A year after losing 95 games, the Rangers have been solid in 2015. At 48-52, they sit just four games out of the second Wild Card in the American League. Needless to say, if they weren’t 14-26 against the AL West, they’d probably be in a better spot, but, even after dealing with major injuries and several changes within the organization, Jeff Banister has led the club to respectability.
The Rangers were able to acquire Hamels without giving up their top two prospects, 3B Joey Gallo and OF Nomar Mazara, while dumping the $28 million that LHP Matt Harrison was owed over the next two seasons (including his option buyout for 2018). Hamels, who is guaranteed $76.5 million between 2016 and 2019, will anchor a staff that will include the returning from Tommy John surgery RHP Yu Darvish, another several months removed from the same surgery LHP Martin Perez, and a healthy LHP Derek Holland.
Clearly, the pitching staff is loaded, if healthy, but Hamels could be enough to get the Rangers into the playoffs this season. The Rangers are getting some solid pitching – you just have to dig deeper to see it:
If you take away the two starts that RHP Colby Lewis was obliterated in (9 ER on 5/27 vs. CLE, 10 ER on 7/5 vs. LAA), he would have a 3.29 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 125.2 IP – NOT the inflated 4.42 ERA and 1.19 WHIP that he has in 132.1 IP. After leading the AL in losses in 2014 (14), Lewis is 11-4 in his 21 starts – not bad for a $4 million investment.
Gallardo, who was acquired for INF Luis Sardinas, RHP Corey Knebel, and distant RHP prospect Marcos Diplan, has revived his career in the unlikeliest of places. His 3.19 ERA, the best of his MLB career, is surprising, especially since he has posted the lowest strikeout rate of his career (6.2) and is walking 3.4 batters per nine this season. His 24.8% hard hit ball rate ranks 14th in MLB, but the 6.8% HR/FB is much lower than his career rate (10.9%) and would seem unsustainable as he heads towards free agency after the season. While he is providing a lot of value for the time being, he, much like free-agent-to-be Lewis, may not be a factor next season.
Adding Hamels to those performances could be enough to get the Rangers over the hump; however, it isn’t certain that those performances will continue to be enough, as youngsters Perez and RHP Nick Martinez have struggled of late.
As always, the Rangers have strong offensive parts. 1B Mitch Moreland is having a career-best season, Fielder has regained his stroke after missing most of the 2014 season after having neck surgery, and OF Delino DeShields, Jr. has provided solid speed and on-base skills, but the decline of 3B Adrian Beltre (career-worst .677 OPS) and the unpredictable nature of what to expect from Hamilton (.719 OPS), along with the collapse of CF Leonys Martin, has left the Rangers offense limping.
While Hamels is a tremendous addition, the Rangers need to get production out of the aforementioned players, as well as overpaid, glove-only SS Elvis Andrus, in order to become real competitors. If there was a roster spot for Gallo to step into, without him having to learn a new position, it would be ideal for the offense, who, despite their struggles, rank 8th in MLB in runs scored and 11th in MLB in OPS.
Perhaps the move for Hamels will light a fire under the team, but, even with Hamels as their ace in 2016, the Rangers have several question marks, namely aging players and health, to address prior to being labeled as favorites. On paper, however, giving up some talented-yet-flawed prospects in Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams, was certainly worth the club’s major acquisition.
As we celebrate Independence Day in the United States, we feel that pounding in our chests from the explosions high above, while many of us listen or watch our favorite baseball teams and eat apple pie. It is the epitome of America in a single day, but many of us are reminded that our teams just aren’t doing enough to win. Some of our favorite teams will be seeking help to improve their chances of winning, while others will begin dumping talent to build a winner next year. With less than four weeks remaining until the non-waiver trade deadline, where does your team stand? Does the additional Wild Card opportunity continue to lead to many clubs standing pat? Who needs what and who could be on the market?
The standings tell an interesting story. In the American League, there isn’t a single team more than six games out of the Wild Card hunt. The Oakland Athletics feature a 38-46 record after some huge deals this winter haven’t truly materialized as Billy Beane hoped; however, the A’s are 13-7 over their last 20 games, so they may not be as willing to deal a Ben Zobrist or Scott Kazmir (both free agents after the 2015 season) to continue the club’s unending rebuild and collection of controllable talent. With other woulda-coulda-shoulda-been contenders just ahead of Oakland in Seattle, Boston, and Chicago, the American League could see plenty of clubs reloading rather than rebuilding when the deadline approaches.
In the senior circuit, the National League has its share of contending teams, but they also have four clubs sitting 11 or more games under .500 (Miami, Colorado, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia). Another team that is on the border of Wild Card contention could be Cincinnati, who sits six games out in the Wild Card; however, with the St. Louis Cardinals leading the Reds by 15 games, the team may need to begin looking into dealing Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, and/or Jay Bruce to get back on the same page as their NL Central foes. Even if the Reds aren’t sellers, names like Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Dan Haren, and Mat Latos will likely head elsewhere from the four bottom-feeding clubs.
So, where could these names end up? Who are the contenders likely to make deals or stand pat?
St. Louis Cardinals
It isn’t an even year, so the Giants won’t be taking the World Series championship. That leaves the Cardinals, who have the best record in baseball, locked-in and ready to seek another title, utilizing the “Cardinal Way”, aka computer hacking, to make it happen. Though they continue to win games, St. Louis is without Matt Adams and Adam Wainwright for the entire season. With Jaime Garcia continuing to struggle to stay healthy, St. Louis could be in the market for another bat or arm. Stephen Piscotty could get a look if Mark Reynolds isn’t the option at first, but the Cards would be wise to shore-up the rotation a bit – just in case another injury strikes. They’re again loaded and talented, and they could take advantage of their strong farm to improve their chances once again.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are just three games out in the AL East and 1.5 games out in the Wild Card. With their lineup featuring so many capable sluggers, they just need some pitching to get over the hump. Toronto continues to develop strong pitching prospects, so they could offer some of that talent to acquire an arm for a big push down the stretch. The Blue Jays’ 4.59 starter ERA ranks 26th in MLB, and you have to wonder if Hamels, Kazmir, or Cueto could help the pitching staff enough to allow Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Edwin Encarnacion to do their thing with the bats.
New York Mets
The Mets’ pitching staff is too good for the club to run out a lineup of Triple-A and MLB bench quality players on a nightly basis. While the club isn’t going to deal their entire farm system and start from scratch, the Mets would be wise to deal some of their young pitching depth to acquire some semblance of an offensive weapon. The Troy Tulowitzki rumors were a big thing earlier this season, but that wouldn’t be enough to help this lineup on its own, especially when he’d be replacing one of the Mets major producers, Wilmer Flores (11 2B, 10 HR, leads team with 34 RBI), at short.
Chicago White Sox
Chicago would probably burn again if the White Sox trade Chris Sale. At just five games out in the Wild Card, the team isn’t going to fold after spending big on Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, and David Robertson in free agency this past winter, and they still have Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu to produce in the lineup, along with a deep, strong rotation with Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Rodon, Jose Quintana, and John Danks joining Sale in the group. If the White Sox do anything, they could afford to get a second baseman, as the team has received a .193/.239/.232 from the keystone position this season, easily the worst in baseball.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are somehow managing to compete in the AL East this season, even after dealing with many injuries to their rotation to start the season. When Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly, and Jake Odorizzi are on the shelf at the same time, you, likely, wouldn’t expect the Rays to still be just three games out in the division and 1.5 games out of the Wild Card. While Tampa Bay could make a few upgrades, they aren’t really in a position to deal from their minor league system due to continued financial limitations, while they are likely to get production from a healthy Moore, Smyly, and Odorizzi in the second half, who will join Cy Young consideration worthy Chris Archer to squander the opposition and win plenty of games.
Whatever the club can manage to pry away to get rid of Ryan Howard and/or Chase Utley would be wise. This team is 27-55 entering play Saturday, well on their way to the first overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. It has to be a miracle that Ruben Amaro, Jr. is still employed. He may be a great guy, but he has ruined this franchise for years to come. If the club can deal Hamels and get great prospects WHILE dumping Hamels salary and allowing the team to start fresh next winter, it would be wise to do so. Dealing Jonathan Papelbon to a contender would also be a great move, as a highly-paid closer on a team that doesn’t win games is an absolute waste of time and money.
I mentioned before that the Reds could stand pat, but they need to deal Cueto and get value out of him, as I wrote recently. Jay Bruce’s production could make him hard to deal, but the club has Marlon Byrd under contract next year (vesting or team option at $8 million) with Jesse Winker showing he isn’t over-matched in Double-A to fill in the spaces around Billy Hamilton. Perhaps there is a match with the White Sox with Brandon Phillips, though his contract is as steep as his age. The Reds are more likely to play on the moon than get a team to take on Joey Votto‘s contract, so they’ll need some cheap, controllable pieces to collect and pray for production from. With a payroll that continues to be labeled “small-market”, the Reds are in serious danger of being awful in the next couple of seasons without acquiring near-ready talent.
Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!
2015 Projected Record: 69-93 (5th in NL East, 30th in MLB)
Brown was an All-Star in 2013, his age-25 season, after posting an .856 OPS to go along with 23 home runs and 67 RBI in the first half; however, it hasn’t been pretty since then, as Brown was quite unproductive in the second half of 2013 (.723 OPS, nine extra-base hits, and 16 RBI over 156 plate appearances) before falling flat on his face in 2014, when he posted a .235/.285/.349 triple-slash (.634 OPS, 77 OPS+). At 27, Brown still needs to prove that the potential (which led to his No.4 overall prospect ranking prior to the 2011 season) is still there for him to be type of player that was present during the first half of the 2013 season. Luckily for Brown, the Phillies possess very little in the way of competition and prospects to push him for his role in right field, as Jeff Francoeur, Jordan Danks, and Brian Bogusevic are the likely backups in the Philadelphia outfield. The talent is there, but, as usual with Brown, the question remains as to whether or not he is motivated enough to reach his potential.
With the Phillies in rebuilding mode, the club has been working most of the offseason to deal their closer, Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon, who has a $13 million vesting option for 2016 if he finishes 48 games in 2015, isn’t very valuable to a club that is expected to be as bad as the Phillies are anticipated to be in 2015, and his contract will just hold the club back financially in 2016 if he was to reach his vesting option and stick around another season. If Philadelphia was able to move Papelbon, Giles would likely slide into the closer’s role. Giles, 24, posted a 1.18 ERA and 0.79 WHIP over 45.2 innings, striking out 12.6 per nine over his 44 appearances. He isn’t arbitration-eligible until after the 2017 season, and he could provide cheap saves for the Phillies and fantasy players alike.
Offseason Overview: The Phillies were sellers over the winter, with very little success in dealing off the overpriced parts that they wanted to rid themselves of. They were able to deal Marlon Byrd to the Cincinnati Reds for a decent pitching prospect, RHP Ben Lively, and Jimmy Rollins to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two pitching prospects (RHP Zach Eflin and LHP Tom Windle), but, as of publishing, they weren’t able to move 1B Ryan Howard, LHP Cliff Lee, or LHP Cole Hamels. There are plenty of suitors still trying to come up with the right package to acquire Hamels, who has made it known that he doesn’t want to be in Philadelphia any longer, but Ruben Amaro, Jr. hasn’t budged on his asking price…yet. Beyond the two deals for minor leaguers, the Phillies haven’t done much. RHP Aaron Harang and RHP Chad Billingsley were decent one-year gambles that the club should attempt to pawn-off at the trade deadline for any breathing, controllable player, but they have a long way to go to be competitive again.
#Phillies Cole Hamels had a 2.46 ERA in 2014. The lowest ERA among pitchers with at least 30 starts and fewer than 10 wins since 1875.
The Verdict: Citizens Bank Park will be very loud this season, featuring plenty of booing, screaming, paper bag covered faces, and creative signs regarding the franchise. The core of the team is still an aging group, and counting on Grady Sizemore in left field is an example of the continued ineptitude of the leadership. If the Phillies can get anything for any of their players and start with a blank slate, in similar fashion to the Houston Astros under Jeff Luhnow, it would be a worthwhile move for the future of the franchise. The weight of the $60 million owed to Ryan Howard (including his 2017 buyout), is a burden that Amaro placed on himself, and it should have cost him his job, but he’ll be the one trying to fix the mess that he created this season, as the team is heading towards 100 losses and the right to the No.1 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft.
With the big signing of Masahiro Tanaka by the New York Yankees on Wednesday, the market for free agency and trades could explode over the next several days. With that in mind, I was thinking about some deals that would make tremendous sense for several teams…although, they could just make sense to me. Regardless, here are some deals that I’d like to see made over the next few weeks before pitchers and catchers report.
Why This Trade Makes Sense: The Yankees clearly want to get back to the top, as their $155 million investment in Tanaka showed. With Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, and Scott Sizemore as the current options at second base, New York could use a more reliable name to replace Robinson Cano. While the Reds don’t have an immediate replacement ready for Phillips (outside of Henry Rodriguez or another position change for Billy Hamilton), they need to clear some payroll in order to lock up Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake, all of whom are eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, as well as Homer Bailey, who will be a free agent after the 2014 season. Phillips, who is due $50 million over the next four years, could be a bargain based on the current market, while his ability to play defensively at an elite level will provide quite a bit of value, as well. Gardner is unlikely to provide the on-base skills that Shin-Soo Choo provided last season in Cincinnati, but he would provide elite-level defensive skills, speed, and solid on-base skills (career OBP of .352). Gardner, earning $5.6 million in 2014 prior to reaching free agency after the season, would be an upgrade over a 2014 version of Hamilton, while providing quite a bit of financial flexibility to shore up the rotation for the coming seasons in Cincinnati. Even if Cincinnati had to chip in $10 million in salary relief, it would be an interesting deal for both clubs.
Baltimore Orioles Sign A.J. Burnett to a one-year, $14 million deal
Why This Signing Makes Sense: In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles surprised the world by contending and finishing 2nd in the AL East with 93 wins. In 2013, there was a slight regression, as the team dipped to 85 wins after doing very little over the offseason. The Orioles have been very active in the minor league free agent market this winter, but they could use a splash, and Burnett would be a tremendous addition to the club’s rotation. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, and Kevin Gausman make a good, young rotation, but Burnett would be the anchor for the staff, and his presence would allow the club to move Norris to a (more appropriate) bullpen role. Burnett is from Maryland and he has been rumored to be retiring if he doesn’t re-sign with Pittsburgh, but Baltimore is close to home and he can keep his wife happy, and the spare change for one year would be worth it for both sides. Burnett rebuilt his value with two tremendous seasons with the Pirates, and he is worth a one-year deal for Baltimore for another shot at the AL East for the tattooed right-hander. Sure, it seems like it is going to be Pittsburgh or bust, but the Orioles are contenders with a healthy Manny Machado and consistent production from Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters – the O’s need to do their due diligence here.
Toronto Blue Jays Sign Matt Garza to a five-year, $60 million deal (I know he was rumored to have signed with Milwaukee for four-years, $52 million pending a physical, but it isn’t official…yet)
Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Jays need another solid option in their rotation to compliment R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow, so that their offense isn’t wasted on sloppy rotation options like Esmil Rogers, Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Laffey, and Rickey Romero, who combined to make 27 starts last season. While Garza has some injury concerns, the Blue Jays have already given him a dynamic weapon – Dioner Navarro. With Navarro as his catcher, Garza has logged 338.1 innings and managed a 3.25 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, while Garza has posted a 4.07 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP with anyone else behind the dish. While there is risk involved due to Garza spending 170 team games on the disabled list the last three seasons with right shoulder and elbow injuries, the Jays need a pitcher who is capable of pitching in the AL East (Garza has done it before), can toss 180 or more innings (Garza has done it four times), and would be a significant upgrade over Rogers, Todd Redmond, and J.A. Happ, while the club waits for Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Alberto Tirado, Daniel Norris, and Sean Nolin to reach the majors. Garza may not be a number one starter, but he is a strong number two or three option on a club that should compete with an absolutely loaded offensive group.
Philadelphia Phillies Sign Ubaldo Jimenez to a five-year, $85 million deal
Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Phillies first round pick, seventh overall, is protected, so while Jimenez would require draft-pick compensation, it would only be a second round pick going to Cleveland for Jimenez. After a tremendous second half in 2013 (1.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP over 84 innings), Jimenez rebuilt his value, and, at the age of 30, would be a solid right-handed option for the Phillies to place between Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Jimenez has had some success during his career in the NL East:
For those who don’t want to do the math, Jimenez is 11-11 with a 3.39 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 162:81 K:BB over 167 innings and 27 starts, and while that isn’t perfect, especially in a ballpark that is more favorable to hitters, Jimenez should, at least, be worth the money as an innings eater if he isn’t elite like he was in the second half of 2013. The Phillies may not be contenders, but they’ll always be spenders. They don’t have any arms ready in their system and Jimenez would be a huge upgrade over Roberto Hernandez and Ethan Martin, who appear to be options for the rotation currently.
Oakland Athletics Sign Nelson Cruz to a three-year, $27 million deal
Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Cruz market appears nearly dead after there was draft-pick compensation added to a PED suspension, but Cruz is still just 33 and he is coming off of an All-Star season with solid production (27 home runs and 76 RBI in just 109 games). With very little interest and risk involved, it’s the perfect opportunity for Oakland to swoop in and make an interesting signing. While the club has some solid right-handed pop in Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, the remainder of the lineup is filled with left-handed hitters, including Josh Reddick, Eric Sogard, Brandon Moss, as well as switch-hitters Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie. Another right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat would be a tremendous addition, as Reddick or Moss could sandwich between Cruz and Cespedes, providing quite a bit of value and production for a team that struggles to find offense in a cavernous home ballpark. However, Cruz has struggled in Oakland, posting a .192/.248/.352 triple-slash in 202 career plate appearances there. The late first round pick and discounted contract, though, could be enough to overlook his struggles, while providing a little more punch to the Oakland lineup.
Why This Signing Makes Sense: Arroyo has been homer prone in the past and doesn’t have the stuff to avoid bats, but he has averaged 211 innings pitched over the last nine seasons and is someone whom the Rangers could count on with Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison coming back from injuries and Derek Holland on the shelf until mid-2014. Arroyo survived in a bandbox in Cincinnati over the last eight seasons, so he would be just as likely to post 200-plus innings and an ERA around 4.00 in Texas, especially with spacious ballparks like those in Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim within the division. There isn’t draft-pick compensation tied to Arroyo, and with Masahiro Tanaka gone and no real hope of acquiring David Price in a trade, the Rangers just need five starting pitchers, and Arroyo is a nice, reliable addition for the middle or back-end of the Texas rotation.
Why This Trade Makes Sense: C.C. Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Hiroki Kuroda make a great top three and Ivan Nova showed drastic improvements last season, but the Yankees are relying on David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, and Manny Banuelos at the back of the rotation in 2014. While Alex Wood has one of the more violent deliveries you’ll ever see, he has solid stuff and is ready to be productive immediately in a major league rotation. With Brandon Beachy healthy and David Hale and Gavin Floyd capable of filling the back of the Braves rotation, Wood could be expendable for Atlanta to seek a long-term option at catcher with the departure of Brian McCann to the Yankees via free agency. Evan Gattis has a lot of power and Christian Bethancourt has tremendous defensive skills, but neither seem like strong options as an everyday catcher for Atlanta. While Sanchez still needs some seasoning and he could use a change of scenery due to his makeup and maturity concerns, the Braves have several upcoming arms, as usual, and they have a long-term need at catcher. Sanchez could be the answer and the eventual elbow surgery that Wood will need is worth this type of deal for Atlanta, and the production that the Yankees get out of Wood could be useful, as well.
All over the internet this week, different analysts have raised the question: “If you could choose any pitcher to pitch an elimination game, who would you choose?” It seems like a pretty easy question, but the answers have been all over the place. Obviously, the concept needs to be narrowed down. Is it right now? Is it in the history of the game? What kind of team is the pitcher facing?
A recent article at FanGraphs actually posed the question to 12 different players. Not surprisingly, Los Angeles Dodgers left-handed starter Clayton Kershaw came out on top, receiving six votes, but it was relatively surprising that he only received six of the 12 votes. David Price ranked second with two votes, while soon-to-be free agent right-hander Roy Halladay, New York Mets’ right-hander Matt Harvey, Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee, and St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright each received one vote. With Andy Pettitte, the all-time leader in postseason wins (19), Cole Hamels (7-4 with a 3.09 ERA in 13 postseason starts), and Chris Carpenter (10-4 with a 3.00 ERA in 18 postseason starts) still around, is it fair to wonder what Baltimore Orioles’ first baseman Chris Davis was thinking when he said the zero postseason start Matt Harvey?
Certainly, the nastiness of the stuff has to be taken into account when you are answering a question like this, and Harvey is undeniably one of the nastiest pitchers in Major League Baseball…when healthy. If that is the case, should Miami Marlins’ right-hander Jose Fernandez be someone to consider? What about Justin Verlander – the guy has won seven of 14 starts, including a complete ownage of Oakland in the postseason, having posted a 0.29 ERA and a 43:7 K:BB in 31 innings (four starts)? Tim Lincecum has five wins and a 2.47 ERA over 54.2 postseason innings, why not him?
As great as Kershaw has been, he has just one win in five postseason starts. Certainly, it isn’t just about wins, as the win is a strange, outdated statistic; however, after watching Kershaw get rocked in the 2009 NLCS against the Phillies (albeit at the age of 21), is he the best option? How can a pitcher have a career 2.60 ERA, including a 2.21 ERA over his last 99 starts, and only win about 42-percent of his starts (63-percent of his decisions)?
It isn’t Kershaw’s fault. That’s why it doesn’t matter.
Pitching is fantastic, but if the team hitting behind that amazing pitcher isn’t scoring, all of those zeroes mean nothing. Case in point:
Kershaw isn’t going to pitch 16 innings anytime soon, he is just as unlikely to pitch on three days rest several times in a series to accumulate dominant postseason statistics considering he has never started a game on three days rest in his career.
The question “who would you start in a game that means everything” means very little. The pitcher means a lot to the outcome of the game, but what happens when that dominant pitcher has Miguel Cabrera playing third base with sore legs and Jhonny Peralta at short? What happens when Joe Kelly or some other non-elite pitcher somehow matches zeroes with the dynamic ace? What happens when Don Larson, who posted a career 81-91 record, 3.78 ERA, and 1.40 WHIP, throws the lone perfect game in World Series history?
Wins don’t matter and dominant pitching is only a luxury when it is happening while the offense is scoring runs. A pitcher is only as good as those playing behind him are on a given night. Even Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens, who struck out 20 in a single game, had to have a run behind them in case someone managed to score in between the seven non-strikeout outs.
Shouldn’t the real question be “if you could have one hitter and one pitcher on your team for a means-everything game, who would they be”?
It is still early in the baseball season, but with about a week and a half gone since opening night, we’ve seen a near perfect game for Yu Darvish and plentiful RBI for Chris Davis. While Darvish was expected to take another step towards stardom this season, Davis’ production is still quite a surprise to some, though power has always been a part of his game.
10 Days in, what are the biggest surprises of the 2013 season?
Carl Crawford, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: .458/.519/.542, 2 2B, 2 SB
Crawford isn’t necessarily setting the world on fire, but the fact that he has played in all seven games for the Dodgers is shocking, considering his availability for opening day was in question since he didn’t make his Cactus League debut until March 23. While he has just two extra-base hits out of his 11 total hits, the fact that Crawford is running (though he’s just 2 for 4 on stolen base attempts), and productive in a loaded lineup are reasons enough to begin to wonder if he can return to his glory days of Tampa, rather than the disappointment that he had been in Boston. If Crawford stays productive around Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez, the Dodgers will get out of the NL West basement rather quickly.
John Buck, C, New York Mets: .393/.387/.859, 4 HR, 14 RBI
After watching Ike Davis tear apart pitching in the second half, you may have expected him to be the leader of the New York Mets this season; however, it’s the guy who was supposed to just be keeping a roster spot warm for Travis d’Arnaud, the slugging catching prospect that the Mets acquired from Toronto in the R.A. Dickey deal, John Buck. Buck has been mashing to this point, ranking second in the majors in RBI (behind Chris Davis) and tied for second in home runs. With the Miami Marlins around, the Mets should feel comfortable about not finishing last in their division, but Buck has led the Mets patchwork pitching staff, dominated by Matt Harvey‘s emergence as an ace, to a solid start.
It’s too bad that Segura exhausted his rookie eligibility last year, otherwise, he’d be leading the pack in the early stages of the season for the title of NL Rookie of the Year. Segura had 151 at-bats last season (166 plate appearances), but he looks like he learned a little after hitting just .258/.315/.325 in 2012. The 23-year-old shortstop has a very interesting tool-set, with solid gap power and speed, which will allow for solid run production in a lineup with a healthy Aramis Ramirez, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, and Ryan Braun…the only problem is that getting all four of those guys on the field at the same time may be harder than finding a needle in a haystack.
Matt Harvey, SP, New York Mets: 2-0, 0.64 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, .093 BAA, 14 IP, 19:4 K:BB
I mentioned Harvey under Buck, but it is worth noting again…he has been nothing short of dominant. He’s allowed just 8 baserunners over two starts, and the strikeouts limit the scoring opportunities, as well. Harvey had a 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and a 70:26 K:BB in 59.1 innings last season. Like Segura, just missing rookie eligibility in 2013, but a dynamic starting pitcher for a team desperate for pitching in the Mets.
Jeff Samardzija, SP, Chicago Cubs: 1-1, 2.63 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, .125 BAA, 13.2 IP, 22:5 K:BB
The former Notre Dame wideout is leading the majors in strikeouts early in the season and appears to be heading towards super-stardom ..which is why I traded him for next to nothing in my dynasty league this offseason. He has a lousy team around him but the 28-year-old has some help on the way, and the Cubs have him under team control through 2015. While he may not win many games, his peripheral statistics could make him look a lot like Felix Hernandez in fantasy formats.
Ryan Hanigan, C, Cincinnati Reds: .043/.148/.043, 1 for 23, 2 RBI
The Cincinnati Reds are playing their 9th game of the season and Devin Mesoraco is making his second start of the season. As most people would like to do, you can blame Dusty Baker for his inability to find value in young talent, unless, of course, it is a pitcher whose career he can ruin. Mesoraco is a sinner for going 0 for 4 in his only start, drawing a walk in the Reds 7-6 extra-inning loss to the Washington Nationals. Apparently, he may only start in day games following a night game, which should be great for the 24-year-old’s development. Ryan Hanigan, meanwhile, will continue to get the at-bats, and the Reds have to hope that batting 8th in the order doesn’t allow clubs to assume that there are two easy outs every time through the lineup.
Halladay (0-2, 14.73 ERA, 2.45 WHIP) and Hamels (0-2, 10.97 ERA, 1.97 WHIP) have posted ugly numbers to this point. Halladay’s shoulder issues from last season and his drop in velocity, along with Hamels’ shoulder soreness early in his offseason throwing progr am could be to blame for their struggles. Certainly, the Phillies have to be concerned, especially after dealing Vance Worley and Trevor May to Minnesota for Ben Revere, eliminating their ready or near-ready young pitching to replace Shane Victorino, who left for Boston this winter via free agency. Both starting pitchers earn substantial amounts this season (Halladay makes $20 million and Hamels makes $19.5 million), so a turnaround would be necessary for Philadelphia fans to not want to ring the Liberty Bell with Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s skull.
Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants: .091/.130/.136, 2 for 22, 1 R, 1 2B
After Belt hit .293/.362/.423 in the second half of 2012 and .410/.432/.833 this spring, the Giants had to be hoping that they had developed a solid, middle-of-the-order addition to pair with Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. Things haven’t gone as planned for Belt to this point; however, he has been dealing with some neck issues. The defending champions will hope that he gets that under control, as well as the skills that he showcased over the last couple of months during spring training.
Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves: 5 for 53 (.094), 2 HR, 3 RBI, 7 R, 19:7 K:BB
Heyward (.083/.267/.208) and Upton (.103/.212/.207) have combined for some pretty useless numbers. The Braves are 7-1 going into Wednesday’s game despite the lack of production from two of their stars. Needless to say, Upton’s pricey contract came with big expectations. We’ll see if his big payday after leaving Tampa isn’t going to take the same trip that Carl Crawford endured in Boston.
Carlos Marmol, RP, Chicago Cubs: 12.27 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, .444 BAA, 1-1, 1 for 2 in save opportunities
Considering the short leash that the Cubs had on Marmol, you have to wonder if it was even worth giving him a chance to prove himself or build trade value when there was a 70-30 chance that he was going to implode. And…implode he did. Kyuji Fujikawa has already replaced Marmol as the Cubs’ closer, and his 8.10 ERA is solid since he is 2 for 2 in save opportunities. It’s a process, Cubs fans, and you should be used to that by now.
When the Indians signed Myers, they wanted him to be a solid innings eating starting pitcher, allowing them to slide him into the No.3 spot in the rotation behind Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. Myers was to provide solid depth due to Masterson and Jimenez lacking in their ability to throw strikes, resulting in high pitch counts and short outings. However, Myers was a risk since he had pitched out of the bullpen for the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox the last two seasons, and while he had transitioned from starter to relief and back to starter before in his career, guaranteeing Myers $7 million to do that again could leave Indians fans scalping themselves every fifth day. Myers has allowed SEVEN home runs in 10.1 innings, or about six every 9 innings. Some batting practice pitchers don’t average that stat. Myers is either hurt or should retire, but there isn’t any in between on those choices, and a neck injury from watching home runs could be to blame.
Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants: 1-0, 4.91 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 11 IP, 11:11 K:BB
Well, after finding a groove as a relief pitcher in the playoffs last year, the Giants gave “The Freak” another chance in a starting role this season. He has only allowed a .175 average in his two starts, and if he wasn’t shutting down those that do hit the ball, he’d have an ERA right around Halladay’s. The free passes need to stop if Lincecum is going to re-establish himself as a valuable pitcher, and he needs to do that if he hopes to score a big contract as a free agent this winter.
The 2012 season was one to forget for Roy Halladay, as he posted a 4.49 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP while going 11-8 in 25 starts and 156.1 innings. While that would be slightly below average for many, it was a devastating collapse for someone who had posted a 2.86 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP from 2006 to 2011 while tossing 1,414.2 innings and winning 109 games.Halladay missed 50 days of the 2012 season while on the disabled list for a shoulder strain. While shoulder injuries can ruin careers, just see Brandon Webb, Hallday overcame a shoulder injury in 2004, which cost him 66 days of the season, to become one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball the next six seasons.
The major difference at this point is that Halladay will turn 36 years old on May 14 of the 2013 season. With his fastball clocked around 87 mph in his latest spring training start, can Halladay reinvent himself at this point of his career with diminishing stuff? In 2012, Halladay’s average fastball was 90.6 mph, down from 92.0 in 2011 and 92.6 in 2010; however, Halladay was sick with a stomach ailment in his recent start and pitchers tend to have dead-arm periods in the spring, but which issue is to blame: injuries, fatigue, regression, or age?
All good things must come to an end. One of the more recent careers saw a pitcher who had gone from this:
That is a 4.13 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 1,258 innings and 82 wins over six seasons.
The above statistics are those of the great Greg Maddux, who was dominant for nearly two decades before his career began a decline. In the late stages of his career, Maddux’s fastball was between 85.8 and 83.7 mph, but he was still a valuable pitcher, just not nearly as valuable as his peak seasons. It is the age 37 season, 2003, when his elite numbers became a bit more pedestrian. Maddux was on the disabled list once, during the 2002 season, and never had shoulder issues while reaching 200 innings in 18 of his 23 seasons.
While being dominant may be a thing of the past, Roy Halladay is still capable of being a valuable pitcher. Considering that he isn’t the staff ace for the Philadelphia Phillies (that title now belongs to Cole Hamels…maybe even Cliff Lee), Halladay doesn’t have to be an MVP-caliber pitcher anymore, he just needs to be average, and his average is still better than what most No.2 or No.3 starters can provide for teams around MLB, unless we’re talking about the Los Angeles Dodgers and their Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke tag-team.
The issue with Roy Halladay’s 2012 season is easily described – he wasn’t at his best every start. He is still an elite pitcher because if you take away two starts from the 25 that he made (July 23 and September 22), then Halladay’s ERA would have been just 3.93 instead of 4.49, which still isn’t his career 3.31 ERA, but not nearly as gross it looks on the back of his baseball card. He is still an elite pitcher because he deserves to show that he is healthy. He is still an elite pitcher because his stuff has been diminishing the last few seasons and he was still dominant in 2010 and 2011. He is still elite pitcher because he will be capable of adapting to the change in his “stuff” to have a few more excellent seasons.