World Series Predictions

Every October, I write about how unpredictable the playoffs are and then make playoff predictions.  As a guy with a baseball blog, I feel like I’m shirking some duty if I don’t tell everyone who will listen who I think will win a particular playoff series.

I haven’t read a prediction piece yet that said the Royals would sweep eight games against the A’s, Angels, and Orioles.  I don’t think anyone guessed that Matt Adams would homer against Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner or that Jake Peavy would give up two total runs in his first two playoff starts.  I’m likely to look foolish no matter what I predict, so I might as well make some predictions that will make me look prescient if they somehow come true.  Here we go:

1. Nori Aoki will hit a homer in this series.  Aoki hit one home run in 549 regular-season plate appearances.  Still, Ned Yost starts him in right field every night, squeezing in a few at-bats before replacing him with Jarrod Dyson to form the ultimate outfield.  Aoki’s a career .287 hitter with some patience, and he actually reached double digits in homers his rookie year in Milwaukee, but he doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a World Series right fielder.  He’ll surprise us this week.

2. The three-headed monster will give up a homer.  Neither Kelvin Herrera nor Wade Davis gave up a single home run in 2014.  Greg Holland gave up just three.  The even-year Giants will find a way to break through against this trio by the end of the series.

3. Gregor Blanco will put his stamp on one game this series.  We’ve come to expect big things from Posey, Sandoval, and Pence.  Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam in the Wild Card game against Pittsburgh.  Brandon Belt hit the 18th-inning homer that defined the Division Series.  Travis Ishikawa hit the series-ending homer that slayed the cardinals.  Joe Panik has hit .305 with a dinger in the playoffs so far.  Blanco may be the last anonymous starter the Giants have.

4. Someone other than Bumgarner and Shields will pitch the best game of the series.  Madison Bumgarner is clearly the best pitcher in this series, and he’s been hot over the past few months.  James Shields occasionally lives up to the convenient “Big Game” moniker.  Peavy, Hudson, and Vogelsong are all on the wrong side of 30 and far removed from their primes, but the Giants tend to find magic in the postseason.  Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas strike fear in no one, but they’ve been moret han adequate in the playoffs so far.  Yordano Ventura will cross 200 innings for this season in Game Two, a big total for a 23-year-old.  One of these guys will pitch a gem in this series.

5. Jarrod Dyson or Terrance Gore will get caught stealing.  Speed and defense are Kansas City’s game.  Both of these guys should expect multiple pinch running assignments this week.  One of them will blow his big chance.

6. The Giants will win in five games.  I don’t want to pick a winner.  I’m not more of an expert in this than anyone.  .  Since the ALCS ended, I’ve been telling people I’m sick of picking against the Royals, I’m ready to admit they’re really good, and they’re going to win the World Series.  During the empty, baseball-less, five-day void, I’ve been convinced otherwise.  The Giants hit a little better.  Their starting rotation is deeper.  Their bullpen is not much weaker than the Royals’ more celebrated crew.  They’re almost certainly better managed.   It’s an overblown narrative, but Kansas City has been sitting around too long thinking about whether they’re actually as good as they’ve been this month.  The Royals’ run is over.

I hope I’m wrong.

Posted in Giants, Royals | Leave a comment

2014 Stan Musial Awards

Below are my ballots for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s Stan Musial Award, which honors the best player in each league. The BBA does not limit this award to position players, but I do, as I’ve already filled out ballots honoring the league’s best pitchers. Clayton Kershaw certainly has an argument as the National League’s best player (I’d probably put him second), but he’ll be awarded for his excellence by both the BBWAA’s Cy Young voters and the BBA’s Walter Johnson voters. Let’s honor some hitters and fielders.

NL Stan Musial Award
1. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers

I’ll let Dave Cameron tell you how Jonathan Lucroy adds wins beyond his WAR by framing pitches well. The truth is, Lucroy doesn’t necessarily need that two-win boost to be recognized as the best player in the National League this year. His 6.3 fWAR were within half a win of Andrew McCutchen’s league-leading total, and he did so as a catcher, a position so demanding that playing the 153 games he played is almost superhuman. He made an excellent pitching staff out of Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, and Mike Fiers, suggesting that there’s some merit to those pitch-framing numbers. No one person should get the credit for the Brewers surpassing expectations, at least for the season’s first five months, but I’m willing to give the lion’s share of the credit to the guy calling the pitches while batting .300, drawing walks, and bopping 13 homers.

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

Cutch’s OBP (.410) and slugging percentage (.542) were even better than in his MVP campaign last year. He led the league in fWAR despite ugly fielding numbers and would be a perfectly valid MVP, but narrative is not on his side. Even though the Pirates faded during his brief absence and surged to a playoff spot upon his return, it seems like BBWAA voters view him as a defending MVP having a ho-hum season, rather than the breakout superstar he was in 2013.

3. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

His 37 homers probably would have been 40 had he not been hit in the face with a pitch in mid-September. That might have been enough to win his first MVP. Maybe a Musial too.

4. Buster Posey, Giants

Only Stanton and McCutchen had more Win Probability Added than Posey’s 4.81. It’s hard to make a case that he’s more deserving than Lucroy, but he should get a similar catcher bonus.

5. Anthony Rendon, Nationals

Rendon’s 6.6 fWAR put him in a virtual tie at the top. It seems he could have had the breakout-superstar-on-a-playoff-team narrative from which McCutchen benefitted last year, but he still seems to lurk in the shadows in DC, providing value with talent in every facet of the game, rather than one overwhelming skill.

6. Josh Harrison, Pirates

Teammate Russell Martin may be equally deserving, but this is a nod to Harrison’s flexibility. When Pedro Alvarez went down, Harrison moved from the outfield to third base, opening up right field for megaprospect Gregory Polanco, who played well before hitting his first skid. Harrison, meanwhile, batted .315, stole 18 bases, and played great defense wherever he was stationed.

7. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
8. Carlos Gomez, Brewers
9. Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals
10. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

AL Stan Musial Award
1. Mike Trout, Angels

I can’t imagine writing this about anyone else, but in the same year Trout will finally win his first MVP award, we finally saw some limits to his talent. Sure, he hit a career-high 36 home runs and drove in a career-high 115 runs, but most of the latter and some of the former can be chalked up to his batting second this season after leading off for most of the last two. He walked far less than last year (11.8% of PAs vs. 15.4%), his OBP plummeting to a career-low .377 after reaching .432 in 2013. He also struck out 45 more times than in either of his first two seasons.

He stole 16 bases in 18 attempts- an impressive ratio, but a modest total compared to the 82 he swiped over his first two full seasons. With added bulk, he seems to have dropped from an elite baserunner to a merely good one (fangraphs tells us his baserunning runs above average have dropped from 12 to 8.1 to 4.8).

The real change in Trout has come on the defensive end. After putting up stunning defensive numbers (13 fielding runs above average), mostly in center field, as a rookie, he came back to earth as a sophomore left fielder (3.3 runs). In 2014, he moved back to center and struggled mightily, compiling 8.4 runs belowaverage. Fielding numbers should not be trusted in small samples, of course, and it’s unlikely that Trout was as bad as his UZR says he was, but the precipitous drop suggests that his 2012 numbers likely overstated his greatness. His four home-run-saving catches that year happened, and he should get credit for that, but how many of those 12 runs saved were based on opportunities that other fielders just don’t get?

If Trout’s true talent is average center field defense, slightly above average baserunning, and a great bat, he’s still an immensely valuable player and might win multiple MVPs over the rest of his career (he’s already won multiple Stan Musial Awards). But that’s the skillset of a 7-to-9-win player, not that of a once-in-a-lifetime 10+-win guy. We shouldn’t be disappointed that Trout is starting to look more like Al Kaline or Carl Yastrzemski than Willie Mays, but that’s how high young Trout pushed the bar.

Hey, at least he’s still far better than any other player in baseball.

2. Michael Brantley, Indians

Brantley very quietly had an MVP-type season, batting .327/.385/.506 with 20 homers and 24 steals.

3. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
4. Josh Donaldson, A’s
5. Alex Gordon, Royals

Gordon and Donaldson have strangely similar profiles. The former third baseman and the current third baseman both played for surprisingly good teams (at least until Oakland’s late-season collapse). They both failed to impress with their newspaper stats (Gordon hit .266 with 19 homers and 74 RBI; Donaldson .255/29/74). But they both walked in more than 10 percent of their plate appearances and played stellar defense (17.9 and 16.7 FRAA, respectively). If we take fangraphs WAR at face value, Gordon was the third-best player in the AL and Donaldson was fourth. There could be some noise in the defensive numbers that buoy their cases, which is why I gave Jose Bautista and his sometimes-lethal defense a slight boost, but these are two excellent all-around players who made decent teams a little better.

6. Jose Abreu, White Sox
7. Adrian Beltre, Rangers

A rookie who broke into the American League with perhaps its best bat and the second-greatest active player in the league, putting up his standard excellent season.

8. Kyle Seager, Mariners

Robinson Cano may get the MVP votes, but Seager is probably the team’s best player. 25 homers and great third-base defense helped as much as anyone in making the Mariners relevant for the first time in over a decade.

9. Victor Martinez, Tigers

Great bat, no glove, horrible baserunning. He might finish second in the MVP voting. He might not be one of the 25 best players in the AL. I’ll take the middle ground.

10. Jose Altuve, Astros

He can’t walk and the numbers don’t like his defense, but he hit .341 and stole 56 bases. One of the reasons the Astros are only a few years from contending.

Posted in Angels, Brewers, Postseason Awards | 1 Comment

2014 Walter Johnson Awards

The awards for best pitcher, at least in the American League, are worth far more ink than I’m about to spill on them. Alas…

NL Walter Johnson Award
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

You were expecting Dan Haren? Kershaw hasn’t quite passed Sandy Koufax as the greatest pitcher in Dodgers history yet, largely because pitchers don’t throw 330 innings a season anymore, but he will soon, and I’ll write thousands of words about it when it happens.

2. Johnny Cueto, Reds
3. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals

Early in the season, when Kershaw was still building up his case after missing a month with injury, these division rivals were vying for the frontrunnership for this award. Cueto was untouchable in April and May, while Wainwright was his steady, brilliant self all season. Waino finished with the better FIP (2.88 to 3.30), but Cueto led in ERA (2.25 to 2.38) and led the league in innings (243 2/3 by a wide margin.

4. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
5. Cole Hamels, Phillies

Did you know Hamels had a 2.46 ERA this season? I didn’t either. Moving on…

AL Walter Johnson Award
1. Corey Kluber, Indians
2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners

This one went down to the wire with brilliant September performances, particularly from Kluber. My preferred methodology for picking this award is to rank pitchers by this formula:

fWAR + LOB-wins/2 + BIP-wins/4

Here’s the NL Leaderboard:
Kluber 7.4
Hernandez 6.3
Lester 5.95
Scherzer 5.7
Sale 5.65
Price 5.33
Hughes 5.2

It was closer than that.

3. Chris Sale, White Sox
4. Jon Lester, Red Sox/A’s
5. Phil Hughes, Twins

Sale gets a bump for sheer dominance (2.17 ERA) despite a relative dearth of innings (174). Hughes gets a bump for his 11.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which I believe is the best of all time. Had teams not BABiPed his head off (.324), he might have contended for this award.

Posted in Athletics, Cardinals, Dodgers, Indians, Mariners, Nationals, Phillies, Postseason Awards, Red Sox, Reds, Twins, White Sox | Leave a comment

2014 Goose Gossage Awards

I am still as honored to be allowed to vote in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s end-of-season awards as I am frustrated and embarrassed to have no time to write. Below are my ballots for each league’s best reliever, with precious little explanation.

NL Goose Gossage Award
1. Aroldis Chapman, Reds
2. Craig Kimbrel, Braves

It had to be one of these guys. One might cite fatigue, as I don’t even remember the last time I voted for a non-Kimbrel reliever to win this award, but I think Chapman was actually better. Almost two of every three outs he recorded this year were strikeouts. He gave up 2 earned runs per nine innings, but almost never on homers (he gave up 1, to Kimbrel’s 2). Kimbrel had the better ERA- 1.61 to 2.00, but Chapman’s 0.83 FIP is too shiny for me to look away.

3. Tony Watston, Pirates

Only two NL relievers threw as many as 80 innings this year. Watson was third with 77 1/3, and racked up 81 strikeouts on the way to a 1.63 ERA.

AL Goose Gossage Award
1. Wade Davis, Royals
2. Dellin Betances, Yankees

Here’s another one that could have gone two ways. Betances was ridiculously good and pitched 90 innings, which would have put him over the top if not for Davis’s 1.00 ERA and 1.19 FIP. In 72 innings, Davis never gave up a homer. He gave up eight runs. He struck out 86 more batters than he walked. Betances struck out a batter and a half per inning himself and pitched a ton for a modern reliever, but he’s sunk on this ballot by the 4 of his 1,365 pitches that batters hit over the fence. I have a feeling he’s got a Gossage or two in his future.

3. Jake McGee, Rays
I’d love to have named Davis, Greg Holland, and Kelvin Herrera in all three spots, as they were 2nd, 7th, and 8th in the AL in reliever Win Probability Added, but Betances and McGee were too good to ignore.

Posted in Braves, Pirates, Postseason Awards, Rays, Reds, Royals, Yankees | Leave a comment

LCS Preview 2014

You don’t want to read what I have to say about the ALCS, so I’ll do you a favor and link you to Joe Posnanski instead.

Ok, I’ll take Baltimore in 5. Fangraphs prefers KC, presumably because they’ve got better starting and relief pitching, but we’ve yet to see Baltimore’s rotation falter, and Buck Showalter has demonstrated an aptitude for using the Orioles’ bullpen to his advantage. KC’s got a lot of fly ball pitchers who thrive at Kaufman (or in Anaheim), but Camden Yards could be a rude awakening.

The NLCS is a little harder to project, as the Cards seemed to survive the first round with more devil magic, while the Giants got surprising performances from elderly pitchers and abused the overmatched Matt Williams in the late innings. All four LDS were won by the team with the better bullpen, and I’d say all but KC-LA were won by the better manager, so I’ll take Bruce Bochy and Casilla/Romo/Lopez over Mike Matheny and Rosenthal/Neshek/Gonzales. Giants in 6.

I’m predicting an Orangetober to remember.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

2014 Connie Mack Award

One of my favorite things about being a Baseball Bloggers Alliance member is voting for awards, including those for the best player, pitcher, and rookie in each league. We’re also asked to vote for the best manager.

As I’ve said before in this space, I don’t consider myself qualified to assess managers’ skill or success. I have opinions about lineup optimization and bullpen use, and I remember when managers say asinine things like “I used him in the seventh because he’s my seventh-inning guy”, but I don’t know who best keeps his players motivated or who survives with the biggest egos and the delmonyoungiest Delmon Youngs.

So to vote for this award, I’ll do what I’ve done in recent years. At the beginning of the season, I ranked every team by my perception of its likelihood to win the World Series. With the regular season over, I’ve ranked all the teams by won-loss record, using run differential as a tiebreaker, and will now rank every team’s manager by the number of spots above or below my original prediction they finished.

This is an imperfect, by which I mean probably illogical, exercise. It will reward teams whose talent I didn’t believe in before the season, holding a bias for whatever reason, and punish those I thought were good (John Farrell comes out looking like Ned Yost trying to manage an elementary school chess team against a team of Russian computers). My hope is that whatever biases exist in my “analysis” cancel some of the biases other voters carry into this exercise. Let’s give it a try:

NL Connie Mack Award

1) Terry Collins, Mets

It’s a clean sweep for the Mets so far, as Jacob deGrom took my Willie Mays Award for the best rookie. I thought the Mets were the 26th-most likely team to win the World Series this year. They won’t do that, but 79 wins and a positive run differential placed them 16th. Collins gets those 10 points.

2) Bruce Bochy, Giants

Bochy would be a very reasonable choice if I picked more subjectively. He seems to use his bullpen well and has guided a good Giants team (2010) and two apparently mediocre ones (2012 and this year) to eight straight postseason series victories.

3) Mike Redmond, Marlins

I very nearly wrote “whoever manages the Marlins” and left it there. I thought Florida would be awful. Even after they lost one of the best pitchers in the league early in the season and one of the best hitters in the league late in the season, the Marlins finished a respectable 77-85, better than 11 teams.

AL Connie Mack Award

1) Lloyd McClendon, Mariners

I guess I didn’t think much of the Mariners. I’m still impressed that they won 87 games and contended into the last week of the season, even if their collapse was ugly. McClendon rode two pitchers, two hitters, and a solid bullpen to the precipice of the playoffs. I don’t know if he should get the credit, but it says here he gets it.

2) Mike Scioscia, Angels

I’ve never been a Scioscia fan, as he always had a rather uncomfortable small-ball bent, but I’ll admit that I’m impressed with his work this year. I can’t think of another team that bats its best hitter second in the lineup, a perfect strategy according to The Book, and I’m impressed that he milked 98 wins out of a pitching staff headed by a guy (Jered Weaver) with a 4.19 FIP and a breakout ace (Garrett Richards) who never pitched after hurting his knee on August 20.

3) Buck Showalter, Orioles

All hail Buck. The Orioles’ success in 2012 felt like such a fluke that I didn’t know where to assign credit, but they won more games than they lost again in 2013 and somehow ran away with the AL East in 2014, sweeping the Tigers on their way to the ALCS and finding themselves favored to win the World Series (which, if last week is any indication, is not a good thing). It’s becoming clearer and clearer that Showalter is among the stars of this team.

Posted in Angels, Giants, Mariners, Marlins, Mets, Orioles, Postseason Awards | Leave a comment

2014 Willie Mays Awards

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance has asked members to post their picks for the Wilie Mays (best rookie) and Connie Mack (best manager) by tomorrow. I haven’t had time to write anything until now, when I’ve been sitting on a bridge for at least 15 minutes waiting for the construction crew to clear the northbound lane.

Having discussed rookies in a post a few weeks before the regular season ended you don’t need a link; it’s three posts down), I’ll get them out of the way first.

NL Willie Mays Award
1) Jacob deGrom, Mets
2) Billy Hamilton, Reds

I expressed a preference for Sliding Billy in September, but deGrom nudged ahead late, offering similar value in far less playing time.

3) Ken Giles, Phillies

Giles was probably “better” than Hamilton, but I’ll take 611 PA over 46 IP.

AL Willie Mays Award

1) Jose Abreu, White Sox

Easy call. Probably the best hitter in baseball this year.

2) Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
3) Dellin Betances, Yankees

Betances was even better than Giles, and perhaps the best reliever in the AL.

Posted in Mets, Phillies, Postseason Awards, Rays, Reds, White Sox, Yankees | Leave a comment