The most underrated hitter in MLB

There have been many later round draft picks that have performed well beyond their expectations in the majors. Dallas Keuchel was a seventh round draft pick, and an eventual Cy Young winner. Albert Pujols was a 13th round selection, and recently joined the 600 home run club. Daniel Murphy was also a 13th round selection, and turned into a Silver Slugger. The list could go on and on. But one thing sticks out about these late round success stories; they have gained ample amounts of national notoriety.

How does one of the most successful hitters in the game not get as much fanfare as the three previously listed players? Is it because he was an eighth round selection out of San Marcos State University? Or is it because he has spent his seven year career in the desert? Either way, Paul Goldschmidt is arguably the best hitter in the game, and has been for years. It’s okay if you didn’t know that. I’ll fill you in.

Underrated hitter in MLB

Luis Gonzalez has been overcome by Paul Goldschmidt as the best hitter in franchise history (venomstrikes.com).

Best Hitter in Franchise History

When comparing Goldschmidt with the best players in Diamondbacks history, one can begin to comprehend his greatness. Using WAR, Goldschmidt edges out one of the most revered players in franchise history, Luis Gonzalez. Gonzalez spent eight seasons in Arizona and amassed 30.0 wins above replacement in that time. He also garnered five All-Star appearances, and helped put the franchise on the map.

In Goldschmidt’s seven seasons in the desert, he has already surpassed the great Gonzalez. Compiling 31.8 wins above replacement and posting a career 147 OPS+ compared to Gonzalez’s 130 OPS+ in Arizona, Goldschmidt has quickly become the best hitter in franchise history. But given Arizona’s short history (founded in 1998), some may discredit Goldschmidt’s accomplishments, citing the franchise’s limited history and success. To counter that argument, let us examine where Goldschmidt ranks among the best hitters in the game today.

Best Hitter in the Game?

Underrated MLB hitter

Bryce Harper may have a MVP award, but Goldschmidt has the lead in all major statistics (sportingnews.com).

Okay, that may be a little bit of a stretch. Even so, in an era with Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto, Goldschmidt does more than hold his own. Goldschmidt came into the league in 2011, but didn’t cement his status as a full-time starter until the 2012 season. If we use 2012 as a starting point, his career aligns favorably with one of the most hyped prospects ever to play the game; Bryce Harper.

Harper busted onto the MLB scene in 2012 and has been a dominant force ever since. With a 40 home run season, one MVP award and a ROY award already on his mantle, there’s no way a player like Goldschmidt could compare to that right? Think again. Over the same time period, 2012-2017, Goldschmidt has a slash line of .302/.404/.531. Compared to Harpers’ .282/.386/.511, Goldschmidt is clearly the better hitter. But if a few percentage points are not enough to sway you, let us delve a little deeper.

Harper has hit 136 home runs, driven in 378 RBIs and posted a 141 OPS+ since 2012. Goldschmidt has hit 145 home runs, driven in 526 RBIs and has a 149 OPS+ in the same time period. In all measurable statistics, Goldschmidt is better than Harper. Even in stolen bases, with Goldschmidt swiping 107 bases compared to Harper’s 59. So if Goldschmidt is an overall better player, including defensively (three Gold Gloves for Goldschmidt, zero for Harper), why isn’t he getting as much coverage?

Underrated MLB hitter

Paul Goldschmidt is looking to get the notoriety he deserves as the Diamondbacks improve (Jim McIsaac/Getty).

Hidden in the Desert Sun

Goldschmidt has finished second twice in the NL MVP voting in his career. Even so, the Diamondbacks slugger has deserved much more consideration in his career. Ironically enough, Goldschmidt finished second in 2015 to none other than Bryce Harper, and to Andrew McCutchen in 2013. It can be argued that playing in Arizona has hampered Goldschmidt’s exposure, and caused him to be highly overlooked.

The Diamondbacks haven’t exactly been as successful as Goldlschmidt has, without a winning season since his rookie year in 2011. With an inept franchise in a small market like Arizona, it is easy to see why Goldschmidt has been overlooked by fans and media alike. But with the team sitting at 34-25 and Goldschmidt performing like he always has, maybe he’ll finally get the recognition he deserves.

He certainly has from me, and now hopefully from you now as well.

Feature image by Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports.

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Andrew McCutchen

The fall of Andrew McCutchen

Four top-five N.L. MVP seasons, one N.L. MVP award, five-time N.L. All-Star, four Silver Slugger awards and one Gold Glove. The accomplishments read as almost a prerequisite for greatness in the majors. But even though it was as little as two years ago that he garnered an All-Star appearance and a Silver Slugger, Andrew McCutchen is far removed from his glory days.

Gone are the All-Star appearances, the Silver Sluggers, the MVP discussions. In their place are trade rumors and position changes, as a former star tries to adjust to his diminished skillset.

But how did the man who resurrected baseball in Pittsburgh become expendable?

An up and down 2016

Andrew McCutchen

The 2016 season was a roller coaster ride for Andrew McCutchen (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Many look at Andrew McCutchen’s 2016 season, compare it to his career, and call it a “down season”. And while that may be true, when you look closer, the numbers tell a different story.

Andrew McCutchen is a notoriously slow starter, and 2016 was no different. But even with a .226 batting average at the end of April, his 115 OPS+ was still respectable.

He seemed to be finally turning it on in May, when he hit .284 and posted a 119 OPS+. All signs pointed to McCutchen getting hot, that is until the calendar turned to June.

McCutchen hit a miserable .202 in June with a paltry 52 OPS+. The month of June is really what brought McCutchen’s numbers down.

Whether it was fatigue or an undisclosed injury or just the randomness of baseball, June 2016 was the worst we had ever seen Andrew McCutchen play.

Even so, he picked it up after June, hitting .247 in July and posting a 91 OPS+. While still a low number, it was a stark improvement from June.

And once July ended, the Andrew McCutchen of old seemed to return. A .280 batting average in August helped him earn a 119 OPS+, and set him up for a monster end of the season.

In September and October, McCutchen hit .287 with six home runs, 22 RBIs and a 141 OPS+. Gong by the last few months of the season, it seemed McCutchen had returned to form, and gave some glimmer of hope for the 2017 season.

But an offseason of trade rumors and a position change left McCutchen in flux, and the doubts of his performance again began to crop up. Any tempered optimism that fans had in regards to McCutchen’s 2017 season were dashed once the games began to rack up.

Rock bottom: The 2017 season

While the calendar has just turned to June, the performance of Andrew McCutchen so far has left much to be desired. Those who called his 2016 season a downfall have only had their points enforced by his play this season.

In 52 games, McCutchen has hit .223 and posted an 86 OPS+. Some thought that a return to center field would provide a spark for McCutchen. But in his 38 games played in center field for the suspended Starling Marte, McCutchen has done little to show a return to form.

Many have speculated the cause for McCutchen’s decline, and I will add to that speculation. When looking at the advanced metrics, one thing stood out to me more than any other: a sign of declining speed. McCutchen had always been known for his blend of power and speed, and even though he hit .256 last season, he still hit 24 home runs.

That is right in line with his 162 game average of 24 per year. But his legs seem to be giving out on him, causing his overall performance to decline.

Explaining McCutchen’s decline

Andrew McCutchen

A decline in speed may be the culprit behind McCutchen’s decline (Dylan Buell/Getty Images).

One statistic I saw a major drop in was his BABIP. With a career .328 BABIP, the .247 mark posted this season by McCutchen is well below his usual performance.

BABIP can be impacted by a number of factors, one being the speed of a player. It can be reasoned that the faster a player, the better chance he has at beating out a throw to first for a base hit. And that was something that McCutchen excelled at.

With a 9.2 percent infield hit rate, McCutchen was able to beat out ground balls for base hits. But this season, McCutchen’s 3.1 percent infield hit rate is vastly lower than his career mark.

With a lower infield hit percentage this season compared to his career, it seems that his speed has sorely diminished. And when you take into account his stolen base numbers, it becomes even more evident.

From 2009-2015, McCutchen averaged 22 stolen bases per season. In 2016, that number dropped to six stolen bases. He was also caught stealing seven times last season. The decline in stolen bases was a precipitous one, but only part of the decline of Andrew McCutchen’s game.

But at only 30 years old, it remains to be seen if the former MVP can adjust to playing the game with a diminished skill set.

 

Feature image by Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images.

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2017 MLB Season

We have liftoff: The rise of the Houston Astros

No one saw what was to come of that October night in 2005. The Chicago White Sox had just swept the Houston Astros in four games to win the World Series, and the celebration that occurred in Minute Maid Park was one that left a sour taste in Astros’ fans mouths. Little did they know that it was a precursor to the next few years of Astros baseball.

But with a long rebuild finally in the rear-view mirror, fans have a winning team again. That night in 2005 seems a lot longer ago that 12 years, and that is in large part thanks to the success the franchise is experiencing. But how did a team that hadn’t finished better than 11 games back of first place average 85 wins in the past two seasons and have one of the best records in the majors this season? It took some savvy moves, and the ability to admit that change was needed.

Houston Astros

Dallas Keuchel was one of the shiniest diamonds in the rough ever, winning the 2015 AL Cy Young Award (Colin E. Bradley/AP Photo).

Cultivating the Farm

Even though the Astros lost the World Series in 2005, the core of the roster was held onto long after their glory days. With aging stars like Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and other core components still on the roster, management made a change for the better that came to a head in 2010.

Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were both shipped off to contending teams, but their hauls didn’t bring back any impact players for the Astros. Even so, their trades were still a key component in the rebuild process.

With the team being stripped to the bare bones, the rebuild was officially underway in 2011, as Houston lost 106 games.

But that season saw the first glimpses of the dynamic and diminutive second baseman, Jose Altuve. They also drafted center fielder George Springer in the first round of the MLB Draft that year. The duo of Springer and Altuve have become the core of the Astros, and have set the franchise up for a succesful future.

Young studs like Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Alex Bregman were also acquired via the draft, and have helped to lift the club back into contention.

They also found a Cy Young winner in the seventh round of the 2009 MLB Draft. After struggling in 2012 and 2013, Dallas Keuchel would go on to win the 2015 AL Cy Young award. But it wasn’t just the farm system that helped lift the Astros to relevancy

Bargain Deals and Smart Investments

Houston Astros

Will Harris has had a massive impact on a dominant Astros bullpen (Mike Carlson, Stringer).

The Astros were just as good at finding talent on the free agent market and waiver wire as they were in the MLB Draft. Right hander Collin McHugh was one of the worst starters in the league in 2012 and 2013, putting up a combined 8.94 ERA in that time.

But when he came to the Astros in 2014, he became a whole new pitcher. His 3.71 ERA in an Astros uniform is a stark contrast to his younger years, and he has developed into one of the Astros’ better starting pitchers.

But it hasn’t been just the starting rotation that has benefited from free agency. Will Harris came into Astros spring training in 2015 just trying to make the roster. Little did anyone know that he would finish the season with a 1.90 ERA out of the pen. His contributions were also joined by another relief pitcher in 2015.

Prized free agent reliever Pat Neshek made the move from St. Louis to Houston in 2015 and immediately made an impact. With a 3.36 ERA in his two seasons in Houston, Nesheck became a valuable member of a much improved bullpen.

Joined by fellow free agent additions Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, the Astros have had excellent success in the free agent market. By not overspending on free agents and being able to exploit the bargain bin, the Astros have put together a consistent winner in Houston.

Putting it all together

The Astros have had an interesting approach to rebuilding the team. By tearing the team down to its roots, they lost in the present to win in the future. And the future has finally arrived with a 31-16 record in the AL West and a young core to build around.

The front office has proven to be more than adequate at picking up well-priced free agents and finding contributors on the waiver wire. With the ability to put solid contributors around an excellent young core, the Astros are primed to fully wipe away the taste of the 2005 World Series and replace it with a savory World Series title.

 

Featured image by Troy Taormina, USA Today.

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MLB Trade Deadline Targets

With a quarter of the season in the books, we are drawing ever closer to the trade deadline. Contenders and pretenders are weeding themselves out, and the trade market is forming. Accordingly, we will analyze four of the top trade targets and their potential landing spots.

SS Zack Cozart – Cincinnati Reds

After hitting a career high 16 home runs last season, Cozart has improved his play in 2017. The 31 year old is batting .352/.433/.602 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. He has been a key cog in the Red’s offensive attack, but his days in Cincinnati may be numbered. With the Reds slowly fading to the bottom of the NL Central, the Reds may have no choice.

Sitting at 20-22, the Reds are fourth in their division and 4.5 games back of first place. While they have performed well to this point, they are starting to show their true colors. With a 3-7 record in their past 10 games, Cozart may become expendable. Given his age and his potent season, the Reds may sell high and get a crop of young players in return.

Best Fit – Baltimore Orioles: Sitting at 25-16, the Orioles are primed to wrestle control of the division. J.J. Hardy has not had an OPS+ over 100 in the past five seasons, and at 34, it may be time to move Hardy to the bench.

1B Justin Smoak – Toronto Blue Jays

A solid 8.5 games out of first place and a 18-26 record have the Blue Jays as sellers at the trade deadline. And with all the moves the team has made in recent seasons, the organization could use an influx of young prospects. That leaves first baseman Justin Smoak as a prime target at the trade deadline.

His .279/.344/.537 slash line is by far the best of his career, and Toronto could capitalize on his success. And with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs, Smoak has proven to be a consistent contributor in the Blue Jays’ lineup. Given his hot start and his teams struggles, it makes too much sense to hold onto him.

Best Fit – New York Yankees: Even if trades to division rivals are few and far between, this is one that could be the exception. Chris Carter has been absolutely dreadful in pinstripes. And Greg Bird, when healthy, hasn’t been much better. Given the Yankees’ deep farm system, Smoak should be easy to acquire.

SP Gerrit Cole – Pittsburgh Pirates

As the season progresses, the fate of Pirates ace Gerrit Cole is becoming all too clear. Sitting in the cellar of the NL Central, it seems the Pirates’ window of opportunity has finally closed. And with star center fielder Starlin Marte out for the season, there is little hope in Pittsburgh. But what hope does exist lies with Gerrit Cole.

The staff ace sports a 2.84 ERA in his nine starts this season, providing a great opportunity for the Pirates to earn a W every time he takes the hill. The 26 year old also has four years of MLB service, and will demand top dollar on the open market. And with the Pirates falling deeper into obscurity, the time is now to capitalize on Cole’s value.

Best Fit – Houston Astros: With a 29-14 record, the Astros have seemingly no holes. But if the team is serious about being top flight contenders, then a player like Gerrit Cole would elevate them to the next level. He would fit in perfectly behind Dallas Keuchel to form one of the best one-two punches in any rotation.

SP Andrew Triggs – Oakland Athletics

Andrew Triggs has been a revelation for the A’s (John Hefti/USA TODAY Sports).

The Oakland Athletics are always one of the more active sellers at the trade deadline. And sitting at nine games back of the Houston Astros for first place in the AL West, this season will be no different. But one of their top trade chips is someone you have probably never heard of – Andrew Triggs.

His 2.12 ERA in eight starts for the A’s has been spectacular. The 28 year old was solid in Oakland last season, but has brought his production to new heights in 2017. Given his age, performance and the A’s willingness to trade away players, he won’t be in green and gold for too much longer.

Best Fit – Colorado Rockies: The Rockies are 27-17 and in first in the NL West, but the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are hot on their heels. Pitching has always been a source of woe for Rockies fans, but Triggs could help stabilize the rotation. With a short track record of success, Triggs shouldn’t demand a king’s ransom on the market. Triggs would be a welcome addition in Denver.

Feature image by Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo.

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Eric Thames

Evaluating Top Performers in MLB

There are players in the majors that far exceed expectations every year. Whether it’s a young rookie blowing away the competition or a veteran player who has finally found “it,” these are the players that draw the most attention.

Let’s look at four of the most surprising performers this season and see if their success can be explained. The numbers never lie, so let’s take an in-depth look at some of the more advanced metrics on these four players and see what they tell us.

1B Yonder Alonso – Oakland Athletics

Surprise MLB Performers

Yonder Alonso has finally found “it” in Oakland (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Yonder Alonso has been a revelation for the A’s this year after a lackluster season last year. He’s put up a .303/.389/.687 slash line in 32 games. He also has 11 home runs and 27 RBIs.

The home runs are more than he has slugged in any of his previous seven seasons. How has Alonso been so productive this season?

Numerous metrics vary widely from the norm for Alonso, and they may just be the reason for his resurgence. Alonso has a fly ball rate of 46.7 percent this season. That is much higher than his 27.5 percent last year.

What does this really mean? It means Alonso is putting the ball in the air almost 50 percent of the time he makes contact. That allows him to utilize his power and drive the ball for more doubles and homers.

He has also lowered his ground ball rate from 44.6 percent last year to 26.7 percent this year, causing him to have more opportunities to turn those hit balls into base knocks.

His improved fly ball rate has caused his home run numbers to increase, and his ability to hit the ball up the middle at a 40 percent clip has helped anchor his average. He is also making hard contact on 41.3 percent of the balls he puts into play, far outperforming his career 31.0 percent.

Alonso is having a career season, and it’s easy to see why. His 41.3 percent hard-contact rate combined with his 46.7 fly ball rate have resulted in Alonso being one of the most productive first basemen in baseball this season. If he keeps it up, don’t expect him to remain in green and gold for long.

SP Jason Vargas – Kansas City Royals

Jason Vargas has had an up and down career, but he has transformed himself into a new player in Kansas City. In his four years in a Royals uniform, he has a 3.35 ERA, a solid mark for any starter.

However, he has taken his play to a whole new level this season. He has a 1.19 ERA in six starts and is striking out 8.4 batters per nine innings. How has Vargas gone from solid to spectacular?

One way he has improved is his ability to leave runners on base. His 87.4 left-on-base percentage is much higher than his career 73.3 percent. By leaving runners on base, he has drastically lowered his ERA.

Vargas isn’t relying on smoke and mirrors to produce his minuscule ERA. Opposing hitters have a .282 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). While that is lower than the average .300 BABIP experienced by pitchers, he is still relatively close to the norm. Vargas isn’t relying on an unsustainable BABIP to produce, meaning his performance is strong and should carry on throughout the season.

Another indicator of his sustainable success is his fielding-independent pitching (FIP). FIP measures a pitcher’s ERA independent of the fielders behind him, leading to a more accurate measure of the pitchers performance. With a 2.15 FIP this season, Vargas is performing at an elite level.

Don’t expect his 1.19 ERA to last throughout the season, but he will keep putting up spectacular numbers throughout the season.

1B Ryan Zimmerman – Washington Nationals

Ryan Zimmerman has found the fountain of youth in 2017 (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP).

When you’re hitting like Ryan Zimmerman, it seems like luck is on your side. Zimmerman is having a renaissance year in Washington and is currently tied or leading in all three Triple-Crown categories.

His .393 batting average and 34 RBIs lead all of baseball. He is also tied with Aaron Judge and Eric Thames for the lead in home runs with 13. How has a player that hit .218 last season vaulted himself into contention for the Triple Crown?

The metrics are mixed on Ryan Zimmerman’s performance this season. He has an unsustainable .422 BABIP, which has helped loft his batting average to around .400. His BABIP will surely drop as the season continues, and with it his batting average.

Even so, he is getting hard contact on 45.8 percent of the balls he puts into play. He also has a medium-contact rate of 43.8 percent. His hard-contact percentage will surely drop, but it should increase his medium-contact percentage.

Zimmerman’s home-run-per-fly-ball (HR/FB) percentage is also astronomical, hovering around 36.1 percent so far. It will surely regress, but no one is taking away his league leading 13 home runs.

Even with regression imminent, Zimmerman is still performing exceptionally well this season. He has been a key cog in the Nationals lineup, and he shouldn’t experience too much of a drop off in performance.

1B Eric Thames – Milwaukee Brewers

Eric Thames is close to becoming in the U.S. what he was in Korea: a spectacle of epic proportions. His performance this season has been among the best in all of baseball.

His .331 batting average, 13 homers and 25 RBIs are close to the rate of success he experienced in Korea. Surely major league pitching will figure him out soon, right?

If they do, it won’t be any time soon. Thames is tearing the cover off the ball with a 47.1 percent hard-contact rate. His ability to produce solid hits off of the bat has allowed him to increase his batting average as well as his home run total.

However, he may be due for regression in the slugging department. His 36.1 percent HR/FB rate is astoundingly high, and will surely regress as the season moves forward.

His .351 BABIP is also pretty high, and has helped carry his batting average. Even with a regression in BABIP, HR/FB rate and a lower hard-contact percentage, Thames will still be a productive player for the Brewers. Look for Thames to be a key piece in the rebuilding Brewers’ lineup.

 

Featured Image by Sporting News

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MLB Rookies

The Rookie’s Rise to Stardom

In a game with one of the biggest learning curves in sports, rookies have surprisingly been doing well. Baseball has had a number of young players develop into stars in recent seasons.

To fully comprehend this shift in the game, we must first examine how players make it from being a prospect in the minor leagues to making it to the show.

From Prospect to Pro

MLB Rookies

Even top picks like Colorado’s Brendan Rodgers must pay their dues in the minors (GJ Sentinel).

Major League Baseball is vastly different from the NFL and NBA when it comes to rookies. While there is no limit to how long a player must wait to be signed professionally, baseball still averages the oldest rookies of all three of the major sports.

That is due to the way the game is played. To be successful in the majors, most players need to be at their peak of maturation, normally around 24 to 25 years old. Being fully developed allows baseball players to utilize their bodies to the fullest.

Unlike the NFL or NBA where players can rely on physical talent alone, baseball requires a honed set of skills. It doesn’t matter if you can hit a fastball 450 feet. If you can’t handle a breaking ball, you will fail in the majors.

That is why baseball has such an advanced minor league system. The combination of developing a player’s physical and mental capabilities to be successful in the majors takes time. The average rookie last year was 24 years old, giving credence to the time it takes to develop. However, what happens when players start breaking the mold, and advance beyond our wildest dreams?

2012: just the beginning

MLB Rookies

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper transformed the way rookies played in 2012 (nbcsports.com).

The Rookie of the Year award has always been the bar that rookies strive for. However, not all ROY winners are made the same.

From 2007-2011, ROY winners averaged 3.1 wins above replacement (WAR). Baseball Reference rates that as better than an average starter in the majors, proving that the ROY winners were truly something special.

Many have noted the increase of rookie production in the past few years, and the numbers certainly support that. From 2012-2016, ROY winners have averaged 5.4 WAR. That is a staggering jump in production, and evidence of a new age dawning in baseball.

This trend really began in 2012 with a pair of ROY winners: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Both players had been premium draft picks for their respective teams, but it was Harper that was seen as the next big thing in baseball.

Some players fold under such lofty expectations, but Harper flourished. He put up 5.2 WAR in his rookie year, topping all NL ROY winners since 2007 by at least 1.3 WAR. If Harper signaled a shift in the way rookies played, Trout was the zenith of their potential.

No one saw what Trout had in store. At 20 years old in his rookie season, he blew away the competition with a staggering 10.8 WAR. That is MVP type production, and earned him a second place finish in the 2012 AL MVP voting. While it may be unfair to compare Trout to other rookies due to his Hall of Fame trajectory, his fast start should not be diminished. Even so, Trout and Harper were only the beginning, setting the stage for other acts to follow.

continued success

MLB Rookies

Even Nolan Arenado, one of the games best young players, couldn’t take home the ROY award. (The Denver Post).

Since that fateful 2012 season, the way we view rookies has never been the same. That’s not just Trout and Harper’s doing either.

The rookies that have followed have helped carry their success into new seasons. Seemingly gone are the days when players like Dustin Pedroia could put up 3.9 WAR in 2007 and bring home the ROY award. Pedroia’s 2007 season would have been good enough for the third most WAR by a rookie in 2016. A new type of player is taking over the majors, and they are raising the bar of rookie performance.

Never before have we seen such young players perform so well so quickly. The NL has had two ROY winners in a row post seasons of 6.0 WAR or higher: Kris Bryant in 2015 (6.1 WAR) and Corey Seager in 2016 (6.0 WAR).

From 2007-2011, five of the 10 ROY winners posted WAR over 3.5 in their rookie years. From 2012-2016, eight of the 10 ROY winners have posted WAR over 3.5 in their rookie years. ROY of course is not the be all end all of the story of growing rookie dominance.

We saw 11 rookies post seasons of 2.5 WAR or higher last year, compared to the 2007 season in which only six rookies reached the 2.5 WAR milestone. Players like Nolan Arenado, Trea Turner, Francisco Lindor and Gary Sanchez all had rookie seasons of at least 3.0 WAR, and still weren’t able to bring home the ROY award. It will only become more difficult to bring home the ROY award with the rise in production of rookies.

The way the game is being played is changing. Younger, less-experienced players are taking over the game. Don’t let their lack of experience fool you. These young studs will dominate the game for years to come. The youth movement in baseball is upon us, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down soon.

 

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Reviewing the National League so Far

The season is well underway and teams are starting to show who they really are. Fast starts and slow starts are beginning to even out as we begin to see separation in the standings.

If you’ve missed any of the action, don’t worry. We will go division-by-division and hit all of the high points so far in the National League.

NL East

National League Review

We haven’t seen much of this from Ryan Zimmerman this season (Alex Brandon/AP Photo).

The NL East is beginning to take form, with the Nationals (13-5) having a 3 game lead over the Marlins (10-8) for the division lead.

Leading the way for the Nationals is none other than Bryce Harper. Harper is hitting .393 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 61 at bats this season. He seems to be showing no signs of what ailed him last season and is producing at a higher level than he did in his MVP season.

He’s not alone in driving the Nationals to the top of the division. Longtime face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman is having a renaissance year in Washington. He has blasted five homers to go along with 14 RBIs and a .373 batting average. Zimmerman is only 32, so this could be a return to form for him.

Don’t count out the second place Marlins. They’ve relied on production from an unlikely source with catcher J.T. Realmuto leading the team in batting average (.344). Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich have also gotten off to good starts, with both posting over 10 RBIs already on the year. Even so, another NL East rival is not far behind.

Cesar Hernandez has been a revelation for Philly (9-9) so far. His .338 batting average has been a pleasant surprise for Philadelphia, as well as his four homers and three steals. He could be an interesting trade chip for the Phillies if he keeps it up.

Rounding out the division standings are the Mets (8-11) and Atlanta (6-12). The Mets are off to a rough start this season, but still two games back of Miami for the second spot in the division.

Their offense has failed to deliver this season with a team batting average of .211. The pitching staff has carried the Mets, with three starters having an ERA under 3.00. If the Mets can continue to get strong outings from Matt Harvey (2.84 ERA) and have their offense catch fire, they should overtake Miami with ease.

The Braves’ management and fans alike are hoping Dansby Swanson’s slow start (.139 batting average) is just a blip on the radar. He has struggled this season, and has been a hole in Atlanta’s lineup.

NL Central

National League Review

Amir Garrett has been a revelation for Cincinnati this season (Joe Robbins/Getty Images).

After a surprising start from Cincinnati, the Red (10-9) have been unseated atop the division by the World Series champion Chicago Cubs (10-8). The division is still a five-team race, with St. Louis (9-10) third in the division, but only 1.5 games back of first place. This division has started out a tight one, but only time will tell if it remains so.

The Cubs haven’t been world beaters recently, going 5-5 in their last 10 games. It was still good enough to earn them the top spot in the division.

Jason Heyward is finally showing signs of the player Chicago thought they were getting. He’s batting .297 with two homers and 12 RBIs. With such a stacked lineup, if Heyward can keep his production even close to what he’s done this season, Chicago could reach another offensive level.

Cincinnati has been a pleasant surprise this season. After being predicted to sink to the bottom of the division, the Reds have battled all season long.

The pitching staff has been the biggest boon for the club, lead by the young lefty Amir Garrett. He’s started three games for the Reds and posted a 1.83 ERA while striking out 21 batters over 19.2 innings pitched. Veteran Scott Feldman has also thrown well, pitching to a 2.38 ERA. Even in the midst of a rebuild, the Reds have remained competitive.

St. Louis has experienced a power outage of late, but is still third in the division at 9-10. Their 6-4 record in the past 10 games has lifted them out of the cellar of the division.

Milwaukee has also opened some eyes this season. Sitting at 9-11 on the year, the Brewers have blown away preseason predictions. That is due in large part to the hot start put up by Eric Thames. Thames leads the majors with eight home runs and also has a .359 batting average. Needless to say, the Korean import has paid off.

That leaves the Pirates (8-10) as the last team in the division. After losing Starling Marte to an 80-game PED suspension earlier in the week, the outlook is bleak for the Buccos.

NL West

National League Review

The electric rookie has provided a strong presence for the Rockies (Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports).

The NL West has truly been wild this season. Colorado (13-6) has gotten off to a hot start this season and sits atop the division, followed by Arizona (12-8) who are 1.5 games back. The Dodgers (9-10) are four games back of the division lead, followed by San Diego (8-12) and San Francisco (6-13) at the bottom of the division.

Colorado has relied on an unexpected source of offense this season. Mark Reynolds has performed exceptionally well in Ian Desmond’s absence, hitting five homers and driving in 16 RBIs.

However, Antonio Senzatela has stolen the show in Colorado. The 22-year-old has won all three of his starts with a 2.08 ERA. Colorado has surprised everyone this season with a strong starting rotation and an exceptional offense.

Arizona has also blown away expectations this season. The offense has been the driving force behind their surge, with seven starters hitting over .250. The pitching staff has also been good for the Diamondbacks, with Zack Greinke posting a 3.28 ERA so far this season. The Diamondbacks have the opportunity to be in the thick of it all season long with a solid offense and pitching staff.

The same could be said of the Dodgers, but their slow start has them looking up at the Rockies and Diamondbacks in the division. The pitching staff has let them down, with Kenta Maeda posting a 8.05 ERA this season. The Dodgers will need to have more support for Clayton Kershaw in the rotation, or it could be a long season for the Dodgers.

San Diego is fourth in the division with a 8-12 record, besting their preseason predictions. Wil Myers has led the way so far with a .354 average and four homers to go along with 11 RBIs. Clayton Richard has also been a surprise contributor for the Padres. His 3.04 ERA is good for first in the starting rotation, and has been the ace of the starting staff.

San Francisco recently lost their staff ace to an off-the-field injury. Madison Bumgarner will be out an unknown amount of time after a dirt bike accident. That only worsens the Giants chances, as their 6-13 record already has them behind.

 

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Where does Marte’s Suspension Leave the Pirates?

Starling Marte will be out 80 games for the Pirates this season after failing a PED test. This is a crushing blow for a franchise that has been struggling in the NL Central since the rise of the Chicago Cubs.

Losing Marte has a much bigger impact than just this season. A full season from Marte may have been just what the Pirates needed. Instead, they must fill the hole left by their star center fielder.

Who will Take his Place?

Pittsburgh Pirates

Andrew McCutchen will have the first shot at the center field job (Jim Mcisaac/Getty Images).

The two-time Gold Glover was making the transition to starting full-time in center field after playing the corner outfield spots for the majority of his career. That move was brought on in part by the decline of Andrew McCutchen last season.

The veteran may make a return to center field, given the lack of major league talent. Gregory Polanco is assumed to be the incumbent in center field, but he’s been out with a groin pull.

Even when Polanco comes back, it will leave an empty outfield spot. Former top prospect Josh Bell has been the presumed incumbent at first base for a while, but could return to his natural position. He played the corner outfield spots well in the minors and has flashed good pop.

Adam Frazier could also be in line for some playing time. The 25-year-old has 185 major league at bats and a .303 career average. Even with Bell and Frazier, the Pirates may be tempted to call on their farm system to fill the hole.

Austin Meadows is ranked as baseball’s sixth best prospect according to Baseball America. He is a natural center fielder with good range and solid power, but still raw at 21 years old. If Bell and Frazier can’t carry the load, he will surely see the major leagues.

Are the Pirates sellers?

Gerrit Cole could net the Pirates a treasure trove of talent in a trade (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images).

The Pirates had a down 2016 season after making the playoffs three straight years from 2013-2015. The team went 78-83 last year and many wondered in the offseason if they would start rebuilding. This question will be brought to the forefront now with the loss of Marte for 80 games.

Marte is arguably the best player on the Pirates roster, and his loss may be too much for the Buccos to overcome. If the Pirates do enter sell mode, who do they move, and at what price?

The first choice would be McCutchen. The outfielder struggled in 2016 and was the talk of trade rumors in the offseason, so expect those to start ramping up again. He’s still a solid player and would be a valuable addition to a playoff contender.

Another trade chip in the Pirates’ possession is Gerrit Cole. The 26-year-old pitcher is one of the best young arms in the majors and would net a major haul for the Pirates if they moved him.

The Pirates very well could move both McCutchen and Cole, or neither one. The roster in Pittsburgh is talented, but the competition in the NL Central is fierce. With a roster devoid of Starling Marte for 80 games, it may be in the Pirates best interest to start moving towards a rebuild.

 

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History Los Angeles Dodgers

History of the Game: Los Angeles Dodgers

As one of the most storied franchises in MLB history, the Los Angeles Dodgers are a staple of American culture. But their history in Los Angeles is relatively short, moving to the city in 1957. To understand the impact the Dodgers have had on the fabric of America, we first must understand their storied history. We begin in 1884 in Brooklyn, New York.

Same Place, Different Name (1884-1920)

What would become the Los Angeles Dodgers began as the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1884. They took their name from the defunct baseball club before them, but the name didn’t stick for long. In their first 36 years of existence, the club went through nine name changes. For a club that has had such a storied history, this inconsistency is surprising to see. But nonetheless, the team’s winning ways began in Brooklyn.

They started off with a bang, winning the NL Championship in their first year in the league. They were able to capture five NL Pennants in their first 36 years in Brooklyn, but were unable to win the World Series. The team faced the Cleveland Indians in the 1920 World Series, but were bested in seven games. That loss would mark the beginning of a 20+ year playoff drought in Brooklyn.  Even so, the popularity of the ball club grew, and established a strong fan base in Brooklyn and the surrounding area.

One for Brooklyn (1921-1957)

History Los Angeles Dodgers

Dazzy Vance was one of the best players in Dodgers’ history (baseballhall.org).

The years after their 1920 World Series appearance were lean times for Brooklyn fans. From 1921 to 1939, Brooklyn finished better than third in their division only once, coming in second place in 1924. But fans still had a reason to pack the seats in Ebbets Field. And that was none other than Dazzy Vance. Vance first pitched for the rival Yankees in 1915 before coming to Brooklyn in 1922. The 31 year old would spend 10 memorable seasons in Brooklyn before moving on to St. Louis in 1933. Vance won the NL MVP in 1924 and posted two seasons of 10+ WAR in his 10 years in Brooklyn. Dazzy Vance is the 6th best player in Dodgers’ history in terms of WAR.

The team would officially become the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932, the year that Vance left for St. Louis. The Dodgers were entering new territory without their staff ace, but it wouldn’t be long before they were back to their winning ways. Entering the 1941 season, the Dodgers were one of the favorites in the NL. They had won 88 games in 1940 and were looking to build on their success. And build they did, racking up 100 wins and an NL Pennant. While the Dodgers did lose the World Series to the Yankees, they had made it back to their winning ways. They would have one losing season in their next 10 years. But even with all of their wins, one player made an impact so great, it changed the nation.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson, better known as Jackie, made his MLB debut with the Dodgers on April 15th, 1947. It may have gone down as a footnote in history, but there was one defining factor; Robinson was African-American. He was the first African-American to play in the majors, breaking the color barrier in MLB. He also went on to have a Hall of Fame career, winning the NL ROY in 1947 and NL MVP in 1949. Robinson helped change the fabric of America, but he also helped give Brooklyn a gift they will never forget.

After back to back World Series appearances in 1952 and 1953, the Dodgers failed to make the playoffs in 1954. But in 1955, the Dodgers would come out on top. Driven by Hall of Fame center fielder Duke Snider, the Dodgers bested the New York Yankees in seven games. It was the only World Series title won in Brooklyn, with the franchise moving to Los Angeles in 1957.

A Dynasty is Born (1958-1996)

The Brooklyn Dodgers were in the middle of a strong run, making the playoffs six times between 1947-1957. But when

History Los Angeles Dodgers

Fernando Valenzuela rode Fernandomania all the way to the 1981 World Series (alchetron.com).

majority owner Walter O’Malley wanted to build a new stadium for the team, New York officials were hesitant. After multiple failed attempts to find suitable land in New York for a stadium, O’Malley reached out to officials in Los Angeles. They were looking for a team, and O’Malley was happy to give them one. The Dodgers officially moved to Los Angeles for the 1958 season, changing the course of the franchise forever.

After moving across the country, the Dodgers spent the 1958 season trying to establish themselves. But a 71-83 record was just a blip on the Dodgers’ radar. The 1959 season would signal the beginning of a spectacular run of dominance for the Dodgers. They captured the World Series title, besting the Chicago White Sox in six games. It was a great boon for the Dodgers, and helped establish themselves as a cornerstone in Los Angeles. But it was just the beginning.

From 1959-1966, the Dodgers made four World Series appearances, winning three titles. Two of the greatest pitchers in Dodgers’ history were the driving force behind their run of dominance. Don Drysdale became a Dodgers legend, winning a Cy Young award and making the Hall of Fame. He retired with a sparkling 2.95 ERA and 2486 strikeouts. But Drysdale wasn’t alone in dominating for the Dodgers.

Sandy Koufax was one of the best pitchers of his era, winning three Cy Young Awards and one MVP in his 12 year career. He helped drive the Dodgers to three World Series titles in his career, and retired with a 2.76 ERA. Koufax also became a Hall of Famer, credit to his illustrious career. But the Dodgers would not make the World Series again until the 1974 season.

The Dodgers were able to capture two more World Series titles in the next 30 years, anchored by two other great pitchers. The 1981 season was one of magic in Los Angeles, as Fernandomania swept over the metro area. The 20 year old won the NL Cy Young that season, and led the Dodgers to the World Series title. Another Dodger Cy Young winner anchored the 1988 World Series title team. Orel Hershiser won the NL Cy Young in 1988, and led a Dodger team that won 94 games. They easily won the World Series that season, winning in five games.

Winning became the order of the era for the Dodgers, consistently making the playoffs. But as the turn of the century neared, the Dodgers found themselves on the edge of a new era.

A new age (1997-Present)

After the 1996 season, the Dodgers didn’t make the playoffs again until 2004. The consistently won, but weren’t able to break through to the playoffs. From 2004-2011, the Dodgers made the playoffs four times. But consistent playoff appearances still didn’t lead to a World Series appearance, causing management to overhaul the roster. The overhaul netted the team current stars like Adrian Gonzalez and Clayton Kershaw, and landed them in first place in the NL West from 2013-2016.

With perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw anchoring one of the deepest staffs in the majors, the Dodgers are set to contend in the NL for years to come. Corey Seager will join Kershaw in leading the Dodgers’ dominance, as the young shortstop is just beginning his career in Los Angeles. The future is bright in L.A., with young stars and established veterans leading the way. As one of the most successful teams in baseball history, they’re set to add to their trophy case and hopefully bring a World Series title back to Los Angeles.

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Surprise Performances Around the MLB

The MLB season is still in its infancy with just one full week in the books. However, there are multiple players who are opening some eyes around the league. Whether it’s just a hot start or a cold spell, players and fans alike take notice. Who is making the most of the opening week of the season, and who could use a mulligan?

1B Logan Morrison – Tampa Bay Rays

Surprise Performances

Logan Morrison has been a bright spot in Tampa’s lineup (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times).

The 29-year-old first baseman has turned it around so far this season after struggling last year with a .238 batting average. He has helped the Rays to a 5-3 record and been a driving force in their offense. Morrison is currently batting .333 with two homers and six RBIs through eight games.

While it is a small sample size, the Rays don’t seem to mind. The Rays could be in playoff contention if Morrison can come close to continuing this type of production throughout the season.

C Jason Castro – Minnesota Twins

Jason Castro was acquired by the Twins in the offseason as a defensive specialist. He put up uninspiring numbers in Houston and left the city with a .232 career batting average.

It seems Castro may have found something in Minnesota, evident by his hot start. He is currently batting .353 with one homer and six RBIs through six games this season. However, it’s his OBP that draws the most attention. This season’s .542 is astounding compared to his career OBP of .311. Supported by the seven walks he has already drawn, Castro is looking like a steal of a signing for Minnesota.

If he can play close to what he’s shown already, the Twins will have made one of the shrewdest moves of the offseason.

1B Mark Reynolds – Colorado Rockies

Surprising Performances

Mark Reynolds has performed exceptionally well in Ian Desmond’s stead (Denis Poroy/Getty Images).

With the signing of Ian Desmond to play first base in Denver, many thought Mark Reynolds would see few at bats this season. However, a spring training injury to Desmond opened the door for Reynolds, and he’s taking full advantage of it.

Reynolds has always been known as a slugger with 255 career home runs. This season, he has been doing so much more. He’s posted a .345 batting average to go along with four home runs and 10 RBIs. That astounding offense has also been paired with some stellar defense, as Reynolds has made some great plays at first this season.

Reynolds will be going back to the bench when Ian Desmond returns, but if he can keep it up, he just may become a top trade deadline target.

2B Jose Altuve – Houston Astros

Jose Altuve is one of the best players in the game today. His third place finish in the 2016 AL MVP voting only supports that claim. However, he certainly hasn’t shown it to start this season.

The diminutive second baseman has posted a lowly .188 batting average through his first eight games. His poor performance is seemingly out of the blue given he led the AL in hitting with a .338 batting average last season.

With a player of Altuve’s status, it’s only a matter of time before he turns it around.

1B Anthony Rizzo – Chicago Cubs

After winning the World Series in 2016, the Chicago Cubs were consensus favorites to repeat in 2017. One of the main forces for that projected repeat was first baseman Anthony Rizzo, but he has fallen far short of expectations this season.

He is batting .172 to start the year. He has struggled at the plate, but luckily it hasn’t impacted his team. With the Cubs sitting at 5-2 and atop the NL Central, the Cubs should have no worries.

Rizzo will turn it around eventually and should help carry the club back to the playoffs.

1B Edwin Encarnacion – Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians were contenders in 2016 and were favorites by many entering the 2017 season. With the offseason acquisition of Edwin Encarnacion, many believed it would push the Indians over the top. However, seven games into the season, the Indians are 4-3, and Encarnacion is batting .185.

It’s not the kind of start Indians fans were hoping for. Even so, the Indians are still over .500 and treading water. When Encarnacion turns it on (not if), the Indians will be prime contenders in the AL Central. They’ll need to hurry with surprise performer Minnesota and the Tigers in front of them for the lead in the division.

 

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