Nationals Arm Race

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National High School Baseball Powers

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(Useless blog information: this is my 700th post!)

USA Today just came out with their pre-season 2014 top -25 High School Baseball rankings (to go along with Baseball America’s pre-season top 50 and Maxpreps.com’s top 100 pre-season rankings), and a number of familiar national High Schools are on the various lists.  I thought it was a good time to publish the review of Local and National high school baseball powers that I’ve had in draft status for a while.

I touched on the topic of High Schools who consistently generate talent briefly in January 2013, when I penned a post delving into the best players the State of Virginia has produced.  II you’re interested in the best producing Virginia High Schools there’s a section in that January 2013 post on the topic.  Despite having some significant talent come out of the state recently, there is no high school in our area that comes close to producing what some of these schools in Florida, California and Texas do.  At the bottom here I’ll talk briefly about significant local schools.

Lets take a look at some of these baseball factories and look at some of the big-time talent they’ve produced lately.  I’ll freely admit that this is mostly analysis of teams that have been good lately … but i’ve tried not to fall into the habit of picking a team that just happens to be good now by looking at the performances of these teams over the past 4-5 years.  Suffice it to say; one class of great players can make a team very highly ranked for a year or two, but you need to consistently develop players to constantly be considered among the best programs in the country.

Here we go.  In each case if they’re pre-season ranked I’ll use a quick short-hand so as not to repeat typing the same things over and over.  (X,Y,Z) after each high school mean’s the team is pre-season ranked by in order by USA Today, Baseball America and Max Preps.

  • Archbishop McCarthy HS, Southwest Ranches, Fla (#1,7,1); They have won four consecutive Florida 6a titles and are the 2014 preseason#1 ranked team by USA-Today   They’ve had no less than eight draftees in the last four drafts, including two first rounders (presumptive 3B starter in Detroit Nick Castellanos and Nick Travieso in 2012).  This is a seriously good baseball program.
  • Harvard-Westlake HS in Studio City, California (Los Angeles) (7,8,7).  Alma Mater of our own Lucas Giolito, but was also home to another 2012 first round pick Max Fried.  Can you imagine a high school team with two first round pitching prospects?  Also the alma mater of current MLBers Josh Satin and Brennan Boesch, both of whom were drafted out of Cal-Berkeley, and 2013 2nd round pick Austin Wilson out of Stanford.  A good pedigree of recent high-end talent.
  • The Woodlands HS in The Woodlands, Texas (#29,NR,NR). Alma Mater to 2011 #2 overall pick Jamison Taillon and 2011 3rd round pitcher Bryan Brickhouse.  More recently, home to 2013 3rd rounder Carter Hope.   All three of these guys were big-time right-handed pitching prospects.  Also home to two current MLBers: Kyle Drabek (a 2006 1st round pick) and Paul Goldschmidt (an 8th round pick after going to college).   They’re a bit down this year, but have been highly ranked for years.  Defending Texas 5-A champs, no small feat.
  • American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla. (#3,24,14).  Began gaining notice after producing both #3 overall 2008 pick Eric Hosmer and (former) Nats prospect Adrian Nieto in 2008; since has produced another 6-8 draft prospects.  Enters 2014 with a preseason #3 ranking from Usa-Today and should match up well with Archbishop McCarthy (if they are scheduled to play).
  • Owasso (Okla.) HS. (#4,4,2) 2014 Preseason USA-today #4 team who went 36-0 last season and returns seven starters.   Recent alumni include two first round draftees in St. Louis’ Pete Kozma and the likely more impactful Dylan Bundy, Baltimore’s #1 prospect, who reached the majors by age 20 and is currently rehabbing a Tommy John injury.
  • Barbe HS, Lake Charles, LA (#8,6,6).  Getting some pre-season 2014 credit thanks to a slew of Division 1-signed talent; had three players drafted from its 2010 team.  Of local interest to yours truly because Lake Charles is where my wife hails from and where we go married.
  • Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas: (#12,13,9) his sports powerhouse is also routinely nationally ranked in Football and Basketball, and has matriculated a handful of local players lately (including supplemental 1st rounder Joey Gallo in 2012).   They were the defending Nevada state champions seven times before losing in the final last year.  This is not however the alma-mater of our own Bryce Harper: he went to Las Vegas HS, which doesn’t have nearly the alumni pedigree as Gorman.
  • Archbishop Moeller HS, Cincinnati (#17,30,10).  Moeller has a very rich history; its alums include Buddy Bell and his sons, Ken Griffey Jr and Barry Larkin.  They’ve had at least 11 alumni play pro-ball.  And they’re back in the national scene, ranked #17 pre-season by USA-Today for 2014.
  • Rancho Bernardo, San Diego: (NR, #3, #24): this school’s nickname is “the Factory,” so I had to put it in here.  Home to 3 current major leaguers (including Cole Hamels) and a whole slew of recent draftees.
  • Venice (Fla.) HS (#15,1,4).  A johnny come-lately to the party: they’re also a defending Florida state champ (in a different class than Archbishop McCarthy) and are the #1 ranked pre-season team by Baseball America.  Not a ton of alumni history here, but they are #1 in one of the three main publications i’m using as reference here.
  • Broken Arrow (Okla.) HS (NR,#15,NR): Broken Arrow had three members of its 2011 team picked, including upper 1st round talent Archie Bradley.  They’ve had a few MLB alumni and are routinely in the latter stages of the Oklahoma state tournament.
  • St. Francis HS Mountain View, CA (#27,2,12): some interesting spread between the three rankings for St. Francis, based in Mountain View, CA.  They have a slew of alumni currently playing college or pro ball and are #2 in Baseball America’s pre-season rankings for 2014.
  • Seton Hall Prep, West Orange NJ: (NR on any 2014 list) the rare cold-weather school with significant pro matriculation.  Detroit’s Rick Porcello hails from Seton Hall Prep, though the most famous New Jersey native in the majors (Mike Trout) attended a different HS (Milleville HS) and is the first player from his HS to make the majors since the 1940s.

Some of the all-time great producing High Schools not already mentioned:

  • Hillsborough HS in Tampa (NR on any 2014 list) boasts 41 pro alumni and 10 with MLB experience, including Gary SheffieldDwight GoodenCarl Everett and former Nat Elijah Dukes.
  • Jesuit HS, Tampa: (#26,NR,NR).  Another high school in Tampa that has a huge alumni base in pro ball; 10 major leaguers and 74 players in pro-ball (per baseball cube).
  • Lakewood HS in Orange County (NR on any 2014 list) has 57 pro alumni and 12 MLB experienced players, though not nearly of the name quality of Hillsborough’s graduates.
  • Sarasota HS in Florida (#37,NR,NR) 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.  Per its wikipedia page it only has about 250 students now; I wonder if they even still field a baseball team.
  • Polytechnic HS in Long Beach (NR on any 2014 list) 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.
  • Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, Calif. (NR on any 2014 list): 9 major leaguers among at least 40 pro alumni, including Washington’s Danny Espinosa.
  • Special Mention: the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy is technically a high school and easily has the highest number of drafted players (111 in baseball Cube’s records).  Most recently, 1-1 pick Carlos Correa is an alumni, though he’s one of just two 1st rounders out of this school that I can see.

 

DC Area Local

Its hard to say if there’s a local “baseball factory” school; certainly one does not exist like the Florida and California schools mentioned here.  But there are a couple of programs in the DC area who play significant schedules and who recruit heavily in the baseball circles:

  • Riverdale Baptist HS, Upper Marlboro MD.  They have quite a few players in the NCAA ranks but few who have lasted long in the pros.
  • St. John’s HS (Washington, DC); they’ve had some recent draft success and have sent players to good schools.

Past these two schools, it does seem like certain local public programs are always doing well.  Dematha is getting some national ranking mentions pre-season but doesn’t have the baseball pedigree that they have in Football and Basketball.  Vienna programs Oakton and Madison HS are constantly in the mix locally and state-wide, a product of a fabulous youth program that feeds into both those schools.  Finally, the two largest schools in the area (Lake Braddock and Robinson) routinely advance far in the regional tournaments, thanks in part to an enrollment that rivals some colleges.  But they’re hardly “factories” like the above school, nor do they put out the kind of upper-end players that Florida and California schools can.

 


For some historical perspective, here’s a slew of links to pre- and post-season rankings that i’ve collected for the past few years, with #1 national team and any local schools noted.

Other useful links for High School baseball analysis;

Did I miss any?  Please discuss.

Ask Boswell 2/24/14

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You know you want to be there right now.  Photo via wp.com

You know you want to be there right now. Photo via wp.com

The chats come fast and furious; here’s Tom Boswell‘s 2/24/14 online chat.  Not much in this one; i’m thinking we’ll struggle to get to the 50 comments we got on last weeks’ version.

As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s answer, and freely edit the “questions” for clarity here.  I left out a couple of his non Nats questions this time around.

Q: Predictions on Harper’s line this year?

A: I’ll go .275/.375/.500 with 32 homers.  That’s probably optimistic, but hey, there’s no reason not to project 30 homers for a guy with 80 power.  Boswell went .285/.380/.510 and 30 homers.  Pretty close.  We both just stepped up Harper’s 162-game averages from b-r.com frankly.

Q: Predictions on Fister’s line this year?

A: Now here, i’ll probably be even more optimistic.   I think he goes 17-9 in 200 innings or so, posting a 3.10 ERA and a 1.25 whip.    His K/9 will rise slightly and his ERA will drop thanks to dozens of at-bats against opposing pitchers instead of DHs.   If he can get a couple more wins he’s into Cy Young territory.  Boswell goes 15-11 with a 3.20 era.  

Q: Why is MLB having a hard time coming up with home-plate collision rules?

A: Because there’s no easy answer.  The questioner makes it sound like ASA (as in, the Amateur Softball Association) is so much smarter than MLB because they have a give yourself up rule.  Well duh.  They’re amateurs, as in “these people don’t get paid to do this so lets not build in rules that promote massive injuries.”  My amateur baseball leagues were the same way; “Slide or give yourself up; we all have to go to work tomorrow.”   In the Pros, it isn’t that simple.  One game can decide a pennant, which decides millions of dollars for a team and can change the outcome of a franchise and a fan base.   Honestly, I don’t know quite how i’d write the rules, other than to demand that the catcher not block the plate while demanding that the runner not purposely barge into the guy.  What happens the first time the catcher DOES purposely block the plate and a runner avoids him, only to lose the out and the manager goes ballistic when the old-school umpire fails to properly call the play?  Or the reverse; what happens the firs ttime a runner blasts a catcher who’s giving up part of the plate and somehow doesn’t get automatically called out?  I don’t know; I await the rules like everyone else in baseball.  Boswell is reserving judgement til he talks to more guys about the new rules.

Q: What version of Denard Span will we see this year?

A: I sure hope its the September 2013 edition.  If it isn’t, then at least I hope Matt Williams has the intelligence to quickly move him out of the leadoff spot instead of stubbornly allowing him to hit .220 for months on end from the lineup spot that gets the most at-bats.  Boswell opines about Span and it isn’t positive, but he doesn’t have a guess either.

Q: Does an extension for Trout make sense right now?

A: For whom?  For the Angels or for Mike Trout?  Rumors of a 6yr $150M deal out there for Trout; that’s a $25M AAV buying out one pre-arb year and three arbitration years of Trout.  How does that make ANY sense for the Angels to do?   Even assuming that Trout sents some sort of record for his arbitration years (I believe the record is Ryan Howard‘s 1st year $10M award), he’s not going to come close to that amount over the next four years.  He gets at or close to the MLB minimum this year (call it $550k).  Lets assume that Trout is a $30M player; that’d put his three arbitration numbers at roughly $12M, $18M and $24M.  Under this scenario, the Angels get the next four full seasons of Trout for $54.5 million dollars.  Why would the Angels agree to pay him $100m MORE at this point to guarantee two more years?   Honestly, this is a fantastic deal for Trout and if the Angels offer it up, grab it.   Boswell didn’t even answer the Trout/Angels question.

Q: Projected Nats Bench right now?

A: Well, you need a catcher (Jose Lobatan).  You need an outfielder and we have two under contract for more than a MLB min (Scott Hairston and Nate McLouth).  You need a guy who can play both shortstop and second base .. and for me that guy is Danny Espinosa.  After that you kind of look at what you need in terms of flexibilty off the bench for the last stop.  These four guys include two switch hitters (Lobaton and Espinosa), a righty with some pop (Hairston), and a lefty with some pop (McLouth).  Is Tyler Moore that 25th guy thanks to his prodigous power from the right side?   Is the better way to go with another utility guy like Jamie Carroll or Mike Fontenot?  I don’t know.  I think its Moore for now.  Boswell says Moore for sure and then a coinflip between Espinosa and Carroll; i think its the other way around frankly.

Q: Do Tall pitchers release the ball closer to the plate?

A: Yes of course.  One of the reasons a guy like Chris Young could succeed despite having only an 86mph fastball; the ball was a foot closer to the plate by the time he released it.  I pointed this out when looking at Lucas Giolito‘s mechanics; he’s a huge guy and he takes a massive stride, and I’ll bet he releases the ball a couple feet closer to the plate than some of his peers.   Boswell discounts the advantage tall pitchers have.

Q: Is there “really” a competition for 2nd right now?  

A: Not in my eyes.  I think Rendon is entrenched at 2nd for the next 6 years and Espinosa will be trade bait before we know it.  Boswell says doubtful.

Q: When does Giolito arrive and how does he fit in?

A: Not for a couple more years.  He starts in Low-A with an eye towards mid-season promotion to High-A.  Repeat that in 2015 and he ends the season in AA.  So then you’re looking at an early to mid-season call up in 2016 to keep his service clock off.  That’s a normal progression for a high schooler.   That still puts him in the majors before his 22nd birthday.

How does he fit in?  Well, he projects by all accounts as a #1 starter with a huge arm and big upside.  But the year 2016 could be a pretty significant season for this franchise: Zimmermann, Fister and Detwiler all are FAs that season.   So this team will be looking for starters.  The big 1-2 punch will still be here (Strasburg and Gonzalez) and perhaps one of these FAs to be, but we’ll need reinforcements by that point.  Thankfully we have more than a few already knocking on the door and Giolito could be another new guy joining in.  Boswell hasn’t seen him but reminds us all that he’s only 19.

Nationals Arm Race Best Stories for 2013; Happy New Year!

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On the last day of 2013, I thought I’d take a quick peek back at the posts and discussion that shaped the blog this year.  Here’s a highlight reel by month of the most read and commented-upon posts in this space, as well as recaps of major events and personal favorite entries.

January 2013:

February 2013:

March 2013:

April 2013:

May 2013:

June 2013

July 2013

August 2013

September 2013

October 2013

November 2013

December 2013

Happy New Year!  Its been fun.

 

Predicting the 2013 End-of-Season Awards: how’d we do?

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Cabrera keeps the BBWAA in the news for the 2nd year in a row.  Photo AP via sportingnews.com

Cabrera keeps the BBWAA prominently in the news for the 2nd year in a row. Photo AP via sportingnews.com

Predictions versus Results review.  Did we go 8-for-8 in the BBWAA awards?  How about 12-for-12 including the Sporting News awards?  A tough task  (the Sporting News awards are notoriously squirrely).

Here was my 2013 Prediction post from Early October.  For some past history, here’s the 2012 version of this post, and here’s 2010 and 2011 prediction pieces as well in case you forgot who won the 2010 AL MVP (Josh Hamilton in a landslide; oh how far he has fallen).

Lets review my predictions versus the results.

American League:

  • AL MVP: Predicted Miguel Cabrera.  Actual: Cabrera.
  • AL Cy Young: Predicted Matt Scherzer.  Actual: Scherzer.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Predicted Wil Myers.  Actual: Myers.
  • AL Mgr: Predicted Terry Francona.  Actual: Francona.
  • AL GM: Predicted Billy Beane.  Actual: Ben Cherington.
  • AL Comeback Player of the Year: Predicted Scott Kazmir.  ActualMariano Rivera.

National League:

  • NL MVP: Predicted: Andrew McCutchen.  Actual: McCutchen.
  • NL Cy Young: Predicted Clayton Kershaw.  Actual: Kershaw.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Predicted  Jose Fernandez.  Actual: Fernandez.
  • NL Mgr: Predicted Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh.  Actual: Hurdle.
  • NL GM: Predicted Neal Huntington, Pittsburgh.  Actual: Huntington (2nd overall; best NL executive)
  • NL Comeback Player of the Year: Predicted Francisco Liriano.  Actual: Liriano.

Discussion:

  • AL MVP: Predicted Miguel Cabrera.  Actual: Cabrera.  Another year, another set of whiny posts from the ever-obstinate stat crowd about the AL MVP.  Cabrera gets first place on 23/30 ballots and cruises to victory.   I’ll say this: if you want a “best player” award that’s just driven by the WAR standings, then convince the BBWAA to create one.  A batting version of the Cy Young Award.  Oh but first you have to explain why the three WARs (Fangraphs, baseball-reference and Baseball Prospectus) don’t actually agree with each other, or why they vary so much, use different input parameters, change over time, and depend on defensive statistics that basically depend on estimates and admit they cannot measure every aspect of the game.   Until then, you have to deal with the vague definition of “valuable” and explain how someone can be the “most valuable player” on a team that finished last in its division.   In the mean-time, check out the voting; someone voted Trout SEVENTH in this race; i’m sure there’s going to be plenty of whiny posts in the baseball blogosphere about this reporter (yup, there were).
  • AL Cy Young: Predicted Matt Scherzer.  Actual: Scherzer.  Scherzer won overwhelmingly, getting 28 of 30 first place votes.  What’s more amazing is seeing who else got first place votes.  Anibal Sanchez?   Wow.  Who looked at the Detroit rotation and made the determination that Sanchez was the guy who led the line and not one of his teammates?
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Predicted Wil Myers.  Actual: Myers.   Tampa’s Wil Myers won in more or less a landslide, getting 23 of 30 first place votes.  It was a down year in the AL for rookies but Myers continues to show why the Tampa-Kansas City trade will haunt Royals fans for years to come.
  • AL Mgr: Predicted Terry Francona.  Actual: Francona.  I think the right guy won here; if you look at what Cleveland did this year with the squad they had, the accomplishment of Francona becomes even more distinct.  The vote was closer than I thought it would be (he took 16 of 30 1st place votes) over John Ferrell of Boston.  Bob Melvin gets some very deserved votes as well.  I was worried that this award would go to the Red Sox guy after their worst to first season (much like I believe the GM award was seemingly selected).
  • AL GM: Predicted Billy Beane.  ActualBen Cherington.  I completely disagree with this selection, but am somewhat irked with myself for being “talked out” of selecting Cherington by a column I read earlier this year about Beane.  Yes Cherington did an amazing job moving his malcontents and signing the players that enabled the Red Sox to win another World Series.  But honestly; how can you be the executive of the year with the 2nd or 3rd highest payroll in the game??  If Boston makes a $15M/year mistake in free agency … they just get another guy.  If a team like Tampa or Pittsburgh or Oakland makes a $15M/year mistake, it cripples them for years to come.  That’s why I feel a GM from a small market team that makes the playoffs is absolutely more deserving of this award over a major market GM, every time.
  • AL Comeback Player of the Year: Predicted Scott Kazmir.  ActualMariano Rivera.   I have no problems with this award; in fact i’m kind of mad at myself for not thinking about Rivera.  Everything about his career is amazing, and the last year, where he pitched at all-star levels after missing an entire season and being at such an advanced age just cements his legacy even more.

National League

  • NL MVP: Predicted: Andrew McCutchen.  Actual: McCutchen.   This one ended up being pretty easy to predict, an entirely narrative driven vote.  See my post on Carlos Gomez for why I say that. McCutchen got 28 of 30 first place votes, only missing out on the two St. Louis voters supporting Yadier Molina.
  • NL Cy Young: Predicted Clayton Kershaw.  Actual: Kershaw.  First place on 29 of 30 ballots, which i’m sure will touch off faux-anger articles the next day about why he wasn’t unanimous.  Our own Jordan Zimmermann got a slew of 3rd and 4th place votes (but ironically none from the local Washington writers who voted) and finished 7th overall.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Predicted  Jose Fernandez.  Actual: Fernandez.  In a race that looked like it would be too difficult to call earlier in the season, Fernandez ended up dominating (taking 26 of 30 first place votes).  He wins over Yasiel Puig and a slew of excellent candidates.  Ironic how Shelby Miller finishes third but his fellow rookie teammate Michael Wacha was the post-season hero (and may be the more coveted player, since Miller’s name is already in trade rumors).
  • NL Mgr: Predicted Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh.  Actual: Hurdle.  This was perhaps the easiest award to predict after the NL Cy Young; Hurdle took first place on 25 of 30 ballots.
  • NL GM: Predicted Neal Huntington, Pittsburgh.  Actual: Huntington (2nd overall; best NL executive).  Huntington’s slew of moves on the trade and free agency markets over the last couple of years, combined with the team (finally?) showing some dividends from its drafting and farm system had them in the playoffs despite one of the lowest payrolls in the league.  Huntington is an easy choice for best NL executive.
  • NL Comeback Player of the Year: Predicted Francisco Liriano.  Actual: Liriano.  No surprise here: Liriano went from being fantasy waiver wire chaff to one of the best pitchers in the league this year.  How much longer can he keep this level of performance going from here?

I took out my two predicted “Firemen” of the year because, well, I have no idea if or when they’ll be announced.  The Rolaids relief man of the year award may be kaput; the website is down, they apparently havn’t announced it for 2013 despite every other post-season award having already been given out, and I wanted to post this sucker.

So in the end, I went 8/8 in major awards, 10/12 in all awards.  Not bad.  Of course, as one prominent writer pointed out, predicting the 8 main BBWAA awards this year wasn’t the hardest task in the world.   So I won’t crow too much at my own predictive capabilities this year :-)

Repost: Why didn’t Carlos Gomez get more NL MVP support??

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Why didn't Carlos Gomez getting the same attention for MVP that Mike Trout gets?  Photo Denis Poroy/Getty Images via zimbio.com

Why didn’t Carlos Gomez getting the same attention for MVP that Mike Trout gets? Photo Denis Poroy/Getty Images via zimbio.com

[Editor's Note: I posted this initially on October 29th, 2013, and didn't get a SINGLE comment.  Maybe it got lost in the World Series hoopla; maybe all the readers of this blog were taking a post-season Nats break.  I'm reposting this and changing all the cases to past tense in the wake of 11/14/13's MVP voting.  I'd like to get some discussion here; if you are an ardent Mike Trout supporter and use WAR as part of your argument, i'd like to hear your thoughts on this post].

The title of this post says it all.  It is a simple question.

Brewers break-out star Carlos Gomez led the NL in bWAR in 2013.  Gomez played for a non-playoff team.  He augmented his 24-homer/.506 slugging bat with speed on the basepaths (40 SBs) and plus defense in center (he was just named to Bill James Fielding Bible Team as the best defensive Center Fielder in the game and won a Gold Glove).  Yet Gomez lost out on the MVP award, which went to Andrew McCutchen, a player who trailed him in the bWAR standings but who played for a playoff team.

Sounds an awful lot like the Mike Trout/Miguel Cabrera comparison, doesn’t it?

Gomez didn’t just lose out; he wasn’t even named a FINALIST for the NL MVP, meaning he wasn’t even in the top 3 candidates in the NL.  In fact, Gomez came in NINTH!  He wasn’t even close to winning despite leading the league in one version of WAR.

Why did nobody talk about Carlos Gomez for the NL MVP?  In fact, in the litany of post-season award prediction pieces I read, he was never really even mentioned.  You heard about McCutchen, Clayton Kershaw and Paul Goldschmidt as the top 3 NL candidates, then you heard about guys from the other playoff teams (Yadier Molina or Matt Carpenter from St. Louis, Joey Votto from Cincinnati, or Freddie Freeman from Atlanta).  Where’s Gomez on this list?

If you are a critic of the Miguel Cabrera pick and maintain that Mike Trout deserves the MVP in the AL and use “WAR” as a basis for your argument … then are you similarly arguing that Gomez should have won in the NL MVP right now?

I think the entire Trout-Cabrera argument is tired; I’m tired of hearing it and I’m sure people are tired of talking about it.  The critics of those who support Cabrera for MVP like to talk about the “narrative” of the MVP, how the award criteria definition on the ballots seems to imply that the winner “should” come from a playoff team.  But I’m of the opinion that those who blindly live by the WAR stat and support Trout but do NOT similarly demand support of Gomez are falling victim to their own “narrative” as well.  And that narrative is continued obstinance to a cause without looking up to see what else fits their world-view.

Ask yourself; if you think Trout is the AL MVP (this year or last year) … then what’s your argument that Gomez is NOT the NL MVP this year?  Where’s all the narrative-driven arguments about how “you shouldn’t lose the MVP because your teammates were bad” or that “the MVP doesn’t have to come from a playoff team.”  Because if you make those arguments in favor of Trout and not in favor of Gomez, then you’re a “narrative hypocrite” just like someone who says the reverse and supports Cabrera and McCutchen BECAUSE they played on playoff teams.

My 2013 End-of-Season award Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the National League:

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

 

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.

 

Lincecum’s pending Free Agency; what’s he worth?

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What would you pay Lincecum in 2014?  Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

What would you pay Lincecum in 2014? Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

An interesting question was posed in an ESPN chat a while ago that I made a note on to come back to.

Should the Giants offer Tim Lincecum a qualifying offer, or just cut him loose without any compensation ties this coming off season?  And a better question: if you were a GM looking for pitching this coming off-season, what would you offer him?

First some stats.  Lincecum is in the last year of a 2yr/$40.5M deal signed to avoid his last two years of arbitration.  This is on the heels of a 2yr/$23M deal that took out his first two years of arbitration.  He’s already north of $60M in career earnings before hitting his first pure free agent contract.  But he’s at a cross-roads.

Take a look at the progression of his career stat-wise: 2 straight Cy Youngs before even hitting his first year of arbitration (which, if you remember, was a Super-2 year because the Giants apparently cannot read a calendar; this little snafu cost them probably $20M in salary).  He went from an ERA+ of 171 in 2010 to last year’s bottoming out season, where he posted a 68 ERA+, a 5.18 ERA and was pulled from the rotation in favor of Barry Zito (an insult to end all insults) in the playoffs.

Garrett Hooe at FederalBaseball just posted a great analysis as well, including insight into Lincecum’s breakdown of mechanics, his velocity loss and other things.  His analysis is great; no need to replicate it here.

In 2013 he’s regained some of his performance but not enough; he’s still pitching like a 5th/6th starter.  His month-by-month splits give no help: he was decent to good in April, awful in May, decent to good in June, mediocre in July and so far has been lights out in August.  The offensively-challenged Nats just tagged him for 6 runs in 6 innings en route to his 12th loss of the season.

Overall, his velocity is down, he has weird mechanics, and he’s clearly deviating from those weird mechanics as of late.  What GM out there is willing to give him a shot, given those two parameters?  Probably more than a few frankly, given his pedigree, but at what cost?

The answer to the second question (what is his value on the FA market) drives the answer to the first question (whether to offer him a QO).   I went looking for some comparisons from last year’s FA market to try to estimate what his market may be this coming off season and found the following data points of interest:

  • Freddie Garcia pitched to an 80 ERA+ (matching Lincecum’s in 2013) but had a 5.18 ERA in New York.  He’s also older (35 versus 29).  He signed a combo minor/major league deal that pays him $1.3M this year.
  • Dan Haren had an 89 ERA+, as 12-13 record with a 4.33 ERA last year and signed a one-year, $13M deal with the Nats.    But he was a near Cy Young winner just two years prior and was hurt most of 2012 (that was what we kept telling ourselves when we all talked ourselves into this signing anyway).
  • Jorge de la Rosa, coming off a lost season to injury but a great 2011, signed a 1 year $11M deal.
  • Joe Saunders pitched to a 101 ERA+ between two teams, is slightly older and is almost the definition of a MLB average pitcher (career ERA+: exactly 100.  career ERA: 4.20).  He signed a 1yr $6.5M deal with Seattle.
  • Speaking of MLB average guys; Gavin Floyd also owns a career ERA+ of 100, and had exactly that for the White Sox in 2012.  His contract?  1yr, $9.5M.
  • Jason Marquis was awful last year; 8-11 with a 5.22 ERA and a 72 ERA+.  He got a 1year $3M deal to come back to San Diego and regain value.  Fun fact: Marquis is a career 94 ERA+ pitcher, has a career ERA over 4.50, has a CAREER bWAR of 5.5 (that’s about half of what Mike Trout had in bWAR just last season) and yet has more than $50 million in career earnings.  Wow.  I’m in the wrong business.
  • Joe Blanton was pretty awful for two teams in 2012, going 10-15 with a 4.71 ERA, yet somehow earned a 2yr/$15M contract extension from the Angels.  Blanton, by the way, is 2-13 this year.  I’m not sure how exactly Blanton got anything more than a couple million dollars, to say nothing of a 2 year contract.  I question the sanity of the Angels management.

Ok.  So using these examples from last year’s FA market … uh, I have no idea what Lincucum is worth.  I’d say he’s better than Blanton, so that mean’s he’s better than $7.5M/year.   But that was such an awful contract that I don’t see how you can use it as a benchmark. Meanwhile, if Gavin Floyd’s consistency year over year is  worth $9.5M, then how do you value the possible jeckyl and hyde that you’re going to get from Lincecum?

If I was a GM, looking at his body of work and his last two seasons, I probably would end up somewhere between Floyd’s $9.5M and de la Rosa’s $11M on a one-year deal.  As they say, there are no bad one-year deals, and if it goes south its just money.  1year, $10M on a career-saving flier taken by some NL team out there willing to roll the dice and spend some cash.

Probably not the Nationals though, not after the Haren experience and considering what Taylor Jordan has given the team in a 5th starter role this year.  You’d have to think Mike Rizzo heads into the off-season with his 3 big guns under contract, his 4th guy Ross Detwiler on the mend, with Jordan penciled into the 5th starter and with the likes of Nathan Karns, Taylor Hill, and Caleb Clay providing the first line of reinforcements in AAA.

So I predict the Giants will not offer him a qualifying offer, thus cutting ties with one of their most iconic players in the last 25 years.  It will be a sad time in San Francisco head-shops everywhere.

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.

Ask Boswell 5/28/13 Edition

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Apparently shelving Danny Espinosa will solve all the Nats problems. Photo AP via mlb.com

Its the end of May, the Nats are still lingering around .500.  Are the natives getting restless in Washington?  Lets check in on Tom Boswell‘s 5/28/13 chat.

Q: Pretend there is some kind of supplemental draft and only 3 players are available – Machado, Harper and Trout. Would you mind channeling your inner Mel Kiper and give us your “big board” and rank these 3 phenoms?

A: I’d likely go Trout, Harper and Machado.   I think Trout slightly beats out Harper right now in terms of overall talent, though its really really close.  I like Trout’s advantage on the basepaths and in the outfield.  Harper’s 80 power is hard to find though.  Meanwhile Machado’s supposed defensive prowness isn’t even being exploited by the O’s, but given that he plays a premium position to either Trout or Harper he may end up being in the mix for #1 overall too.   Boswell puts them in the same order.

Q: Can Ryan Zimmerman play 2B? What about moving him over there and making room for Rendon at third? Ryan played SS in college and in his major league debut, and his quick reflexes seem to give him the range necessary to play the position. And the best part: the throws are a lot shorter from 2B.

A: Michael Morse played shortstop in high school, why wouldn’t we want him to play middle infield now?   (sorry, taking a ridiculous similar stance with a player’s athletic abilities NOW versus when he was 18 or 21).  I perceive Zimmerman to be “quick” but at the same time “slow.”  I don’t think he’s make it as a middle infielder any more.  Boswell says almost the same thing; he’s “quick but not fast.”  Wow, Boswell and I are 2-for-2 like minded so far!

Q: Is Espinosa ever going to find his swing? I know you were tooting his horn a while back, do you still feel the same about him?

A: Danny Espinosa needs to stop hiding significant injuries from his management.  You can’t blame him though; he knows he’s likely out of a job if he sits and someone else succeeds in his place while he heals.  But, this is now two major injures he’s basically hidden and tried to play through.  No judgement can be made about him any more before he gets completely healthy.  I believe the team should D/L him, get both his injuries fixed and re-assess when he’s healthy.  He’s certainly not doing the team any favors by hitting .150 with loose bone fragments in his wrist.  Of course, his current BABIP is .202;  That’s so low as to be amazing, so even with his struggles he should be set to improve.  Wow, Me and Bos are 3-for-3; he talks a bit about Espinosa plus tools, his issues post first 1,000 at-bats, and then mirrors my statement of wanting him shutdown to heal for the rest of 2013.

Q: Shouldn’t Harper just be placed on the DL until he heals up enough that he won’t be missing a few games every week? The way they’re doing it, the team is short a player and a bat for two or three days on a regular basis, or has Harper playing at 70 percent

A: I agree.  Harper‘s splits since running into the wall at the end of April are pretty distinct.  April: 1.150 OPS.  May: .687 OPS.  And that was before Los Angeles.  An now he’s got this knee issue.   I think he needs a D/L trip, rest, sit in the hot tub for two weeks and come back refreshed.  Between him and Espinosa and Detwiler the team has been playing 22 against 25 for days now.  Boswell agrees; he thinks Harper should have been given the 7-day D/L stint when he hit the wall.

Q: Has anyone suggested Espinosa get his vision tested? He has absolutely no pitch recognition, he looks like the world’s [biggest] guess hitter.

A: I don’t think its his vision.  I think he’s just an awful left-handed hitter, and unfortunately he takes most of his switch-hitting swings from the left side.  He’s just lost at the plate.  I went through a game like this once; the umpire’s zone was so unpredictable that I was just up at the plate swinging at whatever came.  It was like BP when you know you’re only getting 10 swings and the pitcher sucks; swing at everything.  Boswell says Espinosa has the worst plate discipline on the team, and talks about how Espinsoa is swinging before the ball even comes to the plate.  Sounds familiar.

Q: With a lack luster offense, poor defense, a bullpen you can’t seem to count on and only two starters pitching well, why do you believe the Nats will turn it around?

A: Because of their upcoming schedule of course!  Here’s my post on the topic on April 24th.  The gist of it is this; by the time May 31st rolls around, the Nats will have played 27 of their 55 games against 2012 playoff contenders.  Look at their season so far; they’ve played the Reds, the Braves, the Cardinals, the Reds again, 4 at Atlanta, the Tigers, at the Giants and now 4 straight against Baltimore.   June and July are significantly easier.  Look at the teams they play for the next 8 weeks; yes Cleveland and Arizona are improved, but a lot of the games on their slate are easy, winnable games.  You can get confident quickly when you have a bunch of winnable games.

To this question specifically, the offense has absolutely been affected by injuries.  People will get healthier.  The Defense was great last year; what changed?  If anything we’ve got a better defensive team now than in 2012 (replaced Morse with Span, replaced Flores with Suzuki).  The bullpen is fixable; Storen has just been unlucky, not bad.  Only 2 starters doing well?  I’d say at least 3 are doing well (Strasburg, Detwiler and of course Zimmermann, one is inconsistent but at the high end when he’s on (Gonzalez) and one has been a pretty severe disappointment in Haren.  My hope is that Haren slowly gets back to a 100 ERA+ level pitcher and then is left off the playoff roster.  Boswell eventually talks about the schedule, but goes off on a huge Pecota Rest-of-Season projection tangent.

Q: Big day (maybe) for the Nationals future if Karns can establish himself as a future 3-4-5 starter. Everything I hear and read about him says he has plus stuff and makeup, and an especially good fastball. What are you looking for tonight vs. the Os and how many starts can we expect Karns to make?

A: I’m looking for Nathan Karns to make it through the lineup tonight against Baltimore giving up just a minimum of damage frankly.  I don’t think Karns has a servicable 3rd pitch, which means he can get by on heat and his great slider for a while … but eventually Baltimore’s hitters are too good to get fooled more than twice.  I’ll be ecstatic with a line like this: 6 ip, 2 runs, 5 hits, 2 walks, 6 k’s.   I think he makes this start and perhaps 1 more before going back down when Detwiler returns.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question.  Editor Update: Karns had flashes of good and bad in last night’s game, going 4 1/3 and giving up 3 runs on 5 hits and two homers.  Didn’t agree with Johnson’s yanking him and taking away his Win though.

Q: Are the Nats and Harper going the way of Shanahan and RGIII with this knee business OR will we see common sense prevail so we can see our best player Harper rest up and make a difference when it really counts? Didn’t Harper come to bat with the score already 5-1 (6-1 ?) , in the bottom 8th when the Nats already had a commanding lead?

A: Hardly the same situation.  A brused knee from a foul ball versus a blown ACL?  Come on.  Must be someone begging the question.  Boswell does have some criticism for the Harper handling considering the kid gloves that Strasburg has been handled with his whole career.

Q: Why are people praising Espinosa for being “tough” and playing through his broken wrist? He was HURTING the team, it’s time to sit down at that point!

A: Because we live in a macho football culture, and playing through pain is a football mentality.  Boswell punts.

Q: The Nationals bats have not lived up to expectations. What move or moves could the Nationals make to get these bats going? Maybe a new hitting coach, an additional hitting coach, minor league players or some through a trade.

A: Why do people think hitting coaches make a difference?  Is Rick Eckstein part of the problem here?

Actually, looking at the Nats starting eight hitters; four of them have OPS+ figures > 100 (meaning they’re better than MLB average).   Suzuki is a bit below but he’s the catcher.  Span has slowly started to be come a liability at the top; he’s only got a .332 OBP with zero power right now.  Espinosa of course is the big black hole.  So while we’re knowingly in a rut offensively … the individual pieces aren’t really that bad.  There’s some bats in the minors but not much.  We really have very little prospect depth that’s tradeable for a bat mid-season.  This is your team ladies and gentlemen; get used to it.  Boswell also says we have to ride it out, but points out that the team hasn’t been healthy and has replaced Morse’s ABs with almost zero production from our bench.

Q: Any early predictions as to who will be managing the Nats next season? Davey’s also dropped a couple of hints that his retirement isn’t entirely his idea. Assuming they don’t win the World Series and he gets to ride off into the sunset, any chance that he comes back next year?

A: I’m continually amazed at the amount of curiosity about the manager.  Maybe Davey Johnson is back, maybe he isn’t.  Maybe the team hires a name guy, maybe they hire from within.  Lets focus on 2013 first.  Boswell mentions Don Mattingly, as we’ve heard in the national media.