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Roster construction of 2013 playoff teams

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I like doing this post every year (here’s 2012′s version, here’s 2011′s version), looking for trends in baseball’s most successful teams.  How do the best teams generally construct their rosters?

Borrowing from last year’s post, there are four main ways teams can acquire players:

  1. Draft/Development: The player is with the original team that drafted him.  In the case of international free agents, if they’re signed as 16-year olds they are considered in this category as well (i.e. Jose Fernandez is a developed player despite being acquired as an international “free agnet” while Yasiel Puig).  It could be better defined as “Club developed players.”
  2. Trade MLBers: The player was acquired by the team by virtue of trading an established MLB player.  Most of the time these days, this means the player was acquired as a prospect (since most trades seem to be of the prospect-for-established player kind).
  3. Trade Prospects: The player was acquired by the team by virtue of trading prospects.  This is essentially the reverse of #2.
  4. Free Agency: The player was acquired in free agency.  This category also includes several other types of acquisitions: waiver claims, Rule-5 draftees and cash purchases.  These three categories are lumped together since all three indicate that a team has acquired a player with zero outlay in terms of development or prospects.

Sometimes these trades get a bit muddled; if you send a combination of major and minor league talent to the other team, which category does it fall under?  But for the most part trades are simply categorized.

Now, here is the summary of roster construction and “Construction Strategy Category” for all 10 teams that made this year’s playoffs.  I only count the “core players” on a team for this analysis.  The core players is defined as the 5-man starting rotation, the setup and closer, the 8 out-field players, and the DH for AL teams.  I didn’t extend this all the way to the 25-man roster, figuring that these core 15-16 players are the main reasons teams win and advance.  That and huge chunks of the bullpen and the bench are either fill-in FAs or draftees and it would skew the analysis of how teams really got to the playoffs.  Here’s the summary (the table is sorted by count of Draftees):

Team Drafted/Developed Traded Prospects Traded MLBs FA/Waivers Constr Method
Boston 7 1 0 8 #4
Detroit 5 4 2 5 #2/#4
Oakland 3 1 7 5 #3
Tampa Bay 6 1 4 5 #1
Cleveland 4 1 7 4 #3
St. Louis 10 2 2 1 #1
Atlanta 8 0 5 2 #1/#3
Cincinnati 9 2 2 2 #1
Pittsburgh 5 3 3 4 #1/#3
Los Angeles Dodgers 3 4 1 7 #4

So, what are these four Team Construction Methods?  Lets go one by one:

Method #1: Build from within nearly 100% (Tampa, St. Louis and Cincinnati the best examples, Atlanta and Pittsburgh to some extent): Two great fact points drive this team construction for two of the best example teams in this category:

  1. 18 of St. Louis’ 25 man post season roster was drafted by the team and is still with the team.   Another 5 total guys were acquired in trade (including Adam Wainwright who was acquired more than a decade ago).
  2. When Roberto Hernandez got a start this past April, it broke a nearly 8-season long trend of Tampa having every one if its starts being taken by a starting pitcher developed in house.

These are easily the two best examples in the game of success from almost entirely in-house player development.  St. Louis has one core Free Agent (Carlos Beltran and only two on its entire playoff roster).  Cincinnati isn’t too far behind with its sole major FA acquisition on this year’s roster being Aroldis Chapman.   Atlanta and Pittsburgh do qualify for this (Atlanta has a huge number of home-grown players), but also have made enough trades/signings to create their current rosters that they don’t entirely fit here fully.

Method #2Ride your developed Core and use your prospects to acquire big names: Detroit (to a certain extent).  Detroit has a good core of home-grown guys to which they’ve augmented by trading prospects and major FA acquisitions to arrive at their current incarnation; a very good, very expensive squad.

I continue to classify Washington in this category as well, 6 of our core 15 were drafted and another 3 were acquired by flipping our prospect depth.

Method #3: Wheel and Deal: Oakland, Cleveland entirely, then Atlanta & Pittsburgh to a certain extent.  Is roster-turnover the new market inefficiency?  Oakland’s 2013 team featured an entirely new infield from last year’s 2012 AL West winning team.  Only 3 of Oakland’s core 16 players were home-grown this year.  Billy Beane’s M.O. of wheeling and dealing is paying major dividends; his trades of established major leaguers to acquire prospects has resulted in two AL West divisional crowns in a row.  Meanwhile Cleveland has adopted some of the same strategy, with just one real home grown starter and a whole batting order assembled via trade and free agency.

Atlanta and Pittsburgh each have done their fare share of major trades/signings lately, with Atlanta ending up with Justin Upton and Pittsburgh ending up with 4/5ths of a rotation thanks to big moves.  So while both teams have their cores in player development, smart transactions have made big differences in their 2013 playoff pushes.

Method #4Spend what it takes to win: Boston, Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit to some extent.  Certainly no one can argue with Los Angeles’ planned path; they more than doubled their team payroll from 2012 to 2013 by taking hundreds of millions of dollars off the hands of … Boston, who still remains in this category despite a large bulk of their core 16 being home grown.  You just can’t have a $150M payroll and not be categorized as a “spend what it takes to win” team.  Detroit’s owner has opened up the pocketbook time and again to try to buy a winner, so they aren’t entirely in this category but they’re getting close.

 


So, what’s the *right* way to build your team?  I guess it depends; clearly all four of these methods can result in playoff appearances.  Perhaps its better to look at the downsides of each method:

Method #1 depends on a long track record of consistent player evaluation and drafting.  St. Louis, in my opinion the best franchise in the game, has a great track record.  Their 2009 draft alone produced 5 of their 25 man roster, and Michael Wacha was a 2012 draft pick who shot to the majors and may be the steal of that draft.  But getting there takes time and talent; to me clearly teams like the Cubs and Houston are re-booting in order to get to this point.  It tests the patience of your fan base and your RSNs (as Houston is learning).  Kansas City has tried this method for years and years and has had little luck.  Seattle went this route mostly and a slew of big-name prospects have failed to really pan out.  So you need great player development and some draft-day luck.  The new CBA is going to make this method harder and harder to do.

Method #2 is slightly less harrowing than going entirely by method #1, but does depend on finding trading partners and finding matches for your spots.  This is where I classify the Nats right now; we have a good core of home-grown guys earned on the backs of several years of last place finishes/high first round draft picks.  And now we’ve parlayed some prospect depth into two key members (Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span).  The downside of this method basically is that your farm system gets depleted very quickly.  Washington’s farm system went from the best in the game to being ranked in the low #20s after matriculations, losses of first round picks and the two big trades.  Suddenly your team has no big-time rising prospects, your major league team has no reinforcements coming, and you soon devolve more into category #4, spending hand over fist to extend your stars and to fill in holes.  Kind of like where Philadelphia is right now.

Method #3 can go bad, fast.  If your trades don’t work out … you look bad, quickly.  You’re also buying yourself some known down years (think what Miami is doing; they clearly punted on 2013 while trading away a ton of salary and major league assets).  That can be tough on the fan base; Oakland and Miami’s fan bases already have their own problems, but Cleveland struggled to sell seats this  year even on their way to 90 wins.

Method #4 can go bad, fast as well … and expensively so.  Only three of the game’s 11 most expensive teams made the playoffs this year.  The Yankees got 85 wins for their $228M in payroll and look like they may be in trouble for a time to come.  Philadelphia?  73 wins.  The Angels and Giants were losing teams.   Free Agents are generally being paid for what they DID, not what they’re going to do.  And Free Agents are almost always in their late 20s/early 30s, entering their natural decline years, and invariably are going to be overpaid for their performance.  If you want to build your team through FA, consider that new estimates value a “win” at roughly $7M on the open market … meaning that to build just a 90 win team through free agency would cost more than $300M in free agent dollars.  Or about what Robinson Cano wants this off-season.  There will continue to be high-payroll teams of course (that RSN money has to get spent somewhere), but I feel as if the industry is going to get smarter about these long term deals.  One look at the Angels last few off-seasons should give you every bit of proof you need to know; hundreds of millions committed to aging sluggers, several very productive prospects traded away chasing glory, and the Angels (even with the best player in the game at $500k/year) look lost.

I think the answer to “which way is best” really resides in the skills of the organization at large.  You can succeed using all four methods … its just how *long* can you continue to succeed?

Ask Boswell 8/19/13 edition

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Arod, the greek tragedy figure. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

Arod, the greek tragedy figure. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

With somewhat of a lack of topics to write about lately, I turned to find a relatively deep Ask Boswell discussion on the Washington Post website 8/19/13.  Tom Boswell takes baseball questions, I provide my own answers.

As always, I’ll write answers here before reading his, and edit questions for clarity.  All stats quoted are as of 8/19/13.

Q: Leave it to the Red Sox to make A-Rod into a sympathetic figure!

A: Agree.  I wouldn’t normally have tuned into the expected 4.5 hour 8pm Sunday night game between Boston and New York, but just happened to see the first Alex Rodriguez at bat last night.  My immediate thought: Ryan Dempster‘s actions were pretty gutless and he should have been immediately ejected.   You throw at a guy once and miss?  You’ve made your point.  You had your chance to make a statement and missed.  But then throw two more balls inside then blatantly drill the guy on 3-0?  Sorry; that’s just bush league.  The umpires badly mismanaged that situation; Dempster should have been immediately ejected.  Joe Girardi had a very legitimate point at the time, and continued with very intelligent observations afterwards (where, paraphrased, he said that Dempster was a union rep, should have known better, and if he had a problem with the process of his own players’ union the time and place was elsewhere, not on a nationally televised game).

So, yeah, Alex Rodriguez did earn sympathy there.  How poetic was his home-run later in the game?  Were it me, I would have milked it for everything it was worth, making it a poster child for every egregious home-run celebration.  Bat flip, slow trot, kisses to the stands, fist pumps and multiple pointing to the sky.  But that’s just me.

Boswell doesn’t really say much about the question other than stating the obvious about the athlete and the situation.

Q: Wouldn’t it be better to show up the Braves by actually beating them once in a while, rather than throwing at them?

A: Not the point.  As I posted in this space over the weekend, there’s a code in the game that the Nats, for some unknown reason, were not keeping to.  Kudos to Stephen Strasburg for finally standing up for his own.  It has nothing to do with wins or losses on the field, it has to do with protecting yours.  Boswell says the Justin Upton plunking was done perfectly, but then questions the ejection for what a lot of people thought were just very wild pitches to Andrelton Simmons.

Q: Why did the Nats not keep Oliver Perez?

A: Who said it was just the Nats decision?  Oliver Perez piched as a starter for our AA team in 2011 and then signed another minor league deal with Seattle for 2012.  Only then he converted to a reliever and has had success since.  We don’t really know what happened; maybe the Nats offered to keep him but wouldn’t promise a AAA spot or a spring training invite.  Maybe Perez saw our rotation for 2012 and thought Seattle would give him a better shot at a MLB job.  Honestly I don’t remember a single word at the time indicating that either side wanted a 2012 deal.  Perez was good but not great in AA for us in 2011 (3-5, 3.09 ERA. 1.3 whip in 15 starts), far less than a guy who was once a very effective MLB starter.  Maybe we just though he was washed up.  Boswell questions whether a guy with a 4.25 ERA is even worth discussing.  Fair point

Q: Who would the Nationals “third-string” catcher be? If, for instance, Suzuki got injured and Ramos pinch-hit. -Who would be the preferred position player to pitch if they ran out of pitchers? 

A: Great question.  3rd string catcher?  I have no idea, maybe Steve Lombardozzi.  I do remember the team saying that despite Bryce Harper‘s youth position being predominantly catcher that he was not an option.  Pitcher?  Boy, another who knows.   I can’t remember a single positional player who has taken the mound for the Nats since they moved here.  The best guess would be a utility guy, either Lombardozzi or Scott Hairston.  Boswell guesses the same names I do.

Q: Do you think the Nats will make a serious effort to keep him next year? (I’m already writing off 2013) I’m sure he wants to play every day, but given Ramos’ physical issues that isn’t out of the question.

A: Kurt Suzuki is gone.  His $8.5M option for next year is way, way too much for what he has become; a once-a-week catcher.  Even given Wilson Ramos‘ fragility, you just can’t waste money at the backup catcher position.  Look for a 2014 spring training fight between Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano for the #2 catcher spot, and look for the team to add a lot of depth in the minor league ranks in the off-season.  Boswell notes the horrific catcher ERA of Suzuki compared to Ramos, and predicts a minor FA signing this coming off-season.

Q: Is there a more insincere human being in sports than A-Rod? Has he always been like this?

A: The above answer was my weekly quota of Alex Rodriguez discussion.  I will say this though; how do you really KNOW that A-rod is an “insincere human being?”  Do you know him personally?  Or are you just following the media narrative?  Boswell makes a good point; the damage he’s done to the game outweighs any sympathy you could have for him.

Q: You’ve said in the past the Nats would return to their career averages…eventually. Are the Nats reverting to their mean, or is this the new mean?

A: If 2012 was the high, maybe 2013 is the low.  Lets hope for somewhere in the middle for 2014.  Hell, i’ll settle for league average.  I did a quick little runs-scored analysis at the end of June that showed where the Nats record would have been if they had a league-average offense (tied for 1st place) or their 2012 offense (best record in majors).  You could quibble with the math, but I think we all know what has let down the team this year.  Boswell summarizes many of the same points I made … and then has some great stats isolating the bench’s collapse this year.

Q: Given Haren’s performance since returning from the DL, does Rizzo make him a qualifying offer for 2014?

A: Good question.  I just don’t see how you can give Dan Haren a qualifying offer.  The Q.O.  amount is going to increase; lets assume its $14M/year.  Would you give a guy with this stat line $14M?  7-11, 4.79 ERA?  Probably not (those are his season numbers).  His last 8 games (since coming off D/L?)  3-2, 2.25 ERA.   Yeah, that’s worthy of a Q.O.   Maybe the team avoids having to make a decision and flips him to someone needing a starter for September, since he passed through waivers.  That’d be advantageous to Haren too, meaning his signing next off-season won’t have compensation associated with it.  In any case, I think the performance of Taylor Jordan has clearly made Haren expendible, giving as good as or better performance for 1/26th the cost.  Use that $13M towards some hitting.  Boswell says no.

Q: When does Drew Storen replace Soriano as the Nats closer?  (After another blown save).

A: When Soriano’s contract is over.  You bought him, you’ve gotta use him.  Rafael Soriano‘s m.o. was always “good when he’s the closer, sullen underperformer when not.”  He was a poor signing when they got him, and continues to be wasted money.  But hey, its not my money.  Boswell agrees.

Q: When Magic Johnson’s group purchased the Dodgers, he was going to fire Mattingly, whom you said would be a very good manager. Does he still want to fire Donnie, now that the Dodgers have gone 42-8, the best MLB win stread in 100 years? Would you like to see him managing the Nats?

A: Well of course Don Mattingly isn’t going to be fired; he’s now neck and neck with Clint Hurdle for manager of the year.  I don’t have a good sense for what kind of manager he is; after Davey Johnson‘s laissez-faire attitude I know what kind of manager I do want; I want someone with some emotion.  Girardi proved a lot to me last night; lighting into an umpire who failed to control the game.  That’s the kind of emotion I want in my skipper.  Boswell gives some good managerial candidates.

Q: Who are the young pitchers the Nats thing are coming soon?

A: From AAA on downwards, here’s a few starters to keep an eye on: Nathan Karns, A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray, Taylor Hill, Sammy Solis, Matthew PurkeBlake Schwartz, Jake Johansen, Austin Voth and Lucas Gilioto.   Almost every guy on this list has performed well and/or earned a promotion in 2013.   Boswell points some of these guys out and then mentions that we need to produce some hitting too.

Q: Should I be worried that the Nats are going to become the new Caps, a talented team who just lacks the discipline to get it done when it matters?

A: No, because at its heart this is still the same basic team of guys who nearly won 100 games last year.  They need a new voice in the skipper’s office, one who reverses the course of Johnson and who properly motivates them.  Boswell says not to judge a team because of 3/4′s of one disappointing season.

Q: Zim’s surgically-repaired shoulder clearly affected his throwing this year — whether physically or mentally. However, his power numbers at the plate are down too, and we haven’t seen his usual late summer hot streak. Do you think his shoulder affected his hitting? If so, what’s the prognosis for next year for Zim’s hitting?

A: If his shoulder really is/was as bad as everyone seems to think, then yeah you can derive all sorts of bad performance indicators from it.  Next year?  Who knows; he should be healthy.  Of course, he was promised to be healthy by spring training of THIS year.  It takes me back to what I now perceive as disinformation from the team about the whole shoulder issue from the onset.  Either way, I think he’s playing 3B for this team in 2014 no matter what (well, unless the team somehow unloads Adam LaRoche).  Boswell shows some good stats showing Zimmerman’s consistency over the years, then goes on to rave about Jayson Werth.

Q: Will baseball be ruined by the addition of instant replay or have the times changed?

A: I think times have changed.  But from all accounts, the implementation will be typical of everything MLB does; half-done, ham-handed, inefficient and not going nearly as far as its counterparts.  Boswell isn’t a fan.

Q: With two years under his belt, he has a 3.00 ERA and a pretty good 27-19 record. He doesn’t hit 100 mph anymore. He hasn’t proven so far to be anything better than mediocre in the clutch. Not a bad track record, of course, but not anywhere near great. He’s 25 years old now. Is it time to adjust expectations?

A: Is this a baiting question?   Quotes ERA and W/L record as the sole ways to evaluate a pitcher (especially a pitcher who hasn’t yet pitched a full season).  What proof is there that he’s “mediocre in the clutch?”  He’s still the highest or 2nd highest average fastball of any starter in the league despite dialing it down, he’s still a league leader in K/9.  His ERA+ is still significantly above average both for this year and for his career.  What more do you want from the guy?  Ask any baseball pundit to give you a list of his top 5 starters in the league and he’s still on it.   Boswell gives some great historical stats, putting Strasburg in pretty elite company thus far.

Q: Why has Bryce Harper not made the 20 year old leap we expected him to? Did the collision with the wall in LA derail his entire season?

A: A fair point; everyone saw his splits pre and post-LA wall.  His lefty splits are abhorrent.  But he hasn’t been the second coming of Mike Trout.  Maybe we just need to appreciate him for what he is right now.  Boswell mirrors what I said.

 

Why aren’t the Nats getting Harper’s back??

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Harper reacts to his purposeful drilling by Julio Teheran on 8/7/13.  Photo HarperBryce hbp Teheran Aug2013 Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Harper reacts to his purposeful drilling by Julio Teheran on 8/7/13. Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Teheran blatantly drilled Bryce Harper after he thought Harper showed him up after hitting a long bomb on August 7th.  There was no question the pitch was purposely thrown at Harper.  (By the way; watch the video of that home run and try to find the objectionable action there.  Maybe he pauses slightly, maybe he tosses his bat away instead of dropping it, maybe he runs slower than normal.  Not one of these actions comes even close to what some guys in this league do on EVERY homer, ahem Yasiel Puig).

What did the Nats do in response?  Nothing.

Last night, Harper was hit not just once but TWICE.  First in the 4th inning on an errant Alex Wood curveball, then again in the 8th when Luis Avilan threw a ridiculous pitch behind Harper’s head.

What did the Nats do in response?  Again, nothing.

The Nats broadcast team (as heard in the link for last night’s game above) said it right: “What is going on??”

I don’t care if Harper got hit with a curve (not on purpose) and a wild fastball (probably not on purpose, since it put the go-ahead runner on base in a tight game).  I don’t care what the situation is; YOU HAVE TO RESPOND in kind.  Enough is enough.  That’s three straight plunkings of our best guy by the same team inside of a week.

The reaction of the Atlanta crowd was rather telling.  Pathetic in that they cheered the HBP and then gave Avilan a standing ovation.  However also telling because the message is clear; the Nationals ball club, for whatever reason, is not responding in kind to their best hitter getting repeatedly thrown at.

What is going on??  Why aren’t the Nats protecting Harper?  Why aren’t they responding to these HBPs?

The correct response to the August 7th event would have been to hit Justin Upton in the middle of the back the next time he came to the plate.  First pitch.  Plain and simple.  Why Upton?  Because it was Upton who just the night before did the exact same thing that Harper was accused of, only it took him LONGER to prance around the bases.  If Harper got hit because the Braves thought he was too slow around the bases, then how exactly do they excuse Upton’s trot, which was 4 seconds longer?  And the correct response last night was to absolutely drill the first guy up in the bottom of that inning.  No questions; first pitch, in the back.

I don’t know what the hell Davey Johnson is doing.  Why wasn’t he out on the field last night, defending his player?  Why wasn’t he calling out Atlanta’s manager Fredi Gonzalez?  Why isn’t he ordering a response??   Why isn’t he showing any of the passion you would expect from a hall of fame manager who should know better?  Better question; why aren’t Harper’s teammates taking any initiative here and doing what should be done?  Where’s the leadership on this team?  Where’s the leadership in this clubhouse??

If your answer is, “well it was a close game and the Nats couldn’t afford to purposely put a runner on base” then my response is this: 59-62.  That’s the team’s record right now.  You want another couple numbers?  15.5 (games out of first place with 6 weeks of the season to go), or how about 9.5 (games out of the wild card behind a team clearly better than them).  The point is this; the season is over.  They’re playing out the string.  Time to start standing up for yourselves, protect your teammate, show some g*d d*mn spine, and protect your best hitter for the future.

I can’t image what Harper is thinking about his manager and his teammates right now.  If it were me, I’d be asking my manager and my teammates point blank to their faces why i’m not being protected.  It almost makes you wonder if his teammates flat out don’t like him.  Is that what’s going on?  Is the Nats clubhouse, which I’ve accused many times of being dysfunctional, even worse than we thought?

If you don’t think beanball justice has a role in the game, then you’ve either never played the game or don’t understand this aspect of it.  The Nats are sending a message that its ok to go after their guys.  That’s a really bad precedent to create.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 17th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

MVP Races getting interesting…

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I usually don’t do post-season award analysis until, well, the post-season.  But this year the MVP races seem like they could end up being really interesting.  So lets take a look at who’s in the hunt.

The MVP candidates year in and year out generally are chosen by the voters using these criterion (fair or not):

  1. Best player on the Best teams
  2. Outstanding performances from players on non-playoff teams.
  3. Generally position players, except in a year when no position player really stands out.
  4. East Coast Bias.

I’m not going to get into an argument about whether the “MVP” means the “best player” or “most valuable” here.  I’ll leave that to the multitude of other people who can’t get over this distinction.  For me, the “MVP” still is a subjective award not entirely driven by the guy with the best WAR on the season.  There are plenty who cannot get over the fact that Mike Trout had s uch a fantastic statistical season last year and didn’t win the MVP.  Not me; I don’t see how you can be the “MVP” of a league when your team finishes 20 games out of first.

If the season ended today, your 5 playoff teams per league would be:

  • NL: Divisional Winners Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles with St. Louis and Cincinnati meeting in the wild card game.
  • AL: Divisional winners Boston, Detroit and Oakland with Tampa Bay and Texas meeting in the wild card game.

The NL playoff picture seems mostly set; the two wild card leaders have a decent lead on Arizona that seems, well not insurmountable but surprisingly strong.  The AL picture is a bit more unsettled; lots can still  happen in the AL East, and there’s three teams within 4.5 games of the wild card right now (Cleveland, Baltimore and Kansas City).  And that’s to say nothing of the Yankees, who are in the hunt but seem more of a sideshow these days than a contender.

So, using these guidelines, lets look at the leading players that are likely to be in the MVP race.  All stats are as of 8/10/13.  Per team, lets look at the “leading” player both statistically and “honorarily.”

Lets start with the NL:

  • Atlanta: Andrelton Simmons leads the team in bWAR, with almost all of it coming on the defensive side of the ball.   He’s hitting .243 and your voter base just doesn’t have an appreciation for defensive exploits just quite yet.  Justin Upton started out scorching hot and still has great stats on the year, but has cooled so significantly that I don’t believe Atlanta has an MVP candidate.  They have 4-5 really solid hitters and solid pitching driving them to their divisional title.
  • Pittsburgh: it begins and ends with Andrew McCutchen, a serious leader for the award right now.  He’s tied for the league lead in bWAR and is having an outstanding season.  Starling Marte has broken out this year but nobody denies that this is McCutchen’s team.  Pedro Alvarez leads the NL in homers but is otherwise good, but not great, in other offensive statistics.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Yasiel Puig leads the team’s hitters in bWAR while taking the league by storm, but he’s only slightly ahead of Hanley Ramirez, who is having a relatively quiet break through season.  But neither guy has played in half the team’s games, leaving a lot of pundits to call for Clayton Kershaw, who is tied with McCutchen for the NL lead in bWAR to get MVP votes.  While I don’t advocate this scenario, it would not surprise me to see Kershaw win the Cy Young and get a top-5 MVP finish.
  • St Louis: Yadier Molina continues to be the transcendent catcher in the NL and is the “spiritual leader” of the Cardinals, but he has gone down with injury and may be losing MVP steam.  He no longer even leads his own team in bWAR (Matt Carpenter does), but remains a good candidate.
  • Cincinnati: the obvious candidate here is Joey Votto, But something seems like Cincinnati’s scuffling as of late combined with the flashier candidates out there will lead to Votto getting votes but not the award.

Other NL Candidates to consider:

  • Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt is in the top-10 in league bWAR for the Diamondbacks, but unless this team makes a huge run to the playoffs he’s merely going to be a top-10 vote getter.
  • Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez is tied for the league lead in bWAR, but his streakiness and his team’s place in the standings is going to make it tough for him to get anything other than a top 10 finish.
  • New York‘s David Wright is also putting together a great season, sitting in the top 10 in league bWAR almost entirely on the back of his bat (surprising given his prowness at third).  As with Gomez, the Mets position in the standings hurts him badly.  And his recent D/L trip (which seems like it may end his season) ends his chances.

My opinion of the NL voting right now: McCutchen, Kershaw, Molina, Votto, Gomez.


Over in the American league, the playoff situation may be murky, but the MVP race is pretty straight-forward.  There is a lot to shake out in terms of the playoff positions and the candidates from those teams don’t seem to stand out as much.  But as with 2012, there are two leading MVP candidates and we seem set to have the same arguments this year as last.  But lets go team by team:

  • Boston is being led by their two best players, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia.  They are both top-10 in bWAR and are having excellent seasons.  Voters likely won’t be able to tell between them and they’ll split the vote with both guys getting top-10 MVP seasons.
  • Detroit: Is there any question?  Miguel Cabrera, who despite negative defensive bWAR is leading the AL.  Max Scherzer will get serious Cy Young consideration but not MVP votes, not with Cabrera and other candidates.
  • Oakland: Jody Donaldson has become the latest “who is that?” player that Oakland has found to drive them to a pennant in a division they have no business competing in.  But east-coast bias and lack of star-power will work against him.
  • Tampa Bay: It has to be Evan Longoria, once again, the face of the franchise.  But as with year’s past, he’s toiling in relative obscurity in front of half the fans that should be supporting a team this good.  And a lot of credit will go towards Wil Myers‘ call-up, taking away Longoria votes.
  • Texas: the story of Adrian Beltre‘s career; he’s a darn good player and nobody gives him enough credit.  Texas has shed many of its name players over the past few seasons, but Beltre continues to provide great value on both sides of the ball.  The transcendant player on Texas this year is Yu Darvish, who will struggle in the Cy Young race (subject of anohter post).

Other AL Candidates to consider:

  • Baltimore may very well sneak into a WC slot as they did last year, entirely on the backs of two guys.  Chris Davis is having a great power season while Manny Machado is having a historic 20-year old season in general.  Both guys have top-10 bWAR seasons and, as with the Boston guys, may split votes here.  Machado in particular looks like he’s already put himself in the “Trout-Harper” discussion for most transcendent young player in the game.
  • Los Angeles Angels: Here we go again.  Mike Trout has put “sophomore slump” naysayers to shame, posting as good or better numbers across the board in 2013.  Interestingly, Trout’s defensive component in 2013 is significantly hurting him whereas in 2012 it gave him a huge boost; his defensive component in bWAR is actually *negative* for 2013.  A topic for another day, the ridiculous swings we see in defensive advanced stats.  In any case, as with 2012 I think Trout’s team’s underperforming will hurt him and he will lose out again.  It is what it is.

My opinion of the AL voting right now: Cabrera, Trout, and then I have no idea.  Right now I’d probably go Machado, Ellsbury and Davis.

 


There’s still a lot of season to go, so lots could still happen. But I’m putting early markers on McCutchen and Cabrera. Both well deserved.

Mid-spring update on local draft prospects

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High Schools are heading into post-season tournaments and local prep players have had their chances to make impressions through the Spring HS season.  How are our local prep phenoms faring this year, and what players with Virginia ties may feature prominently in the upcoming MLB draft?

Note; it is difficult to find updated stats on Prep players.  I tried.  If you know where to find reliable prep hitting and pitching stats, let me know.  So there’s not much in the way of stats here unless they’re college players.  For all the players below I’ve listed if they appear in the latest top-100 draft prospect rankings from two reliable sources: Keith Law‘s top-100 draft list and BaseballAmerica’s top 100 list and top 250 list.  Instead of re-linking over and over, i’ll refer to these two lists in shorthand via the links here.

First, quick updates on the players mentioned in my March 2013 posting on 4 local players:

  • Andy McGuire: SS/3B: leading Madison HS in Vienna to a 19-1 record (with 19 consecutive wins) heading into the District tournament and a #1 local ranking by the Washington Post.  Madison is also an honorable mention in the latest USA Today national rankings.  I asked Law in his 5/16/13 chat about McGuire’s draft status (he’s regularly in the lower 50 of pundit’s top 100 draft prospects for this year, implying a mid 2nd round pick) but Law is “hearing” 4th round, which he’s surprised by and may indicate that McGuire will honor his U. Texas committment.  Draft Rankings: Law #74/BA #196.  6/6/13 update: some video of McGuire at this link; just watching him run and move and his body type I’m immediately thinking he’s going to struggle to stay at SS, echoing what scouts say.
  • Alec Grosser: RHP TC Williams: Nothing else has really popped up about Grosser after the initial flurry of articles, and he’s listed as “Signed” and committed to George Mason.  PerfectGame has his best measured fastball at 92, ranging 89-92.  That’s still pretty good and I’m guessing he’ll head to George Mason to see where his arm takes him.  His HS has not had the success one would expect with a dominant arm, sitting at around .500 heading into the post-season.  Not ranked by Law/BA #158.
  • Matt McPhearson: OF with Riverdale Baptist popped up on MinorLeagueBall’s Mid-Atlantic report recently with the note that he has “game changing” speed.  He’s still listed as a “Verbal” Commit to U. Miami.  I’ve seen him as a late 1st rounder on some mock drafts.  Here’s a good scouting report on him from BaseballHounds.com.  Lastly there’s some scouting video online of him, showing a good bat from the left-hand side and with some amazing speed stats: a verified 6.2 in the 60 yard dash and home-to-first in less than 3.8 seconds.  As the articles say; that’s Crazy fast.   He’s one of only three guys with an “80″ scouting grade in this year’s class per Jim Callis (the other two being Jonathan Gray’s fastball, and Kris Bryant’s power, and those two guys are both going in the top 3 of the 2013 draft). The only knock on him may be his size (just 5’10″) but he profiles as a prototypical leadoff/center fielder.  Law ranked #62/BA #136.
  • Thomas Rogers, LHP injured all year is still verbally committed to UNC.  Nothing new to report.  Not ranked in either Law/BA’s lists.

A couple of new names that I’ve taken note of locally, by virtue of their college commitments to major Baseball programs:

  • Errol Robinson, SS from St. Johns, signed to play at Ole Miss.  He was #92 in BaseballAmerica’s top 100 pre-season draft prospects and had a nice Q&A with them in March 2013.  His PerfectGame profile and draft write ups indicate he’s a quick-bat SS who has the capability of going in the top 5 rounds.  NatsGM’s Ryan Sullivan scouted him about a week ago and wrote it up here.   Based on this interview (where he talks about how his Mom, Dad and sister all attended or currently are at Ole Miss), I’m pretty sure he’s going to honor his college commitment despite any potential drafting.   Not ranked in either Law/BA’s lists.
  • Alec Bettinger, a RHP with Hylton HS in Woodbridge, has a verbal commitment to UVA.  PerfectGame has him with about a 90 mph fastball.  He’s “small but athletic” per this MinorLeagueBall article (6’0″ 165lbs), which may have him leaning towards a future professional bullpen role.  6’0″ is really on the low-end for what scouts like to see in a starter (think Tim Hudson is considered undersized and he’s 6’1″ 175lbs), so it seems likely he’ll take his fastball to college to see how it develops.  Not ranked in either Law/BA’s list.

Other Virginia-connected big names being talked about in the draft (thanks to this MinorLeagueBall article and comments for crowd-sourced Virginia-connected names to target)

  • Conner Jones, RHP with Great Bridge HS, the HS of Justin Upton down in Chesapeake.  Jones is leading his HS to a current 19-0 record, good enough for being ranked 18th by USAToday/22nd by BaseballAmerica in the state title game.  He’s easily the best Virginia draft prospect this year and is the only guy that MLBDraftInsider.com has going in the top 50 of their mock drafts right now.  PG has him at 93mph with a UVA committment that he has told scouts he intends to honor, but he’s getting back-of-the-1st round notice for the upcoming draft.  As scouts have noted, these “verbal commitments” are pretty meaningless unless a player specifically fails to file one specific item prior to the draft (which automatically invalidates them; i can’t recall what it is right now but believe its a drug test).  So we’ll see.  Law ranked #29/BA ranked #33.
  • Bobby Wahl: RHP from Ole Miss, a good sized Righty who is Ole Miss’ Friday night starter and who hails from Springfield, VA (West Springfield HS).  He’s 9-0 with a 1.43 ERA on the season, quite a stat line considering who he’s typically going up against (the #1 starters of other SEC teams, easily the best baseball conference in the land).  Law ranked #66/BA ranked #36.  If he last til the late 2nd round as Law suggests, he could be right around where the Washington Nationals could draft him with their first pick (#68 overall).  However, John Sickels/MinorLeagueBall’s latest mock draft has Wahl going #31, more consistent with BA’s rankings.  It doesn’t seem likely he’ll fall to the Nats.
  • Austin Nicely, LHP from Spotswood HS in Grottoes, Virginia (way down I-81 by my alma Mater James Madison University).   PG has him as a lefty who throws 90 and is committed to UVA.  Law #78/Not in BA’s top 250, a huge disparity.
  • Chad Pinder, 3B Virginia Tech.  Described as a plus-defender, decent bat.  His season batting stats aren’t that impressive as compared to his teammates, so he must be some defender.  If he can really move to SS like the scouting reports say and still hit for average and some power, he’s a good 2nd-3rd round prospect.  Law ranked #86/BA ranked #53.
  • Jack Roberts, RHP from James River HS in Richmond, committed to UVA and per PG gets up to 92mph.   Big guy (6’4″ 200lbs) who I’d bet can add more velocity if he goes to college.   If he threw a couple ticks higher he’d probably be a big time prospect.  Not ranked in either Law/BA’s list.
  • Zach Rice, LHP from Suffolk (outside of Norfolk), tall lanky kid who slings it 89 from the left hand side.  Committed to UNC.  Worth mentioning since he’ s been recruited by the best team in the country.  Not ranked in either Law/BA’s list.
  • Kyle Crockett, LHP from UVA.  He’s UVA’s closer (and a HS teammate of fellow draft prospect Chad Pinder).  He throws 90-92 from the left side but has impeccable control; he has just one unintentional walk in 43 innings this year while getting more than a K/inning.  Despite being used as a reliever, I can see someone moving him back to the rotation to see if his stuff can play for 6-7 innings at a time.  Not ranked by Law/BA #103.

Conclusion: Looking at this list, UVA stands to lose an awful lot of pitching recruits if these guys don’t honor their commitments.  Bettinger, Jones, Nicely and Roberts are all UVA commits.  But imagine that staff in a couple years if they all go to college.  Phew.

http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft/2013-state-draft-report-virginia/

Ask Boswell 4/29/13 edition

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Loved Zimmermann’s 1-hitter last week. Photo AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

We havn’t done an Ask Tom Boswell chat response in a while; I started one from last week’s chat but ended up deleting it.  Nothing really to add to what Boswell was responding.

Here’s the 4/29/13 edition, after an up and down week with the Nats; getting swept by St. Louis and then taking three of four from Cincinnati behind some of the best starting pitching we’ve seen in a while.

As always, I’ll write a response here before reading Boswell’s, and will edit questions for clarity.

Q: Did Strasburg learn anything from watching Gio’s and JZimm’s efficient starts against the Reds?

A: We talked a bit about Stephen Strasburg‘s issues last week in this space.  I’m not sure what he could have learned from Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann‘s consecutive 1-hit outings that he didn’t already know; get ahead of hitters, throw first-pitch strikes, use your whole arsenal.  Cincinnati is a good hitting team, but Atlanta is better.  At least we have the distinct pitching matchup advantage in game one (when the struggling Julio Teheran goes for Atlanta).  Boswell repeats both my points here; first pitch strikes and a favorable Teheran matchup.

Q: Why is blocking the plate by the Catcher now suddenly such an issue?

A: I think it starts with the horrible injury suffered by Buster Posey; a needless debilitating injury that took out an MVP candidate and cost him a year off his career.  Locally, we all remember Chase  Utley‘s cheap shot on Jesus Flores, which essentially cost him two years and a job in the majors.  And I think it is the general climate in sports today to try to avoid concussive injuries at all costs in the wake of the very scary CTE studies that are out there and may change the very fabric of Football as we know it.  Every time there’s another injury, another collision the drumbeat gets louder.  Just because catcher collisions have always been a part of the game doesn’t mean they’re right.  I’m in favor of eliminating the play, and If I was a MLB manager i’d advise my catchers to give the runner half the plate and try to avoid injury.   Boswell agrees.

Q: Why isn’t Solano catching any games?

A: Two reasons: Kurt Suzuki by virtue of the off/on schedule with Wilson Ramos for the first couple of weeks is relatively rested and can catch 6 straight days.  The other?  Jhonatan Solano just isn’t as good of an offensive option, and with the whole team struggling at the plate why put a guy in who is clearly overmatched?  The guy only has about 100ABs above AA after all.  Boswell says the last thing you should do when struggling is bench a veteran for a rookie, especially at catcher.  Ramos returns from the DL tonight so its a moot point.

Q: If you were betting on a team to win the next World Championship in DC who would be that team?

A: You have to think its the Nats right?  Redskins are lookup up with RGIII but aren’t a complete team yet and may be a couple years off (and no more salary cap penalties) from putting together a SB team.  The Wizards may not be relevant for another decade.  The Caps are hot and may go for a decent run in the NHL playoffs, but those series are such coin flips that if they couldn’t win when they were the league’s best regular season team, its hard to see why they’d win now.  Lastly DC United is just getting back to some respectability after years of decline, but winning an MLS title over some of the powerhouses in the league is a tall order.  Boswell says Nats, Caps, Skins.  Doesn’t even mention the other two franchises :-)

Q: Any chance Bud steps in ala with the Dodgers and Frank McCourt and forces Loria’s to sell the team?

A: I think there’s a chance, but something “illegal” would have to happen.  Selig was able to force McCourt to sell when the league was being embarassed and the team was clearly suffering financially because of mis-management.  Selig has allowed Loria to already do several unsavory things to fan bases in both Montreal and Miami, so its hard to see what else could happen.  However, if this supposed SEC investigation finds real evidence of fraud and the team is sued, I can see Selig stepping in and forcing Loria out.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the question.

Q: When he gets sent down next week, would you be surprised if he played second base exclusively given that Espinosa is now struggling with the bat and glove?

A: Anthony Rendon was ALREADY playing multiple positions in the minors this season, starting mostly at 3B but also getting a few games at 2B and at least one at SS.   But I don’t think Rendon would be Danny Espinosa‘s replacement; Steve Lombardozzi would be.  If Espinosa were to be sent to the DL, Lombardozzi starts and then Rendon probably gets called back up to provide some infield cover.  Boswell thinks Rendon could make the transition, but needs more minor league time.  He also talks a lot about Espinosa vs Lombardozzi and (in my opinion) overrates the defensive value of Espinosa a bit.  In the age of rising strikeouts, it isn’t as important to have Gold Glove calibre fielders everywhere.  This is just a partial answer that may need eventual expansion in a blog post of its own.

Q: Mr. Boswell, why did Davey insert Rendon instead of Lombardozzi (following Ryan’s injury) into the lineup and why did he not allow Tyler Moore to start Sunday with Cingrani on the bump?

A: Good questions, both.  I think the team likes Rendon’s defense at 3B more than Lombardozzi or Chad Tracy, so that makes sense at least against lefties.  Why didn’t Tyler Moore play against the tough lefty Tony Cingrani?  I do not know.  You could see Adam LaRoche‘s o-fer a mile away going against the second coming of Randy Johnson (Cingrani’s now has 37 Ks in 23 MLB innings).  Perhaps veteran preference/veteran blind spot on the part of Davey Johnson?  Boswell agrees at least with the LaRoche assessment.

Q: Have the Nats have over-managed Strasburg (in terms of pitch counts, innings limits and pitching to contact) since his injury and gotten into his head?

A: I don’t see Strasburg’s issues being a result of lack of confidence.  If that was the case we’d be seeing 3ip-8 run explosions, not “first inning bad then lights out for the next 6 innings” outings.  Have the Nats over-managed him?  Perhaps; we know Strasburg didn’t like the 2012 shutdown but I supported it (as did the surgeon who performed the damn operation, nobody ever remembers).  I think Strasburg also understands the value of getting hitters to hit your pitch instead of going for blow-em-away Ks every time.  Call it “pitch to contact” but I like to call it “making them hit your pitch.”  You want to try to get a great swing in after falling behind in the count?  Fine; hit my 97mph inside fastball for power, or try to drive my 94mph sinking 2-seamer on the outside corner.  I’ll tip my hat to you if you do.

But Strasburg misses his spots; his command has not been great.  97mph flat on the corner is good; in the middle of the plate is bad.  He’s been missing in the middle way too much.  Boswell defended his column, saying Strasburg needs to “keep it simple.”

Q: What does the team do with Henry Rodriguez?

A: So far this year we’re seeing nothing but “bad” Henry Rodriguez: more walks than hits, too many base-runners, and too many pitches that he just has no idea where they’re going.  He only threw FOUR of Seventeen pitches yesterday for strikes.  Luckily for him, its only a “wild pitch” if someone advances right?  Because some of those pitches were just ridiculous.  I’ll chalk it up to the wet conditions, as (likely) will management.

What can they do with him?  As often repeated in this space, he’s a human roster logjam.  The team has been forced to carry him and his Jeckyl and Hyde pitching for 3 years now because he was out of minor league options when we acquired him.  We’ve invented nebulous DL trips to stash him in extended spring training.  He’s now the lowest leverage guy on the bullpen, when he should be in the mix for 7th and 8th inning opportunities.  But the thing is, there’s not really a guy in Syracuse who is beating down the door to come up.  Maybe Erik Davis, who has pitched really well in AAA and has shown why the team put him on the 40-man.  Or perhaps the team could call up one of its veteran lefties (Fernando Abad or JC Romero) in a pinch.  But I think we’ll see at least another month of H-Rod trying to find his way before that happens.

Boswell raves about his career BAA (.211).  To that I say this: he has now for his career walked 91 batters out of 606 plate appearances.  That’s 15%.  6.1 bb/9.  I’m sorry, but how can you have a reliever with those kind of walk rates be put into any close game?  You can’t.  So in my opinion there’s better ways to use the 7th bullpen slot.

Q: What’s a good ratio for balls to strikes?

A: I’ve always used 60% strikes to pitches thrown as a benchmark for a good outing.  In Jordan Zimmermann‘s 1-hitter he threw 59 of 91 for strikes, or 64%.  In Yu Darvish‘s near perfect game in early April he threw 78 of 111 pitches for strikes for 70%.    Boswell says 65% is a good goal; honestly that’s a bit too high for me realistically.

Q: Do you think Soriano’s presence is helping or hurting Storen?

A: Good question.  Drew Storen‘s struggles so far are really baffling; how do you go from a career 1.099 whip in your first 3 seasons to a 1.7 whip in 2013?  And it isn’t on walks; he’s giving up a ton of hits.  Perhaps it is mental; when Rafael Soriano himself has been a non-closer, his numbers have never been as good than when he’s getting the Saves.  Perhaps Storen is struggling to adapt to this mindset so far.  It also could just be small sample size syndrome too; its only April 29th after all.  Boswell basically says that Storen isn’t a kid anymore and that he should “man up.”

Q: What are Harper’s MVP chances looking like right now?

A: Pretty good.  MVP voting usually starts with “the best players on the best teams” and then whittles down from there.  Bryce Harper is clearly the best hitter on what should be a playoff team, and has been making a game-wide name for himself so far with his performance.  If Washington wins the division and Bryce keeps playing like this, he’s a shoe-in.  However, some guy named Justin Upton has been just as strong; if Atlanta wins the division Upton may be the name people vote for.


Trevor Bauer video of pitch grips

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Pitching phenom Trevor Bauer demonstrates his pitching grips. Photo Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

Fascinating stuff here (link on youtube but referenced via the HardBallTalk blog).

I know I criticized Trevor Bauer in the wake of Arizona trading him away for what seemed to be personality issues.  But in hindsight, with the knowledge now that the team also traded Chris Young and now Justin Upton for apparently all the same reasons (manager Kirk Gibson didn’t like them, or didn’t like the way they played), at some point you have to start looking at the manager who can’t get along with star players versus the reverse.

But stuff like this video really makes me like the kid.  He posted this video showing how he grips and throws all his pitches in response to questions he got from regular fans.  He also freely gives out his facebook and twitter contact information and promises to try to get back to fans who ask questions.  I love social media sometimes.

Bauer’s pitch grips and thoughts:

  • Four Seam Fastball: conventional grip, nothing special.  He doesn’t mention throwing a 2-seam fastball other than mentioning the pitch in passing later on, but with his velocity and his throwing motion (straight over the top) you’d have to think a 2-seamer would be effective.
  • Regular Changeup: not a palm-ball, but a de-acceleration technique by throwing the ball off his middle fingers.
  • “Cut” Changeup; moves his index finger up and provides a bit of pressure; this apparently causes the ball to “cut” 2-3 inches.
  • Cutter; he calls it his “regular slider,” but its an odd grip for a slider; it looks more like a 2-seam fastball grip.  He admits it moves more like a cutter, so that’s what I’ve called it.  He seems to fix his wrist slightly askew, then go through a fastball motion and the ball cuts.
  • Slider: This is a much more conventional slider grip and throwing motion.  He calls it a “dot” slider (likely because the seams form a dot on the spinning baseball) and says that its rather “slurvy,” probably because (unlike his curve) it moves across his body.
  • Reverse Slider: He uses the same cutter grip but fixes his wrist in and then comes through the ball with a screw-ball motion.  He says he gets 4-6 inches of reverse movement.  Man that’s a lot of movement if its true.  Mariano Rivera only gets about 7-8″ of movement on what is generally the best cutter in the game.
  • Curve: he throws 2 variations depending on whether he’s looking to control it for strikes or to really break it off as an out pitch.  He varies the pressure of his middle finger; less on the tip for lesser movement/more control and then more on the tip for more movement/sharper break.  He doesn’t seem to snap his wrist in the same way that a 3/4 pitcher would (basically where the wrist snaps towards the opposite side of the body); he snaps his wrist straight down towards the ground.   This should result in close to a 12-to-6 curve that is relatively rare in the majors.  I would have thought this meant less spin, but I’d also guess that with enough wrist strength and repeitition,  you’d get the spin you need.
  • Split Fingered fastball: he definitely throws this like Roger Clemens or Mike Scott, where the ball isn’t jammed back into the hand like a forkball, but instead is more like a fastball brip with spread fingers.   He doesn’t throw this much, but it makes sense for an over-the-top guy to throw this.  (I often said that Brad Peacock needed to learn this same pitch).

He also talks a lot about the way he fixes his wrist on pitches (changeups and sliders) and brings his arm through.  I wonder; is that conventional?  I’ve never given thought to the position of my own wrist when I have pitched in the past.

So, that’s 8 specific pitches, perhaps 9 if you count a 2 seam fastball in there.  And there’s no circle change or knuckle curve.   How do you call a game with this guy?

His pitch f/x data is limited from 2012; they only have 169 pitches classified.  They have him throwing 4 differerent pitches (FB, CU, CH, SL) at speeds that generally are lower than his scouting reports have him throwing (FB average velocity 92.2 with a 95.1 max).  I’m hoping he gets a shot in 2013 to really show his repetoire.  I’d like to see what he can do in the majors.

Written by Todd Boss

January 31st, 2013 at 9:50 am

How good is an “All Virginia” team?

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Is Virginia Native Justin Verlander the best ever player from the State? Photo unknown via rumorsandrants.com

Recently, I read a pundit who talked about how a huge percentage of baseball prospects come from relatively few states; California (mostly Southern California at that), Texas, Florida and Georgia.  The Baseball America guys once talked about an “All North Carolina” team and how good it would be (BA is based in Durham, NC).  It got me thinking: how good of a team could you put together of prospects with ties to Virginia?   Having grown up in Virginia and having had the opportunity to play with and against a number of guys with pro ties over the years, I thought it’d be interesting to put together the “All Virginia Team.”

Using mostly the handy Baseball-reference pages, I looked up players who were either born in Virginia, went to a Virginia-based high school, or played baseball at one of Virginia’s universities.  There’s also the fantastic Baseball Cube website (www.thebaseballcube.com) that has very in-depth player databases searchable by high schools that shows every player on a professional or NCAA team by school, which sometimes has better records than B-R.com.  The players here had to be active in the Majors in 2012, though as it turned out there’s enough guys with Virginia ties to make a full starting team.  Feedback is welcome.

Here’s a roster:

Backups: Brandon Guyer OF (HS in Herndon, college at UVA), Rich Thompson OF (college at JMU), Jeff Baker Util (HS at Garfield in Woodbridge), Brandon Snyder IB/OF (HS at Westfields in Chantilly).  Erik Kratz C (college at Eastern Mennonite)

Ok, so we’re a little weak up the middle.  Zimmerman played SS in college but I can’t find a legitimate shortstop out there.  Rhymes was just signed by the Nats to a minor league deal and isn’t likely to make the opening day 25-man roster save for injury.  Inge hasn’t caught regularly in a few years.  But how about the hitting prowness of this lineup?   BJ Upton-Cuddyer-Zimmerman-Wright-Justin Upton-Reynolds is a pretty powerful group.  Coincidentally, I put in Kratz because I find it amazing that someone who played baseball at Eastern Mennonite is actually in the big leagues.  By B-R’s records, he’s the SOLE alumni of that university to have ever even played professional baseball.

Starting Pitchers:

  • Justin Verlander (born outside of Richmond, HS in Goochland, college at ODU)
  • Mat Latos (born in Alexandria)
  • Daniel Hudson (born in Lynchburg, HS in Virginia Beach, college at ODU)
  • Joe Saunders (born in Falls Church, HS at West Springfield, college at Va Tech)
  • Tim Stauffer (college at University of Richmond)

Backup starters: Danny Hultzen (born and raised in Bethesda, college at UVA); an exception to my “active in 2012″ rule but clearly the most high-profile tied-to-Virginia prospect in the game right now.  John Maine (born in Fredericksburg, HS in Stafford) had a decent stint starting for the Mets, but he’s yet to get back to the majors after a shoulder surgery in 2010).

A pretty good 1-2 punch, including arguably the best pitcher in the game.  Hudson has some potential.  Saunders is more of an innings eater lefty, but he’s made a pretty good career for himself already.  Stauffer had elbow surgery in August 2012 and probably isn’t ready for opening day, but he’s the best I could find.

Relievers:

Backup Relievers: BJ Rosenberg (born in Newport News), Jeremy Jeffress (born and HS in South Boston), Clay Rapada (born in Portsmouth, HS in Chesapeake, college at Virginia State).

Not bad depth here; I suppose Marshall could close, Bray be the loogy, Camp be an 8th inning guy, Eppley a 7th inning type and the rest be middle men.  I like how Sean Camp was born, raised, went to high school and played baseball in college without ever leaving Fairfax.


Other random Virginia School trivia:

What’s the best producing college in Virginia?   Pretty easily its UVA, with 117 pro players in B-R’s database and 30 guys reaching the majors.  Virginia Tech, ODU, Richmond and VCU are all grouped a bit behind UVA in terms of pro player development.  Amazingly little Liberty University has matriculated 59 players to the pro ranks.

At current, UVA has 6 active alumni in the majors.  William & Mary, ODU and Richmond have 2 each, and a slew of lesser baseball-playing universities have one each (all of which are mentioned above).

What’s the best producing High School in Virginia?  Pretty clearly the high schools in the Virginia Beach/Chesapeake area have been producing some serious baseball talent lately, but even the Upton brothers ended up going to different high schools.  Both Virginia HS in Bristol and First Colonial HS in Virginia Beach list 8 pro player alumni with 2 pros each.

Closer to home in Northern Virginia: Garfield has 7 total players with Pro experience in the database, 3  of which have MLB experience.  Robinson HS in Fairfax has 6 pros/3 MLB experince.  Fairfax HS also has the same; 6 pros, 3 with MLB experience.

Of course, these numbers pale in comparison to some of the baseball factories in the major baseball-producing states Florida and California.   Hillsborough HS in Tampa boasts 41 pro alumni and 10 with MLB experience, including Gary Sheffield, Dwight Gooden, Carl Everett and our own Elijah Dukes.  Lakewood HS in Orange county has 57 pro alumni and 12 MLB experienced players, though not nearly of the name quality of Hillsborough’s graduates.    Sarasota HS in Florida also boasts 57 pro player alumni, 14 MLB pros including our own Ian Desmond.  There’s a HS in Oakland called McClymonds that has two Hall of Fame alumni (Frank Robinson and Ernie Lombardi), a host of other famous names from 60s and 70s but which hasn’t generated a pro player since the mid 1970s.  Lastly Polytechnic HS in Long Beach has 47 pro alumni but an astonishing 18 guys with MLB experience, headlined by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and possibly future hall of famer Chase Utley.


Who is the Greatest player to have Virginia Roots?   You could make arguments for Verlander, Wright, Zimmerman or the Upton brothers (probably in that order), but how about one Lou Whitaker, born in Brooklyn but somehow ended up matriculating from HS in Martinsville, Virginia, where he was drafted in the 5th round by Detroit.  Billy Wagner (born in Tannersville, HS in Tazewell and college at Ferrum) is another guy from Virginia with a long, successful career.  Long-time Oriole Al Bumbry was born in Fredericksburg, went to HS in King George and attended Virginia State.

However, there’s only one Hall of Famer with Virginia Roots that I can find: Eppa Rixley, born in Culpeper, HS in Charlottesville and he pitched for UVA before being signed as a free agent by Philadelphia.  He ended up pitching 21 years in the majors and was selected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s committee in 1963 shortly after he died.


(Editor’s Note: you may feel free to stop reading now; Below here is all pretty obscure stuff and only probably interesting to myself and my dad, or people who happen to grow up in the area and are familiar with Vienna baseball.  In fact, I kind of got into a rat-hole of reminiscing for this section, thinking back to the good old days.  I won’t be offended :-) .

My Personal experiences growing up and playing in Northern Virginia: I played Vienna youth leagues from 1977 til 1989, played in Vienna Babe Ruth and graduated from James Madison HS in Vienna in 1989 for reference.

The best player from Northern Virginia in my youth experiences was one Pete Schourek, who was two years older than me and graduated from Marshall HS in 1987.  An enduring memory from my youth was watching Schourek blast a home-run to the townhouses beyond the RF fence at Marshall against Mike Nielsen (the ace of my own high school) in 1987.   Schourek turned down a scholarship offer to Auburn and took 2nd round bonus money from the Mets.   Schourek’s career lasted 10 years in the majors and his best season was an 18-7 year that resulted in a 2nd place Cy Young finish.  The word at the time was that the Dodgers wanted to draft him as a hitter; his power from the left-hand side was quite superior.  I often wonder if his would have made it as a hitting prospect; he had such natural lefty power in high school.

Other notable pro players from the 3-4 year period right around my draft year who I played against at various points:

  • A.J. Hernandez, who was the star of the local Herndon/Reston/McLean Babe Ruth all-star teams that had Vienna’s number year after year in the late 80s.   He played one year of low-A ball.
  • David Carroll, a tall, rangy left-hander who dominated Chantilly baseball for years.  He was a 6th round pick in 1991 and made it to AAA before washing out.  We played against Carroll’s teams in the Credit Union in the early 90s.
  • Lonnie Goldberg, who was on the same HS team as Schourek at one point; played at George Mason, drafted in the later rounds and played 5 seasons of minor league ball.
  • Bill Pulsipher, who was a dominant player in the area and was drafted in the 2nd Round by the Mets in 1991 out of Fairfax HS.  He made the Mets rotation by age 21 and looked decent before getting injured and spending the rest of his MLB career struggling in the bullpen.  His b-r.com page shows his drive; he was still playing professaional Indy ball as late as 2011.  His 1991 Fairfax HS team also had one Brian Buchanan, who was a 1st round draft pick after attending UVA and played 5 years in the majors.  Imagine; one high school team with a 1st and a 2nd round draft pick in this area.  Amazingly Fairfax HS didn’t win anything more than its District during this time.
  • Robin Jennings: a 1990 graduate of Annandale who did a year of community college and the got drafted under the old Draft-and-Follow rules by the Cubs.   He played in parts of four major league seasons spread across 12 minor league seasons, including his last minor league season with the Washington organization in 2007 at the age of 35, fully 4 years after last appearing in a uniform.

Goldberg and Schourek, along with Marshall’s #2 pitcher Steve Makranczy led Marshall to back-to-back state championship games in the late 80s.  Steve played on a number of fall teams with me and still plays in the local DCMSBL league.  Schourek still suits up for teams in the Industrial League, and according to a couple of random friends, plays in an ultra-competitive basketball league along side other former Division 1 players in the area.

Speaking of my own HS of the time; I was always amazed we didn’t fare better.  Thinking back to 1988, my HS started an entire team of guys who either went pro or played division 1 somewhere.  The 3 leading pitchers played at Radford, BYU and GMU respectively, our starting catcher went to BYU.  Our 1B played at William & Mary.  Our middle infield combo both played at UVA.  Our 3rd baseman was a full ride player at NC State.  In the OF, one guy played at GMU and went pro, another guy played at Montomery College.  That’s a LOT of talent on one HS team for this area, and they never advanced in the Regional tournament.

The best local player of my draft year (1989) was a fellow by the name of Doug Newstrom, born in Quantico and who went to HS at W.T. Woodson in Fairfax.  He went to Arizona State and was a 7th round pick after his Junior year but never made the big leagues.  Newstrom was the cornerstone of a Woodson team that went undefeated in 1989 and won the state championship (they also won in 1990). My personal experience playing against Newstrom; the fall-league baseball teams of that time period were essentially city-specific all-star teams of the guys who didn’t play football, and the competition was great.  The Woodson varsity team to-be in the spring of 1989 got all their guys together to get a “test run” of their team and they romped to the fall league 16-18yr old championship game.  Our Vienna-based team was a rag-tag collection of guys who attended Madison, Marshall, Oakton, Paul VI and O’Connell but who had Vienna zip codes, but we were good and we also reached the championship game.  It was on a cold November day at Falls Church High School.   We faced off against Woodson’s ace (Mark Bauch, the same guy who would go 13-0 the following spring en route to the Virginia State championship) and promptly knocked him out in the first inning without retiring a batter, racing to a 6-0 lead.  Our pitcher (Jeff Ford, who attended Oakton and played college ball at a small school somewhere) tried to keep the Woodson team at bay throughout the 7 inning game, but they fought back.  In the bottom of the 7th trailing 6-5 and with two outs, the Woodson team put a couple guys on and Newstrom came to bat.  Newstrom connected on a towering drive to right field; I thought he had just hit a walk-off homer.  Our right fielder (Steve Paasch, another Oakton graduate) reached over the RF fence, jumped and caught the ball for the 3rd out and the championship.  It was one of the two or three best games I was ever a part of.

Editor Update: my memory apparently failed me: turns out Newstrom was actually a year behind me (he was born just a few months after me but was a school year behind).  He led Woodson to a 2nd consecutive VA state title in 1990 before committing to ASU.  I got a nice shout-out from one Rob Paine months after this post with a link to this great feature of Newstrom, with a great photo.

Best player from my high school Alma Mater (James Madison HS in Vienna): probably one Mike Wallace, who was picked straight out of high school, was in the majors by 22, and out of the majors by 26.  Wallace seems like he should have played longer; he was a lefty with decent numbers both in the majors and in his final seasons in the minors.  But he was retired at 28.  He signed on with MASN as a baseball pundit in 2011.  However it is worth mentioning one Jay Franklin, who graduated from Madison HS in 1971 and was the 2nd overall pick in that year’s baseball draft.  He tore up the Northwoods league and earned a call-up to the majors as an 18 year old.  I’m guessing he got hurt though, because he missed the entire 1972 season.  He appeared in four more minor league years before retiring at age 24, having just reached AAA.  Another guy who seems like he should have played longer.

Baseball-reference.com’s records are somewhat spotty on my high school; they list only 7 pro players and 2 major leaguers from my HS, but we know there are several more with pro experience, just counting guys I’ve directly played with (among others; Chris Burr and Billy Emerson).  BaseballCube lists 28 guys in their database, though not all played pro.   David Driver with The Vienna Patch did an article on Wallace in October 2012 and discussed several other Madison grads who have made the majors, some of whom are not correctly attributed in B-R.com either.   One such player is Jim McNamara, who I’m familiar with because he used to substitute teach while I was attending the high school and he was famous for being manipulated into wasting an entire period talking about his baseball playing days instead of teaching any material.

Best player ever from my college Alma Mater (James Madison University): probably one Billy Sample, born and raised in Roanoke and who played at JMU from 1974-1976.  He was drafted in the 10th round, played for a decade or so and hung ‘em up in 1986.  Mike Venafro was born in Takoma Park, went to Paul VI in Fairfax and then JMU before putting together a 7-year career in the majors, retiring back in 2006.  JMU is actually a pretty decent baseball school; we’ve made the NCAA tournament 11 times and several times recently, and made the College World Series in 1983 (getting blasted by eventual champion Texas and Stanford for a 2-and-out appearance; the wikipedia page is funny, JMU has no “notable players” listed.  Coincidentally; look at some of the talent playing in that tournament: Bonds, Schiraldi, Clemens, Larkin, Sabo, McDowell, Incavilia.  Three future Hall of Famers).   However I can only find one JMU alumni who appeared in the majors in 2012; the aforementioned Rich Thomas, who appears to be a 4th/5th outfielder.

Best player I played with or against post youth/High School: After high school we played in a local amateur league for a year, then put together an entry into the Credit Union, which was a powerful amateur league in the area (which is now part of the Industrial League).  After a brief baseball hiatus spent mostly playing softball (there was no 19+ league in DCMSBL at the time; you had to be at least 30 to play in the league for many years), I’ve been playing consistently in the DCMSBL since 1998.

In the early 90s, we had a local guy named Kevin Gallaher pitch for us periodically.   He had Vienna roots, went to O’Connell and then played at St. Bonaventure (none of which btw is on his baseball-reference page but is on his baseball Cube page).   I got to catch Gallaher here and there and he had pretty good stuff.  Apparently his stuff got better his senior year at college and he was a non-drafted FA signee.  Gallaher made it to AAA before calling it quits at age 29.   His next move: to appear on the reality TV show “Married by America” (it didn’t work out: his bride-to-be left him at the alter).

In the Credit Union, we played against some serious talent, but I was too young to remember most of them.  A couple notable names that I do remember were Steve Norwood, brother of the infamous Buffalo Bills kicker Jeff Norwood, who played alongside his father Del Norwood on the Apple team.  Norwood was a local legend, a longtime coach at W&L in Arlington (he won 10 straight district titles in the 60s and 14 overall at the school; the field is named after him) and had to be in his 70s at the time but could still throw a knuckle-ball by the semi-pro calibre players of the Credit Union.   Local legend amateur player Pete Groves pitched against us in the league; he now leads the Fedlock teams that have won many national MSBL titles (he supposedly reached AAA but I can’t find any records of him playing pro).  We picked up a random guy off a wait list named John Bonfield who had pitched at Yale; he was one of the better pitchers i’ve ever played along side.  He could throw 8 different pitches but had a failing for “enforcing the unwritten rules of the game” at the most unideal time.  He once purposely hit a guy who he thought was stealing signs with the bases loaded in a close game.

In MSBL, the best players I played against didn’t necessarily have direct professional ties.  The Gouveia siblings (brothers of former Redskin Kurt Gouveia were feared sluggers in the league).  Garland Cooper was competitive against players half his age; he played in the Valley league but never pro.  Ira Holland (who played college at  Howard and was drafted before returning to school) was probably the most feared hitter in the league in the early 2000s; guys from that era still ask us about him.  The ace pitcher of my current team Jason Martino signed out of HS but only played one year of rookie ball before getting set aside by his drafting team.

Anyway; if you’ve read this far, I hope you enjoyed my own little personal history of playing ball in this area.

Trevor Bauer Trade; what happened?

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Bauer is traded before the ink is dry on his contract. Why? Photo Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

It isn’t every day that you see a guy like Trevor Bauer traded.  Why?

  • He was traded less than a year after being drafted in the upper 1st round (3rd overall).
  • He was traded despite signing a Major League deal and getting a $3.4M bonus.  The bonus money isn’t exactly a sunk cost here; we’re not talking about a guy who is 5 years into his minor league career.
  • He was traded despite being the first player from his draft class to matriculate to the majors, appearing at the end of 2012′s season, getting 4 starts in September.
  • He was traded after a minor league season in which (among AA and AAA) he compiled a 12-2 record with a 2.42 ERA with 157 K’s in 130 1/3 innings, including time spent in the hitter-bonanza PCL.  As a 21-year old.
  • He was traded after being named Arizona’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
  • He was traded despite in-arguably being considered an “Ace” pitching prospect.

So, why was Arizona so quick to give up on this guy?   It isn’t like they moved Bauer to get a game-changing set of prospects or impact major league players; the return seems to be a lighter-hitting shortstop (Didi Gregorius), an inconsistent reliever (Tony Sipp) and a first base prospect who is immediately blocked on the Arizona roster by other, better players (Lars Anderson).

The answer seems to be a combination of several factors, none of them flattering to Bauer and his make-up/personality:

  1. Bauer’s refusal to alter his unique warm-up methods.  We saw this coming; he issued a “warning” to drafting teams that he did not want his extreme long-toss warmup method changed or questioned.
  2. Bauer’s refusal to allow his catcher to call the game.  In his four September games, he repeatedly shook off catcher Miguel Montero, a seven year veteran catcher.  And that didn’t seem to go over well with either catcher or coach when asked about it at the time.
  3. Bauer’s approach during his MLB time; he reportedly pitches “backwards,” setting up hitters with off-speed stuff before using his fastball as his  outpitch.  But this approach is counter to most recommended approaches for attacking hitters, especially bottom-of-the-order hitters.  He reportedly nibbled too much, didn’t go after hitters, walked a number of 7-8-9 guys, and then (in a common refrain) refused to alter his approach.
  4. Bauer’s tantrum when removed from the PCL championship game, showing up AAA manager Billy Butler (an accomplished MLB veteran) in the process.
  5. Bauer’s maturity level being questioned in the media by the team’s owner.
  6. Bauer’s clubhouse demeaner reportedly being, shall we say, “less than optimal” for getting along well with others.  I can’t find links off-hand, but I read opinions that describe Bauer variously as being “an Ass,” being cocky, being “prickly,”  being a know-it-all, and already dividing the MLB clubhouse despite his relative short time there.

Ok, that’s a long list of issues, some of them very serious when it comes to a professional ball-player.

Its easy to say, “well the kid is only 21″ and excusing any/all these issues.  But there is something to be said about a 21 year old kid arriving in a Major League ball club, with a manager of the pedigree and career accomplishments of Kirk Gibson and an on-the-field staff of old-school pros (including Don BaylorMatt Williams and pitching coach Charles Nagy), and telling them that he knows better than they do.  Perhaps its that simple; perhaps the management had already essentially given up on Bauer’s ability to be coached, to receive instruction, to even receive recommondations, and GM Josh Towers pulled the plug.

But he’d have to be just incredibly hard headed for the team to have already arrived at the point of no return.  We’re not talking about some random 15th rounder.  We’re talking about a game-changing, significant investment they made in this kid.

Bauer, for his part, clearly has confidence in his approach, studied and crafted his motion based on biomechanical information he had at hand (his major at UCLA?  Biomedical Engineering), and believes that his preparation and his motion are what has enabled him to garner a high 1st round pick, what allowed him to zoom through the minors, and are what will enable him to be a successful professional.  I can understand his viewpoint; why should I change what has gotten me where I am now?   In some ways this reminds me of the whole “old-school/new-school” arguments that we have related to evaluating baseball players; new-school sabrematricians clearly have a dim view of their old-school/veteran sports writer counter parts and often have no issue writing that such-and-such a veteran sportswriter is flat out “an idiot.”  Well; is Bauer the “new school” approach to crafting pitching mechanics and his Arizona coaches are the “old school” approach to teaching pitching?

In some ways, we as fans forget that a clubhouse is rather similar to an office environment; you have “good” and “bad” workers, you have super stars and people just playing out the string.  Imagine if you had a 21-yr old hot-shot rookie just out of school who came in and told you (a seasoned veteran of some accomplish) that he knew how to do his job better than you?  I would imagine that the kid would seem pretty grating in the process.  Is this what happened in Arizona?

Should we be putting any blame on the Organization?  This isn’t the first time we’ve heard “issues” revolving around Arizona, their staff and management, and a player.  In addition to the Bauer situation, the continual Justin Upton trade rumors, persisting on now for a second off-season.  If the guy (Upton) is so good, why has the team been trying to move him for 2 years?  They benched him in 2012 and he got into a public spat with the owner this past season.  Is this a player issue or is there something in the organization that keeps rearing its head?  The situation reminds me somewhat of the Aaron Crow draft situation, where Jim Bowden drafted a kid who apparently had made it known he wanted no part of the organization.  If Arizona knew going in that Bauer was going to be difficult, why draft him at all?

My End-of-Season award Predictions

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Justin Verlander's season is one for the ages. Will it net him both a Cy Young and an MVP? Photo unknown origin via rumorsandrants.com

Last year (not to pat myself on the back or anything) but I went 8 for 8 in predicting the end-of-season awards for MLB.  In 2010 though, most of the major awards were relatively straightforward, even the Managers of the year being pretty obvious, so perhaps it wasn’t that great of a feat.

Here’s my predictions for 2011.  There’s been enough discussion about these awards in the media, with enough differing opinions, that its going to be interesting to see how this plays out.  This time through, there’s enough controversy about who really “deserves” the two MVP awards that I’ll be offering up some distinctions between who I think will win and who really should win.  I wonder if sometime soon we won’t have to make that distinction.

  • AL MVP:  Who I think will win: Justin Verlander.   In a year where none of the four playoff contending teams really had a break-out candidate, I think the voters will give it to a pitcher for the first time in 25 years.  I don’t agree with it: I don’t think pitchers should be eligible for MVPs (a topic for a future blog-post), but Verlander’s season was clearly a step ahead of the normal pitcher’s season.  As for Jacoby Ellsbury, his 30/30 season and his single-handed effort to drag his team into the post season almost earned him the nod, but when Boston missed the playoffs I’m guessing Ellsbury’s candidacy took a nose dive as well.  Curtis Granderson‘s fade in the 2nd half after a blistering first half costs him, despite a fantastic season overall. Adrian Gonzalez also started out w/ a monster first half, but faded down the stretch.  Jose Bautista would get more consideration if he was playing for a better team.  Miguel Cabrera quietly had a fantastic season but he’s completely overshadowed on his own team by Verlander’s great season.  Who really should win? Batista if his team was relevant at all.  He was clearly the best AL offensive player this year and put up historic stats.  But, the modern MVP isn’t about guys who toil in the 2nd division.  If they wanted to give the equivalent of a “Cy Young” to the “best hitter” in the league, Batista would be the winner hands down.  The definition of the MVP comes into consideration yet again.  Who probably would have won if his team didn’t collapse and miss the playoffs? Ellsbury.
  • AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, with a no-hitter and dominance day-in and day-out, first to 20 wins and the pitching triple crown.  Jered Weaver, Josh Beckett get some 2nd place consideration (despite Beckett’s late season injury and subsequent beer and chicken distractions).   James Shields became a new pitcher in 2011 and could get some top 5 votes. CC Sabathia will get votes since wins play so heavily.  Felix Hernandez won’t get the votes he got last year.  CJ Wilson had a great season leading Texas to back-to-back titles; thankfully for him the voting for this award came in prior to his post-season meltdowns.
  • AL Rookie of the Year:  Jeremy Hellickson had wins and a great ERA and should be the pick.   Michael Pineda looked like a lock until fading in the 2nd half, but Hellickson’s toiling on the East Coast (media bias) and in the AL East (legitimately more difficult than the teams Pineda normally faced) gives him the nod.  Mark Trumbo put up some comparisons to Wally Pipp for Los Angeles and gives the Angels another big bat going into 2012.  Jordan Walden (closer for the Angels) had a fine season.  Ivan Nova quietly put his name into the mix with a 16-win season.  Justin Smoak, perhaps Dustin Ackley, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Aaron Crow could get mentions.  Zack Britton started strong but disappeared in the 2nd half.   There’s so many good candidates this year, the voting may be pretty close, and any of the above names could get some top-5 votes.  But Hellickson should be the winner.
  • AL Mgr:  Joe Maddon‘s magic show of a managing job, with a completely new bullpen, huge loss of talent and nearly halving of his team’s payroll from the 2010 version of the Rays yet still sneaking into the playoffs should be your winner.  Manny Acta, who had the Indians in playoff position for a bit after last year’s 93-loss season in the first half, gets some consideration.  You could mention the job Ron Washington did to get his team back to the WS despite losing his ace pitcher.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: This award begins and ends with Andrew Friedman, who had the Rays in the playoffs with a payroll 1/5th of his competition.  It just doesn’t get any better than that.  Dombrowski in Detroit gets some credit for trades that paid off well, and Daniels in Texas gets some longer term credit for continuing to build a good young team.
  • NL MVP: Who I think will win: Ryan Braun led his team to the playoffs and overshadowed his cleanup hitter down the stretch.   Matt Kemp hit the cover off the ball all season but his team went nowhere during the season of the McCourts, and there’s little precedent for players from the 2nd division winning the MVP unless they have an outer-world season.  Jose Reyes had a great (contract) year, but his team is faltering and he was hurt by injuries.  And, his little ploy to guarantee the batting title on the season’s final day certainly turned off some BBWAA members.  Andrew McCutchen had a breakout season but the Pirates swoon will cost him.  Lance Berkman will get some consideration but will be difficult to select since he’s (arguably) the 3rd best player on his own team.   Prince Fielder also had a monster year and could take votes away from Braun, but without a clear candidate in the competition I’m guessing Fielder comes in 3rd.  Justin Upton came out of nowhere (as did his team) to put his name in the discusion and likely is a top-5 finisher.  Who really should win? Kemp clearly, but for the same reasons Batista won’t win, neither will Kemp.
  • NL Cy Young:  Clayton Kershaw won the NL pitching “triple crown” (Technically, he tied for the league-lead in wins with 21) for a team with a losing record on the year.  That’s tough to do.  Roy Halladay, having his typical dominant year with 6 CGs at the break, certainly deserves the award but i’m guessing voters want to reward someone new.  Cliff Lee isn’t having a half-bad season either.  Cole Hamels and Jair Jurrjens should be in this conversation but tailed off in the latter part of the season.  Ian Kennedy should get some 4th and 5th place votes for his fantastic season, finishing 21-4 for the surprising NL West winning Diamondbacks.
  • NL Rookie: Craig Kimbrel, who broke the rookie-save record before the all star break and is one of the top closers in the game right now will win despite what people may think about saves and reliever value.  Freddie Freeman is in the conversation.  Phillies starter Vance Worley has come out of nowhere to go 9-1 to start the 2nd half.   The Atlanta rookies (including Brandon Beachy) could go 1-2-3.  Hometown candidates Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos certainly deserves some notice and may get a few 5th place votes here and there, but you can’t hit .230 and expect to win the ROY award.
  • NL Mgr: Kirk Gibson in Arizona for a worst-to-first turn around.  Clint Hurdle of Pittsburgh, with his 2010-worst team over .500 at the all star break is 2nd.
  • (unofficial award) NL GM: Milwaukee’s Doug Melvin wheeled and dealt his prospects into two front-line starters and a first place team out of last year’s 77-win team.  You can also give some credit to Towers in Arizona (though a lot of the work there was due to his predecessor).

Thoughts?  There’s plenty of opinion pieces out there with these predictions, though most were published at the end of the season.  Get ready for two weeks of award over-analysis as these awards are given out by the BBWAA starting November 14th.