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!
San Diego Padres
2015 Projected Record: 84-78 (2nd in NL West, 8th in MLB)
Manager: Bud Black (617-680 in eight seasons with San Diego)
Entering his age-30 season, Kemp gets a fresh start away from Los Angeles, ready to prove that he is close to the elite producer that he was in 2011 and 2012 than the injury-plagued financial burden that he was in 2013. You can’t really argue that he was valueless in 2014, having watched his .309/.365/.606 second half eruption, which included 17 doubles and 17 home runs. If Kemp is the player that we saw down the stretch, the acquisition was a steal, even with the monies owed to the slugger.
Another addition, Middlebrooks, 26, looks to rebuild his value as he heads into the arbitration process next winter. After a powerful debut in 2012, Middlebrooks appeared to lose something, or, at least, gain a giant hole in his swing. The strikeout rate jumped to 29.9 percent in 2014, leading the Red Sox to move Xander Bogaerts to third and remove the once-promising prospect from an everyday role, which likely would have happened even if he didn’t miss nearly three months after having a finger broken by a pitch. A fresh start, a new organization, and an opportunity – those things will go a long way in allowing Middlebrooks to figure things out. Even with a tough offensive environment, Middlebrooks should have solid value, even if it comes with a .240 average, due to the power potential.
Offseason Overview: The Padres hired A.J. Preller to become their GM last August, and in his first offseason at the helm, ownership opened up the wallet like never before, allowing the 37-year-old Cornell graduate to piece together an immediate competitor. Preller traded for an entire outfield, acquiring Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Wil Myers to patrol spacious Petco Park. He added Middlebrooks at third through a deal with Boston, got a slugging catcher in Derek Norris for a solid young pitcher in Jesse Hahn in a deal with Oakland, and then signed their rotation horse when he added James Shields. Preller’s only competition for most active general manager was likely Oakland’s Billy Beane, and both of them improved their teams by taking huge risks.
The Verdict: The Padres immediately became competitors, but we will have to wait and see whether the addition of all of the right-handed power will increase the club’s ability to score runs. They have plenty of talent on the roster, and that is before we even get to the starting rotation. Shields will be the ace, but the remaining group of Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and Ian Kennedy is a gifted compilation of powerful arms that are capable of missing a lot of bats. While so many wondered what the defense would be like with Myers in center field, with the extreme strikeout potential from the rotation, it dulls that worry a bit. The Padres are very likely to compete for a wild card spot, as, even with the huge additions, they still fall slightly short of the Dodgers in the NL West. PECOTA saw the team improving substantially from their 77 wins last season to 84 in 2015, and I can see them getting to 88 wins, as well.
The 2014 season has been quite interesting to this point. With so many teams floating around contention due to unforeseen parity in a game that has had so little over the years, we haven’t seen many top talents reach the big leagues to assist their clubs compete. Gregory Polanco finally reached Pittsburgh, but the Cardinals just sent Oscar Taveras back to the minors following the activation of Matt Adams from the 15-day disabled list. With injuries to Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Archie Bradley, and Taijuan Walker, the elite level prospects haven’t provided a lot of positive material for minor league analysis. For that reason, you have to reach deeper. Here are some names that you may be familiar with, but, if you’re not, you should get to know a little better.
Bryant is a one-man wrecking crew in the Double-A Southern League in 2014, and you should already be familiar with him, as Bryant was the No.2 overall pick out of San Diego in the 2013 MLB Draft. For all of the fears that went along with the holes in his swing, which is still present based on the 75 strikeouts, Bryant can still draw a walk while producing elite-level power from the right side. He may have to move to an outfield corner in the long run due to Starlin Castro being at short and Javier Baez likely moving to third, as the Cubs have Anthony Rizzo locked up through 2021 (including options) at first. Regardless of where he plays, he’ll be an All-Star talent. The Cubs don’t need to bring him up due to their 27-38 record and ongoing rebuild, but the scariest part of his numbers are the fact that they could only get larger with a move to Triple-A and the Pacific Coast League. He could break camp with the Cubs in 2015 and will likely get a nice audition this September.
The Mariners have a lot of young pitchers who get a lot of attention with Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Erasmo Ramirez each earning some starts at the major league level over the last couple of seasons; however, with those names receiving so much attention, there is a sneaky exciting talent coming up who isn’t getting nearly as much recognition as most players with his skills would, and that is Victor Sanchez. At 19, Sanchez is already in Double-A, having skipped the horrific pitching environment of the California League, and he is pitching very well. Over his last two starts, Sanchez has allowed just two earned runs over 13.2 innings (1.32 ERA), striking out 13 and allowing 11 base runners (0.80 WHIP). Sanchez isn’t a dynamic strikeout pitcher, but he has plus command and, at his age, he may further develop his stuff to take another step forward. He could certainly give up fewer home runs, but when you consider that he is 5 1/2 years younger than the average player in the Southern League, he deserves a break. He’s a very mature pitcher given his age and deserves more attention than he is getting.
Another Houston Astros prospect who is near ready to make an impact at the major league level, Tucker was just promoted to Triple-A after being near the top of the Texas League in doubles, home runs, and total bases. After thriving in 2013 between High-A and Double-A, Tucker has made the adjustments necessary to continue his progression to Houston to join Jon Singleton and George Springer, while the club waits for Carlos Correa and others in the lower minors to help make Houston a World Series contender in the next three seasons. Even thriving against left-handers, Tucker is capable of being more than just an average outfielder in the majors.
After being taken in the 4th round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of South Carolina, Christian Walker had a somewhat productive first full minor league season in 2013 (.815 OPS, just 67 strikeouts in 439 plate appearances), but it was also somewhat disappointing (11 home runs). Walker did play at three levels in 2013, so, perhaps, he wasn’t in one location long enough to make the adjustments necessary to showcase his power, but the 2014 season has been quite different. Walker already has 17 home runs and is sporting an OPS of .913 as of publishing. While his strikeout rate has increased, that is allowing him to produce at higher levels. With Chris Davis under team control through the 2015 season, could you be looking at the future first baseman in Baltimore? It could be the case, but Walker has to continue his offensive outburst if he is going to make it in the majors as a right-handed hitting first baseman.
Even after missing all of the 2013 season due to Tommy John surgery, Rymer Liriano is young for his league. The 22-year-old outfielder is back on track, showcasing all of his tools, though the swing and miss looks to be a bit larger than anticipated after his long layoff. Regardless, in 2011, Liriano showed the speed (66 steals) and power (50 extra-base hits) that make fantasy baseball fans salivate. He could probably make the Padres offense a little better if he were called up today, but he still has some work to do to become an All-Star level talent in the future.
Prior to the 2013 season, Jackson was heading towards becoming an organizational arm, even though he was a first round draft pick in 2010. Then, it all seemed to click last year and over his last 200.1 innings he has a 2.34 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and 208 strikeouts. Now, with the Texas Rangers reeling and in need of pitching depth after injuries to Derek Holland, Martin Perez, and Matt Harrison, Luke Jackson has positioned himself for some time in Arlington at some point this summer.
Michael Taylor is breaking out. After an impressive repeat of High-A in 2013 (57 extra-base hits and 51 stolen bases), Taylor has reached a career-high in home runs in just 62 games, while still showing tremendous speed (17 steals) in his first go-round in Double-A. There is a lot of swing and miss in his bat, but the power and speed skills that he possesses make him an intriguing prospect, especially when you consider that he could be in a pretty electric lineup with Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and company in the next couple of seasons. With Denard Span due a $9 million option or a $500,000 buyout in 2015, Taylor is likely leaving a lot of questions for Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo and Washington management about just what to do in center field in 2015. If nothing else, Taylor could spend some time in Triple-A next year, or even later this season, before earning a full-time role in 2016.
Jake Lamb was a 6th round pick out of Washington in 2012, and all that he has done since getting drafted is hit. This season, his numbers in the Southern League are being mocked by Kris Bryant’s absurd outburst, but they are still very, very good. The doubles and home runs show the power potential in Lamb’s bat, and the .996 OPS in 59 at-bats against left-handed pitching shows that Lamb is quite capable of becoming a regular in Arizona. With Kevin Towers around, Lamb could be traded before ever reaching the desert, but he would be an extremely solid option to force Martin Prado off of the hot corner, and joining Paul Goldschmidt as a tremendous offensive threat in the Diamondbacks lineup in the near future.
It’s late in the baseball season and there are a lot of things that could be distracting you, such as following up on Johnny Manziel’s battle with the NCAA, completing your 21 fantasy football drafts, and wondering who will be Ace or Gary when you attend a Halloween party as the Incredibly Gay Duo. While all of those things are important, I present to you the world of baseball that you may have missed due to your fascination of Miley twerking.
Yankees’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano leads MLB with 42 RBI and is tied with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera for the lead in home runs (13) since the All-Star break. The Yankees are 21-16 since Soriano returned to New York and the Yanks are 2.5 games behind Tampa for the second Wild Card spot with 23 games remaining, including seven games against Boston (a four-game series begins today in New York) and three against the Rays.
New Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd is leading the majors in total bases since the All-Star break with 101 (he is tied with teammate Andrew McCutchen and San Diego outfielder Will Venable), and he is tied with Minnesota Twins shortstop Brian Dozier for extra-base hits since the break with 26. Byrd will look to continue his torrid pace in helping lead the Pirates to the NL Central title after the Buccos have already guaranteed their fans with the club’s first winning season since 1992.
Washington Nationals’ outfielder Jayson Werth looked like a total waste of a seven-year, $126 million deal after his horrendous first season, 2011, in the nation’s capital, but he has hit .311/.392/.487 over the last two seasons while battling various injuries. If Werth continues his production next season and the Nats get a full, healthy season out of Bryce Harper and their very good pitching staff, the letdown from 2013 will be all forgiven in 2014 with an improved season. Werth, by the way, is 8th in MLB in OPS (.920).
Toronto outfielder Rajai Davis doesn’t receive a lot of praise or playing time, but he has 40 stolen bases in just 93 games. With his .313 OBP, Davis has made an appearance on the bases just 93 times in 301 plate appearances. When you take away the two triples and four home runs (since he hasn’t stolen home and he can’t steal a base after a home run), it means that Davis has successfully stolen a base in 46 percent of his appearances on base. With his speed, who needed to wait for Billy Hamilton for an impact base runner?
There are only six players with 30 or more home runs (Chris Davis, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Pedro Alvarez, Paul Goldschmidt, and Adam Dunn) after 22 players reached the tier in 2012 and 24 players reached in 2011. With 17 players within six homers or reaching 30, and several within that group unlikely to do so (I’m looking at you J.J. Hardy and the injured Domonic Brown), the top-tier of sluggers appears to be a very rare breed with pitching being so dominant.
Speaking of pitching…
Max Scherzer is sitting at 19-2, but the names of other starting pitchers ranked near the top in wins is quite surprising: Jorge De La Rosa (16), Francisco Liriano (15), Chris Tillman (15), and Bartolo Colon (14) rank in the top eight in the strange statistic. While some writers will look at the win as valuable in determining who should win the Cy Young, it clearly has little use in determining who has been the best pitcher.
It’s somewhat disappointing to see numbers fall with the drop in velocity, but that is exactly what has happened to former Cy Young favorites like Justin Verlander (12-10, 3.59 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) and C.C. Sabathia (13-11, 4.86 ERA, 1.35 WHIP). With the fall from grace, though, has come exciting young arms like Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, and Matt Harvey (R.I.P.). Unfortunately for the aging arms, it doesn’t appear to be getting better, as Sabathia has a 6.88 ERA in the second half, while Verlander has a more respectable 3.77 ERA since the break.
Speaking of those young arms and specifically Jose Fernandez, the young, Cuban-born right-hander has been filthy in the second half. His 0.83 WHIP is tops among all starting pitchers and the 70:13 K:BB in 54 innings is downright nasty. With the Marlins possibly looking to deal their only source of offense, Giancarlo Stanton, this winter, Fernandez will likely continue to post ridiculous numbers without wins going forward, although he has won five games since the break.
For all of those still sitting back and waiting for Chris Sale‘s arm to explode, it hasn’t happened. The White Sox ace has been even better in 2013 than he was last season, posting a 2.97 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP while improving his strikeout rate AND his walk rate on a per nine inning basis. After being locked up for five-years, $32.5 million (with team options totalling $26 million over 2018 and 2019), the Pale Hose look very wise in their string-bean investment.
R.A. Dickey‘s knuckleball didn’t carry over to the AL East. The veteran right-hander has a 4.30 ERA and 1.27 WHIP after posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP from 2010 through 2012 with the New York Mets. The small parks, the strong teams, and the patient hitters are all a factor in the decline, but when you don’t really know which way the ball is going when using a trick pitch, that kind of makes things difficult, too.
Yu Darvish is having an absolutely stupid season. He leads MLB with his 12.0 K/9 and he has struck out 240 of the 722 batters that he has faced (33.2 percent). While some Cy Young voters will look at Scherzer’s 19 wins and look stupid years from now, it is the unhittable Darvish, who has allowed 124 hits in 179.2 innings and a .192 BAA, who deserves the award.
Tim Lincecum won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009 and was an All-Star four consecutive seasons (2008-2011), but in 2012, it all fell apart. Two things happened in 2012:
1) Lincecum was getting big-time money in the first year of a two-year, $40.5 million contract (he did earn $14 million through arbitration in 2011), and…
2) Lincecum’s fastball dropped from 92.3 miles per hour in 2011 to 90.4 miles per hour in 2012 (FanGraphs)
We could add that a third thing happened, as well: Lincecum was absolutely lit up, as he posted a 5.18 ERA over 186 innings and 33 starts before being relegated to a relief role (where he pitched very well) in the postseason. He had just 13 quality starts in his 33 tries (39 percent) and his home run rate, which had never been higher than 9.9 percent, ballooned all the way up to 14.6 percent.
The first two months (11 starts) were about the same for “The Freak” in 2013, as he posted a 5.12 ERA over 65 innings, with just three quality starts. However, something changed in June.
Since June 1, Lincecum has started 12 games and posted a 3.35 ERA and eight quality starts, including a no-hitter on July 13 against San Diego. If you take away his start against Cincinnati the next time out, when he allowed eight runs in just 3.2 innings, due to Lincecum throwing 148 pitches in his no-hitter, his ERA would have been just 2.54.
Lincecum’s strikeout rate has improved, as he has an 82:22 K:BB in 78 innings over this time, a 9.46 K/9 rate, and after having just one double-digit strikeout game in 2012, he has three this season, all in the month of July. While his strikeout rate, even when he was struggling in 2012, never dropped below 9.00 over 9 innings, it is fair to wonder if Lincecum has learned how to pitch with the stuff that he has now as opposed to trying to overpower the opposition with a weaker fastball.
As recently as July 13, there were reports that Lincecum could have been traded to the Detroit Tigers and converted into a reliever, which may have obliterated his earning power as he hits free agency after the 2013 season. Luckily for him, and the Giants (who are reaping the benefits of his sudden effectiveness thanks to their patience), that trade didn’t happen. Considering Lincecum only has one regular season appearance out of the bullpen (4 IP, 4 BB, 4 K in 2008), that could have been a risky mid-season assumption for success. Clearly, his 2012 postseason (when he made five appearances over 13 innings with a 0.69 ERA and 17:2 K:BB) was a factor in the rumors, but the San Francisco Giants appear to be holding out hope that Lincecum will decline a qualifying offer so that they can get a draft pick for their former ace.
Whatever the background or reasons are for Lincecum’s success recently, it is definitely a positive for him as he heads towards being a free agent. He could very well earn a multi-year deal after looking like a lost cause just a couple of months ago. Stars doing what they do best is good for baseball, and Lincecum was a beloved figure in the Bay Area, with good reason, due to his success (and the team’s success) during his tenure there. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that the Giants re-sign Lincecum, especially with Matt Cain looking a lot like the 2012 and early-2013 version of Tim Lincecum, outside of a few solid recent starts.
With the season underway and some fans already looking forward to next year, even this early, it is a good time to look down on the farms for some names that you should get to know. Everyone knows who Wil Myers, Dylan Bundy, and Oscar Taveras are at this point, so these are players performing at elite levels who may not be household names…yet.
Salazar had Tommy John surgery and missed nearly two full seasons of development, but since returning for good in 2012, he has a 2.48 ERA over 116.1 innings, a 1.11 WHIP, and a 119:36 K:BB (3.31 K:BB). The Indians, who seemed to have a lot of depth at starting pitcher during the spring, are in need of some talent at the major league roster. Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister have pitched well, but injuries and inconsistency, especially from Ubaldo Jimenez, brings a need of some sort of stability. The Indians could use a little youth and homegrown talent in their rotation, and if Salazar continues pitching this well, he’ll be on his way to Cleveland sooner than later. A 43:9 K:BB in 28.2 innings is downright dominant.
Gibson was an elite talent when he was drafted 22nd overall in the 2009 MLB draft out of the University of Missouri. His stock had fallen a bit due to a stress fracture in his elbow. He proved that he was healthy in 2010 before needing Tommy John surgery in 2011. After rehab, he returned in 2012 with some mediocre numbers, and while his statistics don’t look fantastic this year in Rochester, he has had a couple of short, rough outing out of the six that he has made, allowing five earned runs twice in a little over four innings in two different starts. If you ignore those two starts, Gibson has a 1.99 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP, and 20:8 K:BB over 22.2 innings. The Twins will look for a little more consistency from Gibson before giving him a call, but he would immediately become one of the top two pitchers in their rotation, if not the best.
Pimentel doesn’t have a tremendous track record, but when you have a 0.30ERA after five starts, you’re going to start getting noticed. Acquired from the Boston Red Sox as part of the Joel Hanrahan trade, Pimentel isn’t going to get the hype that Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon garnish, but he appears to have enough stuff to be a decent back-end of the rotation arm. He certainly needed to thrive after not really doing much good since the 2010 season. Since this is his third season in Double-A, maybe expectations should be tempered, even after a tremendous start, but if it continues, he’ll continue to peak interest.
The Minnesota Twins are notoriously slow in their development of players. While they have Joe Mauer locked up for the next century with a seemingly unmovable contract (don’t tell Boston that after last season’s mega-deal), he could move to first base if or when Justin Morneau leaves via free agency for Pinto. At 24, he’s a little on the old side for Double-A, and his numbers overall haven’t been spectular throughout his development, things took a nice turn last year. His plate discipline and gap power seemed to increase, and he has carried that over nicely this season, with 11 extra-base hits and a .938 OPS for New Britain. Ryan Doumit is the “other catcher” on the Twins roster, so if Pinto continues to hit, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him become a useful piece to the Twins roster.
Johnson may not post dominant strikeout numbers, but his ability to keep runners from scoring is impressive. As he has moved up, his tits per nine has dropped at each level and he is not a little over a strikeout per inning, as well. Now in Double-A, the White Sox No.3 prospect, according to MLB.com, appears to be taking another step towards Chicago. While the club mourns the loss of Gavin Floyd to Tommy John surgery, Johnson could become an option later in the 2013 season, especially if he continues to dominate the opposition. The 2011 2nd round pick out of the University of California is certainly worth tracking.
A smart acquisition by the Marlins this offseason in the Yunel Escobar deal, Dietrich is an under-the-radar prospect who seems to do nothing but hit, while playing a premium middle infield position. He was the Marlins No.8 prospect coming into the season (MLB.com), and he is currently 5th in the Southern League in total bases. He appears to have taken a drastically improved approach at the plate, as well, having taken 15 walks already after walking 32 times all season in 2012. With Donovan Solano ahead of him in Miami and a very weak group of talent there, especially with Giancarlo Stanton hurt, Dietrich could make an impact later this season, especially if he continues to rake the way that he has to this point in 2013.
How can you be the 20th ranked prospect (MLB.com) in a pretty weak system, when you’re fastball sits 93-95 while touching 97 and you post numbers as absurd as Smith has? The guy has a 174:33 K:BB over his last 160 innings, and while his 3.85 ERA looks inflated from 2012, he was pitching in the hitter’s paradise California League. Sure, his secondary stuff may be lagging, but Tony Cingrani has looked pretty solid in the majors and throughout his minor league career using a fastball at alarmingly high rates. The fact that dynasty league fantasy baseball players may not be familiar with him is also surprising, considering he will be pitching half of his games in San Diego. Smith has dominated this season, and for a 14th round selection out of Oklahoma, the 6’4″ right-hander has been a smart investment by the Padres.
I did this last year and it was interesting, as they were mostly useless guesses as opposed to valuable predictions. However, with days until real games begin, I figured that I would join in the fun of putting this out there so that we can all look back and see just how wrong I was when October rolls around. Let the incorrectness begin!
I’m buying the upgrades to the Jays roster. A great improvement to the pitching staff, and just in time to pounce on an AL East division where the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox don’t look like major factors. While the Rays and Orioles look to maintain success without a huge payroll increase, the Jays will utilize their awesome blend of speed, power, and rotation depth to take the crown in the East.
How do you improve a lineup that had Albert Pujols and Mike Trout in it a season ago? Well, by signing Josh Hamilton, of course! The Angels could be the best offensive team in baseball, but they’ll need to be, after seemingly taking the “we-will-outscore-your-team-because-we-don’t-have-pitching” way of building a roster. After losing out of Zack Greinke, the club traded for Tommy “my shoulder is gonna rip off of my body at any moment” Hanson, signing Joe Blanton, and trading for Jason Vargas, who could benefit from continuing his career in another pitcher-friendly ballpark. The Halos have enough offense to overcome their pitching shortcomings, though, and could easily manage to score about 6-8 runs per game.
AL Wild Cards
Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays
The Rangers may have lost Josh Hamilton, but they still have a dynamic offense, led by Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre. While it is highly unlikely that Lance Berkman can truly fill the shoes of Hamilton, he is just a season removed from revitalizing his career in St. Louis. Can he do it again? Well, if he can’t, the club will need more from their rotation, which is solid, but not nearly a lock to be great as others in the AL. Yu Darvish is the anchor, but with Matt Harrison‘s low strikeout rates, one has to wonder if he can maintain the 32 wins and 3.34 ERA that he has put up the last two seasons. Derek Holland needs to bounce back, as well, if Texas is to be taken seriously. If they don’t get the right breaks, this could easily be the Oakland Athletics, once again.
While everyone will focus on the huge trades that brought the club Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey, and others, Bautista will be the spark plug to the offense due to his tremendous power and ability to get on base. With his wrist fully recovered and a dynamic lineup around him, opposing clubs will be forced to pitch to the slugger, which will result is a season that should resemble his 2010 and 2011 seasons, with overwhelming power and run producing statistics.
To say that Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball would be an understatement. He turned 30 years old in February and since 2008, he has gone 89-48 with a 3.28 ERA over 1,154.2 innings, and while those numbers have been outmatched by only CC Sabathia in the American League (91-39 with a 3.11 ERA), Verlander seems to have a pretty tight grip on the best pitcher in MLB title for the moment. While Yu Darvish and David Price begin to catch up to him, Verlander will hold control it for another season, with another 20-win season and an ERA under 3.00 for the Tigers.
While he actually has very little to do with the drastic changes that the Indians have undergone this offseason (that honor belongs to GM Chris Antonetti), Terry Francona will get a lot of credit for the Indians posting their first winning season since their 2007 ALCS appearance. Manny Acta never seemed capable of keeping successful starts going over the 162-game season, but Francona’s resume proves that he is capable of that, regardless of the 2011 Boston Red Sox collapse. While the Tribe won’t make the playoffs, they will be very competitive and, possibly, be a nuisance to the Tigers in the AL Central for most of the season. For that, Francona will deserve the honor for making a Cleveland sports franchise matter again.
AL Rookie of the Year
Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
He won’t start the season with the major league club, but Myers will be up in June, once the Rays can guarantee that he won’t gain Super Two arbitration eligibility, taking over the left field job from Matt Joyce, while manning right field when Ben Zobrist goes to second or short. Myers exploded in the minors last season, hitting an absurd .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs between the Royals’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. While he could work on his contact rate (he struck out 140 times in 522 at-bats), Myers is a much needed offensive force for the Rays, who need someone besides Evan Longoria and Zobrist to produce consistently. Expect a .260/.320/.460 line with nearly 20 home runs if Myers gets the call in June, which should be good enough to win the AL ROY with Jurickson Profar waiting for a shot in Triple-A for the Rangers and so few players getting an opportunity early in the 2013 season.
What do you get when you take an outstanding team without a leadoff hitter and you add a guy with a lifetime .386 on-base percentage in that spot? You get a team with a very bad defensive outfield that plays in a hitters paradise and the 2013 version of the Cincinnati Reds. Shin-Soo Choo could be a liability in center, but his offensive skills fit perfectly into the Reds lineup. Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto will need some help from Choo and Ryan Ludwick, but with a very good starting rotation and great depth in the bullpen with the move of Aroldis Chapman back to closer, the Reds will battle the Nationals for the best record in MLB in 2013.
NL West Champion
Los Angeles Dodgers
Like the Dodgers, I’m buying. The addition of Zack Greinke was huge, but the trade with the Boston Red Sox that brought Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez, along with their massive contracts, to the Dodgers will begin paying dividends this season. While the Hanley Ramirez thumb injury is a slight issue to start the season, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are the right kind of awesome to overcome any issues like that. The Dodgers have great pitching depth, unless they make a trade in the next few days, to overcome any further arm issues for Chad Billingsley, and their bullpen is lights out, with flame-thrower Kenley Jansen sharing end-game duties with Brandon League…until Don Mattingley sees what everyone else does and puts Jansen there full-time. This team is dangerous if they stay healthy. The pitching is deep, but an injury to Crawford, Kemp, or Andre Ethier will cost them the division to the San Francisco Giants.
NL Wild Cards
Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals
The Atlanta Braves have an incredible roster. If Chipper Jones had hung around one more season, they may have had a chance at another World Series title for the old man. Unfortunately, Jones finally retired and third could be the clubs only weak spot, as Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson will share the job in 2013. The addition of B.J. Upton and Justin Upton will make the offense even more dangerous, as Jason Heyward continues to become one of the best players in baseball. Freddie Freeman got his eye issues worked out, so he will also improve in 2013, while the club will rely on a deep rotation, that will only get better when Brandon Beachy returns in June or July. By then, the Braves could have a very difficult choice, especially after seeing Julio Teheran thrive this spring, as someone will have to be removed from the rotation if the club is healthy. As far as the bullpen goes, one name is all you need: Craig Kimbrel.
The Cardinals continue to stick around and be contenders, even after losing Albert Pujols a season ago and, potentially, losing Chris Carpenter for the entire 2013 season. Adam Wainwright should re-establish himself as an ace this season, while Allen Craig will show that he is an MVP-caliber player if he would just stay healthy. Speaking of health, could fantasy baseball nerds be any more excited for the first of Carlos Beltran‘s injuries in 2013? If you don’t know why, you need to look up super-prospect Oscar Taveras. The Cards seem to have an endless supply of young arms, as well, as Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez arrive and establish themselves in the majors.
Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
Votto will do one of two things: 1) Post an on-base percentage approaching .500 (.474 in 2012) while never seeing a pitch worth hitting, or 2) Post numbers close to his 2010 MVP season (.324/.424/.600, 37 home runs) while earning his 2nd MVP. The Reds are going to have Votto hitting No.3 again, and with Shin-Soo Choo and Brandon Phillips hitting in front of him, Votto will easily exceed his career-high 113 RBI this season. With his knee healthy and a tremendous lineup and hitter’s paradise as a home ballpark, Joey Votto will win the NL MVP in 2013.
You can take Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw, while I go off the board (or rocker) to choose Madison Bumgarner for NL Cy Young. After tiring at the end of the 2012 season, Bumgarner knows that he has a lot to prove. Add on the fact that his WHIP fell from 1.21 in 2011 to 1.11 in 2012, and you can see that the 23-year-old left-hander can not only miss bats (191 K’s in each of the last two seasons), but he isn’t allowing many hits or walks. With a pitcher-friendly ballpark and loads of expectations on him due to his fall-off late last season, Bumgarner will show that he shouldn’t be overlooked due to Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum being on the same roster.
There isn’t a whole lot to like about the Padres roster. They don’t have a superstar on the front of a video game, they don’t have a player that shows up to the MLB Fan Cave with an infamous twitter account, but they have an interesting team and a better manager. Bud Black can get a lot out of the club that he has. While the team will continue to struggle to score runs, at times, Chase Headley could provide enough power to get runs in bunches, and Yonder Alonso could thrive with the fences being moved in at Petco. Solid speed and gap power throughout the lineup will make the Padres a surprise team in 2013, and while the rotation is more patchwork than well thought out, the bullpen is tremendous, as it always seems to be. If the Friars can get anything out of Andrew Cashner, Clayton Richard, and Eric Stults, they’ll be a team capable of 82-85 wins, which isn’t playoff worthy, but worth giving Bud Black an award for.
NL Rookie of the Year
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
You don’t get called a left-handed version of Vladimir Guerrero and get overlooked, and Taveras is that special of a talent. Like I mentioned above, once Carlos Beltran gets hurt (as in it IS going to happen), Taveras would, more than likely, get the call. Not only a Beltran injury, but an under performing Jon Jay could even be replaced by the super-prospect, as Taveras played 93 games in center for the Cards Double-A affiliate in 2012. Taveras will get enough at-bats to be valuable and he could do that as a fourth outfielder once June rolls around, but once he is in St. Louis, he won’t be leaving town for several years. A pure hitter in every sense of the label.
World Series Prediction
Washington Nationals defeat Los Angeles Angels, 4-2
Random, Bold Predictions
There is no rhyme or reason here, just as the title says:
Bryce Harper will hit over 30 home runs in 2013, while posting an OPS near .940.
Mike Trout won’t hit 30 home runs again, but he will steal 50 bases.
Jose Reyes will stay healthy, even while playing on turf, and terrorize the AL East while stealing over 50 bases.
Ike Davis will hit over 40 home runs after hitting 32 in 2012 while hitting just .227.
Mat Latos will become the ace of the Cincinnati Reds, posting better overall numbers than Johnny Cueto and winning 20 games in 2013.
Mike Minor proves that his second half from 2012 (6-4, 2.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP over 87.1 IP) wasn’ a fluke, as he becomes the Braves best starting pitcher in 2013.
Jordan Zimmerman has a more impressive 2013 season than Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez and he will no longer be overlooked in a fantastic Washington rotation.
Brandon Belt continues hitting like he has all spring, ripping 25 home runs after having a power outage in the earlier stages of his career (16 in 598 at-bats).
Troy Tulowitzki stays healthy and benefits from Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler having All Star seasons to hit 40 home runs, making all of those fantasy baseball players that took him in the first round feel like the smartest men alive.
Allen Craig becomes an All Star and hits over .300 with 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI.
Jason Heyward finishes 2nd in NL MVP voting to Joey Votto, posting his first 30 HR/30 SB season for Atlanta.
Domonic Brown keeps the Phillies left field job all season and posts a .270/.380/.450 line with solid production across the board. Philly fans hit Ruben Amaro, Jr. with batteries for not trusting in him sooner.
Zack Greinke can’t handle the Los Angeles pressure and spotlight and misses time due to his anxiety disorder.
Chris Sale pitches 200 innings and proves doubters about his bony frame and drastic innings increase in 2012 wrong.
Drew Stubbs (remember him?) hits 20 home runs and steals 50 bases, revitalizing his career.
Rick Porcello wins 17 games with a 3.20 ERA while striking out 180 batters…all because he began using his four-seam fastball for the first time in his career.
These guys are about to go bonkers in 2013. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…(obvious names not listed, i.e. Harper, Brown, Braun, Ike Davis)
This has nothing to do with the Top 100 Prospects that I put out in December, but you will find some familiar names and others that will be players to keep an eye on, especially if they’re on your favorite team or if you’re in a keeper fantasy baseball league.
Baseball nerds are looking at all kinds of statistics that weren’t listed on the back of a baseball card when we were growing up. With the newer FIP, BABIP, and WAR statistics that have become a part of analysis of player abilities, it seems to be easier to project rebound candidates, potential breakouts, or potential flops based on these newer, sabermetric-based statistics.
FIP Winners and Losers for 2013
Fangraphs.com defined FIP as measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average. FIP can be calculated with the following formula:
FIP = ((13*HR)+(3*(BB+HBP))-(2*K))/IP + constant
The constant is solely to bring FIP onto an ERA scale and is generally around 3.20. Fangraphs.com also provided the following table to show how the values should be interpreted:
Pitchers to Target
Here are some pitchers who could have solid seasons based on an inflated ERA and solid FIP values:
Joe Blanton, RHP, Los Angeles Angels: Blanton was not good in 2012…at least on paper. At 10-13 with a 4.71 ERA over 191 innings, you’d think that he was one of the weaker pitchers in the National League. Not so. Blanton posted an FIP of 3.91 and a WHIP of 1.26 last season, while walking just 1.60 batters per nine innings, his best rate since 2007 (1.57) when he was still with Oakland. For Blanton, his issues stem from the longball, as he gave up 29 last season and has a career HR/FB rate of 10.3 percent, which is close to the league average (roughly 10 percent), but that statistic has climbed to 13.9 percent in 2011 and 15.3 percent in 2012. The fact is, Angels Stadium of Anaheim ranked as the 4th lowest scoring park in baseball in 2012. Joe Blanton could have a huge year for the Angels. Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton only help his cause.
Adam Wainwright, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals: Wainwright has had a very good career. As a starting pitcher, he has a 3.14 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 3.01 K/BB over 996 innings and 151 starts. In 2012, Wainwright’s ERA “ballooned” to 3.94, which was a pretty drastic increase considering that in 2010 (he missed 2011 due to TJ surgery) that number was 2.42, while it was 2.63 in 2009. The time on the shelf could have had something to do with it, but Wainwright’s FIP was 3.10 in 2012, 6th best in MLB. With Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse seemingly gone from the equation in 2013, the Cardinals really need Wainwright to rebound. Nerdy baseball statistics show that he is well on his way to do just that. The inflated .315 BABIP (career .293) may have played a role in the ERA inflation, as the 9.9 percent HR/FB (career 8.0), as well. Water under the bridge.
Yu Darvish, RHP, Texas Rangers: The rookie season that Darvish had seems to have gone completely unnoticed, thanks to the fishy outfielder for the Angels. 16 wins, 221 strikeouts over 191.1 innings, a 3.90 ERA, and a 1.28 WHIP shows that Darvish was very good in his transition to MLB from Japan. While the ERA looks a bit exaggerated, it was just that. When looking at Darvish, look at the 10.4 K/9 and the 3.29 FIP for the 2012 season. His ability to finish off hitters was very impressive and, as long as he holds up better than Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideo Nomo physically, Darvish is well on his way to establishing himself as one of the top pitchers in MLB.
Pitchers to Avoid
Here are some pitchers who may have terrible seasons based on a negative correlation to their FIP and ERA:
Jason Vargas, LHP, Los Angeles Angels: While Vargas is moving from Seattle (No.1 pitcher’s park) to Los Angeles (No.4 pitcher’s park) with Joe Blanton, it is unlikely that he will have a season like he had for the Mariners in 2012. Vargas has managed ERAs the last three seasons of 3.78 in 2010, 4.25 in 2011, and 3.85 in 2012, while posting FIPs of 3.95 of 2010, 4.09 in 2011, and 4.69 last season. Somehow, Vargas managed to give up 35 home runs last season, 26 of them on the road, even while pitching in Safeco. So…can Angels Stadium hold as many balls and make him valuable, or is this the year that reality and statistics set in on Vargas? Even when he was posting an ERA of 3.96, a WHIP of 1.25, and winning 33 games over the last three seasons, it seemed to be with quite a bit of luck.
Clayton Richard, LHP, San Diego Padres: You have to love Petco Park, right? Richard should, as he managed to keep his ERA at 3.99 last season with an FIP of 4.62. Richard has kept himself somewhat useful in the world of fantasy baseball by posting a 3.88 ERA over the last three seasons and 520 innings for the Friars, even while posting a below average WHIP of 1.34 and going 33-32 over 84 starts. Richard may continue to keep his ERA, but with his HR/FB ballooning to 15 percent last season and the fences being moved in this season at Petco Park, is it going to last?
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays: Hellickson is either really good or a ticking time bomb. He doesn’t strike many out, as his 5.93 K/9 is 66th in baseball since the start of the 2011 season. His .242 BABIP is the lowest in baseball since the start of 2011, just in front of Jered Weaver (.246) and Justin Verlander (.255). Hellickson’s career ERA is a sexy 3.06 and his career WHIP is 1.19; however, his FIP in 2011 was 4.44 (when his ERA was 2.95) and 4.60 in 2012 (when his ERA was 3.10). He turns 26 in April and has just 402.1 innings pitched in his career, but can he really maintain the success that he has had in the ERA, WHIP, and BABIP categories if his FIP continues to inflate?
Ross Detwiler, LHP, Washington Nationals: With Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, and Dan Haren in the rotation, do the Nationals really need to expect a lot from Detwiler in 2013? They probably shouldn’t. Detwiler has long had the stuff to be a solid starting pitcher and finally received an opportunity last year. The low to mid-90’s fastball would say that Detwiler has shutdown stuff, but his 5.7 K/9 as a starter in 2012 says otherwise. While he posted a 3.40 ERA in 2012 and an FIP of 4.04 (which is right around average), what is in store for the 27-year-old left-hander in 2013? The Nationals have already shown a short leash on Detwiler, pulling him from the rotation in late May of last year after nine starts, even after he posted a solid 3.88 ERA. Detwiler, like Hellickson, seems to have the stuff to continue posting solid peripheral statistics, in spite of a potentially alarmingly high FIP and an inability to miss bats.