2014 Second-Half Reset

The American League definitively and thoroughly defeated the National League in the All-Star Game, despite maximum effort from Mike Matheny, Adam Wainwright, and the senior circuit.  That means it’s time for an obligatory recap of the first half (read: 56-60%) of the baseball season and a look forward at the stretch run. Let’s use Fangraphs’ projected standings as a starting point, since they reflect both what we’ve seen before (current records) and what we might expect based on objective assessments (ZIPS projections) of the true talent of each team’s available players.

AL East
Orioles 86-76
Blue Jays 83-79
Yankees 79-83
Rays 78-84
Red Sox 78-84

What a dumpster fire this division turned out to be. The Orioles have a three-game lead despite a National League-quality pitching staff at best, and underperformance from Chris Davis and Manny Machado. Fangraphs sees them as a .493 team going forward, likely due to regression from Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce, but that should be enough to win a division in which the two best teams (per ZIPS) are each 9.5 games out of first.

The Blue Jays have the talent to win the division, and might become favorites with a David Price or Cole Hamels in the rotation, but at four games out, they’ll need to recapture some of that May magic to pass the other birds. ZIPS sees the Yankees as a .477 team going forward, and it’s hard to see them even being that good unless Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda come back healthy and soon. This team should be a seller at the deadline and a 90-loss team, but the Yankees don’t operate that way, so the range of potential outcomes is probably bigger for them- say, 68 to 90 wins- than it is for most teams.

ZIPS has been slow to admit that the Red Sox really can’t hit, assuming until their most recent nosedive that they had the talent to come back and win the division. Now that the youth movement has begun (expect a few more moves in that direction), the Sox project to win 52% of their games for the rest of the year, good enough for, well, last place. The Rays project as the best team in the division for the rest of the season, but that’s (1) not enough to make them a playoff team and (2) not realistic with the impending departure of David Price. We could be in for a three-team scrum at the bottom of the AL East standings between the three teams that usually contend for the title.

AL Central
Tigers 93-69
Indians 83-79
Royals 82-80
Twins 75-87
White Sox 75-87

Ladies and gentleman, the other AL East.  Except there’s a good team this time. The Tigers have the arms and bats to win the title this year, and are rounded enough that they’re unlikely to make any significant moves at the deadline.  The biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s, aside from Ian Kinsler giving them a little defense, is that Justin Verlander looks like a fourth starter/postseason bullpen piece, while Rick Porcello seems ready to take his place near the front of the rotation.

Kansas City as been a great story, and they’re Wild Card contenders, but don’t expect them to make a run at the division. Ditto Cleveland, who somehow projects as a .525 team for the rest of the season. Minnesota and Chicago should be selling off useful parts with eyes on the future.

AL West
A’s 97-65
Angels 94-68
Mariners 85-77
Astros 70-92
Rangers 69-93

Now here’s an interesting division. The best team in the league, the team with the best player, the most intriguing team, the worst team, and the most injury-ravaged team. The Angels chasing the A’s could make for the best drama in the AL this fall, as Oakland’s first-round playoff bye has seemed preordained most of the season. If the Trouts can steal the division, Oakland may have to face Felix Hernandez (or David Price, for some team) in a winner-take-all-game, then take out the Tigers and Angels to reach the World Series. There’s lots of incentive for the A’s to play well down the stretch.

Seattle making the playoffs could be the best feel-good story of 2014. ZIPS has them as a better-than-.500 (.505) team going forward, with Hisashi Iwakuma stepping up behind King Felix in the rotation and Kyle Seager joining Robinson Cano as a force in the middle of the lineup. They still don’t hit enough, but given all the wins they’ve banked, they could be a real contender with one or two more pieces.

The Astros are showing some of the promise we expected to see in 2015 or 2016, with Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, and Jon Singleton emerging and Jose Altuve and Jason Castro evolving into the veteran leader roles. The Rangers, on the other hand, are Darvish and Beltre and pay for effective Tommy John surgeries. If any team is going to lose 100 this year, it might just be the Rangers.

NL East
Nationals 91-71
Braves 87-75
Mets 76-86
Marlins 75-87
Phillies 72-90

On the surface, it would appear that all three NL races should go down to the wire in thrilling fashion, but ZIPS sees one team as well ahead of the pack in each division, most notably the Nationals, whose .577 ROS projection is the best in either league. Washington’s pitchers have more of a track record than Atlanta’s, and a healthy Bryce Harper could be a difference-maker for Washington. I see this one as closer than four games, with both teams likely jockeying for position into the final days.

After the post-Fernandez Marlins faded, this division settled into a more predictable order, with two contenders and three teams that should be looking to next season. Will this be the year when Ruben Amaro finally realizes the Phillies are going nowhere and puts Hamels and maybe Cliff Lee on the block? Time will tell.

NL Central
Cardinals 86-76
Brewers 85-77
Reds 84-78
Pirates 84-78
Cubs 70-92

Here’s the best race we’ve got in 2014, and it involves every team except the one that had the NL’s best rotation until the recent Samardzija/Hammel trade. St. Louis sits one game behind Milwaukee and projects to win at a .520 clip going forward- far less than the pace they’d expect with a healthy Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia in the rotation. That opening may let the Brewers stay on top despite true talent well under .500 (.479), or it could open doors for the Reds or Pirates, both of whom played in last year’s Wild Card game and returned similar rosters in ’14.

I see the Cardinals overtaking the Brewers soon and never looking back, likely with a new reclamation project for Dave Duncan in the rotation, but all four teams are certainly contenders, both for the division and for the Wild Card spots.

NL West
Dodgers 90-72
Giants 88-74
Padres 73-89
Rockies 72-90
Diamondbacks 71-91

ZIPS tends to be conservative, which helps explain the modest projection for the loaded Dodgers, but doesn’t explain why their ROS expectation (.554) is less than that of the Nats and A’s. It’s hard to imagine a Kershaw/Greinke/Ryu/Beckett rotation and a Puig/Ramirez/Gonzalez/Kemp lineup not running away with the West.  Then again, they’ve lost 44% of their games to-date and were stuck in second place into July.  Such is baseball.

The Giants hit a ton of homers, and Madison Bumgarner is an emerging ace, with Tim Lincecum still showing signs of life. As ZIPS suggests, this may make San Francisco the favorites to win the first Wild Card. There’s not much else to look at in this division, unless you think MVP frontrunner Troy Tulowitzki will get traded, which could render much of the above data and projection moot.

It’s hard to argue with objective projections, but they don’t know much about players’ health, trade possibilities, or the way teams tend to play in September when there’s more variance in motivation to win, so I’ll take a stab at my own projections.  These teams will finish .500 or better:

Orioles 88-74
Blue Jays 85-77

Tigers 95-67
Royals 83-79
Indians 81-81

A’s 94-68
Angels 90-72
Mariners 83-79

Nationals 93-69
Braves 92-70

Cardinals 88-74
Pirates 86-76
Brewers 84-78
Reds 84-78

Dodgers 96-66
Giants 87-75

Wild Card Games
Angels over Brewers
Giants over Braves

Division Series
A’s over Orioles
Tigers over Angels
Nationals over Cardinals
Dodgers over Giants

Championship Series
Tigers over A’s
Dodgers over Nationals

World Series
Dodgers over Tigers

The playoffs are a coin-toss, of course, so this prediction is more “the Dodgers and Tigers have ridiculous pitching staffs” than “the Dodgers and Tigers will beat the Nationals and A’s in October”.  Either way, whoever emerges from the sure-to-be-fascinating NL division/Wild Card scrum, the playoffs are likely to be light on usual suspects, with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers all thinking about 2015.  None of the four teams I pick to make the LCS has won a title in the last 23 years, and only the Tigers have even played in the World Series in that time. 

Unless the Giants find their way again or the Cardinals blow by everyone in September or October, we’re getting some fresh blood this fall.  Let’s enjoy it.

Posted in Blue Jays, Orioles, Braves, Predictions, Nationals, Tigers, Angels, Athletics, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers | Leave a comment

Are the Brewers For Real?

Sometimes I’m wrong.

In my season preview, I ranked the Brewers 22nd among all teams in terms of likelihood to win the 2014 World Series. The point I came to regret quickly was this: “ZIPS actually has the Brewers finishing above .500, but I think some of their individual projections are a little optimistic.”

Ok, and maybe this on too: “There’s not much to love on the mound, with Yovani Gallardo and Matt Garza headlining the staff.”

Let’s start at the end. Gallardo (3.34 ERA, 4.09 FIP) and Garza (4.02 ERA, 3.69 FIP) have pitched about as well as I expected them to. But this staff isn’t necessarily “headlined” by those two. Like so many in my field hobby, I’ve done a great job of ignoring Kyle Lohse for well over a decade now.

Lohse started his career as one of many uninspiring, pitch-to-contact Twins, winning 27 games between 2002 and 2003 despite striking out fewer than six batters per nine and giving up 54 homers in 381 innings. He bounced from team to team in ’06 and ’07, and was fortunate to land on the Cardinals in ’08, where he received the typical Dave Duncan bump, going 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA despite striking out hitters at an even lower rate (5.36/9 IP) than in the past. As a 33-year-old in 2012, Lohse went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA, bringing his K/9 rate back over 6, while suppressing walks (1.62/9) and homers (0.81/9) at near career-best rates. Still, when the Brewers signed him before the 2013 season, I had no expectations for him, and after a bland 2013 (11-10, 3.35 ERA, 4.08 FIP), there was little reason to believe he’d be the ace of a contending staff at age 35 in 2014.

But here we are. Lohse is striking out more batters (6.31/9) than ever, and continuing to walk no one (1.68/9). That’s led to a 9-2 record and a 3.20 ERA. With Wily Peralta (3.02 ERA, 3.93 FIP) also pitching well, the Brewers are getting quality innings from four fifths of their rotation. And while Marco Estrada has a home run problem (24 allowed in just under 90 innings), he’s also leading the team with 81 strikeouts and has posted a 6-4 record to-date.

What I really missed was that the Brewers are actually loaded with everyday players who are legitimate stars. Jonathan Lucroy is an MVP candidate- probably the leading candidate among voters who believe an MVP should play for a playoff contender. Not only is he hitting .331/.397/.520 with eight homers and 26 doubles, but he’s among the game’s best backstops, routinely among the league leaders in pitch framing.

Carlos Gomez is another two-way star, batting .317/.382/.532 with 12 homers and 11 steals and covering everything from Kenosha to Sheboygan with his glove. Throw in Scooter Gennet’s .310 batting average, Jean Segura’s 13 stolen bases, and double-digit homers from Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Mark Reynolds, and Khris Davis, and it’s no surprise that the Brewers are second in the NL with 351 runs scored. Fangraphs ranks Milwaukee fourth in offensive runs above average (11.5), fifth in defense (30.2) and first in baserunning (6.0).

Looking ahead, I’m not convinced the Brewers are better than the Cardinals, but with a 5.5-game lead, they may be good enough to hold them off and take the division. The pitching may not continue at this level- the rotation’s 3.39 ERA belies a 4.15 FIP- but it’s time to stop doubting Lohse; and Gallardo, Garza, and Peralta round out a playoff rotation that can keep enough runs off the board to win games. At least as long as Lucroy, Gomez, Ramirez, and co. keep defying (my) expectations by playing like they always have.

Posted in Brewers | Leave a comment

A 2014 All-Star Ballot

The All-Star Game is less than a month away. Does that mean it’s time for an official ballot? Probably not, but it’s what I’ve been thinking about lately, so sit there and read my thoughts. It’s easier than doing stuff.

Here’s the process: For each league, I’ll pick a starter at each position, including DH (pitchers should never bat in the All-Star Game). Then I’ll round out a 30-man team with a seven-player bench and 14 pitchers. I know the actual rosters are bigger, but I don’t care about representing each team or rewarding ROOGYs with 15 holds.

My basic premise, which I stole from my friend Dan McCloskey a few years ago, is that players should be rewarded for their performance since the last All-Star game. I’ll rank players at each position by Fangraphs WAR over the past calendar year, then prioritize offensive performance, which is more measurable than defense, and 2014 performance, as I prefer stars who are more than a flash in the pan, but are playing well now. I won’t rule out adjustments for postseason performance, but won’t make them a priority, as such opportunities are obviously not distributed uniformly. Here we go:

National League
Catcher
Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers- Lucroy doesn’t get the press Yadier Molina and Buster Posey get, but he’s been phenomenal over the past year, hitting .309/.372/.487 and playing his standard excellent defense. He laps the field in WAR, leading Molina, 5.6 to 4.3.

First Base
Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks- Joey Votto is the star, and he’s played quite well when healthy over the past year, but Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman have emerged as contenders to Votto’s crown as the NL’s best hitter. Surprisingly, Goldschmidt’s 34 home runs make him the only NL first baseman with as many as 30 since last June 12.

Second Base
Chase Utley, Phillies- Utley’s 35, but he can still play. He exploded out of the gate in ’14, and he’s hitting .300/.361/.482 in the last year, while fielding far better than any other contender for this spot.

Shortstop
Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies- You were expecting Neifi Perez? Tulo might win the NL MVP award unanimously if a vote were held today, despite the Rockies’ recent slide. Even having missed some time last summer, he’s earned 6.5 WAR since last June, hitting an absurd .356/.448/.667 in 2014 with 17 homers and the best non-Andrelton glove in the league.

Third Base
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals- A second baseman in 2013 and a third baseman in 2014, Carpenter deserves to start somewhere, and his competition is tougher at second than third, where the Dodgers’ Juan Uribe is second in WAR. Carpenter brings every tool, hitting over .300 with good defense, good speed, and 67 extra base hits over the past year.

Outfield
Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

There’s no left fielder close to the WAR leaderboard, so I’ll start Stanton in left. McCutchen is the reigning MVP and leads all NL players with a .435 OBP over the past calendar year. Puig has batted .313/.398/.528 and stolen 18 bases. Stanton’s 38 homers lead the NL, and he’s walked in over 14 percent of his plate appearances. Carlos Gomez is the most difficult omission so far, as his 6.5 WAR since 6/12/13 trail only McCutchen at any position, but he’s clearly not the best center fielder in the league and it’s hard to ignore the other guys’ offensive exploits.

Designated Hitter
Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers- A shortstop as a DH? Why not? Hanley’s been a bat-first shortstop his whole career, and his 163 wRC+ leads all players not listed as starters above.

Starting Pitcher
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers- Adam Wainwright has more wins (19) since last June, and Johnny Cueto has the shiny ERA (1.85) this year, but over a year (or just about any interval since Kershaw debuted in the league), Kershaw’s been the best pitcher. His 2.15 ERA trails only Jose Fernandez, who’s thrown 25 fewer innings, and his 2.14 FIP leads the league by a healthy margin.

Bench
Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Freddie Freeman, Braves
Andrelton Simmons, Braves
Juan Uribe, Dodgers
Carlos Gomez, Brewers
Jason Heyward, Braves
Jayson Werth, Nationals

Bullpen
Jose Fernandez, Marlins
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
Zack Greinke, Dodgers
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Cole Hamels, Phillies
Cliff Lee, Phillies
Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Andrew Cashner, Padres
Julio Teheran, Braves
Steve Cishek, Marlins
Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
Tony Watson, Pirates
Craig Kimbrel, Braves

6 Dodgers, 5 Braves, no Mets, no Cubs, one LOOGY with 16 holds (and a 1.00 ERA). Ok, moving on…

American League
Catcher
Salvador Perez, Royals- Perez is in a virtual dead heat with the Indians’ Yan Gomes over the past full year, and his performance is driven largely by his glove, but he’s outperformed Gomes in 2014 by half a win. Catcher defense is hard to evaluate, but the numbers match Perez’s reputation as the best backstop in the AL. He’s caught 10 of 19 would-be base-stealers in 2014 after nabbing 25 of 71 in 2013.

First Base
Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays- Chris Davis has hit 43 homers since last June, and Brandon Moss has developed into a middle-of-the-order force for the A’s, but neither is particularly close to Encarnacion, who’s slugging .571 and has hit 39 homers of his own over the past year.

Second Base
Robinson Cano, Mariners- Brian Dozier has been an offensive force in 2014, but the ever-steady Cano has batted .338 with 15 homers and 9 stolen bases since last June, walking nearly as often (9.3% of PAs) as he strikes out (10.5%).

Shortstop
Alexei Ramirez, White Sox- Xander Bogaerts and Manny Machado are both playing third base at the moment, and haven’t played enough to contend with Ramirez’s calendar year numbers, so we’ll wait one more year before those two start sparring for this spot every season. Meanwhile, Ramirez has hit .302 with 12 homers and 29 steals since last June, out-WARing Erick Aybar and the field by more than half a win.

Third Base
Josh Donaldson, Athletics- Only the great Trout has earned more WAR in the AL since last June than Donaldson’s 7.7. He balances his 32 home runs with the best defensive numbers at third this side of Machado.

Outfield
Mike Trout, Angels
Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
Alex Gordon, Royals

Trout dipped all the way from 11 WAR from 6/12/12 to 6/12/13 to 10.6 over the next year. Since he might struggle to play all three outfield positions, we’ll add Bautista, who’s rebounded this year to hit .311/.434/.548 after missing most of last season to injury, and Gordon. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino match Gordon’s performance over the past year based almost entirely on 2013 production, but we’ll go with the guy who’s steadily performed throughout the last year, hitting 21 homers, stealing 14 bases, and playing Trout-esque defense in left.

Designated Hitter
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers- I suppose I could switch Cabrera and Encarnacion, both of whom are butchers with the glove, but I’m not sure it matters as long as both get to start and neither has to play the whole game in the field. Cabrera always hits, and he’s hit .332/.413/.603 since last June. Big Papi would need about 6 more ALCS-saving grand slams to match what Cabrera does night-in and night-out.

Starting Pitcher
Felix Hernandez, Mariners- We’ve seen a lot of flavors-of-the-month start the All-Star Game based on 15 great outings to begin a season, but the full-year method tends to bring out the best. Max Scherzer was lights-out last year and Masahiro Tanaka has been phenomenal so far this year, but Felix just keeps on ticking, earning 6.6 WAR over the past season with a 2.99 ERA and an AL-best 2.41 FIP.

Bench
Yan Gomes, Indians
Brandon Moss, Athletics
Brian Dozier, Twins
Evan Longoria, Rays
Adrian Beltre, Rangers
Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees
Adam Jones, Orioles

Bullpen
Max Scherzer, Tigers
Yu Darvish, Rangers
David Price, Rays
Chris Sale, White Sox
Jon Lester, Red Sox
John Lackey, Red Sox
Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays
Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
Anibal Sanchez, Tigers
Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
Scott Kazmir, Athletics
Greg Holland, Royals
Koji Uehara, Red Sox

3 Blue Jays, 3 Red Sox, 3 Tigers, 3 Royals, 3 A’s, 3 Mariners, no Astros. And one rookie, as Tanaka’s performance in 2014 has been too good to ignore, while Bogaerts, Jose Abreu, and Yangervis Solarte fall short.

Posted in All-Star Game, Athletics, Blue Jays, Braves, Dodgers, Mariners, Red Sox, Royals, Tigers | 1 Comment

The All-Never-Won-A-World-Series Team

I spend way too much time batting baseball frivolities around in my head. Things like whether a team made up of Hall of Fame snubs who hit the ballot before 2000 could beat a team made up of guys rejected in the last decade or so. Things like how the last-place Rays stack up against the first-place Blue Jays position-by-position. I’m sharing tonight’s frivolity with you.

As I put my son to bed tonight, I tried to mentally compile a team of great players who never won the World Series. Ok, I use the word “tried” in the second clause of that sentence, but it was probably easier than the former task. Anyway, the list I came up with was entertaining for a few primary reasons. One might expect the list to be loaded with Red Sox and Cubs, and it was. But Boston’s two best players between 1919 and 2003 both happened to play the same position as the greatest player who ever lived, and lest you forgot, his closest shot at a title was squashed by a Game Six rally in 2002. Still, I found room for those two Sox.

And the Cubs landed three players on the team in my head, but when I “checked my work” using Hall Rating from the Hall of Stats, a few of them were deposed. I used the Hall of Stats’s positional rankings as a guide, but I didn’t get too stuck on positional considerations, since I’m looking for a team full of the best players who fell short of the ultimate glory in October.

C: Carlton Fisk: I had Mike Piazza in my head, but Fisk played 24 seasons for two teams, neither of which won a title in the 51 years before he debuted or the 11 years after he retired.

1B: Jeff Bagwell: An easy one, though I had to exclude Cap Anson, Roger Connor, and Dan Brouthers, whose careers were over by the time the first World Series was played.

2B: Nap Lajoie: In my head, I went with Ryne Sandberg, assuming Lajoie must have been on one champion in the days when there were only 16 teams in the league and the Yankees weren’t good yet, so titles were spread a little more broadly. But Nap played 13 seasons in which a Word Series was played and his Indians and A’s never reached one. The only case I can make that Ryno was a better player involves lots of talk about population and globalization and evolution that you’ve read over and over if you’re not new to these pages, so I’ll spare you and take the guy with almost double the other guy’s Hall Rating.

SS: Arky Vaughan: So, about those three Cubs… As it turns out, Vaughan’s Dodgers lost in 1947, his only postseason appearance. And even if I counted Ernie Banks as a shortstop and ignored Vaughan, Luke Appling was well ahead of him in Hall Rating too. At least the Cubs get this one…

3B: Ron Santo: Whew. It took the 1996 Yankees carrying an ancient Wade Boggs on horseback and the 2006 Cardinals stealing one late in Scott Rolen’s career to finally get us a Cub.

LF: Barry Bonds: You were expecting Ed Delahanty?

CF: Ty Cobb: I had Ken Griffey, Jr. penciled in here before learning that Cobb’s Tigers lost the Series in ’07, ’08, and ’09. The Jim Kelly of centerfielders.

RF: Carl Yastrzemski: I feel like I’ve made enough hey you guys, Larry Walker was a lot better than you think statements here that I can take a left fielder and assume his bat would be worth what the team might (or might not) give up on defense. Yaz could’ve slotted in at first base, where he logged a lot of late-career innings, but Bagwell narrowly outpaces Walker in Hall Rating, 162-149.

DH: Ted Williams: He didn’t care about defense anyway.

RHP: Phil Niekro: As it turns out, most great pitchers won a title or two. I’m a little hesitant to trust Niekro in this fictional game, since it seems like his 12th-best-ever Hall Rating is driven more by longevity than peak, but the guy had a 1.87 ERA in 207 innings in 1967 and 10 WAR in 1978. Those are two pretty good peaks.

LHP: Chuck Finley: Did you know Steve Carlton pitched 4 innings in relief for the ’67 Cardinals? Me neither. Anyway, this one took some reseach, as each of the 63 pitchers with the best Hall Ratings were either right-handed, pitched all or most of their careers before 1903, or pitched for at least one World Series winner.

We’ll round out the rotation with righties- Gaylord Perry, Mike Mussina, and Ferguson Jenkins. Robin Roberts has to learn to pitch with his other hand to take Finley’s spot.

This exercise wouldn’t be complete without a lineup:
1. Cobb, CF
2. Williams, DH
3. Bagwell, 1B
4. Bonds, LF
5. Yastrzemski, RF
6. Vaughan, SS
7. Santo, 3B
8. Lajoie, 2B
9. Fisk, C

Where am I wrong?

Posted in Hall of Fame | 1 Comment

Replacement Level Production

You may have noticed that yesterday’s post was just my fifth of the year. While that probably does reflect the relative weight of baseball compared to other priorities in my life, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about baseball at least a few hours a day. Here’s an update on just a few of my baseball-related pursuits over the past few months.

Over at High Heat Stats, I’ve been cataloguing every bunt by a National League player this season and studying the use and effectiveness of the strategy. Here’s my most recent post there. I also had a piece on bunting published in the USA Today Sports Weekly this week, but since that paper is only available in print, I’ll post my unedited version at the end of this entry, rather than linking.

I’ve been writing about the Red Sox for the Forecaster, a southern Maine newspaper, again this year. Here’s my season preview and another one in which I opine that the Red Sox will start winning again when Shane Victorino returns. They’re 0-1 so far with Shane, but I still believe he’s the spark they need.

While we’re on the Red Sox, Cards Onclave asked fans of various teams to contribute to a feature called Playing Pepper. I joined seven Red Sox bloggers in chatting about Boston’s 2014 outlook.

I’ve also been enlisted by a group of bright and ambitious baseball minds to help create the GWN Hall of Fame, an alternate Hall of about 300 players, in which players are voted into the Inner, Middle, or Outer Circle. Starting with hypothetical 1936 elections and simulating the BBWAAA/Veterans Committee process, we’ve voted through 1981 and inducted 42 players to the Inner Circle, 66 to the Middle Circle, and 86 to the Outer Circle. I hope to share more about this process and the participants in this space in the future.

Between GWN, the High Heat Stats Circle of Greats, and the Hall of Stats’ Hall of Consensus, I probably spend more of my time pondering and arguing about Hall of Fame cases than I do caring about baseball in 2014.

___________________________________________________________________

Here’s the USA Today Sports Weekly piece in its original form:

On Sunday, April 13, Atlanta’s BJ Upton came to the plate in the bottom of the first against Washington’s Gio Gonzalez. Jason Heyward had led off the inning with a walk, resulting in a typical sacrifice bunt situation. Upton laid down a good one, and when Gonzalez threw the ball away, Heyward and Upton found themselves on second and third with no outs. Heyward scored on Freddie Freeman’s sacrifice fly, and Upton came around on his brother Justin’s home run. The Braves were well on their way to a 10-2 win and sole possession of first place, thanks in no small part to a quality bunt.

The sacrifice bunt is much maligned among more progressive baseball analysts, and it’s not hard to see why. Almost every “successful” sacrifice, which advances a runner one base in exchange for an out, yields a negative Win Probability Added (WPA). In other words, teams willing to give up an out for a base are less likely to score enough runs to win a game than teams who would prefer to swing away in such situations. What this assessment misses, though, is that not every bunt results in an out.

So far in 2014, National League teams have dropped 196 bunts. 149 of these came in traditional sacrifice situations, with fewer than two outs and runners on first, second, or both. Just 82 of those bunts (55%) were scored as sacrifices, while 19 (13%) put the batter on base, whether via hit, error, or an ill-fated fielder’s choice. On the other end, five bunts have resulted in double plays, while another 43 failed to move the runner.
All outcomes considered, these bunts have yielded an average WPA of -1.3%.
Of the other 47 bunts, in which the batter’s intention was clearly to reach base, win probability has increased by 0.57%, as the league has batted .447 on these attempts.

All told, the average bunt has produced a negative result, but the average bunt is not attempted by the average hitter. Pitchers, of course, are more likely to bunt than position players, having accounted for 85 bunts in 2014 and averaged -2.6% WPA. When position players bunt, though, they yield positive results, increasing WPA by 0.44% over a 111-bunt sample. The average non-pitcher plate appearance in the NL this year has yielded 0.08% WPA, meaning bunting, irrespective of intent, has been marginally more successful than swinging away when a non-pitcher is at the plate. And many of the National League’s frequent bunters are light-hitting, fast running players like Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton, who do less damage swinging the bat, but can wreak havoc on defenses once the ball is in play.

Setting Win Probability Added aside, National League teams have bunted 71 times in tie games so far in 2014. 38 times (54%), the bunting team went on to win the game. That in itself does not justify the sacrifice bunt, but early returns suggest that light hitting players are giving their teams at least as good a chance to win when they test the opposing defense with a bunt as when they swing away.

BJ Upton is batting under .200 again this year, and his -0.54% WPA tells us that the Braves have not benefitted from his offensive services. Maybe he should drop a few more bunts.

Posted in Braves, Hall of Fame, Predictions, Red Sox | 2 Comments

Fun With Aging Curves

It’s long been known that major league baseball players traditionally peak in their late twenties, hang on through their decline phase in their thirties, and, if they’re lucky, maintain a modicum of value into their late thirties. Various analysts have used various data samples and assumptions to plot the aging curve on a graph. The below curve was stolen directly from Jeremy Greenhouse of The Baseball Analysts, and while I won’t comment on the relative merits of this study and other, similar ones, his logic seems reasonable enough for me to use it to draw ridiculous conclusions.

WARAgingCurve

I should note that I shifted every data point up by two wins to keep all the WAR numbers positive. This way, I could assign a year-to-year change percentage to every two-year group. You might call my work unscientific. I might call you a jerk.

Let’s start with our old friend Barry Bonds. Of every position player ever to play baseball, only Babe Ruth has earned more WAR (per baseball-reference) than Bonds’s 162.4, and the two are basically tied at the top (Ruth had 163). The argument that Bonds is the greatest baseball player of all time doesn’t sit well with some people because his late career surge was- shall we say- chemically enhanced. Disregarding the similar chemicals injected by pitchers of the time and the changes in ballpark dimensions and strike zones that had scores of players launching home runs at record rates, let’s use the average player’s aging curve above to take a guess as to what Barry’s late career might have looked like without pharmaceutical help.

Here’s Bonds’s actual WAR curve:

BondsActualAgingCurve

Bonds’s first peak came from ages 24 to 28, when he put up annual WAR figures of 8.0, 9.7, 7.9, 9.0, and 9.9. After the strike kept him to 6.2 and 7.5 WAR in ’94 and ’95 (his rate stats held steady, but he played fewer games), he shot back up to 9.6, 8.1, and 8.1 in his early thirties. By age 33, he had earned 99.5 WAR, more than all but 18 prior players had accumulated in their entire careers. At 34, he suffered through his first injury-plagued campaign, held to 3.8 WAR despite a 156 OPS+ over 102 games. If we assume it was after that season when he started using steroids (or at least got better at using steroids), we need to establish a baseline for his age 35 season. If we assume that injury was a harbinger of things to come, we could reduce his 3.8 WAR by the ~14% most players lose after age 34. If we assume 1999 was a fluke, we could reduce his 8.1 WAR from 1998 by the 12.5% most players lose at 34 and 14% for 35. I chose to average these two figures with his 1997 campaign, regressed three times, and arrived at an expected WAR of 4.9 in 2000. This feels conservative, as aside from ’99, 4.9 WAR would be Barry’s lowest total since his age 21 season, when he hit .223 for the 1986 Pirates.

From there, we keep slashing away at his numbers, cutting half his age 35 WAR by age 38 and all of it by 40, consistent with the experience of so many one-time superstars. This demolition of the end of his career leaves Bonds with 120 WAR, which would be good for 11th all time, between Ted Williams and Alex Rodriguez. Here’s the cynic’s view of age ravishing the greatest player of his generation:

BondsDrop

Now we’ll jump ahead a generation, to a player putting up numbers nobody except Bonds has managed since the days of Mantle and Mays, and numbers nobody has ever achieved at his age. Mike Trout was worth 19.7 WAR over his first two full seasons (fangraphs gives him 20.4), which he played at 20 and 21. Applying the Greenhouse aging curve to Trout’s early career, we get this:

TroutProjected

Yeah, those are four 14-win seasons. Babe Ruth had one season at exactly 14 WAR, and he’s the only player ever to top 12.5. Trout projects to have eight 12.5-win years. Again, I used a blended approach to projecting Trout’s age-22 season (this year), averaging 10% growth on his age-21 year and two years of growth on his superior age-20 season.

Total WAR? 210. That’s 29 percent more than Ruth. If we include Ruth’s 20.6 pitching WAR, standard-aging-curve Trout still beats him by 26 wins, or three full MVP seasons.

But we’re not done. Let’s say Trout has his own personal McGwire/Griffey/Sosa (we’ll call him B. Harper- no that’s too obvious- let’s call him Bryce H.) breaking home run records, winning championships, and getting more attention than Trout gets. By age 35, Trout is down to a human (though still superstar-caliber) 7.5 WAR, not far off of Bonds’s last two healthy seasons before the video game numbers shrouded by so many asterisks. Let’s send Trout to Barry’s pharmacist and apply the Bonds ending to his already-legendary career. Those four seasons Bonds had in his late thirties, which are some of the best seasons in baseball history, would actually fall short of every season in hypothetical Trout’s nine-year peak. Still, they’d give him a career that looks like this:

TroutBondsEnding

…and a tidy 243 WAR, roughly equal to the career totals of Barry Bonds and Jeff Bagwell. Or Mickey Mantle and Tris Speaker. Or Derek Jeter and Ernie Banks and Mark McGwire and Jim Rice.

I don’t think Mike Trout’s career will follow any aging curve we’ve ever seen, but if it follows a typical one, with or without the Bonds ending, we’re going to need some new record books.

Posted in Angels, Giants, Pirates | 3 Comments

2014 Season Preview

There are very few signs of spring in the air here in Maine, but my Twitter feed tells me baseball season is on its way back.  Much like I did last year, I’m going to eschew the full projected standings in favor of a ranking of all 30 MLB teams by the likelihood, in my estimation, of their winning the 2014 World Series.

In case you didn’t click the link above, I was not altogether successful in this endeavor in 2013, picking the eventual champion Red Sox 13th and the NL-pennant-winning Cardinals 11th.  I did a little better with LCS contenders Detroit (1st) and the Dodgers (7th).  My 2nd and 4th picks, Washington and Texas, missed the playoffs, while my 22nd and 23rd picks, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, made them.  I suspect most of those misses were not minority opinions.  On to this year’s list:

30. Minnesota Twins. Yeah, the Astros are probably worse, but this feels like a nod to the strides Houston has made while Minnesota seems to have gotten willfully worse.  Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes probably improve their rotation, but that’s only because they had nothing resembling a league-average starter in the fold before their acquisitions, and these guys don’t make the Twins any younger.  Joe Mauer should hit and should stay on the field more as a full-time first baseman, but he’s a little less valuable there than he was behind the plate, and ZIPS doesn’t project any other position player on the team to be worth half of Mauer’s 3.2 wins above replacement.

29. Houston Astros.  Not being 30th on this list may represent a quantum leap for the Astros, but they’re still bad.  New “ace” Scott Feldman is probably more reliable than Nolasco, but his upside is embarrassingly low for any staff’s number one starter.  Some progression from Jarred Cosart and Brett Oberholtzer would be a step toward future contention, as would big-league seasons from Jason Castro and rookie George Springer.  If Houston can feast on the Rangers’ depleted pitching and the non-Felix Mariners starters, 70 wins aren’t out of the question.

28. Chicago White Sox.  Chris Sale could be the best pitcher in the AL this year.  Even if he is, he might go 8-10.  Unless Cuban import Jose Abreu pays immediate dividends, this team won’t hit at all.

27. Florida Marlins.  It’s probably a compliment to the Marlins to call them the 27th-best team in baseball, but this “optimism” is based largely on their awful division.  Sure, they’re not going to play with the Nationals and Braves, but the Mets and Phillies should provide some easy wins on days when Jose Fernandez is dealing and Giancarlo Stanton is raking.

26. New York Mets.  There should have been one reason to watch the Mets this year, as Matt Harvey had a season for the ages before going down with an elbow injury.  Without Harvey, Mets fans will spend the season hoping Zack Wheeler develops into another top-of-the-rotation starter and David Wright sticks around long enough for this team to contend with him.

25. Philadelphia Phillies.  On paper, this team may be bad-but-not-awful, with Cliff Lee likely to pitch well and Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz candidates for at least one more productive season.  In the front office, this team is such a mess that it’s hard to imagine them pulling the right strings if, by some fluke, they’re in contention midseason.  Roy Halladay is gone, Cole Hamels is hurt, and Ryan Howard is a $25 million replacement player.  It’s going to be another long summer in Philly.

24. Chicago Cubs.  Like the Astros, the Cubs get bonus points for counting on development from young players, rather than signing mid-level free agents, to move toward respectability.  Unlike the Astros, the Cubs have some real major league experience from some of those developing players.  Darwin Barney is a wiz with the glove, Anthony Rizzo might hit 30 bombs this year, and Starlin Castro, despite a few down years, is a (barely) 24-year-old shortstop with 692 career hits.  The Cubs still look like the worst team in the NL Central, but with a couple of breaks, who says they couldn’t finish third?

23. Seattle Mariners. If the Marlins, with one of the best pitchers and one of the best hitters in the NL, but not much else, rank 27th, why should we expect much more of the Mariners, who will depend similarly on Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano? Kyle Seager can play, and Hisashi Iwakuma won’t have to repeat last year’s magic to be a quality starter once he returns from injury, but there’s not much depth anywhere on this roster.

22. Milwaukee Brewers.  ZIPS actually has the Brewers finishing above .500, but I think some of their individual projections are a little optimistic.  Carlos Gomez may be the game’s best defensive outfielder, but will he really save another 11.5 runs this year, as ZIPS projects?  Ryan Braun is likely still a great player after a year off, but we have no idea how he’ll handle the distractions of a post-suspension national tour.  There’s not much to love on the mound, with Yovani Gallardo and Matt Garza headlining the staff.  I suppose if Jean Segura and Khris Davis continue to develop while Braun has an MVP-type comeback, this team could contend, but they need a lot to fall their way.

21. San Diego Padres.  I think we’ve flipped a switch from “not in your dreams” to “hey, you never know”.  The Padres don’t have much pitching, with Andrew Cashner and a few possible starts from the fragile Josh Johnson the only bright spots.  They do, however, have Yonder Alonso’s bat, Everth Cabrera’s wheels, Chris Denorfia’s glove, and Chase Headley’s all-around excellence.  The difference between last place and second in the NL West is a few bounces in the right direction, and the Padres could get those bounces.

20. Colorado Rockies.  For a few years, this team has been Tulowitzki, Gonzalez, and pray for a wild pitcher.  After impressive seasons from Nolan Arenado at third and Wilin Rosario behind the plate, they look a little more rounded in the field, and the pitching is not as bad as you might think.  Jorge de la Rosa and Juan Nicasio project for better-than-average seasons.  If Brett Anderson can stay healthy and Jhoulys Chacin can get healthy, this rotation may have the depth to contend.

19. Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s the Dodgers and the clones in the NL West.  Arizona has one great hitter- MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, one great fielder- Gerardo Parra, and a solid catcher in Miguel Montero.  They’ve had a breakout pitcher each of the past four seasons, with Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy, Wade Miley, and Patrick Corbin successively outperforming expectations.  With Corbin undergoing Tommy John surgery, Miley is the only one of those four in the rotation this year, but Randall Delgado and Archie Bradley are candidates to be this year’s surprice ace.

18. San Francisco Giants.  You probably think the Giants are better than this, and they may be, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to list the four NL West also-rans in order.  Buster Posey’s in the conversation for best player in the National League.  Pablo Sandoval looked good this spring, and Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence should hit too.  On the other hand, I don’t believe in the pitching.  Madison Bumgarner projects for 3.5 WAR, and I suppose Matt Cain could bounce back, but in 2013, he was the pitcher his peripherals tell us he’s always been.  Tim Lincecum seems like a prime candidate to decompose early, and who knows what to expect of Tim Hudson at age 38?  The Giants might prove me wrong, as they have twice in the past four years, but I see a team that’s not much different from the dregs of its division.

17. Cleveland Indians.  Last year’s playoff appearance for Cleveland was a little bit fluke and a little bit taking advantage of the new playoff system, which awards the two non-division-winners in each league with the best records, despite the unbalanced schedule.  It would be hard to make a case that Cleveland was one of the five best teams in the AL in 2013, and they’re not much different in ’14.  That’s not all bad, though, as Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar, and Corey Kluber constitute a strong core of young starters, the bullpen is good, and there’s at least a league-average player at just about every position around the field.  If the Carlos-Santana-to-third-base experiment works out and Asdrubal Cabrera bounces back from a bad year, this team could find itself right where it was last fall.

16. New York Yankees.  So much talent, so much age.  This is not a last-place prediction for the Yankees, but an assertion that all the other teams in the AL East have more upside.  If newcomers Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann play 300 games between them, they’ll score some runs and save some runs.  On the other hand, the geriatric infield of Teixeira, Roberts, Jeter, and Johnson is likely to demand plenty of time off this summer, and unless Dean Anna and Scott Sizemore are the answer in reserve, it’s hard to see this team being consistently good.  On the pitching side, Masahiro Tanaka’s signing transformed the rotation from potentially embarrassing to intriguing, but the odds of CC Sabathia returning to form and Hiroki Kuroda continuing to defy his age and Tanaka immediately succeeding in the states are low.

15. Toronto Blue Jays.  It’s hard to know what to make of the Blue Jays, who seemed to make all the right moves before the 2013 season, but none of them really paid off.  The offense, highlighted by Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, is solid, and Brett Lawrie and Jose Reyes are the best left side of any AL infield if they’re healthy.  The pitching, though, doesn’t look as strong as it did last March, with Josh Johnson gone and RA Dickey unlikely to pull off another 2012 at age 39.  If Brandon Morrow strikes everybody out, Mark Buehrle doesn’t walk anybody, and the offensive stars stay healthy, this could be a great team, but as we saw last year, high-risk, high-reward doesn’t always pay off when your portfolio is capped at 25 roster spots.

14. Texas Rangers.  A few weeks ago, I would have ranked the Rangers in the top five, as favorites to run away with the AL West.  That was when guys I’d heard of were lined up to pitch for them.  Now Derek Holland is likely out for the season.  Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish will start the season in the trainer’s room.  Tanner Scheppers, who has never started a major league game, will start on opening day.  The Rangers will lean on Joe Saunders and Robbie Ross pitching at the Ballpark at Arlington.  Even if Adrian Beltre continues his late-career Hall of Fame push and Prince Fielder finds a fountain of youth, this team might not even be the second-best in its division.

13. Kansas City Royals. The Royals are not better than the Yankees or the Rangers. They do, however, play in a weaker division and boast young talent with a broad range of skills. Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, and Alex Gordon may each be the best defensive player at his position in the American League. Eric Hosmer’s and Billy Butler’s bats should take advantage of Lorenzo Cain’s and Jarrod Dyson’s speed to score some runs. The bullpen, headed by Greg Holland, is one of the game’s best. The biggest roadblock for the Royals is the rotation behind James Shields, as Bruce Chen is unlikely to repeat last year’s 3.27 ERA and newcomer Jason Vargas is likely not the answer. This team could regress to 70 wins, but it’s also possible that they take a leap similar to what Pittsburgh did in ’13 and finally break their playoff drought.

12. Baltimore Orioles. I still can’t tell if the Orioles are good. They had a flukishly great 2012, made no changes, and won 85 games in 2013. Then they sat idle for four months this offseason while other teams filled holes with players who might have helped them, only to jump in at the last minute and nab Nelson Cruz, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Johan Santana. Manny Machado is a defensive beast whose offense is bound to improve. Matt Wieters and JJ Hardy are well-rounded stars, and Adam Jones has some power and some speed. If Chris Davis has half the season he has last year (which is no guarantee), this team will score some runs. No one in the rotation is guaranteed to succeed, but Ubaldo Jimenez had a bit of a bounce-back year for Cleveland in 2013, while Chris Tillman was breaking out in Baltimore (albeit relying heavily on a low BABiP). Dylan Bundy and Johan Santana could offer a lot or nothing this year, while Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez look like steady, back-of-the-rotation contributors. The bullpen could be as bad as 2012′s was good, and the corner outfield spots look atrocious, but Buck Showalter has a lot of talent with which to work.

11. Los Angeles Angels. How bad can a team with Mike Trout be? Pretty bad, if Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton continue their declines, but history tells us most declines are more bumpy than linear, which means there’s a decent chance one of them bounces back significantly this year. I’ve got my money on Pujols. Kole Calhoun could break out in right field, and the Conger/Iannetta catcher platoon is better than average. Aside from Pujols and Hamilton, another key for the Angels will be success of the starting pitching. If Hector Santiago emerges as a threat behind Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson, this might be the year the shakier AL West gives Trout a chance to play in the playoffs.

10. Pittsburgh Pirates. Caution: teams buoyed by a great bullpen often regress the following year, when relievers show very different small sample size results (see Baltimore, 2012-’13). But the 2013 Pirates were legitimately good, and they bring back most of that roster, which is now more than just Andrew McCutchen. Starling Marte has arrived, and Russell Martin is still one of the better catchers in the NL on both sides of the ball. The drop from AJ Burnett to Edinson Volquez could be a severe one, but steps forward for Gerrit Cole and rookie Jameson Taillon (if he’s healthy and ready) could keep Volquez off the mound. They’re not the Cardinals, but the Pirates are serious Wild Card contenders, now and for the foreseeable future.

9. Cincinnati Reds. ZIPS is unimpressed with the Reds, pegging them for a 77-win team in 2014.  I don’t see what makes them all that different from the Wild Card team they were last year.  Shin-soo Choo is gone, and Mat Latos will start the season hurt, but Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto are back to anchor the rotation with a lot of promise in Tony Cingrani.  With due respect to Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto is still the best hitter in the NL and Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier can hit a little too.  If Billy Hamilton can get on base enough to wreak havoc on the basepaths, this team should score runs, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t prevent them.

8. Oakland A’s. In any other sport, it’s hard to imagine a team like the 2010s A’s having as much success as they’ve had. Sure, Josh Donaldson was great in 2013, and Josh Reddick was very good in 2012. But neither of them projects to play at that level in 2014, and there’s no real star power in the lineup or in the rotation. Teams without stars don’t win football or basketball games. But what the A’s bring once again is depth, with 12 players ZIPS projects for at least 315 plate appearances and .8 WAR. Their outfield of Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, and Craig Gentry might be the best in the AL. And while Jarrod Parker missing the whole season will hurt the pitching, Sonny Gray is ready to take the reigns, and Tommy Milone and Dan Straily could take steps forward as well. This could be the year that the A’s regress to 75 wins, but with the Rangers’ rotation in tatters, I’m picking Oakland to win its third straight division title.

7. Tampa Bay Rays. After Longoria and Zobrist, there are no guarantees in Tampa’s lineup, but Wil Myers has a ton of potential, James Loney hit well last year, and Desmond Jennings can run all day. Perhaps more importantly, 2012 Cy Young winner David Price is back and Matt Moore went 17-4 last year, but I see Alex Cobb being perhaps the best pitcher on the staff in 2014. The Red Sox probably have more talent, but Joe Maddon and the Rays win 90 games every year and there’s no reason to think this will be the year they won’t.

6. Atlanta Braves. Ok, the Upton brother experiment didn’t work well for the Braves in 2013, but just about everything else did. Jason Heyward is due for an MVP-type season. Andrelton Simmons might be the next Ozzie Smith. Freddie Freeman has developed into a beast with the bat. If the rotation looked as strong coming into this year as it did coming into 2013, I’d predict another division title for the Braves. Tim Hudson is gone, though, Kris Medlen is out for the year, and Mike Minor will start the year on the DL. The opening day start will likely go to Julio Teheran or Ervin Santana, and at this point, it’s hard to foresee a five-man rotation that doesn’t involve Aaron Harang. If only Craig Kimbrel could throw 250 innings…

5. Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox were no fluke in 2013, and youth and depth were two of their strengths, so there’s no reason to believe they’ll be bad in 2014. That said, they did lose Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew this offseason and will lean heavily on rookies Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Xander Bogaerts in key, up-the-middle roles. The pitching was Jeckyll in 2013 and Hyde in 2014, but if John Lackey’s resurgence is real and Jon Lester is the ace he looked like last October, Boston might be the best team in baseball again this year.

4. Washington Nationals. Clearly the team that most underachieved its true talent in 2013, the Nationals return stacked in 2014. Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez headline what may be the best rotation in the National League. Seven starting position players, including rookie Anthony Rendon, project to be well above average, led by MVP candidate Bryce Harper. The bullpen is probably this team’s only weakness, but if the starters pitch deep into games, it may not matter.

3. Detroit Tigers. The Tigers may be the best team in baseball, as I believe they were in 2013. I think the Tigers “won” the Fielder-Kinsler trade, and filled a great hole in doing so. The Doug Fister trade was another matter, but Verlander-Scherzer-Sanchez-Porcello-Smyly will do just fine. If Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter can fend off father time for another year and Miguel Cabrera knocks the cover off the ball as he always does, this team should cruise to another division title. Unless the Yankees make the playoffs, they’ll face younger teams in the playoffs this year, and that was their undoing in 2013. Still, the playoffs are a crapshoot once you’re there, and the Tigers have the best chance to get there of any AL team.

2. St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals are always good, and it seems they’re always young. Oscar Taveras should fill Carlos Beltran’s shoes this year. Kolten Wong and Jhonny Peralta will be upgrades over David Freese and Pete Kozma in the infield, and center field is in better hands with Peter Bourjos than it was with Jon Jay. Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha slot in behind Adam Wainwright to form an intimidating rotation, and we know the bullpen has a ton of talent. There’s nothing not to like on this roster.

1. Los Angeles. I don’t know whether the Red Sox, Nationals, Tigers, Cardinals, or Dodgers are the best team in baseball, but I know the Dodgers have the clearest path to the postseason. Clayton Kershaw will pass Sandy Koufax as the best lefty in Dodgers history very soon. Zack Greinke is about as good a number two starter as one can imagine. The bullpen is loaded. If healthy, Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Adrian Gonzalez could all be among the best players in the NL. Most importantly, the Dodgers, more than any other contender, can afford to have a few things go wrong this year. They’ve already seen some injury concerns in the rotation, but they’ll hit enough to win some high scoring games with their lesser starters on the mound, and they’ll play almost 80 games against a relatively weak division. Getting to the playoffs is more than half the battle, and having Kershaw and Greinke once you get there is icing on the cake.

As a bonus, here are the most likely players to win the postseason awards:
NL Cy Young:
5. Zack Greinke
4. Cliff Lee
3. Stephen Strasburg
2. Clayton Kershaw (who would have been first had he not just hit the DL)
1. Jose Fernandez

AL Cy Young:
5. Yu Darvish
4. Max Scherzer
3. Chris Sale (who might be most likely to deserve it)
2. Justin Verlander
1. Felix Hernandez

NL MVP:
10. Yadier Molina
9. Jason Heyward
8. Freddie Freeman
7. Giancarlo Stanton
6. Buster Posey
5. Paul Goldschmidt
4. Troy Tulowitzki
3. Andrew McCutchen
2. Bryce Harper
1. Joey Votto

AL MVP:
10. Eric Hosmer
9. Josh Donaldson
8. Yoenis Cespedes
7. Manny Machado
6. Miguel Cabrera
5. Robinson Cano
4. Dustin Pedroia
3. Adrian Beltre
2. Evan Longoria
1. Mike Trout (who will regress to under 8 WAR, but won’t have to fight a Miguel Cabrera narrative)

Posted in Cardinals, Dodgers, Nationals, Postseason Awards, Predictions, Red Sox, Tigers | 1 Comment