Nationals Arm Race

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WBC Round 2 Results and Round 3 predictions

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2017_wbc_logo

The USA has never advanced past the 2nd round of the WBC before, and they get a clutch performance to beat the defending champs (and best team on paper) to advance in 2017.  Here’s a quick review of the Round 2 results and a look ahead/predictions for round 3.

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

Predictions for round 2:

Round 2 Results:

Pool E: Predicted Japan and the Netherlands

Actuals: Israel continued its hot streak early and downed Cuba in what I predict is the 3rd place game, while Japan held serve and beat the Netherlands in extras.  Netherlands turned around the next day and destroyed Israel, handing them their first tourney loss.  Japan handled Cuba to more or less guarantee it spot in the WBC finals on 3/14/17.  On the pool’s final day, the Netherlands destroyed Cuba 14-1 while Japan remained undefeated and my predictions held out; Japan and Netherlands advance to the final round.

Pool F: Predicted DR and USA.

Actuals: Puerto Rico played an inspired game and downed the DR in the first pool game, which puts the DR’s chances of advancing in jeopardy early.  USA held serve and beat Venezuela on a couple of late homers and then the DR beat Venezuela the next night to essentially eliminate them.  The DR needs some help; they would be benefitted by a USA loss to Puerto Rico …. which they got.  The US kept trying to catch up but could never recover from an early 4-0 deficit and dropped a 6-5 decision to Puerto Rico to guarantee PR’s advancement and to setup a do-or-die rematch between USA and DR.  In that game, US starter Danny Duffy wiggled out of jams early and the US’s big bats came through and they downed the defending champs DR 4-2 to advance to their first finals.  Puerto Rico and USA advance.

(tangent; really?  Danny Duffy?  That’s the best starter the US could come up with?  The USA’s three primary starters in this tourney were Chris ArcherMarcus Stroman and Duffy.  Here’s a quick link to 2016’s fangraphs pitcher WAR leaders and thus here’s a quick list of all the US-born players they could have selected ahead of any of these three guys: Kershaw, Snydergaard, Scherzer (who we know was set to attend but got injured), Porcello, Verlander, Sale, Kluber, Bumgarner, Price (also currently injured), Hendricks, Lester, Strasburg, Hill, Arrieta, Grey.  Stroman was 21st in the majors in pitcher WAR last year, behind every one of these guys.  I mean, come on.  How can we alter this event so that the US can put out a rotation of Kershaw, Snydergaard and Bumgarner??)

Round 3 Predictions:

Now we’re to the semis.  Honestly I think the two best teams are unfortunately matched up against each other in the first semi (Netherlands and Puerto Rico).  I’ll go with the Netherlands in one semi, the USA in the other, and then the Netherlands to beat the US in the final.

ps. Yes I agree with all prior commenters; having Daniel Murphy and Tanner Roark on this team has been a complete waste.  I just hope it doesn’t affect their regular seasons…

2017 MLB Rotation Rankings 1-30

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Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2017. photo via Grantland

Lester: the best pitcher on the best rotation heading into 2017. photo via Grantland

Even though there’s still about 20 “starting pitchers” still on the FA market, none of them really project as anything more than a 5th starter competition or a MLFA signing at this point in the off-season, so I thought it was high time to break out my 2017 Rotation Rankings.  (Here’s a link to last year’s rankings)

This is not a ranking of 2017 projected performance, nor a WAR ranking from last year, nor anything statistical in nature.  This is me looking at individual players and gauging the overall “strength” of the rotation, with subjective rankings then applied.  This is also a lot of me asking, “Who would I rather have as a fan?” type questions; would your rather have Chicago’s 1-2-3 or New Yorks?   This starts with the identification of the roughly 20 or so best pitchers in the league right now, calling them “Aces,” then looking at those who are just a notch below an Ace, and going on down in order to think about the overall strength of a rotation.  There’s plenty to argue about; for example I absolutely classify Stephen Strasburg as an “Ace” in this analysis; his performance over the last 5-6 years by nearly any measure statistically easily ranks him in the top 10-15 arms in the league even if he’s never sniffed a Cy Young award thanks to his injuries.  But injuries factor in: I no longer classify Matt Harvey as an Ace thanks to his 2016 season.  Feel free to dispute/argue about individual opinions/rankings in the comments.

Here’s my master rankings table just showing the projected rotations.  In this Google Docs link i’ve got my full working file, color coded for Aces/#2s/#3s as well as 6th starter/long man depth identified plus some minor league depth.  Also identified are 2017 acquisitions to get a sense of the rotation turnover.  If you can read the Google XLS it may be easier than reading the table below.

TeamRotation Rank#1#2#3#4#5
Chicago Cubs1Jon Lester Jake Arrieta Kyle Hendricks John LackeyMike Montgomery
New York Mets2 Noah Syndergaard Jacob deGromMatt Harvey Steven MatzZach Wheeler
Boston3Chris SaleDavid Price Rick PorcelloSteven WrightDrew Pomeranz
Los Angeles Dodgers4 Clayton KershawRich HillKenta MaedaJulio UriasScott Kazmir
Washington5Max ScherzerStephen StrasburgTanner RoarkJoe RossGio Gonzalez
Cleveland6Corey Kluber Carlos Carrasco Danny Salazar Trevor BauerJosh Tomlin
Detroit7Justin VerlanderMichael FulmerJordan Zimmermann Anibal Sanchez Daniel Norris
Toronto8 Marcus StromanAaron Sanchez Marco Estrada J.A. HappFrancisco Liriano
St. Louis9Adam Wainwright Carlos Martinez Michael WachaLance LynnMike Leake
San Francisco10Madison BumgarnerJohnny Cueto Jeff SamardzijaMatt Moore Matt Cain
Pittsburgh11 Gerrit ColeJamison TaillonTyler GlasnowSteven BraultIvan Nova
Tampa Bay12 Chris Archer Jake OdorizziAlex CobbBlake SnellMatt Andriese
Arizona13 Zack Greinke Robbie RayShelby MillerTaijan WalkerPatrick Corbin
Texas14Cole HamelsYu Darvish Martin PerezAndrew CashnerA.J. Griffen
Houston15Dallas Keuchel Collin McHugh Lance McCullersCharlie MortonMike Fiers
Seattle16Felix Hernandez Hisashi Iwakuma Drew SmylyJames Paxton Yovani Gallardo
Chicago White Sox17 Jose Quintana Carlos RodonMiguel GonzalezJames ShieldsDerek Holland
New York Yankees18Masahiro Tanaka Michael Pineda CC SabathiaChad GreenLuis Severino
Baltimore19 Chris Tillman Kevin GausmanDylan Bundy Ubaldo JimenezWade Miley
Philadelphia20 Aaron Nola Jeremy HellicksonJerad EickhoffVincent VelasquezAlec Asher
Atlanta21Julio Teheran Bartolo Colon Jaime Garcia R.A. DickeyMike Foltynewicz
Kansas City22Ian Kennedy Danny Duffy Jason Vargas Nate KarnsMatt Strahm
Miami23Wei-Yin Chen Edinson VolquezDan Straily Tom KoehlerJeff Locke
Minnesota24 Ervin SantanaHector Santiago Kyle GibsonPhil Hughes Jose Berrios
Oakland25Sonny GraySean Manaea Kendall GravemanAndrew TriggsJharel Cotton
Colorado26Jon Grey Chad BettisTyler AndersonTyler ChatwoodJeff Hoffman
Los Angeles Angels27 Garrett RichardsRicky Nolasco Matt Shoemaker Tyler SkaggJesse Chavez
Cincinnati28 Homer BaileyAnthony DeSclafaniBrandon FinneganRobert StephensonScott Feldman
Milwaukee29 Matt Garza Chase AndersonZach Davies Wily PeraltaJunior Guerra
San Diego30Luis PerdomoChristian FrederichPaul ClemensJarred CosartCesar Vargas

Discussion; i’ll take the discussion in rough groups.

Top 5: I have the Chicago Cubs, NY Mets, Boston, LA Dodgers and then the Nats.  Why?

Well, if Harvey was healthier i’d still have the Mets #1 as I did last year.  I still think the Mets 1-2 punch of deGrom and Snydergaard is better than anyone elses.  If Harvey returns to form and Matz stays healthy, the Nats may be in trouble in 2017.  But those are huge what-ifs, enough to knock the Mets below Chicago for now.  The Cubs for me have two Aces who just finished 2nd and 3rd in Cy Young voting while their #3 just posted a 2.13 ERA.   And if their planned #5 doesn’t pan out, they have the prospect depth to make a move and acquire what they need.  Despite the acquisition of Sale, I do not think Boston’s rotation is better; David Price is just too shaky for me on a week in/week out basis and Porcello, despite his Cy Young in 2016 just isn’t an “Ace.”    But many have argued Boston is above both NY and Chicago; perhaps its recency bias due to the big moves of the past winter meetings.

I have the Dodgers just ahead of the Nats right now for two reasons: I think the strength of their 2-3-4 slightly trumps our 2-3-4, especially given Joe Ross‘s health question marks.  And any rotation headed by Kershaw is going to be highly ranked.  You can’t drop Washington much below #5 because no other rotation has the 1-2 Ace potential that the Nats do, and Roark is starting to (finally) get the recognition he deserves.

Ranking spots 6-11: Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, St. Louis, San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

So, a lot of people highly rate Cleveland’s rotation, higher than a couple of teams in my top 5.  And if Carrasco and Salazar are healthy I agree with them.  But they’re not, so they get dinged a bit.  I still have Verlander rated as an Ace after his comeback 2016; maybe that’s a little too high … but the rest of their rotation is all solid, being one of the only teams that I think has #3 starter quality even to the #5 starter in Daniel Norris.   Toronto and St. Louis are both in the same spot; several very good arms who just fall below “Ace” category; in Toronto’s case it may be just a matter of time before we’re calling Aaron Sanchez one of the best in the league and in St.Louis’ case the same with Carlos Martinez.  Some have San Francisco higher based on the fact that Bumgarner may be the 2nd or 3rd best pitcher in the game … but the back end of their rotation is so shaky they get dropped almost out of the top 10.  Likewise with Pittsburgh:  things get thin fast past the top 3 for the Pirates.

Ranking spots 12-16: Tampa, Arizona, Texas, Houston, Seattle.

Five teams that all could/should be higher.  Tampa just stole one of the best arms in the minors in Jose De Leon and have some very talented youth in their rotation; if these guys click Tampa shoots upwards.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of Arizona; they have Greinke (the lowest remaining Ace in terms of rotation rankings) and they have what should be a #2 in Shelby Miller, but what the heck happened in 2016?  Meanwhile former Nat-farmhand Robbie Ray has a massive delta between WAR rating systems that its hard to figure out how good he is: B-R rated his 2016 at just 0.7 bWAR while Fangraphs called it a 3.0 fWAR season.  Well which is it?   Perhaps we’ll see some regression to some sort of mean for him in 2017.  Both Texas and  Houston have Cy Young-calibre starters at the head of their rotations with question marks: Darvish b/c of injury, Hamels  because of age and Keuchel due to a bad 2016.  Seattle’s rating increased over the course of the offseason with their wheeling-and-dealing GM Mark DiPoto acquiring Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo to improve that rotation several clicks.

Ranking Spots #17-21: Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Atlanta.

The White Sox lost at least 5-6 rankings spots when they moved Chris Sale, who was by far the biggest name to move this off-season and, in fact, is the ONLY projected starter of any team ranked in my top 10.  That’s pretty amazing; teams are just doing such a better job of building pitching staffs.   The Yankees are precariously holding on to this spot; if their #1 Tanaka goes down with his partially torn UCL, they plummet into the bottom 3.  I’ve never rated Baltimore’s rotation, but they keep making the playoffs, so maybe I just have a blind spot here.  Philadelphia’s rotation could be a year or two from being in the top 6-10 range if these youngsters pan out.  Atlanta maybe should be slightly lower; I like Teheran but others do not.  Atlanta did by far and away the most acquisitions of any team in terms of pitching: 3 of their 5 projected opening day rotation guys are new on FA contracts, and almost all their depth is newly acquired MLFAs.

Ranking Spots #22-23: Kansas City and Miami

It just worked out this way, but both teams who had tragedy strike and take away their aces ended up ranked right next to each other.  The loss of Jose Fernandez cost Miami around 9 spots, and the loss of Yordano Ventura probably cost Kansas City 5-6 ranking spots.  Miami (like Atlanta) will depend on several new faces in 2017 as a result, while Kansas City may be looking at an accelerated rebuilding process.

Ranking Spots #24-26: Minnesota, Oakland, Colorado

I could see why you may think Oakland should be higher, but until their newcomers like Sean Manaea (who I always like to point out was on the board and was draftable in 2013 at the spot we gave up to sign Rafael Soriano in Mike Rizzo‘s eternal Quest for a Closer) succeed for more than a couple of months, Oakland stays ranked this low.  I wouldn’t vociferously argue the order of any of these teams: they’re mostly ranked by their aces this low.

Ranking Spots #27-30: Los Angeles Angels, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and San Diego

At least the Angels and Cincinnati have a couple of arms that you may briefly consider in fantasy; you can’t say that for Milwaukee or San Diego.  In fact, if you told me that the “next 5” for San Diego was actually their planned rotation, I’m not sure i’d rank them any worse than the first 5.  Milwaukee has instead depended on veteran players for their low ranking level, with their team ace Matt Garza making more news lately for having his Ferrari vandalized and for piping up about birth control on twitter than for his capabilities on the mound.  Always a good sign for your coming season.


So, what do you guys think of my rankings?

 

BBWAA award post-mortem; are the writers finally getting things right?

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Well, he'll always have Kate. And his Ferraris. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Well, he’ll always have Kate. And his Ferraris. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Every year I publish an “End of Season Awards Prediction” piece, and then every year I write a post-mortem patting myself on the back for how good I was at predicting the awards.

(I should put this in as a reminder; my “prediction” pieces are just that; my attempt to Predict how the BBWAA electorate will vote.  It is NOT my personal opinion on who should have won. )

In 2015 I went (7 for 8).   In 2014 (6 for 8), 2013 (8 for 8), 2012 (7 for 8), 2011 (8 for 8), and 2010 (8 for 8).

However this year, I missed on fully half the awards.  Here’s the ones I got right:

And here’s the ones I got wrong:

For the ones I got wrong, here was my thinking for predicting the wrong winner:

  • For AL MVP, I figured that once again Trout would be penalized and get a 2nd place MVP vote thanks to his team being awful.  Instead, he got 19 of the 30 1st place votes to rightfully earn his 2nd MVP.
  • For the AL Cy Young, I never thought Verlander would get close thanks to his slow start, and I figured Kluber would repeat as a result.  Instead Porcello won when two writers inexplicably left Verlander completely off their ballots.
  • For the AL Rookie, I absolutely figured that the NY media would over-blow Sanchez’ amazing start and give him the award over the more deserving Fulmer.    I was way off; Fulmer got 26 of the 30 1st place votes to win in a landslide.
  • And for the NL Manager, I figured people would do what they always do; look at the team that improved the most and give the award to their manager by default.  For 2016 that was easily the Nats.

So what happened?   My conclusion; I think the Electorate is finally starting to get these awards “right,” or at least more “right” than in recent memory.  All of my “narrative-driven” predictions were wrong thanks to voters being smarter and picking the right winner (well, except for Verlander of course).

This is great news!   Bravo to the BBWAA writers for improving.   Now about that Hall of Fame ballot….

 

 

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.

 

NLDS Game 5 via my “live texting”

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Rendon's struggles on the night led to an ending that was tough to swallow.  Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Rendon’s struggles on the night led to an ending that was tough to swallow. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

As I watched the NLDS game 5 unfold, I was texting with a couple of fellow baseball fans.  Here’s the content of my texts as the game unfolded for a “fun” look at my instant reactions to what was happening.  I’ve only edited the texts to correct my spelling errors as I furiously typed them after two stiff drinks from my basement … everything I wrote is in blue italics.

We pick up the thread at around 10:15 pm at the bottom of the 5th.

  • That pickoff  was a f*cking balk.  Yup, it was.  You’ll note that Bryce Harper was not even looking to steal and his eyes, once Julio Urias‘ leg crossed the plane, diverted to home assuming the pitch was going home.  I thought Harold Reynolds was awful announcing, but I agreed with him whole heartedly here when he said something to the effect of, “If they’re going to let him do that, he’ll pick everyone off.”  What surprised me was the lack of real complaining done by either Harper or Dusty Baker there, as if they knew arguing about it was futile.  In the end, it didn’t really affect the outcome of the game.
  • Scherzer looks better than I ever thought he’d do.  I assumed he’d give up 2 or 3 runs.  After his Game 1 performance, yeah six scoreless innings was well above the expected result.  
  • He will run the table in the 7th then Solis for the top of the order in the 8th and then Melancon.  Game is over.  Ha Ha.  Yeah, didn’t quite happen that way.  But after he made it through the meat of the order in the top of the 6th, that was a reasonable prediction.
  • Dumb play there on Werth at home; yeah, he was out by 30 feet.  Post-game analysis seemed to question what Bob Henley was looking at; at the point where the relay throw was in, he was still looking out in the outfield.  Is it possible that he thought the left fielder was still trying to retrieve the ball?  In a meager defense of the coach, they did have Danny Espinosa coming to bat, so its not like they had a high probability of a 2-out hit based on his series batting average.
  • [in response to a comment that it’s going to come down to the Nats bullpen] Except this year they’re stellar.  Nats Bullpen #1 or #2 in the league in FIP and ERA and they’ve been solid this post season; just two runs in 17 innings.  All true.  It didn’t matter.
  • Oh man homer.  Finally Max makes a mistake.  Except he really didn’t; look at the Pitch F/X plot of the ball Joc Pederson hit out: it was on the black and low; Pederson made a hell of a swing.  It isn’t like Max grooved a belt-high gopher ball there.
  • Why take him out now?  Don’t like that move.  Still don’t like the move yanking Scherzer; he’s on 99 pitches, he’s got 6-7-8 coming up; yes I could understand not wanting the top of the Dodger’s order to see him a fourth time, but if he already made it through all the sluggers, why not let him finish the inning?
  • First batter four pitch walk; Great.  I think the wrong guy is in the game.  Here of course i’m talking about Mark Rzepczynski‘s not-even-close four pitch walk upon relieving Scherzer, and of course i’m saying that Dusty has brought in the wrong lefty (I wanted Sammy Solis).
  • Geeze; well I guess I was wrong on the bullpen.  This was after the Carlos Ruiz hit gave the Dodgers the lead.
  • Every time Seager swings I think its going out he has such a powerful stroke.  Its funny, but Corey Seager didn’t really have that great of a series; 3-23 but his three hits were two homers and a RBI double.
  • Well that’s what happens when you don’t have a real CF.  And where the f*ck was Werth backing him up?  This was my reaction to Justin Turner‘s triple over Trea Turner‘s head.  Initially I thought he took a bad route, but in retrospect I think that ball was just crushed.  I did have a legitimate complaint about no backup though; Ruiz was running from first; could a backed up play and relay have gotten him at the plate?  Maybe, maybe not.  
  • I think Kelley just blew out his elbow again.  It did not look good when he did it … we now know he just threw so hard that he lost feeling in his hand.  I’ve done that too (never on the mound, but definitely making a 100% max effort throw as an infielder, usually on a relay home).  I’m glad he’s not seriously hurt.
  • 6 pitchers in the inning.  Crazy.  Just an observation.  I don’t know how long that inning took in “clock” time but it had to be over an hour.
  • The guy pitching Dayton?  He lived in my parent’s basement for a summer and I played with him several games back in like 2008.  He didn’t throw 93 back then though.  We’ve reviewed the Boss family’s personal connection to Dayton before… nothing new here.
  • Lifeline!! Holy sh*t!  This was of course the Chris Heisey homer.  Man; Heisey’s stat-line numbers may have sucked this year, but he definitely has come up big with pinch hit homers.
  • Love the move to the closer in the 7th.  [on Kenley Jansen entering the game way early]: I did, and a lot of the observers of the game did too.   Buck Showalter committed serious managerial malpractice for not getting Zach Britton into that do-or-die game, and now we’re seeing nearly every other manager left really thinking outside the box on closer usage.  Andrew Miller‘s numbers this off-season are just off-the charts; I know he’s not the “closer” but he’s absolutely the best reliever out there, and so is Jansen for the Dodgers.
  • Yeah!  Great PR [pinch runner] move too by Dusty.  That was putting in Joe Ross to run for Clint Robinson.  I will complain about Wilmer Difo later on, but I think its worth noting that the Nats bench came up relatively big in Game 5.  Heisey 2-run homer, Stephen Drew “drew” a walk (pun intended), Robinson got a  hit.  On the flip side, Pedro Severino flew out and both Michael Taylor and Difo struck out.
  • Can’t believe Werth struck out there.  Two straight un-clutch ABs.  Those two “un clutch” ABs were of course Werth and then Anthony Rendon both striking out with a runner on third.  Werth especially; all you have to do is hit a f*cking fly ball there and the game is tied.  That’s it!  Rendon’s strikeout clearly closed the book on him in Baker’s eyes.
  • Good night to be an Uber driver.  I think metro closed at 11:20: this was past midnight, observing that the stadium was still pretty frigging full.  Steve Case had departed though; he was in the center-field camera angle all night with his front row seats.
  • Huge Walk; 80% chance of a run now.  How about a f*cking Espinosa bomb.  This was in reference to Drew’s lead-off walk; RE of a man on first with no outs is above .8.  What does Espinosa do?  a bunt pop up??  From there two scrubs out quickly to end the 8th.
  • Well, at least the Nats have the top of the order in the 9th.  Yup; that was the silver lining; the top of the order, the best hitters on the Nats were getting a 5th shot at the title to eke out a run.  If anyone could do it, it would be Turner-Harper-Werth-Murphy.
  • I can NOT believe Kershaw is warming up.  Enough has been written on the topic by now.  But this was definitely shades of Orel Hershiser warming up in the 88 series, or Madison Bumgarner coming in for a relief outing on 2 days rest in the 2014 series.
  • We’ll know soon enough he’s definitely facing Harper.  I got this wrong; totally thought Kershaw would relief Jansen as soon as Turner AB was done.
  • Harold Reynolds is captain obvious.  I wish I could remember what he said, but it was pretty dumb.  Probably something like, “If the Nats don’t score here, they’ll lose.”
  • Nice inning lets see how big their b*lls are.  To channel the criticism of the 2014 team as levied by San Francisco pitcher (and long time Nats tormenter) Tim Hudson.
  • Katie Nolan is hot; this was my humorous comment about the Katie Nolan commercial during the pitching change in the 9th.   She is hot, and she knows a ton about sports, and her podcast is pretty good.
  • Why is there some idiot in a marlins jacket directly behind home plate?  Again, another “killing time” text.  On the TV broadcast some fool in a bright orange gaudy as hell Marlins jacket had positioned himself in pole position for the CF camera.
  • Why isn’t Kershaw in?  As Jansen walked Harper on four pitches.  I was starting to see the narrative; “Dave Roberts holds on to his closer one batter too long” as one of the Nats middle-of-the-order guys hits a walk-off homer.
  • Saving Kershaw for Murphy.  Yup, it became pretty clear that was the strategy.
  • Look at Kenley; he’s done.  He’ll walk Werth. Yup.  This was after watching a painful AB against Werth; clearly Werth was either going to drive a ball or he was going to get walked.  I think Roberts let him go at least one batter too long; he threw nearly half a game of pitches.  I saw a snarky post at HardBallTalk this morning “checking in with Dusty Baker,” who was quoted as saying that Jansen’s outing may affect him in the next series.   Well, its a reasonable concern; he threw a TON of pitches that night.  And he was gassed, perhaps before the 9th even started.  Imagine the narrative if the Nats had won with Kershaw warming up and with Jansen throwing his 50th pitch?
  • One day rest.  Poor form booing him he’s one of the best guys in the game.  Yeah, didn’t like the booing of Kershaw as he walked in.
  • This is an epic match-up all things considered.  Double could win it.   Murphy-Kershaw.  Murphy got him for 2 homers last post-season; could he at least drive in a run?
  • Ugh.  Worst case.  Now its up to a f*cking rookie.  That was it.  Murphy popped up.  Not a fly ball to even advance the runners.  Just worst case result given the situation.
  • This is 3 strikes fast.  My prediction of how long it’d take for Difo to whiff.
  • I bet they wish they had up Rendon right now.  This, and the early  hook for Scherzer, might be the two biggest second guesses I have of Baker’s moves in the game.  Rendon is your #5 hitter; yes I know he struggled all series and he had badly choked earlier in the game … but why are we ending our season with a kid who struggled in AA most of the year instead of one of your most important hitters?
  • Man.  That sucks.  Game over.

Welcome to the off-season.  When I get some time, i’m going to dig into the “draft class”posts.

 

 

LCS Predictions

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I think Lester has at least two more Game 1 starts in him... photo via Grantland

I think Lester has at least two more Game 1 starts in him… photo via Grantland (RIP)

LDS quick thoughts:

  • ALDS #1: Not surprised at all that Toronto manhandled Texas; look no further than the run differentials for the teams on the year (Texas was only +8, Toronto was +93).  Anyone who thought that was a surprise isn’t following the games closely.  The only surprise for me in that series was the fact that Odor and Bautista didn’t get into another fight.
  • ALDS #2: On the flip side, color me shocked that Cleveland swept Boston.   Cleveland is basically without its two best starters, yet still swept the AL East champ.  What it tells me is that Boston’s starters aren’t nearly as good as they are reported to be, and it showed as both Porcello and Price got bombed.
  • NLDS #1: I never expected a Chicago sweep of SF, not with Bumgarner lurking, and SF did indeed win the Bumgarner start (but without that much help from him in the end; he was in a position to take the loss in Game 3 when he departed).  But nonetheless, Chicago won in four games and get three full days off before the first game of the NLCS with which to reset their rotation.  A luxury that the Nats/Dodgers winner will not get.
  • NLDS #2: Nats/Dodgers came down to game 5, and despite their chances the Nats lose another heartbreaker.

Quick good links: MLB Post-season Schedule. and MLB.com’s Probable Pitchers.


Here’s a preview of the NLDS.  Thanks to wrapping up the NLDS early, Chicago can re-set their rotation but likely goes with the same set of arms.

  • Game 1: 10/15 in Chicago: Kenta Maeda versus Jon Lester
  • Game 2: 10/16 in Chicago: Clayton Kershaw versus Kyle Hendricks … i guess.  Kershaw is in uncharted waters here; a win on 10/11 on 3-days rest then an inning in relief on 10/13 … I guess he’ll be ready to go for a full start on 10/16.
  • Game 3: 10/18 in LA: Jake Arrieta versus Rich Hill
  • Game 4: 10/19 in LA: John Lackey versus Julio Urias

Its definitely saying something about your SP depth when last year’s Cy Young winner is relegated to being your #3 starter in a post-season series, but such is the strength of the Chicago pitching this year.  The Cubs will face a distinctly weakened LA pitching staff, shredded by the stress of the NLDS win over Washington, putting them at a severe dis-advantage.  LA will be incredibly lucky to get a split in Chicago; Lester (a lefty) should dominate the Dodgers in Game 1 and then the Cubs should have their hacks against Kershaw in game 2 (Cubs 7th in the league against lefties in terms of BA).   Then LA has no choice but to throw two more lefty starters in game 3 and 4, again playing more into Chicago’s strengths.  This isn’t like last year when NY’s strong RHP-centric starting pitchers blew away Chicago (who don’t hit Righties as well); this is a tough matchup for LA in general.

Prediction: Chicago in 5 or 6; i’m not sure it even gets back to Chicago for a game 6.


Here’s some thoughts on the ALCS.  Two teams that (rather easily) swept their divisional opponents.  Here’s how the pitching match-ups project (assuming these teams keep the same rotation from the LDS):

  • Game 1: 10/14 in Cleveland: Marco Estrada versus Corey Kluber
  • Game 2: 10/15 in Cleveland: J.A. Happ versus Josh Tomlin
  • Game 3: 10/17 in Toronto:  Trevor Bauer versus Aaron Sanchez
  • Game 4: 10/18 in Toronto: Mike Clevinger versus Marcus Stroman

A couple of interesting Nats connections here: Estrada was our 6th round pick in 2005 out of Long Beach State; he toiled in our system for years before being released and establishing himself as a superb starter elsewhere (first Milwaukee, now Toronto).  Stroman was our 18th round pick in 2009 out of a NY high school; he projected as a shortstop then; he went to Duke, remade himself as a starter, and was Toronto’s 1st rounder 3 years later.

The Cleveland slate of starters keeps changing;  Kluber is a Cy Young candidate; he will lead off for Cleveland instead of Bauer (and, as of this 10/14/16 note, Bauer is getting pushed further due to a “Drone” injury to his finger).  Meanwhile, Sanchez is probably Toronto’s best starter and Stroman was their opening day starter; I’d think both guys would get the ball before Happ.  I may have to re-write this section before all is said and done.  My gut feeling is that Cleveland’s superior record was attained thanks to a weaker division and the strong work of two starters (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) who are no longer there, and the step-down to Tomlin/Clevinger will cost them in the end.   Meanwhile Toronto emerged from an AL East with four near-playoff quality teams and is battle tested.  They had no problems going on the road to Texas and won’t either in the hitters park that is Cleveland.  Toronto gets a split in Cleveland and then batters Cleveland’s #5 starters in Toronto.  From there, its about what Kluber can do; can he get the series back to Cleveland?  It could be a quick one.

Prediction: Toronto in 5.


Lastly, i’m stealing this thunder from Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk/NBCsports.com, but this final four will award a winner who has been waiting an awful long time to win a world Series.

Here’s the final four teams:

  • Chicago Cubs: Last WS appearance was way back in 1945, and of course their last WS win was 1908.
  • Dodgers: Last WS appearance and win in 1988 … in case you forgot, that series featured the epic Kirk Gibson walk-off homer in game 1.
  • Toronto: Last WS appearance and win was the awesome Joe Carter walk-off in 1993, the year before divisional play took over.
  • Cleveland: Last WS appearance was in 1997 (but really their big missed opportunity was losing in 1995 as a 100-44 win team), last WS win was of course in 1948.

Lots of history at stake here; imagine a Cleveland-Chicago series.  For the historians that’d be the best.  I think the best series quality wise would be Chicago-Toronto.

Wild Card Preview and Prediction

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Snydergaard is the X-factor in the NL Wild Card. Photo tucson.com

Snydergaard is the X-factor in the NL Wild Card. Photo tucson.com

The Nats don’t have to worry about who wins the Wild Card this year, and the Cubs will get a weakened opponent either way.  So lets preview the Wild Card match-ups mostly from a SP stand point and make some knee-jerk predictions.

AL Wild Card: Baltimore @ Toronto: Probably Chris Tillman vs Marcus Stroman

These two AL East foes face off for the 20th and last time this year: Toronto won the season series 10-9 but badly out scored Baltimore while doing it.  Tillman is hittable; the fact that the Orioles are in the playoffs at all with their rotation is a miracle.   Tillman faced Toronto four times; in 22 1/3 innings he gave up 10 earned runs, and he controlled them in the game’s final season.   Stroman also faced his potential opponent four times this year and his numbers are not nearly as good; he got lit up for 7 runs in mid-June, and his start against Toronto last weekend was anything but dominant (4 runs on 9 hits in 7 innings).   The “intangibles” factor doesn’t bode well for Toronto; word has it their clubhouse has lost its focus and professionalism and they may spin out of control at the worst time.  If these teams played 10 times they go 5-5, but I give Baltimore the edge here.

Prediction: Baltimore wins a game that gets away from Toronto to earn a match up with Texas.

 


 

NL Wild Card: San Francisco @ NY Mets.  Madison Bumgarner vs Noah Snydergaard.

Does it get any better than this in terms of a pitching match-up?  The Mets took the season Series 4-3 with a +4 run differential; very even.  Despite that, I like the Mets in this one; they’ve been hot (not that that matters) and the Giants limped into the playoffs.  Bumgarner has two starts against the Mets this year: in New  York he shut them down early, but then in SF later on he got hit.  Snydergaard has also faced SF twice this year; in New York in early May he too got lit up by the Giants, but then allowed just 2 hits in 8 innings against them in August in SF.  Plus, thanks to an early clinch the Mets didn’t have to use Snydergaard in their weekend series, so he’ll have more than a week’s rest heading into the game .. which is good because he’s thrown a ton of innings and his splits with a large amount of rest are crazy good; 1.92 ERA.

Prediction: Mets win a one run game and advance to face the Cubs.

 

Written by Todd Boss

October 4th, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Its make or break time; even more so than a week ago.

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A week ago, at the beginning of this west coast trip, I thought the team might end up going 2-5 between LA and SF.  They faced two good teams on the road against good pitching.

I was wrong.  They went 1-6.  What a Disaster.  Scherzer and Gonzalez both laid massive eggs in games where the Nats held a rare and clear SP advantage (over Vogelsong and Cain respectively) and the team squandered games where the offense uncharacteristically scored more than 1 run (5 and 6 respectively in consecutive losses).  It was no surprise they got shut out by Kershaw, Greinke and Bumgarner … but they had no excuse to lose to these other stiffs.

Amazingly, we’re mid-August and this team has gone 10 and 20 since the all-star break.  10 and 20.  Yes they’ve faced some tough pitching, but a playoff team should at least go .500 against a good team throwing good arms.  This team has not; it has completely folded.

Dave Cameron at fangraphs.com summed up things a lot better than I could.  He has a table of 2014 and 2015 WAR figures that’s pretty amazing.  He also has the playoff odds for both Washington and New York and what they’ve done over the past few weeks and that’s pretty amazing too.

The Nats are 58-59.  Amazingly despite a 6 game losing streak the Mets also fell on their faces this weekend and the Nats didn’t lose much ground in the race.  But they’re 4.5 back with 6 weeks to go and need to step it up.

They now have 6 straight games against two bad teams (Colorado and Milwaukee).   Can they salvage their season and actually win some of these games?

What is wrong with this team?  Is it just everyone unluckily under performing all at once?  Is it the Manager?  Is it the frigging Papelbon trade? I don’ t mean to find some “arbitrary endpoints” but consider:

  • Nats Record before Papelbon trade: 52-46
  • Nats Record since: 6-13
  • Storen’s ERA before the trade: 1.73 in 36 1/3 innings
  • Storen’s ERA since: 10.38 in 8 2/3rds innings.
  • Papelbon’s entire contribution since arriving: 5 IP in 5 games, 2 saves.

Could just be a coincidence.  Demoting a popular, home grown player who was having a great season with a blow-hard attitude guy couldn’t possibly be a reason for a team that has shown itself to be mentally fragile in the past to shut it down, right?

 

West Coast Trip 2015: its crunch time for this team

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I'll take about 10 more of those starts, Stephen, Thank you.  Photo via centerfieldgate.com

I’ll take about 10 more of those starts, Stephen, Thank you. Photo via centerfieldgate.com

I wrote earlier about the ridiculous slate of starters this team had to face coming out of the All Star break.  They went 6-10 in that stretch, an admirable record considering the opposition.  That took the team to a relatively “easy” looking home-stand against two also-rans (Arizona and Colorado) who were sellers at the trade deadline.  The Nats have practically their whole offense back, augmented the bullpen with Jonathan Papelbon, and got their 2nd “Ace” back in Stephen Strasburg.  They have no more excuses; its time to take control of the division from the suddenly energized Mets.

But, instead of rolling to a 5-2 or a 6-1 home stand … the team scuffled to a 3-4 record, with Drew Storen blowing two games single-handedly, Doug Fister blowing a start against an opposing pitcher with about 5 minutes of service time, and one game that the bullpen so badly bungled that Tyler Moore was on the mound at the end.

Not good.

The team now sits at 57-53 (just an 84 win pace) and is a game and a half back of the Mets.  And they now hit the road for a crucial, difficult 10-game west coast swing.  Three games in LA, four in SF and then 3 more against the Colorado team that embarrassed them at home.  This while the Mets play 7 straight in New York (albeit against the same Rockies who I thought were patsies and then against a Pirates team that just battered the Dodgers’ starters in Pittsburgh).

Lets take a quick look at the projected starter match-ups against the Dodgers and Giants.  Because, lets face it, those are the two series that could be pretty telling:

Nats SP Projected Opposing SP
Gonzalez Anderson
Ross Kershaw
Zimmermann Greinke
Strasburg Vogelsong
Scherzer Cain
Gonzalez Peavy
Ross Bumgarner

Daunting.  Are the Nats in danger of being outright swept in Los Angeles?   I think so.  They then move up the coast but face a SF team that plays a lot better at home than on the road, despite what looks to me like a SP advantage for the Nats.  I don’t really trust Gio Gonzalez anymore in big games, and certainly not on the road (where he has a 4.80 ERA this year, versus 2.60 at home).   Joe Ross has a grand total of 7 starts in the majors and he’ll be given the rather daunting task of facing two of the best pitchers in the game back to back in Kershaw and Bumgarner.  Tough.

Here’s the problem.  I can easily see this team going 2-5 in these games.  What happens if the Mets keep winning?

This season is more and more reminding me of 2013.  Tons of expectations, and tons of under performance all year, leading to a mid 80s win season but no playoffs.  If this team returns home a week from now and is at .500 (a very distinct possibility), is it finally time to worry?

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.