Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Midseason Awards

AL
MVP: Aaron Judge
After Trout got injured this became Judge's award to lose. Beyond single-handedly making the Yankees about 70% less hateable he's having one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time. Don't believe me? In 2012 Trout hit .326/.399/.564 with 30 homers. Judge is hitting .329/.448/.691 with 30 homers through 84 games. Obviously he won't sustain his .426 batting average on balls in play but there probably won't be a big of a drop off as one might expect because he's third in baseball in hard hit percentage,* barreling up almost half of the balls he hits. At any rate, Judge is the easy choice in a surprisingly sparse AL field.
*Behind Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos for some reason
Runner-up: Carlos Correa
I have Correa here, but the amazing part about the Astros' season is that you could make the argument that he's only been the third most valuable player behind Jose Altuve and George Springer. They have their own cases but let's take a look at Correa right now. He's hitting .325 with a .420 on base along with 20 homers. Outside of the batters' box he's been an above average fielding shortstop. Also, he's 22 years old. I don't think his solid all-around game is enough to compete with the offensive Monstar season of Judge, but it's been an excellent breakout after his relatively disappointing sophomore campaign.
Cy Young: Chris Sale
It's about damn time. Sale's been one of if not the best pitcher in the AL for the last six years and has no hardware to show for it. In that time he's posted an ERA of 3.01, and ERA+ of 136 and averaged 218 strikeouts a year. This season he's leading the AL in strikeouts, FIP, WHIP, innings pitched and has allowed the fewest number of hits per nine innings. I don't know what more he can do to win this year.
Runner-up: Corey Kluber
So far, Kluber's having his best season since his Cy Young winning 2014. His 2.80 ERA is the lowest it's been since then, and his WHIP is the lowest it's been in his entire career; for the first time he's allowing less than one baserunner per inning.
Rookie of the Year: Judge
Obviously.
Runner-up: Andrew Benintendi
Coming in with massive expectations, Benintendi's been steady in the Bosox lineup. So far he's hit .279/.357/.446 with 12 homers. That's nothing to sneeze at, especially for someone who just turned 22 last week.
LVP: Manny Machado
I really hate to have Machado because he's so much fun to watch but he's been a disaster this year. His OBP (.296) is barely higher than his 2016 batting average (.294). Meanwhile the Orioles have struggled, sitting in fourth place in the East. Going into this year without an ace or even a particularly good rotation, Baltimore needed a high-powered offense to keep pace in a tough division, with the 24-year-old Machado being the linchpin. As it's worked out, Machado's struggled and so has the team, sporting a sub-.500 record at the break.
Player to watch in the second half: Eric Hosmer
Hosmer was the third overall pick in 2008 draft and has had massive expectations following him since then. Even after the Royals' World Series victory in 2015 and his All-Star appearance the next season he hasn't quite lived up to what was expected of him. Now, in his contract season, he's putting together his best year as a pro so far, posting a line of .318/.374/.492 while continuing to be one of the top defensive first basemen in baseball. He and Salvador Perez have been driving this Royals resurgence, who are 44-43 after starting out 7-16. With the trade deadline less than three weeks away, the Royals will have to decide whether to buy or sell.
NL
MVP: Bryce Harper
Runner-up: Paul Goldschmidt
Choosing between Harper and Goldschmidt made me think way too hard about who I should award a theoretical midseason MVP trophy to. Harper has slight advantages in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage, but Goldschmidt is a better fielder. Ultimately I gave it to Harper because of the "Valuable" part of Most Valuable Player. Harper's Nationals are sitting on top of the East at 52-36. While Arizona's been a lot better than expected this season, they're still nowhere near Washington and when the race is this close you need to go by degrees.
Cy Young: Max Scherzer
It's funny that in this season defined by historic home run numbers and offensive production we have two of the best pitchers of the decade having personal best seasons with Sale and Scherzer. Even better, neither of them are in the AL Central while having said seasons. Just like Sale, this was a pretty easy call because Scherzer is leading the NL in just about every meaningful pitching stat: ERA, WHIP, FIP, and strikeouts.
Runner-up: Clayton Kershaw
On the other coast, we have the best pitcher of the decade, who just quietly continues to dominate without much fanfare in LA of all places. This year serves as a pretty good microcosm for his career. Dominance despite being overshadowed by things much more interesting to a national crowd. This year it's Cody Bellinger, previously it's been Yasiel Puig, the Adrian Gonzalez/Carl Crawford/Nick Punto trade from Boston and the McCourt fiasco. That's all fine. It doesn't matter that, unlike Scherzer and Sale this isn't his best year. A 2.18 ERA is providing plenty, especially on this juggernaut of a Dodgers team.
Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger
Speaking of juggernautesque Dodgers, how about Cody Bellinger? The Judge comparison is easy to make, but not quite accurate. Judge is in the midst of a historic rookie season. Bellinger is fun, but just doesn't quite stack up. Regardless, this is another really easy choice. Bellinger is hitting .261 with 25 homers in a difficult park for hitters while contributing to the best team in the NL. He's also the youngest player to get an at bat this year. Don't worry if he's not Judge.
Runner-up: Ian Happ
The one bright spot to the Cubs season is Happ, the versatile slugger who's hit 13 homers in 51 games. Whatever. I doubt there are any Cubs fans taking solace in that. I don't feel bad for them. They got their World Series. See you in 108 years. Before that, meet me in the next section to make even more fun of the Cubs.
LVP: Kyle Schwarber
Obviously it had to be a Cub. I considered going with Arrieta and Lester and Co-LVPs, but no one represents the disappointment of the Cubs than Schwarber: He happened to come alive at the perfect time for Chicago last season, the future was bright with him, and he hasn't produced this season. Actually, "hasn't produced" is a nice way of putting it. To say it a little more bluntly: He was terrible. In addition to being the ugliest player in the league (but he's had that title since 2015) he hit .178/.300/.394 in 277 plate appearances before being sent to Triple-A. Also like the Cubs, he's incredibly young and talented and it's absolutely a possibility to see him turning it around and having a productive second half.
Player to watch in the second half: Kyle Freeland
The Colorado righty has gone 9-and-7 with a 3.77 ERA, which is especially good when you consider he's playing half of this games in Coors Field. With Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon doing plenty for an excellent offensive team, Freeland and the rest of the pitching staff will be especially crucial in the stretch run while fighting for a wild card spot.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Astros Return to the Top of the West

     It's been a weird few years for the Houston Astros. Between 2011 and 2013 they had one of the worst three year stretches in baseball history, going 162-324, winning fewer than 60 games each year. 2014 was better; they went 70-92 and fired manager Bo Porter in September because apparently they were expecting to be better or something. With these miserable seasons they had accumulated quite a farm system, even though of their number one picks, Brady Aiken didn't sign and Mark Appel was a disappointment before being traded to the Phillies in a deal for Ken Giles. Still, Carlos Correa was clearly the real deal and Lance McCullers was on his way up. In 2015 they made the playoffs for the first time since 2005 behind strong seasons from Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa among others and a Cy Young season from Dallas Keuchel. However, after a blazing 18-7 start, they cooled off for the rest of the season, going 68-71 through September. 2016 they went 84-78, missing the playoffs, with Keuchel having a massively underwhelming season, seeing his ERA balloon to 4.55. Finally, that brings us to this year. The 'Stros have the best record in baseball, at 52-26. Here's a look at what they did to jump another level.
Improving their weaknesses
This may sound a little dumb and obvious, but Houston's front office was exceptional at improving the areas where they struggled last year. Their 2016 catcher was Jason Castro. Castro's biggest strength is his defense, but it's still difficult to contend with a catcher who hits .210/.307/.377. This offseason they traded a pair of minor leaguers for Brian McCann who (along with being the protector of all things sacred and holy about baseball) is hitting .261/.343/.463. In left and center field, they replaced Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez, who last year hit .206 and .210 for the Astros respectively with Nori Aoki who despite his shortcomings in power and drawing walks is certainly an upgrade and Josh Reddick, who is enjoying the best season of his career, hitting .297 with an OPS+ of 132. Like I said, improving the weaknesses of a team seems obvious, it's what a front office is there for, but look at how many teams haven't done it. At the end of 2016, the Mets were in a similar situation, having had an excellent 2015 and a not quite as good 2016 with a tough division rival they needed to keep up with. Like the Astros, they had a weakness at catcher, with Travis d'Arnaud hitting a paltry.247/.307/.323 and providing defense behind the plate that's mediocre at best. Flash forward a year and d'Arnaud is hitting .226 in the seven car collision that is the Mets season. To be clear: Not improving at catcher definitely isn't why the Mets are bad this year, but it shows that front offices aren't always as proactive in improving as the Astros' was this offseason.
The Keuchel Resurgence
The Astros rotation has been led by the one-two punch of Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, who have combined to go 16-1 with ERAs of 1.67 and 2.53. Let's take a look at Keuchel because McCullers' success isn't too surprising given that he's 23 and has stuff so nasty it was only a matter of time until he figured it out. Keuchel's different. After his Cy Young season he took a step back in 2016 partially because of his drop in velocity. His fastball, cutter, and slider all saw drops of around a mile per hour. In 2016 he also used his fastball and changeup less often (59% of the time) and relied on his breaking stuff more, as if to compensate for his drop in velocity, but this year before going on the DL, he's back up to the ratio he used to success in 2015, throwing his fastball and changeup 67% of the time, closer to the 69% mark in 2015.
     This is the best Astros team since 2005. All the prospects are here. The bullpen's been solid, and if they can pick up another arm at the deadline to go with Keuchel and McCullers they'll be built for the playoffs. That would fit in with what they've been doing recently; just continuing to improve.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Thoughts from the First Month or Two of the Season

The Yankees are really good
And they're likeable to boot! I'm having so much trouble trying to decide how I feel about the Yankees. On one hand, they're the Yankees; they've knocked the Twins out of the playoffs three times this century. They're famous for buying championships. On the other hand, it's fun watching Aaron Judge hit homers, I'm excited about Gary Sanchez, not as a Twins fan or Yankee hater, but just as a baseball fan. Luckily, that won't be a problem when they sign Harper and Machado and forget about the youth in a few years. As for right now, they've been doing all of this with a relatively shaky starting rotation. Assuming they're still good in July, they're going to deal for pitching and be a very dangerous team.
The Cubs are... not really good
They're just not getting the production they got last year. In retrospect, other than Schwarber's injury, nothing major went wrong for the Cubs in 2016, and it would have been unrealistic to expect that again this year. Despite their youthful lineup, the age in their pitching staff is beginning to show a bit. Jon Lester is 33, Jake Arrieta is 31 and neither are performing as well as their expectations, particularly Arrieta, whose velocity has dropped on every pitch this season and has seen in ERA swell as a result. Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo are too talented to keep hitting .222 and .184 respectively, but the pitching could be a serious problem moving forward.
The Royals are just terrible
I chose the Royals to finish second in the Central at the beginning of the year, and it took me approximately 24 hours to regret that decision. I was impressed that they managed to get Jorge Soler for Wade Davis and never really considered that they really needed Davis. Their bullpen has the sixth worst ERA in baseball at 4.95. Of their eight active relievers, six have ERAs above 4.50, five have ERAs above 6.00. The hitting isn't much better. Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Alex Gordon all have sub-.300 on base percentages. Things could be worse though: Eric Hosmer has gotten his numbers up to respectability with a solid May following a miserable April. With Hosmer, Moustakas, Jason Vargas (one of the few bright spots this year) and Lorenzo Cain set to be free agents this winter, blowing it up seems like the obvious option. With that said, they have just enough  talent that if they wanted to try to add some pieces for a 2018 run, they have could potentially do it if they get some bullpen help this offseason and add a middle infielder or two.
Can we shut up about how terrible baseball is?
In the past year, fans have been told by the national media that baseball is too slow and that extra innings are going extinct. Pompous assholes like Keith Law are publishing books referring to what's "ruining the game" and the "right way to think about baseball", and that's just in the title. So here's my own idea of how to fix baseball: Chill. Baseball is a great game, why do we spend so much time looking at its faults? As for pace of play, why should us true fans suffer with stupid rule changes that bastardize the game to appeal to a generation that doesn't have the attention span to appreciate it the way it is? (Yes, I know the answer is always "money", just stick with me here.) Why do we like this game in the first place? Why can't we just enjoy baseball for what it is?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

How Sano Turned the Corner

     This season has been better than the average year for the Twins. It hasn't been amazing, they probably won't go to the playoffs, but it's been better. Ervin Santana is pitching like he's trying to become the best Johan Santana in Twins history, Max Kepler is barreling up balls left and right, Jorge Polanco has been steady, and since this is an optimistic column let's just not bring up Byron Buxton. But perhaps the most encouraging sign this season has been the clear improvement of Miguel Sano. In addition to rocking some tremendous new braids, the young corner infielder has come out of the gate hot, hitting .297/.435/.649 with six homers. After an excellent rookie season, Sano took a minor step back in 2016 with his batting average dropping 33 points. Let's take a look at what he's doing differently this year.
     The most obvious difference is that Sano's drawing more walks this year. Last season, in 495 plate appearances, he got 54 free passes. This year, he already has 18 in just 92 plate appearances. To put that into percentages, he's nearly doubling his walk rate, jumping from 10.9 percent to 19.6 percent.  Despite those walks, he's being more aggressive within the strike zone. When he's gotten a pitch in the strike zone, he's swung at it 71.3 percent of the time. These better decisions have lead to him barreling up more balls than any other time in his career. According to Fangraphs, he's hit the ball hard 52 percent of the time, compared to his 40 percent mark from last year. Similarly, his percentage of balls that are softly hit have dropped, from 10 to four percent. His strikeout rate is still too high, at 32 percent, but that's still a slight decline from the last two years.
     Now that we're done with the boring analytical stuff, let's discuss the important part: watching him. He hasn't been chasing after the low breaking balls that tend to plague young hitters (see: Oswaldo Arcia). He also appears to be more comfortable taking the ball the other way, putting pitches on the outside corner into the right field gap, one of which went for a triple earlier this year.
     As far as defense goes, it will never be Sano's strength. But he's made some clear improvements. After settling back into third base after the ill-fated right field experiment, he hasn't been terrible. So far he's made several great bare-handed plays like this. Statistically, his fielding percentage is up to .958 from .896 from last year, even if the range isn't quite there. Just getting up to adequate in the field would be a big bonus.
     Being a Twins fan takes an incredible amount of patience. Since 2010 we've had to do a lot of waiting. For Buxton, for Sano, for Berrios, for a more modern front office. And while we're still waiting for a lot, Sano becoming a star might be one thing we can stop waiting for.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

MLB Preview 2017! NL Edition

My NL preview is a litttle late. Sue me. Here are the predictions.
East
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.
Central
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.
West
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.
Awards
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.
Playoffs
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

East
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.
Central
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.
West
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.
Awards
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.
Playoffs
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

Dodgers
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,
Cardinals
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.
Braves
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
Nationals
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.