Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

MLB Preview 2017! NL Edition

My NL preview is a litttle late. Sue me. Here are the predictions.
1. Washington Nationals
I broke down the Nationals last week. You can see most of my thoughts on them here.
2. New York Mets
This is a solid overall team, with a potentially elite rotation if everyone stays healthy. That said, I'm just not sure they have enough to take down the Nationals. They'll need a MVP-caliber season from Cespedes, some production from Curtis Granderson and Jose Reyes in addition to everyone staying healthy.
3. Atlanta Braves
If I had to choose a team to surprise people, I'd go with the Braves. Dansby Swanson has the potential to be right up there with Corey Seager and Francisco Lindor for top young shortstops in baseball. From there, Freddie Freeman quietly had a monster season last year, hitting .304/.400/.569 with 34 homers and Ender Inciarte is one of the most underrated players in the league, hitting .281 last year and saving 15 runs with his glove. The biggest question is pitching. Beyond Julio Teheran, they're going to need R.A. Dickey to turn back the clock and Bartolo Colon to be consistent at age 43.
4. Miami Marlins
This isn't a bad lineup, especially with the 3-4-5 combination of Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. That said, the staff was already thin before the death of Jose Fernandez, and when Edinson Volquez and Wei-Yin Chen are your top starters you're going to have problems.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are like the Twins of the NL: They have a few exciting players that'll be fun to watch this year, that said, very few of them are pitchers and contention is out of the question until they shore up the rotation. Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco will be enjoyable, but if they're not up feel free to change the channel.
1. Chicago Cubs
I don't even have anything to say about the Cubs. They're bringing back everyone from last years team except Dexter Fowler, who they're replacing with a full year of Kyle Schwarber. If everyone stays healthy I don't see any scenario where they don't make the World Series again.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
The Redbirds savvily added Dexter Fowler, both bringing in the leadoff hitter they need while also taking away a key contributor from their biggest rival. Overall, this roster isn't quite as strong as some recent Cardinal teams, particularly beyond Carlos Martinez in the rotation but this is the St. Louis Cardinals were talking about. They find a way to win infuriatingly often and with unknown players.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
If I trusted Josh Bell a tiny bit more I would have taken the Pirates over the Cardinals. First base is a gaping hole in Pittsburgh and I'm just not sure he'll be able to put together an entire productive season at the plate. Andrew McCutchen wasn't quite as bad as it seemed last season, but I think he is better this year regardless; he had a career low BABIP last season.
4. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds ahve the potential to be good in a year or two. Joey Votto continues to be one of the best hitters in the league, and Devin Mesoraco is a solid backstop. Billy Hamilton made strides last year, to the point that he's no longer a complete liability with the bat. As with many teams, the problem is in pitching. Robert Stephenson and Brandon Finnegan both have the potential to be good, but to expect that this year is too much, especially in this division.
5. Milwaukee Brewers
This most important of the Brewers' season will be what that they can get for Ryan Braun at the trade deadline. Needless to say, that isn't a good thing. Other important parts of the Brewers season, in descending order: Orlando Arcia's development, Jonathan Villar continuing to hit, Bernie Brewer's mustache, and their fans not breaking too many things before the Packer season starts.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
I currently have an irrational hatred for the Dodgers for refusing to budge and give up any more than Jose De Leon in a potential Dozier trade this offseason. Dozier would have joined a potent lineup with Justin Turner and Corey Seager. Instead, Los Angeles cashed that De Leon trade chip in on Logan Forsythe, who isn't as good as Dozier but hit .268 with a .333 on base percentage and adequate defense in Tampa Bay.
2. San Francisco Giants
Their even year magic ended last season, but this is still a pretty good team. They added Mark Melancon to remedy their biggest problem: blowing leads. There's no reason to think he's meltdown on opening day is an indicator for the rest of the season. Beyond him. this is a pretty steady and balanced roster that should contend for a playoff spot.
3. Colorado Rockies
The lineup is good. Obviously. This is Denver. D.J. LeMahieu is one of the most underrated second basemen in the league, hitting .348 last year and posting a miniscule 12.4% strikeout rate, very valuable given today's strikeout crazy time. The biggest question mark is the pitching. Both Tyler Anderson and Jon Gray posted better fielding-independent numbers than their ERAs would suggest but the key here will be rookies Jeff Hoffman and Kyle Freeland. Hoffman, the centerpiece of the Troy Tulowitzki trade, is starting the year in the minors but figures to be up eventually. Freeland is a former first rounder who was solid in the minors. If they play to their potential Colorado could be dangerous.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
I actually kind of like this roster. Paul Goldschmidt keeps quietly putting up huge numbers and being one of the best overall players in the league. Speaking of underrated, A.J. Pollock's back after being injured for most of last season. Still, Zack Greinke doesn't seem to be coming back anytime soon, and beyond Goldschmidt and Pollock, the lineup is pretty thin.
5. San Diego Padres
The Friars have a starting lineup that will be good in 2019 and a pitching rotation that would have been good in 2013. They also have someone named Kevin Quackenbush. So that's fun.
MVP: Starling Marte
I'm going with a bit of a surprise for MVP, but Marte has been one of the best outfielders in baseball for the last few years. Last season he hit .311/.362/.456, stole 47 bases and was arguably the best defensive outfielder in the NL. I predict he takes another step forward in 2017, bringing a little more power like he did in 2015 when he hit 19 homers and takes home the award in a pretty wide open NL field.
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
I'm taking Kershaw for the same reason I chose Mike Trout to win MVP in the AL: He is so indisputably better than everyone else I'm taking him every year until someone proves to be better than him.
Rookie of the Year: Dansby Swanson
I was really surprised when I saw Swanson didn't lose his eligibility last year. As one of the few rookies with an impressive big league resume already, he's the obvious choice.
Wild card game: Giants over Cardinals
NLDS: Cubs over Cardinals, Dodgers over Nationals
NLCS: Cubs over Dodgers
World Series: Indians over Cubs

Sunday, April 2, 2017

MLB Preview 2017! AL Edition

1. Boston Red Sox
How does the phrase "David Price third starter" sound? Even if he's not as good as he used to be this team is loaded. Mookie Betts will be an MVP candidate again, and an improved pitching staff with Chris Sale and a full season of Andrew Benintendi should compensate for losing David Ortiz. Also: I'm calling it right now. I think we see the good version of Pablo Sandoval this year.
2. Toronto Blue Jays*
The East gets pretty tough here. The Sox are clearly the class of the division, but then the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Orioles are all tightly bunched together looking for second place. Toronto's going to miss Edwin Encarnacion, but Buatista and Donaldson lead a lineup that should score enough runs for a capable pitching staff. They won't be as good as last year, but that's okay.
3. New York Yankees
Here's a team that's really hard to project. The one thing we know for sure is that the bullpen is going to be dominant. What we don't know is whether Gary Sanchez will be able to build on his unbelievable rookie year or how he or Greg Bird will fare in a full big league season. There's a lot to like here, but there are just too many questions.
4. Baltimore Orioles
Manny Machado is a stud, but ultimately Baltimore is going to need pitching if they want to contend. Best case scenario: Machado wins MVP, Adam Jones is an All-Star, and Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo hit enough homers to compensate for a somewhat weak starting rotation. Worst case scenario: Davis and Trumbo combine for approximately 700 strikeouts, the Orioles go into a freefall without a legitimate number one starter and Machado flees for New York in the offseason.
5. Tampa Bay Rays
With the exception of Kevin Kiermaier, everyone on this team peaked at least two years ago: Matt Duffy, Evan Longoria, Chris Archer. The East is a strong division and there just isn't room for the Rays to contend.
1. Cleveland Indians
The defending AL champs have a chance to be even better this year. They signed Edwin Encarnacion to a reasonable three year 60 million dollar deal and they'll get Michael Brantley and his five tools back at some point. Throwing them onto a team that didn't lose anyone from last season? This could be fun.
2. Kansas City Royals
I really wanted to pick the Royals to win the Central but couldn't quite justify it with the Indians making improvements. Regardless, the Royals had my favorite trade of the offseason, flipping one year of a closer (Wade Davis) to the Cubs for a 25 year old power hitting outfielder in Jorge Soler. If Soler plays to his potential, this could be a very dangerous lineup along with Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas.
3. Detroit Tigers
A year ago, it looked like the Tigers run of dominance was coming to an end. Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera were a combined 69 years old, Justin Verlander had clearly peaked several years earlier and it was only a matter of time before they had to rebuild. A year later, Martinez and Cabrera haven't shown any signs of slowing down, Verlander had a resurgence, getting healthier, increasing his velocity and becoming a Cy Young contender again. Even better, young Nick Castellanos (.285/.331/.496) and Michael Fulmer (3.06 ERA) emerged to provide some much needed youth in Detroit. I may have them in third, but this is a tough division and I wouldn't sleep on them.
4. Minnesota Twins
This entire site is devoted to the Twins, so I won't waste my thoughts here. There's a longer column coming soon.
5. Chicago White Sox
Every GM should study the White Sox offseason as a lesson on how to rebuild. In the span of two days, they flipped a top pitcher that they only had one year of control left on and a very good but not great outfielder into arguably the top pitching and hitting prospects in the game, along with a pitcher who can hit triple digits. Nothing's going to happen this year, but stay tuned on the Sox.
1. Texas Rangers
This is a pretty complete overall team. Cole Hamels should contend for a Cy Young. That along with a lineup with no holes in it should be enough to win a division that's solid but unspectacular.
2. Houston Astros*
Very similar to the Rangers, there's a deep and talented lineup in Houston, particularly with a terrifying top three in George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa. The biggest question here is hitting. Dallas Keuchel probably isn't going to contend for a Cy Young again but Lance McCullers is only going to keep getting better. Ultimately this is a very good team, but to ascend a level they're going to need to add some pitching.
3. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners have emerged as the trendy pick to make the playoffs this season but it's going to be tough with two objectively better rosters in their division. The Cano-Seager-Cruz combination should put up some runs, but there isn't enough depth lower in the order and Felix Hernandez won't be able to do it himself as far as the pitching staff goes.
4. Los Angeles Angels
This is a sneaky-good team. Beyond Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, they have some solid OBP guys with Yunel Escobar and Kole Calhoun and Cameron Maybin quietly had a very solid season last year, hitting .315/.383/.418 in 391 plate appearances. However, there just isn't enough pitching for a playoff run. As a Twins fan, I say this pretty confidently: Don't trust Ricky Nolasco as your number two starter. You will be disappointed.
5. Oakland Athletics
This is a terrible team playing in a terrible ballpark. Don't watch the A's unless you're really missing
Trevor Plouffe.
MVP: Mike Trout
Yeah, it's a safe pick, but he's the best player in the league and there isn't even a close second. I'm taking Trout until someone proves to be better.
Cy Young: Corey Kluber
Michael Brantley returning should only provide more defense behind him, Chris Sale wasn't quite up to his otherworldly standards last season, I'll take someone proven.
Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi
It's always tough to predict ROY because it could easily be someone who doesn't make an opening day roster. I'll go with Benintendi just because it's a sure thing that he'll get at bats barring an injury.
Wild card: Blue Jays over Astros
ALDS: Indians over Blue Jays, Red Sox over Rangers
ALCS: Indians over Red Sox
NL coming tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Breaking Down the Nationals

    The Nationals have had a weird last ten years or so. Since moving to Washington in 2005, they were generally terrible until 2011. After that, we were told that Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasberg were supposed to turn them into contenders. Now they've become contenders, but not with great seasons from either of them.
     After a dominant start to his career in 2010, Strasberg's been solid but not at the elite level expected of him, posting a career ERA of 3.17. Harper's been a bit different. After a couple of decent years, he exploded in 2015, hitting .330/.460/.649 and winning MVP. Despite that transcendent season, the rest of the Nats' roster couldn't produce and they went 83-79, missing the playoffs. Things got weirder in 2016, when the Nationals won the division with a much smaller contribution from Harper, who was worse in just about every statistical category. In fairness, that doesn't mean he was awful; he still hit 24 homers and posted an on base percentage of .373, he just didn't match the expectations after a tremendous 2015 campaign.
     I think Harper's 2017 season will be more like 2015 than 2016 for a few reasons: 1) His underlying numbers were stable between the two years; pitchers weren't throwing to him any differently, he had roughly the same line drive percentage, etc. If those had drastically changed that would be a reason for concern. The other reason: He's still only 24 years old. In 2015 he was 22. We'll see better from him.
     With Harper's relatively disappointing season, and few key players managed to pick up the slack, none of whom were bigger than Daniel Murphy. Fresh off of an unprecedented power binge for the Mets in the playoffs, the second baseman hit .347 with 25 homers. That breakout is largely credited to Murphy changing his stance, bending his knees more to generate more power. As for his chances of recreating that season in 2017, they're not as bad as you might think for a 31-year-old who has never shown that power before. As previously mentioned, his improvement is more linked to changing his stance, rather than luck. His .348 batting average on balls in play is high, but not completely out of line with his career .319 mark. Also, his numbers were pretty consistent throughout all of last year, without one particular half standing out, so it wasn't just a hot streak.
     Washington will have Trea Turner for a full year this season. The speedy shortstop hit .342 with 33 stolen bases in just 73 games last year. Having him for a full year will be advantageous just because it allows the Nationals to not have to rely on Danny Espinosa, who hit .209 last season.
     The biggest question mark is at first base. Ryan Zimmerman struggled last season, hitting .218/.272/.370 in 467 plate appearances. With no one else currently at camp to potentially take over that job, either he'll have to step up or the Nationals will want to look for a deal at the deadline for someone like Logan Morrison.
     And finally, if we're going to talk about the Nationals, we have to bring up the trade they made in in December, sending Lucas Giolito, among others to Chicago for Adam Eaton. Eaton's a good player, especially in today's analytical world. In 2016 he hit .284/.362/.428 and was a terrific fielder, saving 20 runs with his glove in right field. On the other side of the deal, Giolito is one of the top pitching prospects in the league, a 22-year-old with a fastball that can hit 99 and a hard, tight curveball. With that said, the Nationals are clearly trying to win now, and their staff is already anchored by reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. More importantly, Giolito is only 22 and struggled in his very brief debut last year. The Nats had a hole in their outfield and chose to address that rather than wait for Giolito to get good. So, while it looks like they overpaid for Eaton we can't jump to conclusions here because of their circumstances. If they ultimately win a World Series, it will have all been worth it.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Twins DFA Park and Other Stuff

    A few days ago the Twins designated Byung Ho Park for assignment. While no teams were willing to pick him up and take on his nine million dollar contract, there's still a good chance that this signals the end of the Park era in Minnesota. A thing to remember here is that despite only making his debut last year, Park is already 30 years old, another factor into this decision. The biggest thing here is how much it shows the Falvey-Lavine regime taking charge in deciding what direction to take the team. While their biggest acquisition was rather pedestrian (Jason Castro) this is one of two big choices (the other being releasing Trevor Plouffe) to let guys go and clear up a previously foggy looking future. If there's a bright side to this disaster of a signing, (somehow not even the worst Asian import they've had) it's that we know where we stand on the corner infield in the future: Sano's going to be the full-time third baseman, Mauer's the first baseman. There are only a few more questions going into spring training. Let's take a look at them.
Who's the DH this year?
There aren't a ton of options here. Obviously it won't be Park. Kennys Vargas and Robbie Grossman seem like the only ones with a shot out of spring training. With that said I predict it's Vargas unless he has an abominable spring. Grossman was fine last year, especially for a midseason signing, but he just doesn't fit into the long-term plans. Vargas is out of options, so this will for sure be his last chance to impress. After a disappointing 2015 campaign, he quietly had a decent season last year, posting a respectable .333 on base percentage. If he can cut down on his strikeouts, his ability to hit pitches the other way will become a major asset in the future.
Will Escobar hang on to his shortstop spot?
Possibly. It all depends on how Polanco does in spring training. Escobar is fine for a utility infielder, but after an unprecedented 2014 campaign where he hit .275/.315/.406 with a .330 BABIP. Since then he's been fine, especially as a shortstop for a team that ranges somewhere between mediocre and terrible. That said, now would be a good time to see how Jorge Polanco can do over the course of an entire season. He was solid in his 245 at bats last season, hitting .282 with a .332 on base percentage. The Twins don't seem to be sure about his glove. According to Fangraphs, his fielding cost the Twins eight runs at short last year. That's one of the reasons I was hoping for a Dozier trade this offseason. I'd rather see Polanco at second than shortstop. Anyway, his bat's good enough that he'll at least get a shot at some point. If it's not right out of spring training it'll be within a couple of months.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Potential Suitors for Brian Dozier

The Dodgers have emerged as the frontrunner for Dozier for a few reasons: 1) They badly need a second baseman. Chase Utley played in 137 games there last year and hit a paltry .252/.319/.396. 2) Dodger Stadium's dimensions are ideal for a right handed power hitter like Dozier, with the foul poles being just 330 feet from home plate. So far in the negotiations it sounds like Los Angeles is willing to part with right handed pitching prospect Jose De Leon, but the Twins want another blue chip prospect and the Dodgers won't budge. Time could be running out, apparently the Dodgers are in discussions with the Rangers about possibly acquiring Jurickson Profar,
I hate the idea of Dozier going to St. Louis because I can't stand the Cardinals and I know if he went there he would instantly become the best second baseman in the league. The Cards organization just has the bizarre ability to get the most out of every player*. Anyway, if this deal were to go down, it would probably include Kolten Wong, who I would be a lot more excited about if this was 2013. That said, if they could get former minor league player of the year Luke Weaver in the deal, it might be worth it. Weaver didn't pitch well in his brief time in the big leagues last year, but he's a former first rounder with good velocity and control.
*I have no doubt that Stephen Piscotty, Matt Adams, and Randall Grichuk  would just have been mediocre players anywhere else.
The Braves aren't contenders like the other two teams here, but with a loaded farm system there are some intriguing possibilities here. As with all these other possibilities, the Twins will be looking for pitching, and Atlanta can provide it with last year's number three overall pick Ian Anderson. If not Anderson, Patrick Weigel could also potentially be a main part of the deal. While he doesn't have the potential of Anderson, the 6'6" Weigel is much closer to the big leagues with a fastball that occasionally hits triple digits
The Nats have been mentioned a few times to be interested in Dozier, but there seem to be too many moving parts for a deal to be realistic. For starters, they all ready have Daniel Murphy coming off of a career year at second base. He would need to move to first to make room for Dozier, and after selling the farm for Adam Eaton, the Nationals don't have enough assets to compete with even a mediocre offer from the Dodgers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Top Eight Minnesota Sports Things of 2016

     I don't usually write introduction paragraphs because I hate them*, but I feel I should warn you that this list that's supposed to be optimistic is going to get really depressing really fast.
*New Year's resolution: Be more straightforward
8. Wild make playoffs again
...And then lost in five games to Dallas, but that's not important. The important part is that they made it, and in a terrible year for Minnesota sports, that means a lot.
7. Gopher basketball starts off hot
After going 12-1 in the nonconference season we knew the Gophers were, at the very least, better than last season. After a huge road victory over Purdue things are looking up. Amir Coffey has done well surrounded by a lot of local hype and Nate Mason has built on his solid sophomore season and was tremendous down the stretch against Perdue. I still think the biggest difference between this year and last year is the presence of Reggie Lynch. Last year's Gophers were badly missing someone who could protect the rim, Lynch provides that and its made a huge difference.
6. Young T-Wolves
Karl-Anthony Towns is the future, but he has his own section later on. Here, let's take some time to appreciate all of the young Wolves. Wiggins, Lavine and Towns are all averaging over 20 points while Dieng's been steady at center. The biggest issue here is depth. Once that first unit of Rubio-Lavine-Wiggins-Towns-Dieng comes out, there's no one who can lead a unit off the bench. Dunn has had his moments but it too inexperienced, Shabazz is more of an energy guy than a reliable scorer. That's going to be one of the biggest factors in them becoming a playoff team.
5. Buxton's hot finish
This Twins season was depressing on just about all fronts, including until the final month of the season, Buxton's performance. But then September rolled around. In his final 21 games, Buxton hit .287/.357/.653 with nine homers, eight more than he had hit in the previous five months of the season. He still strikes out way too much, but this was the first extended look we've gotten at how good he has the potential to be.
4. Lynx win the WNBA championship
Wait, did this happen or not? I assumed it did because it seems to every year but now that I think of it I realize that I actually have no idea. Regardless, I don't care enough to look it up and this year sucked so it's staying on.
3. Dozier's season
I should have named this column "Things that gave me hope during an awful year in sports". Dozier's a really interesting case. He was almost 25 when he made his debut as a shortstop in 2012 and hit .242 with six homers in 84 games. From there he established himself as a decent power hitting second baseman 18, 23, and 28 homers in the next three seasons respectively. But that was nothing compared to 2016 when he overcame an abysmal start to club 42 homers and drive in 99 runs. Now there's a chance of him being traded this winter. I'm saving my thoughts on that for its own column.
2. Towns wins rookie of the year
There are very few player in the league with Towns' combination of size, athleticism, passing, and shooting ability. The best part? He's only 21 years old. Things will improve.
1. Vikings 5-0 start
Well, that was fun while it lasted. Before this season fell off a cliff we had those six glorious weeks where a Super Bowl seemed like a possibility. Shortly after that dream start it became painfully clear that a team can't win with no offensive line and while having to rely on the defense to score every game. Here's to a better 2017.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Twins Offseason Update

     The Derek Falvey era officially began a few weeks ago with his first offseason move. That move was to sign a catcher who hit .210 last year to a three year deal. I've been trying to look at this positively, convince myself that Falvey is a genius, that he knows something we don't. Unfortunately, after looking at this from all angles, it doesn't look good.
     Let's start with the good stuff: Castro is an excellent pitch framer, stealing 96 strikes last year, according to StatCorner. This is a huge upgrade over Suzuki who, according to that same site, cost the Twins 38 strikes last year. Castro is a former first round pick and was an all star in 2013, so we know he has the potential to be pretty good. Also, his name is an anagram for "On taco jars". Being the optimist that I am, I'm going to consider that a good sign.
     Now for the bad news: Just about everything else. That all star 2013 season was inflated by a .351 BABIP, a mark he hasn't come within 50 points of in three seasons since then. On a related note, in those seasons, he's hit .222, .211, and .210 respectively.
     So what alternatives did the Twins have? One option would have been to go after Wilson Ramos. He won't be ready to start the season because of his ACL injury, but that injury significantly brought down his price range to the two year 12 million dollar deal that he signed with Tampa Bay. If he fully recovers he could be a major deal. Another option could have been resigning Kurt Suzuki to a one year deal, dealt with one more year of him and then gone after Yasmani Grandal, who's basically a rich man's Castro.  
     While we're on the subject of things the Twins should do, here's one more: Trade Dozier. His value's never going to be higher than it is right now.  This is a very streaky hitter who's going to be 30 in May. Jorge Polanco seems to be ready to play fulltime and dealing Dozier would allow the Twins to address their more pressing dire pitching situation.
     We saw a less extreme version of this play out with Plouffe over the last few years. Between 2014 and 2015 he hit .251 with 36 homers and a whopping 75 doubles. If the Twins had traded him after either of those seasons they could have gotten a few prospects for him at the very least, but they hung onto him and released him last month. Let's hope they don't make the same mistake with Dozier.