Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Trade Deadline Recap

Blue Jays-Rockies
Blue Jays get:
Troy Tulowitzki, LaTroy Hawkins
Rockies get:
Jose Reyes,Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman, Jesus Tinoco
This is a tough deal to judge right now because there's a decent chance the Rockies turn around and flip Reyes in a different trade. Unloading a star like Tulo is always difficult, but the Rockies did pretty well here. The main piece of this trade is Hoffman, a stud pitching prospects who possesses a fastball in the high 90s. Castro struggled in his brief time with the big league club earlier this year, posting a 4.38 ERA, but he's only 20 years old and was the number five ranked prospect in the Jays organization. Like I said before, Reyes is likely on his way out, so they'll get more assets for him.
As well as Colorado did in this trade, the Blue Jays just got the best shortstop in baseball. Enough said. On the other hand, they still have serious problems to address, particularly in the pitching staff. Sorry, getting the real life Benjamin Button LaTroy Hawkins doesn't count. Toronto has a collective ERA of 4.07, good for eighth worst in the league. It's weird that they didn't try to use the same package for someone like Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto. On the other hand the Tulo-Donaldson-Bautista-Encarnacion middle of the lineup is going to be crazy good. If they can outslug other teams it won't matter.
Winner: Blue Jays
Royals get:
Johnny Cueto
Reds get:
Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, Cody Reed
This deal's a no-brainer for the Royals, needing a pitcher with Yordano Ventura failing to build on his encouraging 2014 season and Jason Vargas injured. Cueto will post even better numbers than his 2.68 ERA in Kansas City, teaming up with Lorenzo Cain and the rest of their defensive juggernaut. The Reds continue to rebuild. Finnegan's a former first-rounder who has a 2.96 ERA this year, and got some big-game experience in the playoffs last year, despite being inconsistent. He'll start in Triple-A Louisville for now. Lamb is a former top prospect who's path to the majors was derailed by Tommy John surgery in 2011. However although he's lost velocity, he's managed to be consistently solid since then.
A's get:
Sean Manaea, Aaron Brooks
Royals get:
Ben Zobrist
First of all, I'd like to congratulate Billy Beane for trading top shortstop prospect Daniel Robertson for two pitchers who are average and slightly above average respectively. This is a solid trade for Kansas City, Zobrist will start out in left field for Alex Gordon then when he comes back they'll be able to use him all around the diamond, possibly at second base for Omar Infante. There's nothing noteworthy about the A's side of the deal. Manaea and Brooks are both solid pitching prospects, but that's about it.
A's get:
Jacob Nottingham, Daniel Mengden
Astros get:
Scott Kazmir
I love this move for the Astros. They desperately needed another starter to go with Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, and while Kazmir isn't a sexy choice like Cole Hamels, he gets the job done. His ERA is 2.38 this year, best in his career. It's a pretty good deal for Oakland as well. Mengden is an excellent catching prospect, he's the main part of the deal, while Nottingham projects to be at least a decent reliever.
Analysis on the rest of the deals coming soon

Friday, July 17, 2015

Midseason Outlooks

Red Sox
     The Sox seem to be switching off between great and absolute train wrecks. Unfortunately they've been stuck in the train wreck for about a year and a half now. After Ben Cherington tried to create the greatest fantasy baseball team ever in free agency, things have gone south. Hanley's looked lost in the outfield, and the stats back that one up. He's cost the Red Sox 16 runs this year in the field. The pitching isn't helping either. After whiffing on Jon Lester in the offseason, the Red Sox took gambles on Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson and Wade Miley, all of whom are sporting ERAs over 4.70. You can't even blame that on Fenway park either. Miley has the lowest FIP, which adjust for park and fielding, among them at 3.95. And I'm not even going to mention Rusney Castillo, the Cuban signee who's hitting .230/.260/.284 with one homer in the first year of his seven year, 72 million dollar contract.
     Even with all that going on, the Red Sox are somehow just 6.5 games out of first place in a weak AL East. That said, I'm still not sure they're going to be buyers at the trade deadline. They have the prospect depth to make a deal for Johnny Cueto or Cole Hamels but don't seem to want to part with enough players to make the deal. As of early May it was reported that Boston was refusing to part with Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart in the deal. It makes sense. Betts has been one of the few bright spots in the Sox season, batting .277/.328/.464 and displaying a cannon of an arm in center field with six assists. The Red Sox should sit back, accept this isn't their year, pick up some pitching in the offseason, and look toward next year.
     Hey, we're on a run of teams that made a splash in the offseason and are now having massively underwhelming seasons. Unlike the Red Sox, their future looks bleak. Really bleak. They don't have many assets like the Red Sox after they sold the farm for Matt Kemp, who has hit .250/.291/.382 and played his usual miserable defense, ravaged after a variety of injuries. In the trade they gave up Yasmani Grandal, who appeared in his first All-Star Game Tuesday and has become one of the best backstops in the National League. They also dealt pitcher Jesse Hahn to Oakland for Derek Norris, who rode a BABIP wave to an All-Star appearance in 2014 slowing down and hitting .245 in the second half. This year he's been much closer to that second half version of himself, batting .233/.279/.407. James Shields, has struggled as well, posting an ERA of 4.01 in a pitchers ballpark. Even worse, he's in the first year of a five year contract. They also have Melvin, formerly known as B.J. Upton. That's all I'll say on that matter.
Watching the Astros is like seeing a team full of Dave Kingmans. Featuring guys like Evan Gattis, (.241 15 homers) and Chris Carter (.185 15 homers as well) they lead the league in round-trippers with 124, but also strikeout rate at 24.7%. As a team they're hitting .240, which is by far the lowest among teams above .500, but none of that matters if they just outslug their opponents, which they need to do. They have a good bullpen, but beyond Dallas Kuechel, the rotation is subpar, although stud prospect Lance McCullers has done well in his brief stint with the team so far. Number two overall pick in 2012 draft Carlos Correa has also done well, teaming up with Jose Altuve to add some desperately needed speed to a slow, slugging lineup.
     The Phillies just have to wait right now. Ryan Howard's mammoth contract comes off the books after the 2017 season. Chase Utley's salary goes down next year. Cole Hamels is on his way out. Carlos Ruiz's ridiculous contract is done after 2017... There are so many awful contracts on this team I'm surprised Melvin Upton hasn't somehow ended up on the team. There is light at the end of the tunnel though. They'll get a small army for Cole Hamels in a few weeks and probably something for Jonathan Papelbon. Reliever Ken Giles is having another great year after finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting last year. Also, Philly called up top third base prospect Maikel Franco, who's hit .284 with 10 homers in 55 games. There getting there. Just very slowly.
     These Tigers' pitching isn't as good as it's been in years past, but the lineup is as fearsome as ever. Even with Miggy injured, the middle of the lineup is Kinsler-Martinez-Cespedes-Martinez which is absolutely terrifying when they're coming up in a big spot. Throw Cabrera in there and they'll score a lot of runs. The problem is the pitching. David Price has been his usual dominant, but the rest of the rotation doesn't have a single guy with an ERA under 4.3, headlined by the disastrous duo of Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene who have ERAs of 4.53 and 6.32 respectively.
     For the first time in a long time, the Tigers seem mortal. 2011 Justin Verlander is long gone, and Victor Martinez is clearly on the decline. If they don't get some pitching soon, they'll miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010. If they do get pitching, this five year stretch of Tiger dominance will continue into October... again.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Midseason Awards

MVP: Mike Trout
This was tough. Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and Trout are the three main contenders. Of those three, Machado isn't on the same level as Donaldson and Trout. He's having an excellent season, he's just not there yet. Now it's down to Trout and Donaldson, they have nearly identical batting averages, .305 for Trout and .302 for Donaldson. Donaldson is a slightly better fielder, saving 9 runs with his glove compared to Trout's 2 but I eventually went with Trout because his plate discipline sets him apart. He's drawn 13 more walks this season en route to a on base percentage that's 39 points higher than Donaldson's.
LVP: Pablo Sandoval
This could have gone to plenty of Red Sox, but I'm going with Panda because he's been worse offensively than Hanley, hitting a paltry .267/.310/.391. Also, Hanley's train wreck in left field has overshadowed Sandoval's usual atrocious fielding at third base.
Cy Young: Chris Archer
Somehow Cy Young managed to be almost as close as MVP. Archer, Dallas Keuchel, Chris Sale and Sonny Gray are all deserving candidates. Ultimately I decided that Archer has been better this year. Slightly. He doesn't lead the league in any meaningful categories, but he's just been steady. Sale's received a lot of attention for his strikeout record, but he's still struggled at times. Archer has only given up more than three earned runs three times this year. Almost every time out he's given the Rays a chance to win. There's nothing more you can ask from a pitcher than that.
Rookie of the Year: Incomplete
It's impossible to predict the ROY at this point. Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Miguel Sano have all done well in short stretches this year, but no one's emerged from the pack or played long enough to distinguish himself so far.
MVP: Bryce Harper
The NL's quite a bit easier. While Paul Goldschmidt's gaudy .349/.466/.618 batting line looks good, Harper has somehow been even better, hitting .343/.471/.709 and a more premium position. Harper's Nationals will also make the playoffs barring a huge second half collapse, while the Diamondbacks are struggling to stay at .500. If that wasn't enough, Harper wears stirrups. And stirrups are awesome.
LVP: Matt Kemp
After the Padres gave up a small army for Kemp in the offseason, he has not delivered, to say the least. He does lead the league in one category; unfortunately for the Friars that's games played. At the plate he's hitting .242/.281/.367 and he's been even worse in the field. So far this year he's cost the Padres 12 runs with his glove.
Cy Young: Max Scherzer
Scherzer is having a tremendous year despite being just 9-7. Explain that one to me morons who think Clayton Kershaw is a victim of outdated stats.* Anyway, Scherzer has been even better in Washington than he was in Detroit, sporting a 2.12 ERA and an unreal 10.21 strikeout to walk ratio.
*Kershaw's win loss record has nothing to do with his all star omission. There are plenty of guys who don't have great win loss records like Scherzer, the aforementioned Chris Archer (9-6), or Shelby Miller (5-4). Kershaw was left off the roster because of the unrealistic standard he set for himself in the last few years. We had become so unaccustomed to him being good but not amazing people assumed he was having a bad year.  
Rookie of the Year: Joc Pederson
It feels a little weird to be choosing a .231 hitter for Rookie of the Year, but Pederson has been great in just about every other area. He's a fantastic defender with two defensive runs saved this year, and his hitting numbers have been skewed due to him playing half his games in the cavernous Dodger Stadium. While he is prone to the big whiff (101 strikeouts on the season) I can't penalize him for that because he main competitor, Kris Bryant has almost as many with 95.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Ascent of Brian Dozier

     On August 8th, 2012, Brian Dozier went 0-4 in a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. It was typical of Dozier who had struggled almost the entire time since coming to the big leagues in early May, batting just .234/.271/.332. He was sent down to Triple-A after the game.
     Lots of people figured he be heard from again, not because he had been so awful that he would never be called up again, but because there have been hundreds of guys like him in every organization: Pedestrian prospects who can't make it in the big leagues. After he spent the rest of the year in the minors, something weird happened: Dozier went into spring training as the favorite for starting second baseman. Alexi Casilla had held the position the year before while Dozier was at shortstop. The season began with Dozier on board as the second baseman when something even weirder happened: Dozier did well. He wasn't spectacular by any means but he was good enough that nobody questioned his job security. He finished the year with a batting line of .244/.312/.414 and 18 homers.
     Dozier was even better the next year, being more selective at the plate, improving his walk rate by over 4%. He also became just the sixth Twin to have at least 20 homers and 20 steals in the same season. Now, in 2015, Dozier's is one of the top second basemen in the league and is likely to make his first all-star team. That begs the question: what changed?
     Dozier's hitting for more power this year than any other season of his career by far. His .529 slugging percentage is not only a career high but over 100 points higher than his second highest mark of .416. In fact, he's on pace to set career highs in homers, RBI and doubles as well. Yes, I'm completely aware that he was on pace for 36 homers at the all star break last year, but just because he cooled off in 2014 doesn't necessarily mean he will this year.
     All the power numbers can be attributed to the fact that he's just hitting the ball harder this year. His 33.1 hard hit rate is a career high and ranks second among all second basemen.
     Whenever someone makes big improvements in the hitting department, a lot of times it can be credited with the player being a smarter hitter. He's not just concentrating on hitting homers, he's just putting the bat on the ball and using all fields. Dozier's doing the exact opposite. He's pulled 65.3% of balls this year, a career high. He's also being more aggressive, swinging at 44% of all pitches, up from 38.3% of last year. While his on base percentage has gone down slightly because of that, and he's striking out more often it has brought up his average up 26 points.
     Unfortunately for the Twins, Dozier's power surge has coincided with him batting leadoff, keeping him from driving in many runs. But while the numbers say he should be hitting in the middle of the lineup, there's a case to be made for keeping him in the leadoff spot so he can keep his routine. Also, Dan Gladden likes it when he hits leadoff homers so he can bring up the Twins all time leadoff home run leaders and talk about himself more. So there's that to consider as well. It's a tough decision with no right answer.
     He's one of the best second basemen in the league (and I didn't even mention his fielding) and had a bizarre journey getting there. Now he'll likely be an All Star. All after his miserable play as a 25 year old rookie.