rest).  So the focus here is on the strength of your top guys.

Here’s how I’d rank the 10 playoff teams’ rotations, despite the fact that two of these teams will be wild card losers and never get a chance to use their rotations:

  1. Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Nolasco, Ryu (Capuano left out).  As great a 1-2 combination Kershaw and Greinke are, Nolasco has for stretches outpiched them both since his trade, and Ryu is a #2 starter talent in the #4 slot.  They’re going to be a tough out in any short series where Kershaw gets two starts.  Easily the #1 playoff rotation.
  2. Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Fister (Porcello left out).  Hard to believe that a guy who most thought was the best or 2nd best pitcher in baseball (Verlander) may not even get the start in the first game of the playoffs.  But they’re still the 2nd best rotation.
  3. St. Louis: Wainwright, Miller, Wacha, Kelly (Westbrook and Garcia hurt, Lynn left out).  The knock on St Louis’ current rotation is their youth; two rookies and a 2nd year guy who was in the bullpen all last year.  Are there any innings-limit concerns here that could force a shutdown  It doesn’t seem so at this point?  It continues to amaze me how well St. Louis develops players.  Carpenter and Garcia out all year?  No worries we’ll just bring up two guys in Wacha and Miller who are barely old enough to drink but who can pitch to a 120 ERA+.
  4. Tampa Bay: Price, Moore, Archer, Cobb (Hellickson left out); A tough top 4, if a little young on the back-side.  Moore has quietly returned to this dominant form upon his call-up and gives Tampa a formidable 1-2 punch.  Price has already pushed them past game 163.
  5. Pittsburgh: Liriano, Burnett, Cole, Morton (Rodriguez hurt, Locke left out).  The team previously said that Cole would likely a reliever in the playoffs, but I’ll believe that when I see it; he’s been fantastic down the stretch.  It is difficult to put a rotation headlined by the burnout Burnett and the reclamation project Liriano this high, but their performances this year are inarguable.
  6. Boston: Lester, Buchholz, Peavy, Lackey (Dempster, Doubront left out).  Buchholz just returning mid September after a hot start; could push this rank up.  I don’t necessarily trust the #3 and #4 spots here in a short series, but Boston can (and probably will) bash their way to the World Series.
  7. Cincinnati: Bailey, Cueto, Arroyo, Cingrani (Leake left out, Latos hurt).  Cingrani may be hurt, Cueto has returned to replace the sore-armed Latos.  Leake’s performance may push him over Arroyo if they get there, but the odds of them beating Pittsburgh were already slim after their poor finish and were vanquished last night.  Still, isn’t it nice when you have more quality starters than you need heading into a season, Mike Rizzo?
  8. Atlanta: Minor, Medlen, Teheran, Wood (Hudson hurt, Maholm left out).  If Wood is shutdown, Maholm makes sense as the #4 starter but has struggled most of the 2nd half and finished poorly.  I may have this rotation ranked too low; they’re solid up and down, just not overpoweringly flashy.
  9. Cleveland: Jimenez, Kluber, Kazmir, Salazar (Masterson in the pen, McAllister left out).  How did these guys get a playoff spot?  Amazing.  They’re all solid, nobody especially flashy, and they won’t go away.
  10. OaklandColon, Parker, Griffen, Gray (Milone, Straily left out, Anderson in long relief).  I didn’t want to rank them last, considering Oakland’s record over their last 162 game stretch.  But here they are; on an individual level one by one, they just do not stack up.  The age-less wonder Colon is easily the staff Ace.  The rest of these guys’ seasonal numbers are just not impressive.

These teams obviously didn’t make the playoffs, but were in the hunt until late, and since I had already typed up this content might as well say where I’d have ranked them, had they made the playoffs…

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren (Ohlendorf, Roark left out, Jordan shut down)  Perhaps you’d replace Haren with Roark based on September performances;  I just can’t imagine trusting Haren in a 7 game series..  I’d put them about #4, just ahead or just behind Tampa.   Gonzalez and Zimmermann have shown themselves to be oddly vulnerable here and there coming down the stretch, and I just don’t put Strasburg in the same elite category as Kershaw right now.  Too bad months of indifference cost them the 4 games they needed to make up in the standings to reach the WC game.
  • Kansas City: Shields, Santana, Chen, Guthrie (Duffy, Davis, Mendoza left out): Duffy may be a better choice than Guthrie based on small sample sizes.  I’d have put them just behind Cincy at #8 in terms of rotation depth.
  • Texas: Darvish, Garza, Holland, Perez (Tepisch, Grimm left out, Harrison hurt): Great Ace in Darvish (even if he has occasaional blowups), but falls off badly after that.  The Garza acquisition has just not worked out, and the rest of the rotation is good but not overpowering.  I’d put them behind KC but just ahead of Baltimore.
  • Baltimore: Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Feldman (Norris, Garcia, Hammel and others left out).  They’d probably be behind Atlanta at #9, only ahead of Oakland/Cleveland.
  • New York: Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Pettitte (Hughes, Phelps left out): Kuroda has been the ace of the staff this year, but you’d always lead off with Sabathia (though, had they made the playoffs it would be unknown if Sabathia could even go with his late-season injury).  Either way, this would be behind any other playoff team’s rotation.

Reds @ Pirates: Pitching matchup thoughts

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Will Liriano pitch the PIrates deeper into the post-season?  Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Will Liriano pitch the PIrates deeper into the post-season? Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Reds sputter into the one-game playoff tonight having lost 5 of their last 6 games at home.  Those 6 games were against the hapless Mets and the same Pirates who they now face in a do-or-die wild card game.  Meanwhile Pitsburgh has WON 5 of their last 6, all on the road, and got things done when it counted in the last series of the season.

Before we even look at the starters, clearly Pittsburgh has momentum on their side.

The Pirates are going with their ace Francisco Liriano, who had a complete career turnaround this year, finishing 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and a K/inning.  Liriano features a fantastic slider from the left-hand side and should be relatively effective against the Reds, who are in the bottom third of the league against lefties as a team and whose lineup features three prominent lefties (Choo, Votto and Bruce) in the first five batters.  Choo in particular is just brutally bad against lefties, likely nullifying Cincinnati’s otherwise dynamic lead-off hitter.

However, interestingly, in the four games Liriano has pitched against Cincinnati this year, Pittsburgh is 0-4.  Despite a couple of great starts (including an 11 strikeout performace in June and an 8 inning 2 run outing two weeks ago), Liriano has had tough luck against the Reds.  Liriano is 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA in 11 home starts this year, and that one loss was against Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati got some bad news when their “ace” Mat Latos bowed out of the one-game playoff with a “sore arm,” leaving it to their opening day starter Johnny Cueto (and pre-season actual “Ace”) to make the start.  Cueto’s season has been peppered with D/L stints and he’s only made 11 starts.  He’ll be going on 8 days rest and has been reasonably effective since his latest return.  Interestingly, Cueto’s best start of the season came in Pittsburgh, where he threw 8 innings of one-hit ball en-route to a 3-0 victory in May.  Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is dead-last in the majors in wOBA against right handers this year.   But presumptive NL MVP Andrew McCutchen hits righties just fine (an .864 ops), so perhaps we’ll see some post-season magic tonight (even despite the fact he got hit in the head during BP yesterday).

I’m thinking this is going to be a tight, tense pitching duel, and I think its going to be Cueto who blinks first.  Count on Reds manager Dusty Baker to over-manage some aspect of the game tonight (probably involving a bunt or two) and to leave his best reliever (Aroldis Chapman) on the bench because it’s not a save situation while Pittsburgh squeaks out a win.

Who do you think is favored in this game?

Written by Todd Boss

October 1st, 2013 at 2:57 pm