Nationals Arm Race

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LCS Pitching Match-ups and predictions

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Quick look at projected SP match-ups for the LCS and predictions:

Here’s the broadcast schedule with probables listed where known: http://m.mlb.com/postseason-schedule .  I’m assuming the Game 5-7 match-ups would be the same as 1-4

ALCS:

  • Game 1: NYY@Houston: Tanaka vs Keuchel. Both guys were solid in their ALDS appearances, may be a run prevention effort.
  • Game 2: NYY@Houston: Severino vs Verlander: Verlander has been great since moving over, but Severino was no slouch in his ALDS start.
  • Game 3: Houston@NYY: Peacock vs Sabathia: Sabathia’s career renaissance continues; he was dominant in the ALDS.  Peacock is an enigma; advantage NYY here.
  • Game 4: Houston@NYY: Morton vs Gray: you’d have to say advantage NYY here; Morton struggled, as did Gray, but Gray’s ceiling is higher.

I like Houston in 6 here.  I think they win first two games at home, get one game in NYY then win game 6 behind Verlander.

NLDS:

  • Game 1: Chicago@LA: Quintana vs Kershaw: Kershaw should dominate … of course his post-season stats are awful, but Lackey is Chicago’s 5th starter for a reason.
  • Game 2: Chicago@LA: Lester vs Hill: tough match-up of lefties; if Chicago were to steal a game, it’d happen here.  But Hill puts several big Chicago bats into neutral, and if he’s on he’s nearly unhittable.
  • Game 3: LA@Chicago: Hendricks vs Darvish: I don’t see Hendricks taming the Chicago bats, fired up for their first home games of the NLCS.
  • Game 4: LA@Chicago: Arrieta vs Wood: Is Arrieta healthy?  who knows.  I think LA gets to him and steals this game.

The Cubs had to empty the bullpen to get through the NLDS.  And i’m not entirely sure Wood is the LA 4th starter; it could be Kenta Maeda, who threw two relief innings in the NLDS.   I also like LA in 6 here, maybe even 5.  I could see LA winning both LA games, then dropping game 3, getting to Arrieta in game 4 and then having Kershaw shut them down in game 5.  And as we saw in the Washington series … the Chicago bullpen getting from the starter to the closer is … suspect.

Predictions: Houston in 6, LA in 5.

Nats salvage the split; how’s our chances of getting back to DC for a 5th game?

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Harper certainly liked Zimmerman's homer. Photo via fanragsports.com

Harper certainly liked Zimmerman’s homer. Photo via fanragsports.com

It was looking pretty gloomy heading into the 8th inning.  Trea Turner had just struck out for the 8th straight time (ok that was an exaggeration, but he is 0-8 with four punch-outs from the lead-off spot this series) with the bases loaded and the Nats had gone 17 innings and scored precisely one lucky run (Anthony Rendon‘s excuse-me-opposite field homer).

Then Carl Edwards Jr. hung a curve-ball to one of baseball’s best sluggers.  And I mean, he frigging hung it.  It came up to the plate on a big ole loop and Bryce Harper, who has been hitting majestic homers to the upper deck in RF since he was in his teens, did not miss.   Tie Game, and the curious bullpen usage of the 8th inning by Joe Maddon continued a few more batters, enabling Ryan Zimmerman to hit one *just out* of left field off a lefty reliever to cap off a 5 run 8th inning come back and seal the victory.

(Note, per comments, yes this definitely cracks my all time top 10 games list … we’ll publish it again in the off-season.  I think i’ve got it 8th or so).

So we head to Chicago with a 1-1 split and disaster averted.  How do things look in Chicago?  Lets look at the presumed starters here on out:

  • Game 3: Max Scherzer vs Jose Quintana: Scherzer is (hopefully) healed from his hamstring issue, and hopefully can get the Nats the win they need him to get.  Meanwhile, lefty Quintana has been decent for the Cubs since his acquisition, posting a 3.74 ERA for the team (which, ironically, is exactly the same ERA as Max’s career post-season ERA).  Not one current National has ever batted against him, so I’d expect some struggles at the plate from our team, especially our big lefties.  But, we also have some important RH batters who should benefit from facing a lefty starter who doesn’t have as good of stuff as Jon Lester has.  Advantage Nats.
  • Game 4: Tanner Roark vs Jake Arrieta: Arrieta’s 2nd half was awesome (he went 7-2 with a 1.29 ERA in the season’s last two months), but he also suffered a Hamstring issue that pushed his start back.  He hasn’t pitched since 9/26; how rusty will he be?  Roark got bombed in his last start (9/27), then struggled in a mop-up inning to keep him fresh (3 hits and a walk), and is a creature of habit in terms of preparation … so how will he look on October 10th after not having started for 2 weeks?  I suspect this game could get to the bullpens early on both sides.  Advantage Cubs though for the obvious reasons: they’re throwing a former Cy Young winner and we’re not.
  • Game 5 if we get here: Strasburg against Hendricks again.  We feel confident Strasburg will continue his reign of dominance … but can the Nats figure out how to be more patient against the soft-tossing Hendricks?

Lets not get ahead of ourselves here; we need to get the split in Chicago before we talk about Game 5.  When we get there, we’ll talk again.

Bright Spots for the Nats so far: Strasburg, the bullpen, Adam Lind‘s game changing pinch hit in his first post season AB.  Even Gonzalez‘s start wasn’t that bad.

Areas of Concern: The offense in general; the team is hitting just .136 and is lucky to have gotten the split.  Turner is the biggest concern; Werth is 0-fer but is putting the ball in play, and Rendon’s paltry BA takes some of the context out of the harder hit balls he’s hitting; they’ll fall eventually.

How do we stack up against Chicago for the NLDS?

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Nats Nation breathes a sigh of relief; it was just a cramp. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Nats Nation breathes a sigh of relief; it was just a cramp.  Or was it? Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Warning: lots of judgments based on short sample sizes and possibly not taking into account other factors that may have been in play during 3- and 4-game series, which are in reality a small fraction of a season.  And  yes I know, past performance is no indicator of future performance.  Just read and stop being a buzz-kill will ya?  :-)

So, we’ve known for a while that we were going to face the Cubs in the NLDS.  But now its official.  So lets peek back at our two series against them this year to see how our guys matched up to see if there’s any places to keep an eye on.  On a macro level, we took the season series from the Cubs 4-3, outscoring them 39-28 in the process.  We split four games at home in June, then took 2 of 3 against them on the road in August.

Nats Starters:  Here’s how our playoff starters fared against the Cubs this year:

  • Max Scherzer went 6, gave up 2 hits and a run with a victory over Chicago at home in June.  That sounds pretty good.
  • Stephen Strasburg went 7, punched out 13 (!) and gave up 3 runs (2 earned) in a home victory in June.  I’ll take that.
  • Gio Gonzalez went 6, gave up just two hits (good) but walked 5 (bad) , managed to give up just one run (good) and was an unlucky loser in the June home series.
  • Tanner Roark went 6+, gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and took a loss in Chicago in August.  Not bad.
  • The other three starts against the Cubs were Joe Ross in June, Edwin Jackson in August and Erick Fedde in August, so the Cubs have only seen our starters once each this year.

So, all four of our starters basically had quality starts against the Cubs this year.  That sounds promising.  No red flags.  We’ll ignore the fact that both Gio and Roark got bombed on the season’s closing day.  Maybe they were hung over.

Cubs Starters: How did Chicago’s presumed playoff rotation fare against us?

  • Jon Lester went 6, gave up 3 hits and a run in a no-decision in the June finale.  Tough.
  • Lester threw another QS in August, going 6 2/3rds, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and getting a ND against Fedde.  Not bad.
  • Jake Arrieta was super-wild, walking 6 in 4 innings and taking the loss against Scherzer in June.  Uncharacteristic performance.
  • Kyle Hendricks went 7, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits and took a loss against Roark in the August series.  About what you’d want out of a 3rd starter.
  • Jose Quintana was a mid-season acquisition and did not pitch against us this year.
  • The other starts against us were thrown by Eddie Butler (who hails from Chesapeake, went to power-house Greenbrier Christian and was a 1st rounder out of Radford a few years back) and Jon Lackey (twice).

So, Lester was solid against us twice, Arrieta had an uncharacteristic struggle, and Hendricks was good but not dominant.  Quintana has thrown to a 3.74 ERA in his 14 starts, good but not lights out.  I have no idea how they’ll line up for the playoffs but think it may be as they’re listed above (maybe Quintana is #3 and Hendricks is #4).  It does look like Lackey is odd-man out of the Chicago rotation, which should be a fun conversation with their manager.

Summary: I like how our Starting Pitching lines up frankly; Scherzer is Scherzer, Strasburg has been unhittable for two months, and Gonzalez has been sneaky good all year.  Gonzalez and Roark project to pitch in Chicago … but Gio’s away splits are pretty good this year (11-5 with a 3.12 ERA).


 

Nats Hitters; here’s how some of our key hitters have fared against Chicago starters in their career (thanks to the wonderful baseball-reference.com per-Pitcher stats):

  • Bryce Harper is 1-7 against Lester, 4-14 against Arrieta, 4-13 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  At least his one hit against Lester was a dong.
  • Daniel Murphy is 4-14 against Lester, 6-19 against Arrieta, 4-15 against Hendricks and also has never faced Quintana.  Better.
  • Ryan Zimmerman is 2-16 against Lester, 5-21 against Arrieta, 0-9 against Hendricks and has also never faced Quintana.  Might be a rough series for Zim.
  • Trea Turner is 1-2 against Lester, 1-2 against Arrieta, and has never faced either Hendricks or Quintana.  Not much to go on here.
  • Jayson Werth is 2-4 against Lester, 2-9 against Arrieta, 0-3 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  About what you’d expect.
  • Anthony Rendon is 1-5 against Lester, 4-11 against Arrieta, 2-11 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  Not bad.

I didn’t bother looking up Wieters or Taylor numbers because I expect little from them this off-season; anything they contribute is gravy.  Our 1-6 hitters need to make it happen.

Cubs Hitters; here’s the same analysis against our guys for Cubs key hitters (career figures):

  • Kris Bryant is 1-10 against Max, 2-5 against Stras, 2-10 against Gio and a strong 5-11 against Roark.   Might be an interesting series for the defending NL MVP.
  • Anthony Rizzo is 3-10 against Max, 2-13 against Stras, 2-22 against Gio and 4-18 against Roark.  Clearly the lefty and Roark’s swing-back fastball is effective against him.
  • Willson Contreras has never faced Scherzer, is 1-3 against Strasburg, 1-2 against Gio, 1-3 against Roark.  Almost no history go go on.
  • Javier Baez is 0-5 vs Max, 0-6 against Stras, 0-6 against Gio and 1-3 against Roark.  Not a lot of success here for Baez.
  • Kyle Schwarber has just two ABs against any of our starters, going 1-2 in a game against Roark.

I’m not entirely sure that Schwarber will play (he had 30 homers but an awful BA), nor Baez (since the Cubs have Ben Zobrist).  But these are the key bats for the Cubs and there’s not a ton to go on.  It seems like Bryant will be a handful, Rizzo may be an issue against some of our guys, and the rest of the squad could hit or miss (which, perhaps, is what you’d say also having not seen any of these stats).


 

So how does it look overall?  I like our chances, honestly.  I don’t like how Harper has looked since his “return” so that’s a huge worry, but I like our chances with the Cubs having to beat Scherzer twice and Strasburg once in a short series, and I like Gio going against the power hitting lefties in Chicago’s lineup.  I like our revamped bullpen, especially if we never have to depend on the 5th and 6th guy out of it.

It comes down to this injury scare at this point; is Scherzer going to be ok?  Can the Nats survive if Scherzer is out and we’re forced to give a playoff start to Jackson?

Assuming Scherzer is ok, Nats in 5.

 

WBC Round 1 Review and Round 2 Predictions

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2017_wbc_logo

Some major surprises in round 1 of the World Baseball Classic (WBC).  Lets quickly review what happened and then make some educated guesses about Round 2.

(quick links for the WBC:   Official site here, wikipedia site here with schedules, and another wiki site here with rosters).

Here were my predictions for the four groups in Round 1:

  • Predictions for Advancers from Pool A: South Korea, Netherlands
  • Predictions for Advancers from Pool B: Japan, Cuba
  • Predictions for Advancers from Pool C: USA, DR.
  • Predictions for Advancers from Pool D: Mexico, Venezuela

Round 2 starts before round 1 ends, so this post will be slightly delayed waiting for the final Pool C/D results, but my predictions for Round 2 will have already been written.

Actual Results

  • Pool A: Israel and Netherlands.  In a huge shock, hosts South Korea were surprised by Israel to open the tourney, then were blanked by a Netherlands team that may be a dark horse to win this thing.  Two games in and both the Netherlands and Israel were 2-0, ensuring advancement.  Korea beats Chinese Taipei to at least salvage 3rd place so they don’t have to re-qualify, but this is a huge upset for the former Runners-up.  Israel topped the Netherlands after both had already advanced, though there’s no real advantage to finishing 1st or 2nd.
  • Pool B: Japan and Cuba.  The two favorites both advanced, though Cuba had to hold off a pesky Australia in the do-or-die game.  As might have been predicted, China finished dead last, scoring just one run in 3 games.  Japan scored 22 runs in three games to easily advance.
  • Pool C: went basically chalk, with the US and DR winning their opening games, Columbia securing 3rd place over doormats Canada and the DR beating USA in their big-time matchup.  However that tells little of the story; Columbia’s Jose Quintana shut down the US team with nearly 6 no-hit innings and they needed extra innings to advance.  Then in the US-DR game, the USA took advantage of some sloppy fielding to take a commanding 5-0 lead in the game, only to watch our own Tanner Roark get battered around and then World Series hero Andrew Miller cough up not one but two homers to lose the lead and the game 7-5.  Columbia hung tough with the DR, taking them to extra innings before caputulating and giving up 7 in the 10th to make the score look like a blowout.  The US finally broke out while destroying Canada, scoring 7 runs in the first two innings.  US and DR advance.
  • Pool D: Italy kicked off the group with yet another stunning upset, rallying for 4 runs in the 9th to beat group favorite Mexico.  Meanwhile Puerto Rico put a beat-down on group favorite Venezuela, surprising me and shaking up the group.  Venezuela then beat Italy in a win-or-go-home game by the amazing score of 11-10 in extra innings, a game that featured massive swings and should be an instant classic.  Puerto Rico calmly advanced past Mexico, putting themselves in the drivers seat and sending the Mexicans home early.  I had Puerto Rico finishing third; instead they go 3-0 and top the group.  In the pool’s final game, Mexico saved some face and downed Venezeula, meaning all three teams finished with a meager 1-2 record.  Italy and Venezuela advanced to a “tiebreaker” game by virtue of being less awful in the pool than Mexico and headed to a playoff.  In the final 1st round game, Venezuela needed a 3-run rally in the 9th to surpass Italy and advance.

 

Round 2 Predictions:

Pool E: the two advancing teams from each of the Far East pools, hosted at the Tokyo Dome: Netherlands, Israel, Japan and Cuba.

Israel already proved their mettle, though their decider against the Netherlands may not have had the same import had it been a win-or-go-home game.  I think on paper its still Japan and the Netherlands with the most talent.  Cuba advanced but seems to be the weakest of the bunch.  I’ll go with my gut and predict that Japan and the Netherlands advance, with the Netherlands beating Israel when it counts.

Pool F: the two advancing teams from the Northern Hemisphere pools, hosted at Petco Park in San Diego: DR, USA, Puerto Rico, Venezuela

The DR looks unstoppable and the USA was just an inning or two from beating the DR themselves.  Venezeula limped into the final round and seems like its just too old of a squad.  The big game will be US-Puerto Rico to see who joins the DR in San Diego.  I’m still not entirely convinced that the US will advance (since they never have before), but on paper they look so much better than Puerto Rico.  I’ll go DR and USA.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

March 14th, 2017 at 8:32 am

2017 WBC Preview and Round 1 Predictions

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2017_wbc_logo

 

Lets preview the latest (and possibly final) iteration of the World Baseball Classic (WBC).  Its set to run March 6th-March 22nd.  Official site here, wikipedia site here with schedules, and another wiki site here with rosters.

First, some editorialization.  I have a love/hate relationship with this event.

  • I love the attempt to create a global tournament for Baseball.  It can only help promote the game.
  • I love the nationalism displayed by *some* of the teams.  The pride that players from the D.R. and other latin countries display, as well as the Far East teams, is fantastic.
  • I love the concept; to emulate a World Cup, to have an event where the best of the best play and compete.

However, I have some things about the WBC that I don’t like;

  • I hate how USA players in particular don’t rate the tournament; why aren’t the best players for the US playing?  I’m talking about you Bryce Harper and Mike Trout as a start.
  • I hate the timing; why is this event in the middle of Spring Training?  Why wouldn’t you put it at the END of the season as FIFA does with the World Cup?
  • As a side effect of the timing … I therefore hate how most pros treat this as another Spring Training game, coming out after a few innings or only pitching a couple of innings.  It detracts from the competition.
  • I rather dislike the “manufactured” teams; why create a fake team for Italy based mostly on players with Italian sounding names?  Same for Israel and to an extent the Netherlands just collecting Caribbean players of Dutch origin.
  • I think the decision by the Cuban government to prevent defectors from representing their team kind of defeats the purpose of the event and prevents the creation of what could have been a very talented team.

(Related to the Cuba rant; I’m working on a separate post that i’ve done in the past postulating on just what a combined Cuban team might look like).


Here’s a look at the pools and offer some predictions.

Round 1: Held at four sites between March 6th and March 12th: four 4-team mini tournaments with the top 2 from each group advancing.

  • Pool A: hosted in Seoul, South Korea.  Teams: South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Israel.

Thoughts: The South Korean team is mostly KBO League players, but its an under-rated squad and will draw energy by playing at home.  The Netherlands squad has a ton of really good players, mostly from Curacao.  The Israeli team is also filled with MLB players, but they’re mostly role players.  The Chinese Taipei team is the most intriguing, being mostly Taiwan based and possibly suffering from some internal political conflict issues.  Still, its hard to see the Netherlands team being beat.

Predictions for Advancers: South Korea, Netherlands

  • Pool B: hosted in Tokyo, Japan.  Teams: Japan, Cuba, China, Australia

Thoughts: There’s little chance the Japanese team doesn’t advance, as the other three teams all have issues.  The Australian team draws mostly from its internal weaker league, nobody knows anything about the China league, and the Cuban league (as noted above) has been significantly weakened through hundreds of defections over the last few years.  Plus Cuba has had to travel thousands of miles to compete against 3 teams playing in their same time zone.  Still, Cuban baseball is Cuban Baseball, and I think they’ll find a way to advance.

Predictions for Advancers: Japan, Cuba

  • Pool C: hosted in Miami, FL.  Teams: USA, Dominican Republic, Canada, Columbia

Thoughts: Its easy to just say USA and DR here; clearly the two best teams on paper.  But as noted above the USA isn’t exactly sending a roster of its best available players, and thus an upstart team of talented players like Columbia could easily pull off an upset.  The Columbian rotation looks like it could be better than the USA’s (led by Julio Teheran and Jose Quintana) and a hot pitcher can take a team far.  Canada looks like a stronger version of Australia; some MLB players but a lot of role players and thinner pitching.  The DR sends a strong team as always and is my prediction to win and repeat.

Predictions for Advancers: USA, DR.

  • Pool D: hosted in Guadalajara, Mexico  Teams: Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Italy

Thoughts: I can’t see the talented and nationalistic Mexican team falling here; they’re going to be a tough out for anyone who plays them.  The Italian team will again be a collection of MLB scrubs whose names end in a vowel.  So the second spot goes to the winner of a Venezuela-PR battle; both teams look strong but Venezuela seems to have better depth.

Predictions for Advancers: Mexico, Venezuela

 


 

We’ll post again once the first rounds are done to revisit these predictions, because the 2nd rounds could feature groups where any of the 4 teams could advance.  In fact the 2nd round match-ups look very tough.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

March 6th, 2017 at 9:26 am

My 2016 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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Scherzer may have the best shot of our 4 "finalists" for awards this week. Photo via washtimes.com

Scherzer may have the best shot of our 4 “finalists” for awards this week. Photo via washtimes.com

Quick break from Nats off-season stuff to talk about the “silly season” of baseball.  Its awards week, with all the major BBWAA awards to be given out this week.

Here’s my predictions for how the awards will go.  This is not necessarily how I believe the awards should go … once again, I think narrative wins out over Mike Trout‘s 10+ WAR season, and we may see an east coast bias in the AL rookie award.  But lets see how it goes.

Here’s the list of finalists, published last week.

The writers have to submit their ballots at the end of the season; I finished this post in early October but waited until the awards season to arrive to publish it.  Thus, it contains no inclusion of any post-season accolades or accomplishments since the votes were already in before the playoffs started.

How do I think the voting will go?

  • AL MVP: Betts, Trout, Donaldson, Machado, Altuve (maybe some 5th place votes for Ortiz).
  • NL MVP: Bryant, Seager, Murphy, Rizzo, Freeman/Arenado
  • AL Cy Young: Kluber, Verlander, Porcello, Sale, Britton
  • NL Cy Young: Scherzer, Fernandez, Hendricks, Lester, Snydergaard
  • AL Rookie: Sanchez, Fulmer, Mazara
  • NL Rookie: Seager, Turner, Maeda
  • AL Manager: Franconia, Bannister, Girardi
  • NL Manager: Baker, Maddon, Roberts

Actual Award Results added as they were awarded:

My prediction results: 4 for 8.  Got Seager, Franconia, Scherzer, Bryant.  Missed on Fulmer, Roberts, Porcello, Trout.  Historically i’ve been pretty good at these predictions; this was a very bad year for me.  Which is good, because it means that the electorate is improving and that generally my over-thinking of voters picking bad results should lessen.

Links to other awards that I didn’t necessarily predict:


 

Note: I made some prediction mistakes based on the publication of the 3 finalist links; I’ll note those in the discussion links below.

Discussion:

  • AL MVP : I know some view “MVP” as “Best Player,” but it isn’t.  And I’m in agreeance with the narrative that with like candidates, the playoff chase matters.  Who cares that the Angels went 74-88 with 10-win Trout; Betts had nearly as valuable a season while doing a bit of everything for Boston.  Betts wins, Trout gets another 2nd place finish.  With the publication of the finalists, we now know that I was wrong on Donaldson for 3rd and that it will go to Altuve; i get that, since Altuve was “in the lead” for a lot of the season.
  • NL MVP: Bryant and it isn’t close.  I think Seager gets 2nd over Murphy b/c he’s a short stop.
  • AL Cy Young: I like Kluber slightly over Verlander but I could see arguments on both sides.  What I really hope does NOT happen is over-emphasis on Britton’s season.  Yes he’s had a nice season; no he isn’t the best pitcher in the AL.  I am slightly proud of myself for at least getting the top 3 right.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw’s injury has opened the door for a slew of guys: Scherzer probably has the combination of wins, IPs, Ks to be the “leader” even if he’s eclipsed in WAR by Fernandez, Snydergaard.  Lester, Cueto and Hendricks also each have cases.  This could be a completely wide-open race.  I wrote most of this before the tragic death of Fernandez; will he now win out of sentimentality?  No he won’t; with the publication of the 3 finalists we know Fernandez wasn’t in the top 3.
  • AL Rookie: Michael Fulmer was a shoe-in until Gary Sanchez hit 20 homers in his first 45 games; this race is closer than you might think.  Fulmer really should get it, but the NY media narrative game is strong.  I think Sanchez ekes it out; it was a pretty historic debut.  I did get the third finalist wrong, Cleveland’s Naquin sneaks in.
  • NL Rookie: Seager is in the MVP discussion and should win unanimously.  Trea Turner’s probably top 3, as is Seager’s japanese teammate Maeda.  I am guessing Maeda pips Turner for 2nd place based on playing a full season.
  • AL Manager: No idea how this goes: maybe Franconia in Cleveland still?  Perhaps Girardi for having the Yankees in the WC mix after their sell-off?  Maybe John Ferrell for getting Boston’s act back together?  Maybe Bannister in Texas for running away with a division that most thought Houston would win?  I thought Girardi would sneak in over Francona; if we knew about Francona’s post-season exploits we may be giving him the award unanimously.
  • NL Manager: Baker in Washington still for me.  Yes Maddon will get some love, but Baker’s going to improve the Nats by 13 wins; the Cubs were widely expected to get to 100 wins.  Maybe Roberts in LA gets some love too.  Honestly this is the award i’m least confident in guessing.

 


 

Running Diary of Awards candidates.

End of April; Here’s MLB’s players of the month link.

  • MVP : Manny Machado and Bryce Harper had fantastic months.  Names also in the mix early in 2016: Dexter Fowler, Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson.
  • Cy Young: Jordan Zimmermann and Jake Arrieta, picking up right where he left off.  Also off to great starts: Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg and Noah Snydergaard.
  • Rookie: Nomar Mazara and Trevor Story.  Also in the mix: Kenta Maeda, Aledmys Diaz, Vincent Velasquez.

Mid May Check-in:

  • MVP : Jose Altuve now in the lead in the AL.  Machado and Mike Trout in the mix.  In the NL Harper has tailed off, opening the door for Clayton Kershaw and Anthony Rizzo to nose their way into the discussion.  Arenado also tailed off a bit in May but still strong.
    Cy Young: Sale has won his first 9 starts and looks unbeatable; Zimmermann has taken a step back in the AL race.  In the NL, Kershaw remains the class of the league and the likes of Arrieta and Strasburg stay close behind.
  • Rookie: Nomar Mazara leading the way in the AL: Twins 1B Byung Ho Park close behind.  In the NL, Diaz is also an MVP candidate right now and remains in the NL ROY lead.  Story’s “storybook” start keeps him close.

Half-way point of the season: Cliff Corcoran’s First half Awards,  Jeff Passan‘s mid-way awards article.  The Ringer’s Mike Baumann‘s mid-season awards post.

  • AL MVP : Jose Altuve has cooled slightly, leaving last year’s 1-2 finishers Trout and Donaldson in the lead again this year.  But if Altuve continues to produce at these levels (with slash lines nearly identical to Trout’s) he’ll win as long as Houston stays in the playoff hunt.  And once again, Trout finds himself leading the league in value-based stats while playing for a dead-last team, and once again he likely finishes 2nd to someone like Donaldson, who has a good but not as good of a season but plays for a winner.  Ortiz’s monster farewell season gets him top 5 votes.
  • NL MVP: Harper has never regained his bat since the walk-a-thon in Chicago, and with a lack of any other candidate it seems ripe for another Kershaw double.  He’s hit the D/L though, having some wonder if the likes of Kris Bryant could get the award since he’s the best player on (one of the) best teams.  Matt Carpenter is quietly having a fantastic season.  If the Giants (as of the halfway point owning a better record), then their leader Buster Posey will get votes.
  • AL Cy Young: Sale has started the season 14-2 and Cleveland’s entire rotation (led by Danny Salazar) sits among various league leader categories.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw remains the class of the league and needs to miss significant time to lose out.  Its hard to fathom the season he’s having, with just 9 walks in 121 innings in the first half.  Strasburg is the first NL starter in 100 years to start a season 12-0 and seems like the likely 2nd place finisher.  But there’s a slew of NL starters with sterling numbers right now: Bumgarner and Cueto in particular.  NL East beasts Snydergaard and Fernandez have been awesome as well.
  • AL Rookie: Nomar Mazara has tailed off and Park got demoted to AAA; the leader in the  clubhouse seems like Detroit starter Michael Fulmer right now.  Tyler Naquin is in the running, and Baltimore’s Hyun Soo Kim is there as well.
  • NL Rookie: Diaz and Story are still on the whole having great seasons but Dodger SS Corey Seager is running away with this and could hit 30 homers from the shortstop position this year.  Don’t sleep on Seager’s teammmate Kenta Maeda though; he’s rebounded from a rough patch to be a solid starter.
  • AL Manager: probably Jeff Bannister for the turnaround in Texas.  Perhaps Terry Franconia for the surprise in Cleveland.
  • NL Manager: likely our own Baker for having the Nats on a 96 win pace, which would beat 2015 by 13 games.  But likely it goes to Bochy or Madden for leading good teams to good records.
  • Comeback Player of the year: I have nothing narrative-driven for either league.  Maybe Stephen Wright in the AL and maybe Anthony Rendon in the NL?

Mid August check in:

  • AL MVP : I think it goes Altuve-Trout-Donaldson at this point.  Betts and Machado fill out the top 5.
  • NL MVP: With Kershaw’s injury, I think its Kris Bryant’s to lose.  Daniel Murphy gets some top 5 votes, as does Buster Posey and Nolan Arenado.
  • AL Cy Young: Hamels and Quintana seem like the obvious choices, even if Fulmer is leading the league in bWAR.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw’s injury has opened the door for a slew of guys: Bumgarner, Scherzer and Strasburg, deGrom and Arrieta.  Who knows how it shakes out.  If Strasburg finishes the season 21-3 though, it’ll be hard to vote against him.
  • AL Rookie: Michael Fulmer leads the AL in bWAR midway through August; he seems like a shoe-in for ROY.  And he’s crushed it for my fantasy team too; that Cespedes trade isn’t looking so hot now is it?
  • NL Rookie: Seager sits 3rd in the NL in bWAR; he has to be the unanimous vote right now.
  • AL Manager: Franconia in Cleveland.
  • NL Manager: Baker in Washington.

Mid September check-in:

  • AL MVP : Its tight: Trout has now eclipsed 10 WAR on the season.  Altuve has dropped out, but Betts has risen.  Its going to be close, but I think it goes Betts-Trout-Donaldson with Machado and Altuve filling out the top 5.  You have to think Ortiz’s monster farewell season will get some votes too.
  • NL MVP: This is now Bryant’s to lose.  Daniel Murphy gets some top 5 votes, as does Buster Posey and Corey Seager.  Anthony Rizzo also gets some MVP votes, and if the Mets somehow sneak into the playoffs so does Cespedes on narrative.  Freddie Freeman getting some attention with his monster WAR season but he’ll be a 5th-place type vote getter at best.
  • AL Cy Young: this race is wide open.  Kluber leads the league in bWAR but may not be the best pitcher on his staff.  Porcello has reached 20 wins but is vastly eclipsed by Kluber in terms of Ks.  Sale, Quintana in the mix, as is Verlander.  Tanaka has quietly had a solid season too.  Some narrative-driven writers are pushing for Zach Britton.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw’s injury has opened the door for a slew of guys: Scherzer probably has the combination of wins, IPs, Ks to be the “leader” even if he’s eclipsed in WAR by Fernandez, Snydergaard.  Lester, Cueto and Hendricks also each have cases.  This could be a completely wide-open race.  I wrote most of this before the tragic death of Fernandez; will he now win out of sentimentality?
  • AL Rookie: Michael Fulmer was a shoe-in until Gary Sanchez hit 20 homers in his first 45 games; this race is closer than you might think.  Fulmer really should get it, but the NY media narrative game is strong.
  • NL Rookie: Seager is in the MVP discussion and should win unanimously.  Trea Turner’s probably top 3, as is Seager’s japanese teammate Maeda.
  • AL Manager: No idea how this goes: maybe Franconia in Cleveland still?  Perhaps Girardi for having the Yankees in the WC mix after their sell-off?  Maybe John Ferrell for getting Boston’s act back together?  Maybe Bannister in Texas for running away with a division that most thought Houston would win?
  • NL Manager: Baker in Washington still for me.  Yes Maddon will get some love, but Baker’s going to improve the Nats by 13 wins; the Cubs were widely expected to get to 100 wins.  Maybe Roberts in LA gets some love too.

 

Fantasy Baseball 2015: my team

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If Kershaw goes down, my fantasy season is in trouble.  Photo via wiki.

If Kershaw goes down, my fantasy season is in trouble. Photo via wiki.

Standard disclaimer; I do this post every year.  If you don’t play fantasy, you probably won’t care about the 3,000 words contained herein.

Because of the sheer number of players discussed, i’ll eschew my normal bolding of all names except those picked for my team so this post is more readable.


My annual Fantasy Baseball draft was held this week.  Here’s a re-cap of my team and my drafting strategy.

I had the 4th pick in a 12-team snake draft.  6×6 head-to-head league (the extra categories are OPS on the hitting side and Losses on the pitching side).  I obtained the 4th pick through a new draft order selection wrinkle introduced this year; instead of our typical double blind method of picking the order, we each submitted our choice of which pick we wanted.  I selected the 4th pick, thinking that Kershaw would be available here (or if he wasn’t, then i’d get one of the top 3 hitters who had slipped).  I won a coin-toss and kept the 4th pick.

Strategy: I wanted to be strong in Starting Pitching.  I wanted at least two top-notch closers.  I did not want to over-book OF positions early.  I would wait for 1B and the middle infield positions.

At the end of the day, here was my team, in order of round selected:

  1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD
  2. Stephen Strasburg, Wsh
  3. Michael Brantley, Cle
  4. Corey Dickerson, Col
  5. Aroldis Chapman, Cin
  6. Matt Harvey, NYM
  7. Christian Yelich, Mia
  8. Brian Dozier, Min
  9. Chris Carter, Hou
  10. Joaquin Benoit, SD
  11. Evan Gattis, Hou
  12. Michael Wacha, StL
  13. Santiago Casilla, SF
  14. Phil Hughes, Min
  15. Lucas Duda, NYM
  16. Shelby Miller, Atl * (see below)
  17. Taijuan Walker, Sea
  18. Jhonny Peralta, StL
  19. Adam LaRoche, CWS
  20. Nick Castellanos, Det
  21. Brandon McCarthy, LAD

Round by Round thinking

(the notation will be Xth overall pick in our draft, and then the Yahoo o-rank and 2014 rank, and then blended average ADP of the guy selected.  the Yahoo “o-rank” is Yahoo’s 2015 projected ranking).

  • Round 1 (4th overall pick, O-rank of #5, 2014 rank of #1, Blended ADP of #3) I had the 4th pick; the first three picks were Trout, Stanton, McCutchen.  So my choice was either  Kershaw or Goldschmidt?  I had targeted Kershaw by asking for the 4th pick, there’s lots of 1b depth, so going going with my SP.  I targeted Kershaw simply because, despite his ADP and o-ranks, he was the #1 fantasy player last year despite missing a month of starts, and I see no reason why he shouldn’t pick right back up.  I feel like i’m getting great value at #4 by grabbing the #1 overall player.  The pick: Clayton Kershaw.  I’ll say this: I fully believe that Max Scherzer will have a massive year and may very well be a better fantasy player than Kershaw in 2015 … but at the #4 pick, the odds of getting Scherzer to return to me were beyond nil.  I could have gambled on a lower pick in the draft and taken Scherzer later (his blended ADP rank is #16), but there are a couple of “unique” teams in the league who draft home-town heavy.  Sure enough, Scherzer went like 3 picks later, a pretty big overdraft.
  • Round 2 (21st, 22nd, 48th in 2014, 23rd ADP): I really wanted Josh Donaldson here, and he went the pick before me.  Which left me with a problem.  Beltre, Freeman, Brantley all avail… don’t like any of them at this spot.  Rendon was best ADP but as we all know he’s looking more and more like he’s missing half the season.  After Rendon in ADP was Bumgarner and Sale; don’t really like either of those guys at this spot.  To heck with it: I picked Stephen Strasburg.  I really, really didn’t want to have two SPs at this point, and I promise I was not emulating some sort of pitcher heavy strategy.  If it hadn’t been for Rendon’s injury, I would have taken him there and been very happy.  From a value perspective, outside of Straburg’s somewhat disappointing 2014 rank this pick was right in line with Yahoo and ADP.
  • Round 3 (28th, 20th, 6th in 2014, 26th ADP) I wanted Harper here, badly.  Literally, as I was thinking “Harper” he got picked, 2 spots before me.  My choices then were the likes of Freeman, Posey, Price, Brantley.   I don’t like Freddie Freeman this year; who would bother to pitch to him?  Posey is always hurt, and I just couldn’t take a 3rd pitcher in a row.  So I took Michael Brantley.  Ironically, Brantley was under consideration for my 2nd round pick and was still available 7 picks later.  This is always a good sign.  Why did he drop to 26th in ADP despite being #6 in Yahoo last year?  Maybe it was a career, unrepeatable year, but he’s not going to bottom out.  20/20 guy, great average, great OPS and plays in a hitter’s park.  I think this could be a great pick.
  • Round 4: (45th, 40th, 39th in 2014, 42nd in ADP) Needing more hitters, I was looking basically at Dickerson and Marte here.  ADP has Lester, Reyes; I don’t trust Lester going to the bandbox in Wrigley, and I can’t stand Reyes in fantasy (always, always hurt).  So I grabbed Corey Dickerson.  Dickerson had great power numbers in the minors, and had 24 homers in just 436 ABs last year.  Plays in Colorado, his slash line is great.  I feel like he’s going to be a top 25 fantasy producer in 2015.
  • Round 5 (52nd overall pick, 55th ranked, 93rd in 2014, 46th in ADP): a strategy play; last year I got my two main closers in the 5th and 6th rounds and rode them all year.  Knowing that i’d not be picking again for 17 picks … and after my hopeful “sleeper” pick Pujols got nabbed right after my 4th round pick, I looked at the board, didn’t like what I saw (Longoria, v-Mart, Hamels, Car-Go; injury, injury, Phillies and injury concern) and grabbed the best closer out there.  Aroldis Chapman.  Yes Kimbrel might be “better,” but Kimbrel is pitching for a team that will struggle to 65 wins.  He’s just not going to get the save opportunities that Chapman will.  Chapman’s 2014 rank took a tumble with his injury; he should continue his ridiculous K/9 rate and get plenty of saves for Cincinnati.
  • Round 6: (69th overall pick, 44th ranked, did not play in 2014, 57th ADP).  For the entirety of the 6th round, I was hoping for Harvey.  He lasted, he lasted … and I got him at 69th overall pick.  Matt HarveyPerhaps an overdraft based on who he is and what he’s coming back from.  However, at the time of this pick he was top available player on my ADP list.  Debate in the room ensued; is he on an innings limit?  Is he ready to come back?  My answers are this: Harvey, when healthy, was a ridiculous combination of awesome.  Here’s some 2013 stats: in just 26 starts he racked up 6.5 wins on Fangraphs.  His FIP and xFIP numbers showed that he was due for *improvement*.  And perhaps the most amazing stat to me: he was 3rd in the league in K/BB ratio despite leading the league in fastball velocity (for starters).  In other words, he threw the hardest *and* had nearly the best control in the league.  Sign me up.  I think I may have just gotten a top-5 starting pitcher at the end of the 6th round.
  • Round 7 (76th overall pick, 77th ranked, 33rd in 2014, 60th ADP).  Ok, at this point I’m in somewhat of a roster pickle.  I have four pitchers and just two batters and face a big gap before picking again.  I targeted best hitters available: I wanted someone like Fielder, Davis (gone, gone).  I targeted Kyle Seager: he went 2 before me.  So I looked at the 2B available (there were a ton at this stage on the board) and Brian Dozier was the pick.  20/20 guy, average not great, but 33rd ranked in 2014 so undervalued here.  I got him basically a round later than he should have gone by ADP.  Good value, and I have a decent 2B (which I struggled with last year).
  • Round 8: (93rd pick, 72nd ranked, 76th in 2014, 80 ADP).  Another big gap in the drafting; lots of guys off the board.  Is it too early for Kris Bryant?  I really, really want Bryant.  But … he went 3 picks before me.  d*mn.  I was left with very little to choose from; ended up taking Christian Yelich.  Not the sexiest pick; he was good for me last year.  Lots of steals, not a ton of power.
  • Round 9: (100th pick, 108th ranked, 94th in 2014, 118th ADP).  Now what?  another reliever?  Too early for a reliever.  There were good starters on the board (like Arrieta and Teheran).  But I need bats now.  This is the problem with drafting too many starters early; there’s a ton of value these days later on (as we’ll see with some of my later picks).  So I grabbed best hitter on ESPN’s board and the best position player that didn’t duplicate what I already had (OFs): went with Chris Carter.   Huge bat; 37 homers last year.  Awful average.  How does he only score 68 runs when 37 of them were his own homers?  You have to think some of these numbers will improve as Houston improves.  He should have more RBIs with better hitters getting on base ahead of him.
  • Round 10: (117th overall, 145 o-rank, 141st in 2014, 164 ADP).  In the 17 picks after I thought about doing a closer … there was a huge run on them.  Literally 8 of the 17 picks between my 9th and 10th round were closers.  I was hoping that some one like Cishek held out but was disappointed?  I took Joaquin Benoit.  I figure that any pitcher in San Diego is 15% better just because of the stadium, and figure that SD will be better this year and Benoit will get saves.
  • Round 11: (124th overall, 110 o-rank, 289 2014 rank, 84th ADP).  As with Bryant, I was starting to look at uber-rookie Pederson as a sleeper … and he went way, way early.  I also really liked Pablo Sandoval here .. and he got picked just before me.  Damn.  Evan Gattis is C eligible … best hitter available at this point and he fills my troublesome C slot.  Got him.  Gattis hit 22 homers in just 369 ABs last year, and he’ll be a DH/corner OF in a better hitter’s park.  So he should stay healthy.  Healthier that is.  He should immediately get OF eligibility too.
  • Round 12: (141 overall, 138 o-rank, 232 in 2014, 132 ADP) Was looking at Garrett Richards … but he’s hurt and won’t be back til end of april.  No more decent RPs right now.  Can wait for later on.  I went with best starter avail; Michael Wacha.  This isn’t without concern here; a “stress fracture” in his throwing shoulder cost him half of last year.  I don’t forget though just how dominant he was in the 2nd half of 2013; we’ll hope he returns to that form.
  • Round 13: (148 overall, 171 o-rank, 149 in 2014, 193 ADP).  I need a hitter; there are still 1Bs available, and plenty of them.  But I  don’t like what’s here at this point for this pick; I can wait.  So I got the best remaining closer on the market: Santiago Casilla.  And by “best” i mean, closer for the best remaining team.  You don’t want to invest in a closer of a last place team, or a team with a bullpen by committee approach.  Casilla might get supplanted by Romo (and in fact someone picked up my closer “handcuff” later on).  We’ll keep an eye out.
  • Round 14/15: (From here out, instead of going round by round, I’ll talk about the pairs of picks since they’re so close together). I still need SS and 3B.  I still don’t like what’s out there for either and  and think they can hold on.  So the goal was to get another good hitter plus a good SP.  I ended up with Phil Hughes (165th overall, 122nd o-rank, 102 in 2014, 133rd in ADP) and Lucas Duda (172nd overall, 143 o-rank, 72nd in 2014, 155th ADP).  I like both of these picks for value: Hughes was great in 2014, came out of nowhere pitching in a big park.  By his 2014 numbers he went at least 5 rounds later than value.  Meanwhile I had been looking at Duda for a while; had him last year, he’s a masher.  30 homers in 2014 while being platooned a little bit.  He always scares me when he bats against the Nats.
  • Round 16/17: At this point, I *still* don’t have a SS or 3B.  Except that, once again, looking at the board and who is available, I know I could wait on both and still get someone as decent in two rounds from now as if I drafted them now.  So instead, I’m looking at pitchers.  There’s no reason to take an experimental closer at this point, so I’m getting the two best SPs on the market.  I got Shelby Miller (189th overall, 228th o-rank, 323 2014 rank, 243 ADP) and Taijuan Walker (196th overall, 202 o-rank, 417 ranked last year, 223 ADP).  Both are overdrafts by nearly all measures, but both are interesting plays.  All i’ve been reading about Walker this spring is how awesome he’s looked, how un-hittable he’s been.  And he pitches in the pitcher-friendly confines of Seattle.  Miller is more of a riskier pick; he’s moved teams, is now pitching for the woeful Braves … but i’ve always liked him and have had him every year he’s been a pro.  There is a caveat to the Miller pick; apparently the guy who picked right before me asked me about Miller’s availability, and I either neglected to answer or misled him … so he picked Jose Quintana.  When I picked Miller immediately after him, he cried foul.  I promise I wasn’t trying to mis-lead him, and will immediately offer Miller in trade for Quintana as soon as the rosters are available.  So instead of Miller, I may have Quintana.
  • Round 18-21: by this point it was past 11:30pm and we were pretty beat.  I had been targeting two specific SS/3B players for several rounds, knowing they probably wouldn’t get picked.  So I grabbed them, the best hitter remaining, plus one last SP to finish off the draft.  My last four picks were:
    • Jhonny Peralta (213 overall pick, 193 o-rank, 150th last  year, 198th ADP): 20 homers last  year, serviceable BA and OPS.  Best SS left.
    • Adam LaRoche (220th pick, 126 o-rank, 79th last year, 153 ADP): I love grabbing guys like LaRoche; because he plays a busy position, and despite his production last year (79th best fantasy player should have put him in the 7th round), he drops to almost waiver-wire levels.  I’ll take that for the 19th round; 79th best player last  year with the 220nd pick.
    • Nick Castellanos (237th pick, 267 o-rank, 303rd last year, 300+ in ADP).  Might be a wasted pick; of the 3B left, he sounded the most intriguing.  But 300+ in ADP, he wasn’t even on my draft list.  I’m pretty sure that the likes of Prado, Headley and even *gasp* Alex Rodriguez are 3B eligible and on waivers; we may make an early waiver wire move.
    • Brandon McCarthy (244th pick, 170 o-rank, 332 last  year, 236 ADP): last pick, and I got what I think will be a pretty serviceable starter.  McCarthy’s numbers were awesome for the Yankees last  year once he escaped the sh*tty situation in Arizona.  Now he goes to LA, where he’s probably the 3rd starter for the 2nd best team in the NL.  This could be a seriously good pick.

 


So, here’s the team by positions:

  • C: Gattis
  • 1B: Carter, Duda, LaRoche
  • 2B: Dozier
  • SS: Peralta
  • 3B: Castellanos
  • OF: Brantley, Dickerson, Yelich
  • SP: Kershaw, Strasburg, Harvey, Wacha, Hughes, Miller/Quintana, McCarthy
  • RP: Chapman, Benoit, Casilla

Initial glance: I can’t remember the last time I had starting pitching anywhere near this good.  Incredibly weak at 2B/SS/3B.  Not the greatest set of hitters in general.  Relievers have one great, one good, one crap-shoot; i’ll have to play the waiver wire game to try to grab an extra.

Here’s a breakdown of the 2014 stats for my hitters:

H/AB R HR RBI SB AVG OPS
Gattis 97/369 41 22 52 0 0.263 0.81
Carter 115/507 68 37 88 5 0.227 0.799
Duda 130/514 74 30 92 3 0.253 0.83
LaRoche 128/494 73 26 92 3 0.259 0.817
Dozier 145/598 112 23 71 21 0.242 0.761
Peralta 147/560 61 21 75 3 0.263 0.779
Castellanos 138/533 50 11 66 2 0.259 0.7
Brantley 200/611 94 20 97 23 0.327 0.891
Dickerson 136/436 74 24 76 8 0.312 0.931
Yelich 165/582 94 9 54 21 0.284 0.764

So, nearly every guy was a 20+ homer guy; lots of power on this team.  Three 20+ SB guys; that’s a good sign.  The averages aren’t great; that’s just a blended average of about .270.  My blended OPS is about .808.  By way of comparison, the MLB average last year was .253 for BA and .714 in OPS.  I can’t remember what the fantasy averages were, but i’m guessing these are going to be low.  A surprising number of decent RBI guys here; three that were near 100 RBIs last  year.  Another three guys who were near or over 100 runs.  So maybe this team won’t be that bad on the offensive side.

Let the games begin!

Post-Winter Meeting bonanza; who improved their Rotation the most? Who’s left?

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Lester joins the Cubs revolution. Photo via weei.com

Lester joins the Cubs revolution. Photo via weei.com

(Editor’s Note: sorry for the tardiness on this post: I had it completely written and a WordPress or browser glitch lost 1,000 words of analysis.  So it took a bit of time to cobble back together what I had originally written.  Then the Souza trade hit, then the Cuban thing … and this got pushed).

What a GM Meeting week!  As one of the Fangraphs guys noted, there were so many transactions, so fast, that he literally gave up trying to write individual analysis pieces and went to a running diary of sorts.  I was amazed at the number of significant deals and trades made, especially when it came to starters.  So lets take a look at who shook things up.

Many teams are making big moves (almost the entirety of the the AL it seems) to try to win in 2015.  And many teams have revamped their rotations.  First, here’s a quick run through teams that have made significant acquisitions to their starting rotations (using BP’s Depth Charts page, Fangraphs stats pages and BaseballProspectus‘ page for injury history, Cots at BP for salaries, and of course baseball-reference.com).

Teams who have Improved

  • Chicago White Sox: acquired Jeff Samardzija in Oakland’s fire sale to go with established ace Chris Sale, the highly underrated Jose Quintana.  From there the White Sox have question marks: John Danks is just an innings eater at this point and Hector Noesi was not effective in 2014.  But the White Sox have one of the brightest SP prospects in the game at AAA in Carlos Rodon (their fast-rising 2014 1st round pick) and their former #1 prospect Erik Johnson (who struggled in his debut in 2014 but has a good minor league track record).  So by the latter part of 2015 the White Sox could be a scary team for opposing offenses to face.
  • Minnesota: just signed Ervin Santana to join a rotation containing the rejuvinated Phil Hughes, the decent  Ricky Nolasco and first rounder Kyle Gibson.  If they (finally) call up former Nats 1st rounder Alex Meyer to fill out the rotation and replace the dregs that gave them #4 and #5 rotation spot starts last year, they could be significantly improved.  Of course, the problem they face is the fact that they’re already playing catchup in the AL Central and still look like a 5th place team in this division.
  • Los Angeles Angels: adroitly turned one year of Howie Kendrick into six years of Andrew Heaney, who should thrive in the big AL West parks.  If the Angels get a healthy Garrett Richards back to go along with the surprising Matt Shoemaker, they may have a surplus of decent arms being stalwards Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
  • Miami has spent some cash this off-season, but they’ve also gone shopping and upgraded their rotation significantly.   After acquiring the decent Jarred Cosart at the trade deadline, they’ve flipped bit-players to acquire Mat Latos, added Dan Haren and a $10M check  while parting ways with the unproven youngster Andrew Heaney, and should get ace Jose Fernandez back by June 1st if all goes well with his TJ rehab.  Add to that Henderson Alvarez and the Marlins look frisky (their new-found depth enabled them to move Nathan Eovaldi to the Yankees).  Rumors are that Haren won’t pitch unless he’s in SoCal, but $10M is an awful lot of money to turn up your nose at.  This is an improved rotation no doubt, and the rest of the Marlins lineup looks good too.
  • New York Mets get Matt Harvey back.  Enough said.  Harvey-Jacob deGrom is one heck of a 1-2 punch.
  • Chicago Cubs: added an ace in Jon Lester, re-signed their own effective starter in Jason Hammel, and will add these two guys to the resurgent Jake Arrieta.  Past that you have question marks: Kyle Hendricks looked great in 2014.  And the Cubs gave nearly 60 starts last year to Travis Wood (5+ ERA) and former Nat Edwin Jackson (6+ ERA).  I could envision another SP acquisition here and the relegation of Wood & Jackson to the bullpen/AAA/scrap heap.
  • Pittsburgh was able to resign Francisco Liriano and get A.J. Burnett for an under-market deal.  This should keep them afloat if they end up losing Edinson Volquez in free agency.   Otherwise they have decent back of the rotation guys and will get back Jamison Taillon perhaps in the early part of the year.  This could help them get back to the playoffs with the anticipated step-back of NL Central rivals Cincinnati.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers said good bye to a stable of starters (Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsly, Kevin Correia, Dan Haren, Roberto Hernandez and Paul Maholm are all either FAs or have been traded away) and signed a couple of guys to go behind their big three of Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu who could quietly make a difference (Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson) if they remain healthy.  That’s a bigger “if” on Anderson than McCarthy, who excelled once leaving the circus that Arizona was last year before the management house cleaning and should continue to excel in the huge park in LA.  Were I Andrew Friedman, I’d re-sign at least a couple of these FA guys for 5th starter insurance … but then again, the Dodgers also have a whole slew of arms in AAA that could be their 5th starter.  Or they could just open up their wallets again; there’s still arms to be had.  Nonetheless, replacing 32 Haren starts with McCarthy will bring immediate benefits, and whoever they end up with as a 5th starter has to be better than the production they got last year out of that spot.

Team most improved: likely the Cubs.

What teams’ rotations have taken step backs or are question marks heading into 2015?

  • Boston: after trading away most of their veteran rotation last season, the Red Sox seem set to go into 2015 with this rotation: Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Joe Kelly and Wade Miley.  This rotation doesn’t look as good as it could be; Buchholz was awful in 2014, Porcello is good but not great, Masterson the same, Kelly seems like a swingman, and Miley has back to back 3.98 FIP seasons in the NL and will see some ERA inflation in the AL (though not as much as normal since Arizona is a hitter’s park).  But Boston’s entire AAA rotation are among their top 10 prospects, so there’s plenty of depth they could use in trade or as reinforcements. 
  • Detroit: Arguable if they’ve really taken a “step back,” but you have to question their direction.  In the last two off-seasons they’ve traded away Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, prospect Robbie Ray and have (seemingly) lost Max Scherzer to free agency so that they can go into 2015 with this rotation: David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibel Sanchez, Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene.   Is this a winning rotation for 2015?
  • Kansas City: They have replaced departing free agent ace James Shields with newly signed Edinson Volquez, keeping newly acquired Brian Flynn and 2014 draft darling Brandon Finnegan in the bullpen for now.  KC is going to take a step back and will struggle to compete in the new super-powered AL Central in 2015, but have a slew of 1st round arms that look like they’ll hit in late 2015/early 2016.  I do like their under-the-radar signing of Kris Medlen though; he could be a very solid addition to their rotation if he comes back from his 2nd TJ.
  • Oakland will have a new look in 2015, having traded away a number of core players.  But their rotation should be OK despite having traded away Samardzija and let Jon Lester and Jason Hammel walk.  Why?  Because they stand to get back two very good rotation members who missed all of 2014 with TJ surgery in A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker.  They should re-join the 2014 rotation members Sonny Grey, Scott Kazmir, newly acquired Jesse Hahn and either Jesse Chavez/Drew Pomeranz to form another underrated rotation.  Of course, if these guys have injury setbacks, it could be a long season in Oakland.
  • Texas made a couple of acquisitions, re-signing their own Colby Lewis and trading for Nats cast-off Ross Detwiler (who should fit in immediately as their 4th starter), to go with ace Yu Darvish and recently recovered Derek Holland.  But Texas could significantly improve come mid-season when injured starter Martin Perez should return.  The big question mark for Texas is Matt Harrison, who had to have two vertebrae in his back fused and may not return, ever.   But if Harrison can come back, that gives Texas an opening day 1-5 that’s pretty improved over last  year.
  • Cleveland didn’t exactly have the world’s best rotation in 2014 but has done little to improve it going forward.  They will continue to depend on Corey Kluber, newly minted Cy Young winner to head the line, but then its question marks.  Carlos Carrasco was great in a combo role in 2014; where’d that come from?  He was awful in years prior.  Is Trevor Bauer dependable?  They better hope so; that’s your #3 starter.  They just signed Gavin Floyd after his injury shortened 9-game stint with Atlanta last year; he’s no better than a 4th/5th innings eater.   Is Gavin Salazar ready for prime time?  He wasn’t in 2014.  And there’s little else on the farm; the Indians don’t have a significant starting pitcher prospect in their entire system. 
  • Atlanta: The Braves surprisingly parted ways with Kris Medlen and not-so-surprisingly parted ways with Brandon Beachy, Gavin Floyd, Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang.  That’s a lot of starter depth to cut loose.  They look to go into 2015 with ace Julio Teheran followed by the newly acquired Shelby Miller, the inconsistent Mike Minor, the excellent but scary Alex Wood and under-rated 5th starter David Hale.  That’s not a *bad* rotation … but it isn’t very deep.  They have cut ties with guys who made nearly half their 2014 starts AND the guy who went 10-1 for them in 2012.  They (inexplicably) picked up a starter in Rule-5 draft who had TJ surgery in June; are they really going to carry him that long on the active roster?  They have no upper-end SP talent close to the majors.  If one of these 5 starters gets hurt, Atlanta could be in trouble.
  • Philadelphia: all you need to know about the state of the Philadelphia franchise can be summed up right here: A.J. Burnett declined a $12.75M player option to play for the Phillies in 2015 and, instead, signed for 1  year, $8.5M to play for Pittsburgh.  They will head into 2015 with their aging 1-2 punch of Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, the former being constantly dangled in trade rumors but going nowhere because the Phillies GM clearly over-values what a guy like Hamels and his guaranteed contract can actually bring back in return in this market.  Past Hamels/Lee there’s a bunch of non-descript names (David Buchanan, the waiver-claim Jerome Williams and the untested Cuban FA Miguel Gonzalez).   Can this team even broach 70 wins?
  • Cincinnati is moving backwards: they’ve traded away Mat Latos for  pennies on the dollar (Keith Law says there’s “make-up issues.”) and moved the effective Alfredo Simon for other bit players.  They’re putting a ton of faith that one-pitch Tony Cingrani will last a whole season and the youngster Anthony DeSclafini (obtained for Latos) will comprise a workable rotation.  They do have a couple of decent prospects at AAA (Robert Stephenson and Michael Lorenzen) but they seem to be accepting that they’re taking a step back.
  • St Louis traded away their least effective starter (Shelby Miller) and acquired the best defensive RF in the game (Jason Heyward).  Not a bad bit of work.  But they now will go into 2015 with a question mark in the rotation; prospect Carlos Martinez will get the first shot and could be good; oft-injured Jaime Garcia is still hanging around, and there’s a couple of good arms in AAA who could matriculate into the rotation via the bullpen as Martinez did in 2014.  It could end up being addition by subtraction (Martinez for Miller) but we’ll see.
  • Arizona has boldly re-made their rotation this off-season, dealing away 2014 opening day starter Wade Miley for a couple of SP prospects and dealing for 6 arms in total thus far.  New rotation may not be flashy at the top (the enigmatic Josh Collmenter is slated for the opening day start in 2015) and is followed by former Tampa pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (traded for prospects), the two pitchers acquired from Boston for Miley in Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster and then a cattle-call for the 5th starter competition this spring.  Arizona also ended up with former Nats farm-hand Robbie Ray, still have the highly regarded Archie Bradley waiting for his free agent clock to get pushed out a year, plus 2013’s darling Patrick Corbin coming off of TJ, not to mention Bronson Arroyo coming back from TJ later in the season.  So there’s a lot of arms out there to choose from, eventually.  But getting to Bradley-Corbin-Hellickson-de la Rosa-Webster from where they’ll start will be rough.
  • San Francisco‘s 2015 rotation could be just as effective as it needs to be (after all, they won the 2014 world series having lost Matt Cain mid-season and given the ineffective Tim Lincecum 26 starts).  They seem to set to go with Cain, WS hero Madison Bumgarner, the age-less Tim Hudson, and then with Lincecum and re-signed aging FA Jake Peavy.  This pushes Yusmeiro Petit to the bullpen for the time being and seemingly closes the door on Ryan Vogelsong‘s SF time.  Rumor had it that they were all over Jon Lester… and missed.  So a big acquisition to permanently sent Lincecum to the pen could still be in the works.  SF’s bigger issue is the loss of offense.  But the NL West is so weak they could still sneak into the playoffs again.  I list them as question marks though because Cain might not be healthy, Lincecum could still suck, and Hudson and Peavy combined are nearly 80 years of age.
  • San Diego has completely re-made their offense; do they have the pitching they need to compete?   They signed Brandon Morrow to replace 32 awful starts they gave to Eric Stults last year; that should be an improvement.  But they’ve traded away their 2nd best guy (Jesse Hahn) and are now set to have two lesser starters (Odrisamer Despaigne and Robbie Erlin) compete for the rotation.  The Padres re-signed lottery ticket Josh Johnson (coming off what seems like his millionth season-ending arm injury) and still have TJ survivor Cory Luebke in the wings, possibly ready for April 1st.  Their 1-2-3 of Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy isn’t that inspiring, but in San Diego’s home park, you don’t have to be Sandy Koufax to succeed.  Have they done enough to compete in the NL West?

Which team has taken the biggest step back?  Clearly for me its Arizona.

Who is left?

Well, clearly the two big FA names are Max Scherzer and James Shields.  Scherzer gambled heavily on himself when he turned down 6/$144M.  Would the Tigers make him a new offer?  Are the Nationals possibly involved (I hope not for the sake of the team’s chemistry; what would it say to players if the Nats jettisoned Jordan Zimmermann so they could give Scherzer $150M?).   He’d make a great fit in San Francisco … who wanted Lester but would get nearly the same great performance out of Scherzer.  Meanwhile Shields could fit in Boston or for the Dodgers to give them the depth they’ve lost.

Past the two big names, you have older guys likely to go on one year deals.  There’s no longer really room for Ryan Vogelsong in SF; he could be a decent option for someone.   Aaron Harang has earned himself a likely 2 year deal as someone’s back of the rotation guy.  Guys like Kyle Kendrick or Joe Saunders could be someone’s starter insurance policy.  And of course there’s a slew of injury guys who are like pitching lottery tickets.  Beachy, Billingsley, and Alexi Ogando all sound intriguing as reclamation cases.

But, once you get past Scherzer and Shields, anyone looking for a big upgrade will have to hit the trade market.  The problem there seems to be this: there’s just not that many teams that are already waving the white flag for 2015.   From reading the tea leaves this off-season, Atlanta is giving up, Cincinnati may be close, Philadelphia has begrudgingly admitted they’re not going to win, Arizona has already traded away its assets, Colorado is stuck in neutral, Oakland may look like they’re rebuilding but they still will be competitive in 2015, and  young teams like Houston and Tampa aren’t giving up what they currently have.  So a GM might have to get creative to improve their team at this point.

Written by Todd Boss

December 22nd, 2014 at 9:24 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Best contracts in the game right now

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Sal Perez is the best value contract in the game right now. photo via si.com

Sal Perez is the best value contract in the game right now. photo via si.com

Inspired by Steve AdamsMLBTR chat on 11/18/14, I thought this was a fascinating topic.  What players have the best value contracts in the game right now?

For several years, the answer here was Evan Longoria, who signed a 6yr/$17.5M contract in 2008 and promptly put up three straight seasons north of 7.0 bWAR.  We’re into the option years on that original deal, which are still pretty affordable, and Longoria did get a 9-figure extension, so he’s not entirely in this discussion any longer.  Call him the “godfather” of ridiculously good value contracts.

Using the obvious websites (baseball-reference.com and Cots’ salary database now at BaseballProspectus.com), lets take a look at some candidates.  Note; I refer to a “valuation” of $6M per win above replacement as a way to “value” production.  There are some known limitations to equating salary to this figure, and there are others who estimate it even higher, but $6M per is still a decent estimate to use as a quick estimate of a player’s “monetary” production on the field.

Note: we are NOT including the litany of pre-arb players who are putting up huge seasons.  This is mostly trying to focus on those players who have signed for affordable contracts but who are delivering huge value.  Thus players like Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon, Kyle Seager, Corey Kluber and Starling Marte are not included here.

Candidate contracts: I’ve arranged these in my opinion of the order of value:

  • Sal Perez: 5 years/$7M (2012-16), plus 2017-19 club options worth just a *combined* $14.75M.  This for a guy who has made the all-star team and won the catcher Gold Glove two years running.  Wow.
  • Chris Sale: 5 years/$32.5M (2013-17), plus 2018-19 options of $12.5M and $13.5M.  This for a guy who led the AL this year in ERA+ and has received significant Cy Young votes 3 years running.  His bWAR in the last three seasons: 5.9, 6.9 and 6.6.  That’s crazy.
  • Jose Altuve: 4 years/$12.5M (2014-17), plus 2018-19 options at $6M and $6.5M.   Two-time all-star, led the AL in both hits and batting average in 2014.   Just put up a 6.6 bWAR season … and the Astros got it for just $1.25M in salary.
  • Jonathan Lucroy: 5 years/$11M (2012-16), plus 2017 option at $5.25M.  this late bloomer signed an incredibly affordable deal, then had a break out 2014 season where he posted a 6.7 bWAR, made the All-Star team, finished 4th in the MVP voting and should have won the gold glove as the best framing catcher in the game.   His total salary for the remaining three years of his contract is just $12.25M.
  • Madison Bumgarner.  Current contract: 5 years/$35M (2013-17), plus 2018-19 options at $12M each.  Bumgarner was 4th in Cy Young voting this year with a 4 bWAR season but (as we all know) dominated the playoffs, single-handedly handing the Giants their 3rd World Series title in the last 5 seasons.  A 4-war season is worth at least $24M on the open market these days, but he earned just $3.75M this year.  His options can vest and increase with certain achievements, but even at their max $16M value he’s still a massive bargain.
  • Yasiel Puig: 7 years/$42M (2012-18).  Everyone thought the Dodgers were crazy to commit $42M to an unknown; now it looks like a massive bargain.  For $2M salaries the last two years he’s put up 4.9 and 5.4 bWAR seasons.
  • Julio Teheran: 6 years/$32.4M (2014-19).  This contract gets expensive later, but in 2014 he was paid just $800k to put up a 4.0 win season.  If Teheran continues to be the #2 pitcher he showed this year, the Braves have great value on their hands.
  • Jose Quintana: 5 years/$21M (2014-18).  Thanks to the crummy team he toils for, Quintana’s exploits have gone unnoticed.  But he’s now got a career 117 ERA+ and has reached 200 innings both of the last two seasons and is signed for a song going forward.  Its no wonder analysts scoff when his name is mentioned in trade talks.
  • Michael Brantley: 4 years/$25M (2014-17), plus 2018 option of $11M).  This is preliminary, but based on his 7 bWAR season in 2014 (for just a $1.5M salary), this could be a huge bargain.  Is he a flash in the 2014 pan or is he for real?  If he’s for real, the Indians have a fantastic value going forward.
  • Ben Zobrist: 4 years/$18M (2010-13), plus 2014-15 options of $7 and $7.5M.  This was the poster child for years of affordable contracts (once Evan Longoria got his extension).  He’s averaged 4.75 bWAR over the past four seasons while playing six or seven different positions for the Rays.  Even in the final 2015 season at $7.5M, he’s projecting at 4 bWAR, still a significant under-value.  Keith Law calls  him “the best contract value” in MLB history; maybe he should be higher on this list.
  • Mike Trout: 6 years/$144.5M (2015-20).  No, a $33.25M salary in 2020 isn’t really a bargain, but the Angels are still getting the best player in baseball for $1M in 2014 and $5.25M in 2015.  Even if Trout declines to “just” a 6 bWAR player for the next 6 years … the Angels are still coming out ahead on the $6M/WAR evaluation technique.
  • John Lackey: 1yr/mlb minimum (2015).  He had a quirk in his previous contract that vested a MLB-minimum year thanks to an injury a couple years ago, so the Cardinals get the benefit of a veteran innings-eating 100 ERA+ starter at the league minimum.  Nothing to sneeze at, even if its just a one year contract.  On the open market you have to think he’s worth $8-$10M/season.
  • Steve Pearce: 1 year/$850k (2014).  This isn’t really a true candidate like the other players here, but Pearce’s story is worth noting.  He was DFA’d and *released* in April and re-signed a couple days later, but still posted a 6 bWAR season for Baltimore this year.  He’s arbitration eligible for 2015 but how far could his salary really rise after an 850k salary?
  • Jonathan Singleton: 5yrs/$10M plus 3 club options.  He may not profile as being worth this contract now … but if he lives up anywhere close to expectations, those later option years at $2-$2.5M are going to look pretty darn good.  No wonder the players union howled when he signed this deal.
  • Adam Jones: 4yrs/$62M is nothing to shake a stick at, even if his “gold glove” defense is rather suspect.
  • Edwin Encarnacion: 3 years/$29M (2013-15), plus 2016 club option of $10M.  Yeah that’s a pretty good deal.
  • Jose Bautista: 5 years/$65M (2011-15), plus 2016 option of $14M.   $14M for a guy who probably would have gotten 33% more had he been a FA two years ago.

How about the same analysis for the Nats?  The clear best value players on the team are Anthony Rendon and Tanner Roark.  Both Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister delivered pretty good WAR/pay value.  Denard Span just gave us a 3.6 bWAR season for $6.5M in salary; a pretty good deal.  But none of these contracts really contend with the above list.

Did I miss anyone obvious?  Do you agree with my rankings above?

2/24/16: Dan Szymborski posted his own updated version of this topic here: http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/insider/story/_/id/14832664/carlos-correa-tops-list-baseball-best-assets-most-team-friendly-contracts-mlb .  He goes by surplus projected WAR.  Carlos Correa #1, Trout #2, then a bunch of pre-arb high-end rookies.

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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