Diamondbacks Fans: Give Thanks for Hazen

New Arizona VP and GM, Mike Hazen Courtesy: Fox Sports
New Arizona VP and GM, Mike Hazen
Courtesy: Fox Sports

Over the last several years, the Arizona Diamondbacks have had several people involved in running the organization into the ground. They’ve been through managers, having seen Kirk Gibson fired in 2014, Alan Trammell as interim, Chip Hale hired and fired, and, now, having first-year manager Torey Lovullo starting the 2017 season. The instability for this organization doesn’t just start and finish on the field, though. Since 2010, we’ve seen Josh Byrnes, Jerry DiPoto (interim), Kevin Towers, Dave Stewart, and newly-hired Mike Hazen, formerly with the Boston Red Sox, in the general manager role. After winning the 2011 NL West, the Diamondbacks have failed to finish over .500, though they have finished right at .500 twice during that span.

Still, all of the changes at the top have played a major role in the struggles of the organization. No one seemed to know which direction the club was actually heading. About three years ago, I wrote about Towers and his strange deals. When he dealt Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer (along with Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers), and Tyler Skaggs for Mark Trumbo, Didi Gregorius, Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, and a slew of fringy minor leaguers, the team never really cashed-in on anything, and most of those players are now long-gone from the organization or aren’t a large part of their future – a strange concept for a team that is still rebuilding

Last night, Hazen put his stamp on where this club is heading with a “blockbuster” (if you’d call it that), by dealing Jean Segura (the 22nd most valuable position player in baseball, based on WAR), Zac Curtis, and Mitch Haniger  to the Seattle Mariners for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte.

Segura is on to his 4th organization Courtesy: azsnakepit.com
Segura is on to his 4th organization
Courtesy: azsnakepit.com

Segura, 27 on Opening Day, will be replaced at shortstop by Marte, who was rushed to the majors by Seattle at the age of 21 in 2015 out of desperation to fill their shortstop hole with just 377 at bats above AA. He’ll play the 2017 season at the age of 23 and he won’t be arbitration-eligible until after the 2018 season. Segura had much more pop in his bat than Marte ever will, but Marte puts the ball in play and has solid speed, which is basically what Segura was in 2014 and 2015 before he had his second breakout season – if that is a thing – in 2016.

Hazen saved some money at shortstop, while acquiring Walker, a potential ace, for his pitching staff. Walker, long labeled full of potential, could make this deal look silly for Seattle if he actually reaches or fulfills that potential; however, we’ve been waiting on that for a few years now, even though Walker will be just 24 on Opening Day. If he can overcome injuries and become more consistent, a familiar statement for young pitchers, this is an easy win for the Diamondbacks, and Mike Hazen has already proven himself worthy of the job. If it crashes and burns, who cares? The Diamondbacks went 69-93 while Segura was a star in 2016, so it was worth the gamble.

Can Walker reach his potential in Arizona? Courtesy: Seattle Times
Can Walker reach his potential in Arizona?
Courtesy: Seattle Times

Mike Hazen had a lot more money to work with in his time with the Boston Red Sox. He may need to be a little more creative in landing talent in the desert, but the 40-year-old has a lot of respect in the game and will continue to put the Diamondbacks in a position to be successful, as long as ownership gives him the time necessary to turn it all around.

Be thankful, Diamondback fans. Mike Hazen finally has a plan for your team.

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2015 Season Previews: Milwaukee Brewers

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! 

Milwaukee Brewers

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 80-82 (4th in NL Central, 20th in MLB)

Manager: Ron Roenicke (335-313 in four seasons with Milwaukee)

Top Three Players: OF Carlos Gomez (4.4), C Jonathan Lucroy (3.3), OF Ryan Braun 2.5

Bounce-back Player: SS Jean Segura

In the first half of the 2013 season Segura hit .325/.363/.487 with 11 doubles, eight triples, 11 home runs, and 27 stolen bases in 397 plate appearances. Since then, Segura has hit .244/.283/.322 with 23 doubles, eight triples, six home runs, and 37 stolen bases in 783 plate appearances. Who is Jean Segura? Well, in 2014, Segura dealt with personal tragedy, which could have been a leading culprit in his ineptitude. He was always a good contact hitter, but, suddenly, he was posting a .275 BABIP and his entire game fell off – even his defense wasn’t as good in 2014. While it’s fair to wonder what was going on in the second half of 2013, the chances are high that this 25-year-old gets things rolling again, becoming a very valuable shortstop for the Brewers and a favorite of fantasy nerds.

Courtesy: naciondeportiva.com
Courtesy: naciondeportiva.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Mike Fiers

I loathed Fiers because he almost cost me a title last season. When his fastball smacked Giancarlo Stanton and ended the big slugger’s season, that was the only time that I remember seeing Fiers name in the national sports headlines in 2014. It won’t be the same in 2015. Fiers, 29, posted a 2.13 ERA and 0.88 WHIP over 71.2 innings and 14 games (ten starts), while posting an impressive 9.5 K:9 and 4.47 K:BB. In 2013, Fiers had his forearm broken by a batted ball. Outside of that miserable season, which lasted all of 22.1 major league innings, Fiers is 15-15 with a 3.16 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over his 199.2 innings in 2012 and 2014, striking out 9.5 batters per nine. He may be a late bloomer, he may not have an electric fastball (89.6 mph), but Mike Fiers can pitch. He has a rotation spot locked up, and he is an excellent, cheap target.

Offseason Overview: The Brewers let Mark Reynolds leave via free agency and brought in Adam Lind to man first base. Lind had his most productive season since his impressive 2009, posting an .860 OPS and 141 wRC+ over just 318 plate appearances, and, if healthy (which has been his problem due to back issues), he could be the solid, left-handed bat the Brewers have needed since Prince Fielder left. Milwaukee lost Zach Duke to the White Sox, but they added an impressive lefty of their own in his place, Neal Cotts. They traded their “ace”, Yovani Gallardo, to Texas for some solid young pieces, sliding Fiers and Jimmy Nelson into the rotation to replace the overrated Mexican right-hander, whose inability to miss bats increased while his salary inflated. While there wasn’t a true splash by the Brewers this winter, they have the core of this group together for another couple of seasons, replacing pieces as they go to remain competitive.

The Verdict: Milwaukee remains one of those teams that battle and are a nuisance to their counterparts, though they don’t seem to create headlines. They collect talent and find ways to keep it around. Lucroy is one of the top offensive catchers in baseball, Gomez has the best power/speed combo this side of Mike Trout, and Ryan Braun will be improved with the ability to use his thumb in 2015, something he wasn’t able to do for several months in 2014. There are several question marks when it comes to health, but the Brewers may be able to hold onto the lead in the NL Central if they have things go right. A return to form by Braun and Segura, some improvement by Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett, and typical production from Aramis Ramirez, Gomez, and Lucroy, and the offense is scary. A little luck with Jimmy Nelson on the back-end of the rotation and consistency from Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, and Fiers, and they are contenders. They’ll be much better than 4th in the NL Central in 2015.

Brewing Something Sneaky-Good in Milwaukee

Braun1
Brewers’ RF Ryan Braun

When you look at a team that is coming off of a 74-88 season, you typically see several holes that need to be filled, and, potentially, a team that could be headed towards a rebuild. However, when you look deeper at the Milwaukee Brewers, you can see that they are a team that isn’t too far away from actually contending, and it could happen in 2014.

Sure, the farm system doesn’t appear to have anything of immediate value, featuring a big, fat zero prospects within the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 and just one (Jimmy Nelson, No. 83) in the MLB.com Top 100, but IF the 25-man roster can maintain health and production, there is a tremendous chance that they could look a lot like the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates – minus the youth.

This is a club that won 96 games in 2011, and while they did lose Prince Fielder to free agency, they still managed to finish with 83 wins in 2012. In 2013, a lot of things went wrong:

  • Ryan Braun was injured and suspended for his PED use
  • Rickie Weeks had another unproductive season
  • Yuniesky Betancourt received over 400 plate appearances – something that should never be forced upon the eyes of fans or the other 24 men of any Major League Baseball roster EVER AGAIN!

Fortunately for Milwaukee and their fans, there were several things that went right, which is why this team will improve in 2014…dramatically.

Gallardo
Brewers’ RHP Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo suffered from another drop in velocity in 2013, and he had a very difficult time adjusting to that, posting a 4.83 ERA and 1.43 WHIP over his 20 first half starts; however, the second half brought much better results, as Gallardo managed a 3.09 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 11 starts. There should still be some concern over his velocity issues and his drop in strikeout rates (7.17 in 2013 is, by far, the lowest of his career – 8.24 in his rookie 2007 season is the next lowest), but if Gallardo has learned to pitch with what he has, he could find the same success that he had in the latter part of the 2013 season going forward. Keep in mind, he is turning just 28 years old later this month.

"Brewers'

On the surface, going 11-15 with a 4.37 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 32 starts and 183.1 innings isn’t all that impressive, but, at 24, Wily Peralta was actually much better than those numbers. From June 21 to September 22 (17 starts), Peralta posted a 3.05 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over 103.1 innings, going 7-7 during that time. Peralta doesn’t strike out 10 batters per nine, posting just a 7.3 K/9 over this impressive 17-start span, but he does possess solid stuff (his fastball averaged 94.8 mph in 2013) and he keeps the ball in the park, even when pitching half of his games in Miller Park (19 home runs allowed in 2013). If Peralta can improve his 9.2 percent career walk-rate, he’s going to be capable of an All-Star season. He’ll turn just 25 in May of 2014, giving the Brewers a piece to continue to build around.

"Brewers'

Jean Segura was a piece received from the Los Angeles Angels in the Zack Greinke deal, and while Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena may not do much of anything for the Brewers after coming over in the deal with Segura, the Brewers clearly won the trade when Greinke signed with the Dodgers last winter, gaining several years of control of the Dominican shortstop. Segura, then, had a huge 2013 season, posting a 3.9 WAR (Baseball Reference) and earning a spot on the National League All-Star team. He became a fantasy baseball darling, amassing 20 doubles, 10 triples, 12 home runs, and 44 stolen bases. His second half was not good (.241/.268/.315), but if he can get somewhere between those numbers and his breakout first half (.325/.363/.487), he’ll continue to be an asset for the Brewers and fantasy geeks alike.

Jonathan Lucroy became a near-elite offensive catcher in an injury-shortened 2012 and he continued that trend in 2013, posting a .795 OPS to go along with his 18 home runs and 82 RBI. Those 82 RBI led all catchers in the majors and his nine stolen bases were a nice addition, as well. At 28, Lucroy is in his prime and could post more impressive numbers in 2014 with a healthy and present Ryan Braun protecting him in the Milwaukee lineup.

"Brewers'

Carlos Gomez posted an 8.4 WAR in 2013 (Baseball Reference) and went nuts, posting an .843 OPS along with his 27 doubles, 10 triples, 24 home runs, 73 RBI, and 40 stolen bases. He made his first All-Star game and won a Gold Glove for his tremendous defensive prowess, even earning a 10 percent share in the NL MVP voting by finishing 9th for the award. It is fair to wonder if this type of success can hold up from Gomez, considering his past and his continued plate discipline issues (146:37 K:BB in 590 plate appearances), but the potential was always there, and despite being around since 2007, he’ll be just 28 in 2014.

Khris Davis made his debut for Milwaukee on April 1st as a pinch-hitter. He then rotted on the bench collecting all of two starts and 18 plate appearances before being sent to the minors, where he would get regular playing time. Davis then returned to the majors to sit on the bench for part of July before taking over left field full-time on July 30. Over the next 36 games and 129 plate appearances, Davis posted a .287/.357/.617 triple-slash, blasting 10 home runs and driving in 26 runs. Over 162 games, that is a 32 home run player. I’m not saying that Khris Davis is going to do that, but he has posted an .898 OPS over his 1,705 minor league plate appearances prior to this big league outburst. The guy can hit, and while he’s already 26 years old (he was a college senior draftee out of Cal-State Fullerton, while missing most of 2012 due to a leg injury), he has pushed Braun to right field and cleared a path to become a producer.

Aramis Ramirez is still the third baseman, and while that may be an issue defensively, his bat is still useful. Another issue still remains that ARam will be limited by some sort of ailment that will keep him off of the field. At 36, it could be enhanced, but if he gives the Brewers 145 games, you’re going to see 25 home runs and 90-plus RBI with something close to his career .285/.345/.501 triple-slash.

First base has been an issue in Milwaukee since Fielder bolted for Detroit after the 2011 season, but there could be an interesting platoon. Juan Francisco posted his typically horrific strikeout totals and low average in 2013, but he did hit 13 home runs in 270 plate appearances for Milwaukee. He couldn’t hit a left-hander if the pitcher actually put it on a tee for him, but with the addition of Mark Reynolds (.852 career OPS vs. left-handers), the two could combine to post 40 home runs while striking out nearly 300 times – the power is an asset, though. If the Brewers choose to scrap Francisco, who turns just 27 in 2014, they did sign Lyle Overbay to a minor league deal, and he could also platoon with Reynolds.

"Brewers'

The list seems to go on and on, but it doesn’t stop here. Kyle Lohse is a solid innings-eater and effective weapon in the rotation, Marco Estrada is a fine back-end of the rotation option, Jim Henderson established himself as a shutdown reliever, Brandon Kintzler and Francisco Rodriguez will be very good setup men (if they don’t steal some saves),  Tom Gorzelanny is a solid left-handed option out of the bullpen, and Logan Schafer makes for a respectable fourth outfielder. Add in the depth at starting pitcher with Jimmy Nelson, Hiram Burgos, and Mike Fiers as possible rotation fillers (in the event of an injury), and you have a group that has enough depth to withstand the grind of a 162-game season.

With the addition of Matt Garza, the Brewers have built an above-average rotation that could stand toe-to-toe with most teams in baseball. If Garza, Lohse, and Gallardo stay healthy and the Brewers get steady production out of Peralta and Estrada, this could easily be an 85 to 90-win team. Offensively, if Davis and Segura produce, and Braun, Gomez, and Ramirez stay healthy, the offense is legitimately scary.

The national media will clamor over the St. Louis Cardinals, due to their long-term success, and the Pittsburgh Pirates will be the darlings after reaching the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, but there isn’t any reason to think that the Brewers can’t become contenders again in 2014. While the farm system leaves a lot to be desired, there is talent at the major league level, and it is enough to be taken seriously.

How the Cincinnati Reds Ruined Their Window

Over the last nine games of the season, the Cincinnati Reds were 2-7, including their National League Wild Card loss in Pittsburgh, which would be their fifth loss against the Pirates in the nine game span. Needless to say, after a disappointing collapse in the 2012 National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, the collapse at the end of the 2013 season wasn’t pleasing to the fans, or the front office. Dusty Baker was canned shortly thereafter, replaced by pitching coach Bryan Price, who, in his first year as manager, has been dealt with the task of rebuilding a roster with a lot of question marks into a perennial power, all the while continuing to look up at the St. Louis Cardinals, who have built a system of winning from within.

Now, the Reds must replace their lead-off hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, who only managed a .423 on-base percentage and 107 runs scored while reaching base 305 times by hit, walk, or hit-by-pitch, after watching Choo run to the Texas Rangers in free agency for seven-years, $130 million.

BruceCertainly, it wasn’t within the budget to re-up with Choo at $18.7 million per year, not with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips combining to make $33 million in 2014, $38 million in 2015, and $45.5 million in 2016, that is, of course, if one of them isn’t traded. The Reds have long had a payroll between $80 and $100 million under current owner Bob Castellini, but is it time to start questioning what the long-term goal of the franchise is, after sputtering around the free agent market while trying to replace their best lead-off hitter since Joe Morgan and Pete Rose were flapping and flopping around Riverfront Stadium. Whether television contracts and Major League Baseball Advanced Media revenue will allow the “small-market” Reds to increase their payroll further is a valid question, but with Matt Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake under team-control through 2015, and Homer Bailey headed towards free agency after the 2014 season, how else can the team remain contenders, especially with St. Louis constantly reloading and the Chicago Cubs reaching their contention window, just as the Reds is becoming questionable?

This offseason was difficult, clearly. The Reds couldn’t be in on Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, or any other big-name free agent, but with very little money to spend, GM Walt Jocketty could have been more active in the trade market, or at least the minor league free agent route. Dick Williams, the VP of Baseball Operations, told me during the Reds’ caravan that the club lost out on Grady Sizemore due to his relationship with one of Boston’s trainers, who had been with Cleveland during his time there. While Sizemore wasn’t a lock to produce, or stay healthy, he fit the bill as a low-cost centerfield option. He wasn’t a leadoff hitter, though, at least he hadn’t shown those skills since his last somewhat healthy season, 2009. Which left the club with little choice but to give their in-house candidate, Billy Hamilton, the job.

The issue with Hamilton, though, is that, though he has otherworldly speed, is he capable of thriving long-term in center, a position that he has been playing since the start of the 2012 season. His experience in Triple-A left a lot to be desired, as he posted a .256/.308/.343 triple-slash, stealing 75 bases and scoring 75 runs in 123 games for Louisville. We all know about his brief September audition, when Dusty Baker allowed him to receive all of 22 plate appearances, while Baker pinch-ran him often to allow the speedy Mississippian to accumulate 13 stolen bases in 14 tries.

In addition to plugging Hamilton into center, here is the laundry list of exciting moves that the Reds have made this winter:

October: Signed LHP Trevor Reckling and RHP Timothy Adleman to minor league contracts; signed OF Jason Bourgeois to a minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training;

November: Signed LHP Manny Parra, 2B Skip Schumaker, and C Brayan Pena to major league contracts; Signed OF Mike Wilson, LHP Nick Schmidt, and RHP Ross Ismail to minor league contracts; Signed C Max Ramirez, LHP Lee Hyde, and 3B Rey Navarro to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

December: Signed 3B Ruben Gotay and RHP Trevor Bell to minor league contracts; Invited non-roster RHP Jose Diaz and 2B Kristopher Negron to Spring Training; Signed RHP Chien-Ming Wang, C Corky Miller, and SS Argenis Diaz to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training; Acquired LHP David Holmberg from Arizona for Ryan Hanigan;

January: Sign RHP Bob Keppel, RHP Sean Black, OF Thomas Neal, LHP Jeff Francis, 2B John Tolisano, and 2B Hernan Iribarren to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

So, the club lost Shin-Soo Choo, Xavier Paul, and Derrick Robinson from last season’s 90-72 squad, so why should fans feel like this offseason is a failure?

Well, Choo’s production won’t be replaced by Hamilton, speed or no speed. Even if Hamilton increases his on-base percentage to .340 over 600 plate appearances, he doesn’t have the patient approach that Choo had, and, while he can move himself from base to base with his wheels, he just won’t be on as often. If Choo’s production is a clear downgrade, where are they upgrading?

Mesoraco1Is Devin Mesoraco set for a breakout season, replacing the putrid production that Ryan Hanigan provided in 2013? Is Todd Frazier going to post an .829 OPS, as he did in 2012, or something similar to his .721 OPS from 2013? Is Zack Cozart even worth starting anymore, given his career .680 OPS over 1,256 plate appearances? Ryan Ludwick had a nice 2012 and his 2013 was ruined due to his Opening Day shoulder injury, but was he ever worth a two-year, $15 million extension, especially when you consider it was back-loaded with an option for 2015, making him guaranteed $13 million, including his 2015 buyout? Brandon Phillips, 103 RBI or not, saw his OPS fall to .705 in 2013. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce seem like locks for success, but Bruce continues to be one of the streakiest players in all of baseball, while Votto’s patience seems to have overtaken his ability to actually produce at his 2010 MVP level ever again.

As far as the rotation, it remains pretty deep, but once you get past the top five, there are question marks. While that wouldn’t be a huge deal for most clubs, you have to remember that Johnny Cueto only had one full season and he immediately got hurt in the first game of the 2012 playoffs. Bailey, Latos, and Leake are very good options, and Tony Cingrani was impressive, even with just one good pitch, but having Wang, Francis, and nothing else as fallback options is rough, which may lead to the club rushing top prospect Robert Stephenson if there was an injury in 2014, not to mention how the rotation is going to function if Bailey leaves via free agency or Cueto’s 2015 option isn’t picked up. Who will be starting games and why don’t the Reds have options waiting like the Cardinals?

The bullpen is still built to dominate, as Aroldis Chapman is as shutdown as it gets. A full season of Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, a former closer in his own right, serving as a setup man, and J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Manny Parra, and Alfredo Simon rounding out the group helps the Reds bullpen look tremendous for another season…but a bullpen doesn’t have a lot of value if they aren’t protecting more leads than deficits.

The Reds haven’t been active enough. The Reds haven’t drafted enough high-ceiling talent. The Reds haven’t had enough success on the international market.

Braun1The Reds are a lot like the Milwaukee Brewers, locking up talent for just a little while, and then watching that talent and the contention window fly way in the breeze. You see, the Brewers were a competitive team until Prince Fielder left. They traded a lot of good, young talent to acquire Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia to help them contend. They bought in to that window and went for it. It is hard for a small-market to commit a lot of money to talent like Greinke and Sabathia, only to watch them leave for big-markets once they hit free agency, but the revenue that comes with a playoff run or a World Series title would alleviate a lot of those dollars. The Brewers, then, went into quite a funk the last several seasons, and they have yet to recover, but the worst part is that their farm system is terrible. If Ryan Braun doesn’t rebound, the club still has Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, but the rest of the organization is quite barren.

The Reds are a lot like the Brewers because they haven’t had many successful recent drafts. While a lot of the key names on the major league roster are homegrown, there isn’t a whole lot of depth currently in the minor league system. The Reds did trade a couple of solid young players (Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Brad Boxberger) to acquire Mat Latos and Choo (Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs), but outside of Stephenson and Hamilton, much of the high-level talent was in Low-A or the Rookie levels last season, specifically Phillip Ervin, Jesse Winker, and Nick Travieso.

So, what will happen when 2015 rolls around without an Oscar Taveras waiting to take over left field for Ludwick? Who fills the rotation without a Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon ready to step in for A.J. Burnett? Who will push Todd Frazier at third base without a Kris Bryant or Javier Baez?

While the Reds and Brewers have weaker farm systems and question marks at several spots, the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates have done it right. They have managed to stay active and have taken risks with draft picks to make sure that they are getting the talent necessary to maintain solid depth within their organization. Sure, the Pirates and Cubs have had higher picks due to their lack of success over the years, but the Cardinals have a lot of talent and they haven’t had a season below .500 since 2007, while making the playoffs in 11 of the last 18 seasons, including four World Series and two titles.

PujolsThe conservative nature of the current regime in Cincinnati may not look awful as the Reds compete in 2014, but when Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis have their high-level minor league talent stepping in within the next two to three seasons, Reds fans will forget about the nightmares that Albert Pujols used to bring, and will instead be kept awake by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Gregory Polanco, Oscar Taveras, and others who will make their names in the depths of the thriving systems in the rest of the National League Central. Meanwhile, the Brewers and Reds will continue to cry small-market when they have, instead, chosen to be smarter at the right times.

There are still names on the free agent market that can help the Reds contend, but none of them will make them as good as they were last season, in 2012, or in 2010, when Cincinnati has reached the playoffs. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at this point to scrap what has been built. Instead, run out there with what you have and hope for the best, which, apparently, was Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini’s plan all offseason.

When Fantasy Baseball Goes Wrong

FernandezRemember when you gambled on Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez in your starting rotation earlier this spring? Well, congratulations to you and your number one seed in the fantasy baseball playoffs, and I hope you enjoyed your first round exit against the lowest seeded team in the playoffs.

It seems like every year that the top teams are taken out by the lower seeds, just like catching the yearly No.12 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament taking out the No.5 seed. Even teams that were riding another near-Triple Crown season out of Miguel Cabrera are now probably thinking about who they are going to be keeping this winter after the Detroit Tigers’ slugger has battled an abdominal strain while missing 11 games since late July, costing his owners victories and a title.

Whether you play in a one-year league, a dynasty league, a points league, or a standard roto-league, you’ve probably been the recipient of the late season luck or the suffering owner of another 2011-Boston Red Sox-esque collapse for your fake team.

It truly isn’t an avoidable situation.

How were you supposed to know that Brewers shortstop Jean Segura was going to crash so hard that owning Ronny Cedeno may have been a better option? Seriously…the last 28 days:

Segura:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip sOPS+
2013 Totals 145 619 584 74 173 20 10 12 49 44 12 25 83 .296 .331 .426 .757 249 .328 111
Last 28 days 22 94 88 7 21 2 1 0 5 7 5 5 11 .239 .280 .284 .564 25 .273 59
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/19/2013.

Cedeno:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip sOPS+
2013 Totals 84 269 247 24 64 8 3 3 21 4 4 13 68 .259 .300 .352 .653 87 .345 83
Last 28 days 22 82 75 10 26 2 1 2 9 1 3 6 15 .347 .395 .480 .875 36 .414 144
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/19/2013.

It doesn’t stop there, however.

Allen Craig‘s injuries have limited him to a .738 OPS in the second half when he has been on the field, while Brandon Belt (.922) and Brandon Moss (.989) have not only outproduced Craig, but they’ve bettered Chris Davis (.871), Prince Fielder (.840), and Joey Votto (.908) since the All-Star break.

PhillipsKhris Davis, the 25-year-old rookie outfielder for the Brewers who took the spot of Ryan Braun after his suspension, is just as likely to be carrying a team running towards a championship as Pirates’ superstar, and possible NL MVP, Andrew McCutchen. Will Venable has outproduced Jose Bautista, Kole Calhoun and Junior Lake have provided more punch than Jacoby Ellsbury and Alex Rios, and Billy Hamilton may be stealing a title right now while Brandon Phillips takes a face to the sphincter and a slump to the playoffs (a .421 OPS over the last two weeks).

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Fantasy baseball is a long season, just like the real thing. One can never truly prepare for the out-of-nowhere injuries, but if you thought that Harvey, Fernandez, or any other innings-limit candidate pitchers were going to help you, Bill Engvall has a sign for you on his redneck comedy tour.

What can you do to overcome these situations next season?

Assume that the solid young arm won’t help you in September and sell him off early?

Puig2Any small sample size that seems unreasonable probably is, so don’t assume that Yasiel Puig is a better player than Mike Trout.

Rely on veterans who have been through 162-game seasons before, who may be less likely to break down after August.

Have enough depth to cope with injuries and slumps – don’t deal it for spare parts near the trade deadline to get you over the proverbial “hump”.

Know that no matter what you do…it’s probably wrong. Luck plays a huge role in the No.8 seed knocking off the No.1 seed, and even if it isn’t every season that the upset occurs, it is just as likely to happen than not. If your league doesn’t give point values to the No.1 seed as a “home-field advantage” concept, they start off with the same likelihood of winning in the first round as the team that just snuck in.

Fair or not, you’re probably screwed. Just move on to fantasy football and figure out that Dolphins’ running back Lamar Miller and Bengals’ running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis will probably be defeating your Adrian Peterson and Tom Brady-stacked lineup next weekend. You’re living a fantasy. Deal with it.

My 2013 MLB All-Star Team

Because so many people are clamoring over what I think, I figured it was time to make my All-Star ballot public, while filling up the rosters so that each team is represented. Feel free to ridicule and taunt my choices if you wish, but you’ll have to defend yourself.

 NLNational League – 35 players

Starting Lineup:

1. Carlos Gomez, CF, MIL: Continuing his awesome breakout.

2. Brandon Phillips, 2B, CIN: Huge production behind Votto in Cincy lineup.

3. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN: His numbers would look much better if he was pitched to.

4. David Wright, 3B, NYM: Hometown hero and best 3B in the NL.

5. Carlos Gonzalez, LF, COL: Hitting everywhere this year, even away from Coor’s.

6. Carlos Beltran, RF, STL: Defying age with a healthy, productive season.

7. Michael Cuddyer, DH, COL: Helping to make the Rockies a contender in 2013.

8. Buster Posey, C, SF: Tough choice over Molina, but his bat is still bigger.

9. Jean Segura, SS, MIL: Huge breakout by one of the key pieces in the Greinke deal with the Angels.

Starting Pitcher: Matt Harvey, RHP, NYM: Probably the biggest story in the biggest city in all of baseball, he gets the start at Citi Field.

Pitchers:

Jeff Locke, LHP, PIT

Jason Grilli, RHP, PIT

Jordan Zimmerman, RHP, WAS

Clayton Kershaw, LHP, LAD

Patrick Corbin, LHP, ARZ

Cliff Lee, LHP, PHI

Adam Wainwright, RHP, STL

Shelby Miller, RHP, STL

Aroldis Chapman, LHP, CIN

Craig Kimbrel, RHP, ATL

Edward Mujica, RHP, STL

Rafael Soriano, RHP, WAS

Travis Wood, LHP, CHI-C

Jeff Samardzija, RHP, CHI-C

Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, PHI

Bench:

Yadier Molina, C, STL

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARZ

Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL

Marco Scutaro, 2B, SF

Everth Cabrera, SS, SD

Giancarlo Stanton, RF, MIA

Yasiel Puig, OF, LAD

Domonic Brown, OF, PHI

Matt Carpenter, 2B, STL

Andrew McCutchen, CF, PIT

Biggest Snubs: Sergio Romo, RHP, SF; Kevin Gregg, RHP, CHI-C; Lance Lynn, RHP, STL; Allen Craig, 1B, STL; Mat Latos, RHP, CIN; Madison Bumgarner, LHP, SF; Rex Brothers, LHP, COL; A.J. Burnett, RHP, PIT; Nate Schierholtz, OF, CHI-C; Shin-Soo Choo, OF, CIN; Ryan Braun, LF, MIL; Bryce Harper, OF, WAS; Ian Desmond, SS, WAS; Chris Johnson, 1B/3B, ATL; Pedro Alvarez, 3B, PIT; Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, LAD; Wilin Rosario, C, COL; Evan Gattis, C/OF, ATL;

ALAmerican League – 35 players

Starting Lineup:

1. Mike Trout, LF, LAA: Having a “down” year when compared to his 2012 rookie season, which was one of the greatest in baseball history.

2. Robinson Cano, 2B, NYY: Tough choice but his bat is still huge and he gets the start in NYC.

3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, DET: His numbers are even better than his 2012 Triple Crown winning season.

4. Chris Davis, 1B, BAL: An absolute monster season from the toss-in in the Koji Uehara deal with Texas.

5. Jose Bautista, RF, TOR: Production is slightly down, but Joey Bats is still a huge fan favorite.

6. David Ortiz, DH, BOS: Still producing as a member of AARP.

7. Adam Jones, CF, BAL: Continuing where he left off in 2012 and becoming one of the top players in baseball.

8. Joe Mauer, C, MIN: The power won’t ever be there again from his 2009 MVP season (28 HR), but he can find the gaps and be productive in ways that no other AL catcher can match.

9. Jhonny Peralta, SS, DET: Quietly having an incredible season as one of the worst defensive SS in baseball – loving his production, though.

Starting Pitcher: Yu Darvish, RHP, TEX: He just struck you out and you didn’t even know he threw three pitches. Having a dominant season.

Pitchers:

Jesse Crain, RHP, CHI-W

Felix Hernandez, RHP, SEA

Justin Masterson, RHP, CLE

Max Scherzer, RHP, DET

Mariano Rivera, RHP, NYY

Joe Nathan, RHP, TEX

Clay Buchholz, RHP, BOS

Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, SEA

Ervin Santana, RHP, KC

Greg Holland, RHP, KC

Bartolo Colon, RHP, OAK

Matt Moore, LHP, TB

Bud Norris, RHP, HOU

Glen Perkins, LHP, MIN

Jim Johnson, RHP, BAL

Bench:

Jason Castro, C, HOU

Adam Lind, 1B, TOR

Prince Fielder, 1B, DET

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, BOS

Jason Kipnis, 2B, CLE

Evan Longoria, 3B, TB

Manny Machado, 3B, BAL

Jed Lowrie, SS, OAK

Nelson Cruz, OF, TEX

Coco Crisp, OF, OAK

Biggest Snubs: Josh Donaldson, 3B, OAK; J.J. Hardy, SS, BAL; Adrian Beltre, 3B, TEX; Kyle Seager, 3B, SEA; Howie Kendrick, 2B, LAA; Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/3B/DH, TOR; Carlos Santana, C, CLE; Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, NYY; Chris Sale, LHP, CHI-W; Addison Reed, RHP, CHI-W; Grant Balfour, RHP, OAK; Casey Janssen, RHP, TOR;

 

Didi Gre-glorious?

Gregorius2Didi Gregorius. A 23-year-old shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Didi Gregorius. A career .267/.319/.375 hitter in over 2,080 plate appearances in the minor leagues. Didi Gregorius. Currently hitting .324/.385/.541 with 8 doubles, 2 triples, and 4 home runs.

Can he keep this pace up?

Gregorius’ highest OPS in an overall minor league season was in 2011, when he posted a .753 OPS between High-A and Double-A within the Cincinnati Reds system. Those numbers were a tad inflated due to his time in Bakersfield, a club within the California League, where he posted a .791 OPS over 203 plate appearances. He was always pushed by the Cincinnati organization, as you can see below, only spending one season with the same club, which was his first season in the Gulf Coast League, and even moving from the Pioneer League to High-A for 22 games at the age of 19.

Year Age Tm Lg Aff G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2008 18 Reds GULF CIN 31 109 97 6 15 0 0 0 9 2 10 10 .155 .241 .155 .395 15
2009 19 2 Teams 2 Lgs CIN 72 299 275 36 82 14 1 1 18 8 13 36 .298 .341 .367 .708 101
2009 19 Billings PION CIN 50 225 204 28 64 10 1 1 16 8 12 27 .314 .363 .387 .750 79
2009 19 Sarasota FLOR CIN 22 74 71 8 18 4 0 0 2 0 1 9 .254 .274 .310 .584 22
2010 20 3 Teams 3 Lgs CIN 163 717 653 84 167 21 13 6 50 20 45 81 .256 .311 .355 .666 232
2010 20 Dayton MIDW CIN 120 548 501 65 137 16 11 5 41 16 33 62 .273 .327 .379 .706 190
2010 20 Lynchburg CARL CIN 7 29 25 4 6 0 0 0 0 0 2 6 .240 .321 .240 .561 6
2010 20 Canberra AUBL 36 140 127 15 24 5 2 1 9 4 10 13 .189 .248 .283 .532 36
2011 21 2 Teams 2 Lgs CIN 84 363 336 48 97 18 4 7 44 11 19 50 .289 .324 .429 .753 144
2011 21 Bakersfield CALL CIN 46 203 188 30 57 12 1 5 28 8 10 25 .303 .333 .457 .791 86
2011 21 Carolina SOUL CIN 38 160 148 18 40 6 3 2 16 3 9 25 .270 .312 .392 .704 58
2012 22 2 Teams 2 Lgs CIN 129 561 501 70 133 21 11 7 54 3 41 80 .265 .324 .393 .717 197
2012 22 Pensacola SOUL CIN 81 359 316 45 88 11 8 1 31 3 29 49 .278 .344 .373 .717 118
2012 22 Louisville IL CIN 48 202 185 25 45 10 3 6 23 0 12 31 .243 .288 .427 .715 79
2013 23 Reno PCL ARI 7 33 31 7 12 2 0 2 2 1 2 1 .387 .424 .645 1.069 20
6 Seasons 486 2082 1893 251 506 76 29 23 177 45 130 258 .267 .319 .375 .694 709
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/29/2013.

Gregorius3Moving quickly may have lead to some skewed statistics, as Gregorius always seemed to be adjusting to new levels of the minor leagues, but what do you call his 2013 outburst?

Gregorius has a .926 OPS, as I write this, and, after 124 plate appearances with Arizona, we should wonder now why he CAN’T keep this up. The young shortstop has several statistics playing in his favor:

  1. A .364 BABIP: While 45 stolen bases over six seasons leaves a lot to be desired in the speed category, Gregorius clearly has solid gap power and an ability to put the ball where fielders aren’t. The friendly-confines of Chase Field should be taken into consideration for his ability to continue to drive the ball, as well.
  2. A 9.5 percent HR/FB rate: Considering the top five HR/FB rate in MLB are Pedro Alvarez (29.4), Bryce Harper (29.3), Chris Davis (28.8), Justin Upton (28.0), and Adam Dunn (26.1), Gregorius and his 9.5 percent HR/FB are right in line with “league average”, so he could very well continue to put together numbers like he has to this point.
  3. A 31.3 O-Swing percentage: Gregorius is a smart hitter, working counts (3.94 pitches per at-bat) and swinging at strikes (O-Swing is percentage of pitches swung at outside of the strike zone).
  4. A 22.0 line drive percentage: Gregorius would rank right around 67th (with Andrelton Simmons and Gerardo Parra) with his current line drive rate. While that isn’t the upper echelon of hard hitters, it is right around the 20 percent league average (according to FanGraphs)

Gregorius is still highly underrated in fantasy leagues, ranking 21st among shortstops in ESPN’s Player Rater. He is no Troy Tulowitzki but he does have a similar career line as Jean Segura (without the speed), whose .969 OPS through 210 plate appearances was legit enough for ESPN to rank him as the No.1 shortstop.

Gregorius1The time may be now to buy into Gregorius. While he has a small sample size showing what he has, there may not be much more time to get him cheap, and the Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks sure seemed to find a lot of value in him this offseason when the three team deal with Cincinnati involving Trevor Bauer and Shin-Soo Choo was consummated.