2017 American League Preview: The AL East

Divisional competition consistently provides us some of the most compelling storylines in sports. While there are classic rivalries across any league, few match the excitement of a tight September pennant chase. In the weeks leading up to the season, The Game Haus will breakdown these classic divisional matchups and predict their outcome.

This week’s preview looks into the fierce battleground shaping up in the AL East. Baseball is famous for league parity, providing an environment where any team can emerge if they’re in the October hunt. In 2017, no division better represents this notion than the hotly contested American League East.

In addition to playing host to the storied rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox, several other teams have proven themselves contenders in recent years.  The road to the playoffs is never easy, but teams emerging from this division will have undoubtedly earned their spot.

 

#5 Tampa Bay Rays

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 70-92

One has to admire the Rays continued offseason efforts to infuse young talent into the organization. However, this is not the year for the Rays to compete with the remainder of the division. Tampa still has franchise stalwart Evan Longoria, and Kevin Kiermaier continues to improve.

It won’t be enough to contend. The Rays should improve slightly this year, but their main focus will be expediting young talent through the minors.

 

#4 Baltimore Orioles

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 82-80

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

The Orioles’ front office must have breathed a collective sigh of relief when Mark Trumbo signed on the dotted line. Attempting to replace league leading home run production with the acquisition of Seth Smith can hardly be considered a strategy. Most would expect some regression as it relates to Trumbo’s torrid power spree, but Baltimore will need every last long ball given the pitching situation.

There’s a ton to like about Baltimore’s lineup, and their power potential could very well lead the MLB once again. That said, relying on Chris Tillman to act as rotation ace should be a clear indication of a gap. Baltimore ended up posting an impressive 89 wins in 2016, but it’s hard to visualize a repeat performance.

 

#3 New York Yankees

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 85-77

Viewing the Yankees as the dark horse candidate in this division feels foreign. New York has spent the last few years on the cusp of contention but experienced a disappointing finish in 2016. However, a subpar finish to the season was quickly replaced by incredible optimism for the future. In an impressive series of moves, general manager Brian Cashman orchestrated the acquisition of several of the league’s top prospects from contenders.

The Yankees will look to put some of that young talent on display in 2017. Behind young bats Gary Sánchez and Aaron Judge, the Yankees should see an uptick in offensive production. The question facing New York will be last year’s injured and underperforming rotation.  The Yankees will give their divisional opponents headaches but may be a year out of real contention.

 

#2 Toronto Blue Jay’s

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 87-75

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

Edwin Encarnacion’s WAR in 2016 was 3.7, so perhaps projecting the 2016 win total to only drop by two is optimistic. The acquisitions of Kendrys Morales and Francisco Liriano, along with a dominant rotation has to count for something.

The Jays were also able to resign Jose Bautista and have many options to replace Michael Saunders. Overall, not much has changed for the Jays.

The core of what makes Toronto dangerous is still in place and this fiery Jays team will compete in 2017. The lineup is still strong, but the Jay’s will rely on the rotation that led the American League in ERA.

 

#1 Boston Red Sox

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 92-70

There are many worthy teams in the AL East, but one club stands above the rest. The Red Sox fell short in the ALDS last year but look to return with a vengeance in 2017. With the offseason acquisition of Chris Sale and rapid progression of star prospect Andrew Benintendi, Boston stands ready to compete.

The team that sported the most runs last year will miss the production of legend David Ortiz. However, the amount of young talent in the batting order backed by a star-studded rotation should put Boston at the top of arguably the most competitive division in the MLB.

 

*All logo images courtesy of MLB.com*

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Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

The Game Haus presents our fantasy baseball rankings: top 5 setup men for 2017.

Setup men have become a premier aspect of baseball in the last decade as teams have begun to acquire multiple high-level relief pitchers in order to lock down the final innings of the game.

Standard fantasy baseball leagues generally do not include holds in their scoring formats, although I believe holds are integral to the game of baseball and thus belong as a stat in the fantasy version as well.

For anyone unfamiliar with a hold, it is a statistic that measures the effectiveness of relievers. A pitcher is rewarded with a hold when he enters the game with his team in the lead in a save situation, which is a lead of no more than three runs, and hands over that lead to another reliever without giving up the lead.

 

Below are the top five setup men heading into the 2017 season.

Exceptions include: Addison Reed, who will close games while Juerys Familia serves his looming suspension, and Cam Bedrosian, who could take Huston Street’s closer job.

Honorable mentions include: Will Harris, Luke Gregerson, Tyler Clippard, Darren O’Day, Kyle Barraclough, Hunter Strickland, Will Smith, and Derek Law.

 

5. Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

What do David Robertson trade rumors mean for Nate Jones? (Courtesy of zimbio.com)

Nate Jones commonly goes overlooked as he is on the rebuilding Chicago White Sox, although he offers great value as a setup man in 2017.

He finished 2016 with a 2.29 ERA, 10.19 K/9, and 28 holds. This was his second consecutive season of over 10 K/9 and a sub-one WHIP.

Jones had an excellent 2.93 FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, which measures what a pitcher’s ERA would look like if they were to receive average fielding results on balls in play.

With David Robertson trade rumors lurking, Jones may be moved to the closer role, but for the time being he is the fifth best option for holds in 2017.

 

4. Tyler Thornburg, Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox acquired the Milwaukee Brewers reliever in December of 2016 in exchange for Travis Shaw, two minor league prospects, and cash considerations.

Thornburg flourished as Milwaukee’s top setup man in 2016, finishing the season with a 2.1 ERA, 20 holds and 13 saves. His mid-90’s fastball and devastating curve helped him strikeout over 12 batters per nine innings. He also had an excellent FIP of 2.83, which suggest that he will find continued success no matter who is fielding behind him.

The 28-year-old will act as the bridge to Craig Kimbrel in 2017, giving him plenty of hold opportunities. Also, if Kimbrel were to go down, Thornburg would be the next man up.

 

3. Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

Brad Brach looks to build on his 2016 All-star campaign heading to 2017. (Courtesy of The Baltimore Sun)

Brach expanded on his 2015 breakout by exploding in 2016. The first-time All-star finished the year with a 2.05 ERA, 10.48 K/9, and 24 holds.

He improved his career averages across the board, most notably cutting his walks per nine innings down by 1.46, to a very manageable 2.85 BB/9.

I do not see any signs of regression for Brach in 2017, as his BABIP (batting average on balls batted in play), ground ball percentage, and homerun to fly ball rates have remained steady over his last three seasons.

Brach is cemented in as the Orioles’ eighth inning guy, with Darren O’Day working the seventh, and closer Zach Britton shutting it down in the ninth.

 

2. Dellin Betances, New York Yankees

The New York Yankees fireman finished 2016 with 28 holds, 12 saves, and an ERA of 3.08. His ERA was his highest in three seasons, although his FIP was an astounding 1.78, suggesting that his fielding contributed largely to his struggles.

The 6 foot 8, 260-pound hurler has increased his K/9 in every consecutive season, and sports a career average of 14.28. He exhibited a career high 15.53 K/9, which lead the league among qualifying relief pitchers in 2016.

He will return to a setup role as the Yankees reacquired closer Aroldis Chapman in free agency.

Betances will continue to dominate batters with his demoralizing cutter, similar to the likes of Kenley Jansen and Mariano Rivera.

The all-world reliever will be an asset for any fantasy team in 2017, whether the league awards points for holds or not.

 

1. Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

Andrew Miller is set to continue his regular season dominance in 2017. (Courtesy of Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Arguably the most dominant pitcher in the game, it is no surprise to see Andrew Miller at the top of this list. His 2016 campaign resulted in an astounding 1.45 ERA, 14.89 K/9, 25 holds and 12 saves.

Miller will remain as a late inning work horse for the Indians, offering availability in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. The 31-year-old will remain as Cody Allen’s setup man in 2017 and will be a key contributor in the tribe’s hunt for October.

The lethal lefty offers great value to all leagues, as he will contribute elite ratios and inevitably a few rogue saves.

 

 

 

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Spring Training Fever: Baseball is Back in Business

Pitchers and catchers report. The words fans long to hear as they anxiously await the start of spring training. Unfortunately, this day always feels like much ado about nothing. The whole team has yet to assemble and the real action doesn’t really begin for another two weeks. However, baseball is back nonetheless and that is reason enough to be excited for the start of 2017 season.

While the actual importance of game results is lacking, there are certainly other areas worth analyzing this time of year. The following is a list of common spring training themes and some of the teams who may be attached to these storylines throughout camp.

“I’m in the Best Shape of My Life”

This is always a fan-favorite line players love to feed to reporters early in the season. Whether it’s shedding a few pounds (I’m looking at you Pablo), packing on muscle, or recovering from an injury, all eyes are on the general health of the team this time of year.

Team to Watch: Cleveland Indians

Spring Training Fever: Baseball is Back in Business

Danny Salazar #31 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Last year’s World Series runner-up battled through a bevy of injuries at year’s end and look to recuperate in 2017. Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Michael Brantley are all key pieces recovering for the Tribe. Their contribution to the upcoming campaign will be absolutely critical if Cleveland is to attempt a follow-up appearance in October.

Honorable Mentions: Mets, Tigers and Nationals

Rookie Roster Spots

This is the chance for the young guns to shine. With plenty of invites to go around, fans will see first-hand some of their organization’s rising stars. Leaving camp with only 25 roster spots means competition is fierce, and many won’t make the cut.

However, the opportunity for these minor leaguers to taste some big league action must be an experience like no other. There’s an impressive influx of young talent throughout the MLB, and spring training is the perfect chance to see it in action.

Team to Watch: Chicago White Sox

Chicago was certainly one of the more active teams this offseason. Committing fully to a rebuild, the White Sox offloaded Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for an impressive group of prospects.

There are few positions locked in for Chicago, and young stars Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito will undoubtedly get an opportunity. Those names added to a strong farm system should set the Sox up for an exciting spring and promising future.

Honorable Mentions: Braves, Rays and Brewers

Battle for the Bullpen

The aptly named “Closer Carousel” is always a hot topic come spring training. The pen is a perpetual source of spring intrigue for two major reasons.

First, it’s a way for managers to trial promising young arms and allow them to compete for a potential spot. Second, it provides the battle ground for the ever revolving door that is an MLB closer’s job. It’s a high stakes game with some of the hardest throwing individuals in Major League Baseball. What’s not to like?

Team to Watch: Colorado Rockies

Adam Ottavino #0 of the Colorado Rockies (Photo by Dustin Bradford via Getty Images)

This matchup represents one of the more intriguing closer battles going into spring training. Colorado improved this offseason with the addition of Ian Desmond to an already talented offense. The question hanging over Coors field is who will be the brave soul tasked with securing a home lead?

Adam Ottavino is coming off a respectable 2016 season and posted a 2.67 ERA with seven saves. The challenger will be the recently signed Greg Holland, who is coming off a season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2016. Holland holds a career 2.42 ERA and has amassed 145 career saves, including 47 in his best season.

At 31 years of age, both veterans will battle it out to earn a spot as the ninth inning man in one of baseball’s most hitter friendly parks.

Honorable Mentions: Reds, Angels, A’s, Twins, Phillies and Nationals

 

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Comeback Candidates for the 2017 MLB Season

Every year across the majors there are players that fail to meet expectations. Whether it be from injury or poor performance, it is usually unexpected. With a new season comes new opportunities. These players are MLB comeback candidates for the 2017 season.

Bryce Harper- Washington Nationals

Much has been written about Nationals star phenom Bryce Harper. Comparisons to the games late greats have set expectations sky high. Harper seemed to finally meet them in 2015 with an astounding 198 OPS+. All was right, until the start of the 2016 season.

Only a player like Bryce Harper could have a season with a 116 OPS+ and have it labeled a “down year.” His .243 batting average was the lowest of his career. Much of his struggles were blamed on an injury he suffered during the season. Harper played through it, proving he is able to deal with pain.

Even though Harper was hampered by injury in 2016, he was still able to garner his fourth NL All-Star appearance of his career. With a full offseason to rest and recuperate, Harper is poised to be closer to MVP form. Look for Harper to drive the ball and improve his average in 2017.

MLB Comeback Candidates

Matt Harvey looks to return to Flushing refreshed in 2017 (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images).

Matt Harvey- New York Mets

Coming off a World Series appearance in 2015, Matt Harvey was the linchpin of a young, talented New York Mets rotation. They were picked by many to make a return to the World Series in 2016, but fate would prove otherwise.

Matt Harvey started off slow in 2016 and never recovered. Like his NL East rival Bryce Harper, it was discovered that Harvey was suffering from a shoulder injury. This was not something that could be played with, and the Mets shut Harvey down after 17 starts in 2016. A 4-10 record with a 4.86 ERA tell the story. Those are not numbers you would expect from a staff ace like Harvey.

After being shut down in July and having surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, Harvey should return in 2017. Harvey has been a fixture in Flushing since his debut in 2012, and is just entering his prime. At 28 years old, don’t bet against Harvey making a full recovery in 2017.

A.J. Pollock- Arizona Diamondbacks

A.J. Pollock seemed to be a star in the making after a stellar 2015 season. Pollock hit 20 bombs, stole 39 bases and put up an impressive 130 OPS+. After the Diamondbacks signed Zack Greinke and traded for Shelby Miller, 2016 looked bright in the desert.

That is, until Pollock was limited to 12 games in 2016. Pollock suffered a fractured elbow in an April spring training game against the Royals, effectively ending his season. While he was able to come back towards the end of the season, he struggled with a .244 batting average and .390 slugging percentage.

Pollock has proven throughout his time in Arizona to be a tough out, and 2017 is looking to be no different. His recovery has gone well and he is set to start Opening Day in center field. The 2016 season may have been dark for Pollock and the Diamondbacks, but 2017 provides a new opportunity to shine.

Dallas Keuchel- Houston Astros

MLB Comeback Candidates

While Dallas Keuchel’s beard was on point, his game was off in 2016 (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel was on top of the world in 2015. Keuchel struck out 216 batters over 232 innings pitched on his way to the 2015 AL Cy Young award. After a strong 2014 season and a stellar 2015, it was thought Keuchel had finally proved he was legit, until the 2016 season began.

Keuchel struggled from the beginning of the season, mirroring his team’s mediocre start. He finished with a 4.55 ERA and a 9-12 record in 2016, far from the marks he set in 2015. While he did make 26 starts, he was ineffective and left many wondering: what is wrong with Keuchel? He did struggle with some injuries, but avoided any major ones and pitched 168 innings.

There is really no clear answer to why Keuchel struggled. Keuchel just seemed to never get it together in 2016, but 2017 provides a new opportunity. With a loaded roster and high expectations in Houston, the Astros and Keuchel are expected to make some noise in 2017.

Baseball is one of the most difficult sports to predict. With so many variables and a grueling 162 game season, maintaining a high level of play is the biggest challenge the sport presents. Sometimes it’s injury, others it’s just the grind of the season.

These aforementioned players have proven at one point or another to be some of the best in the game. With a fresh start in 2017, they will be determined to make the most of it.

 

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Spring Training Storylines

February has finally come, which means Spring Training is on the horizon. Pitchers and catchers report in less than two weeks. With roster spots up for grabs and offseason moves and contracts still being discussed, this spring training offers plenty to look forward to.

Will the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen be able to reconcile?

2017 MLB Spring Training

Andrew McCutchen will be reunited with the Pirates in Spring Training after they almost dumped him in the off-season (Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images).

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen was the subject of trade rumors all offseason after having a down year in 2016. With the drop in his offensive production and prospects knocking on the door to the majors, moving the former all-star made perfect sense. That is, until it didn’t happen.

The Pirates decided to stand pat, and in the process alienated their franchise cornerstone. He will return in 2017, but his role with the team is still in question. Will he be the everyday center fielder? Or will young speedster Starling Marte make the move to center? What about Austin Meadows, who according to MLB.com is the ninth highest ranked prospect in baseball?

All of these questions pale in comparison to only one question: will Andrew McCutchen return to normal form? He will have the opportunity to prove it in 2017, with the team many thought had already given up on him.

How will Ian Desmond look at first base?

2017 MLB Spring Training

Ian Desmond will be making his second position change in the past three seasons (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images North America).

The Colorado Rockies made a surprising sign in the offseason, inking outfielder Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million deal. With a glut of outfield talent, you would think that money would’ve been better spent on the bullpen or the starting rotation. After signing Desmond, they made an even more surprising announcement.

Desmond is being penciled in as the Rockies starting first baseman for the 2017 season. Changing positions is something Desmond has experienced before. As a shortstop, he made the move to the outfield for the Texas Rangers in the 2016 season. First base is still a whole new world for Desmond.

First base, besides catcher, handles the ball on more plays than any other position. While Desmond is a terrific athlete, asking him to learn a position such as first base in one offseason may be asking too much of him. It will be interesting to watch Desmond in Spring Training, as he will certainly see the field often.

Where will Jose Reyes play?

When the Mets signed Jose Reyes during the 2016 season after his release from the Colorado Rockies, he was expected to take over third base for David Wright. That he did, albeit with poor defensive metrics. What Reyes did provide was solid offense, posting a 104 OPS+ for the Mets. With the return of David Wright in 2017, that leaves Reyes without a position.

2017 MLB Spring Training

The Mets hope Jose Reyes can fly in the outfield just as he has in the infield (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images North America).

It seems the Mets have the answer. Jose Reyes has been practicing in the outfield this offseason, leading many to believe that he will become a super utility player. His experience at shortstop, third and second base give him the ability to play all over the infield. His athletic ability should transfer to the outfield, giving him the ability to play the corner outfield spots or maybe even center field.

With a bat like Reyes’ on the bench, manager Terry Collins will look to utilize him as much as he can. Reyes will see plenty of time in the field during Spring Training. Just don’t expect him to stay in one place too long.

Will any of the remaining sluggers be signed?

Spring Training offers many players the opportunity to prove themselves and earn a starting gig. It also catches many players off guard. Some players wind up getting injured or under performing. That is where these players come in.

2017 MLB Spring Training

Plenty of power hitters remain on the free agent market, but will any of them make a team in Spring Training (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports).

Names like Mike Napoli, Chris Carter, Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Howard are still on the market, drawing little interest. So much so that Chris Carter, who tied for the most homers in the National League last year with 41, is looking to Japan for employment. With the start of Spring Training, that could change.

These players are likely to be the first to sign during Spring Training due to injury or under performance. The question is which one(s) will it be? Will playoff hero Mike Napoli be the first off the board, or will Pedro Alvarez be able to leverage his massive power into a major league job? What about aged slugger Ryan Howard? Or will Chris Carter be able to avoid the cross-Pacific trip?

With so many questions to be answered before the season starts, Spring Training provides the perfect opportunity to answer them. These and many others will be asked and answered before the season even begins. Just like spring, baseball will burst forth anew in just a few weeks. I for one can’t wait for it to begin.

 

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World Baseball Classic

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Relief Pitchers

In this 10th and final installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season, we will cover the bullpen. Just a year or two ago, the distinction between relief pitcher and closer was an easy one to identify. But now not so much. With the construction of super bullpens and the line between relief pitcher and closer blurring, let’s take a look at the top five overall relief pitchers in the game.

2017 MLB Season

Mark Melancon was brought over to San Francisco to solidify their bullpen (Keith Srakocic, Associated Press).

5. Mark Melancon- San Francisco Giants

Mark Melancon was a late bloomer, being called up by the New York Yankees at 24 years old and not pitching a full amount of innings until he was 26 with Houston. But he has certainly turned it on in the past few years.

Between Pittsburgh and Washington, Melancon posted one of his best years statistically. He put up a 1.64 ERA as well as a 0.897 WHIP in 2016. He also struck out 64 batters over 71.1 innings pitched, and waled only 12 batters all season.

Melancon has also been a solid fielder when given the chance, with only three errors in eight major league seasons. Melancon will solidify the back end of the bullpen in San Francisco, and just entering his prime, is set to continue is string of dominant late inning performances.

4. Kenley Jansen- Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenley Jansen was often overlooked when discussing the top relief pitchers in the game, but not anymore. The Dodgers paid a hefty price to keep the 29 year old in their pen, and for good reason.

Jansen struck out 104 batters while only walking 11 over 68.2 innings. His ability to strike out guys at an impressive rate gives Jansen the ability to lower his WHIP. For the 2016 season, Jansen had a 0.670 WHIP. That is far lower than his career 0.893 WHIP, and helped to ensure Jansen would be paid handsomely in the off-season. With a return to the Dodgers, Jansen is poised to have another great season.

3. Aroldis Chapman- New York Yankees

2017 MLB Sports

After being shipped to the Cubs to get a World Series ring, Chapman will look to bring one to the Bronx (Anthony Gruppuso, USA TODAY Sports).

For Aroldis Chapman, 2016 was a roller coaster season. After being suspended by the Commissioner’s Office for his domestic violence case in last year’s off-season, Chapman was celebrating the Chicago Cubs first World Series Championship in over 100 years.

In between he was able to put up a 1.55 ERA as well as striking out 90 batters over 58 innings pitched. His 0.862 WHIP was one of the best of his career, and he was a shutdown reliever all season long. Chapman returned to the Yankees after being traded at the deadline to the Cubs, and it seems like that trade was a win-win all around. Chapman will be a dominate pitcher in the Bronx for years to come.

2. Andrew Miller- Cleveland Indians

Another Yankee arm that was traded at the deadline to an eventual World Series team, Andrew Miller turned in a remarkable 2016 season. Miller really helped transform the way we see relievers, both closing and pitching like a traditional relief pitcher.

He had a 1.45 ERA between New York and Cleveland. Miller also punched out 123 batters over 74.1 innings. That tied his career high of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Miller also walked only 9 batters on his way to a 0.686 WHIP. With another World Series appearance in reach for the Cleveland Indians, Miller will be as clutch as ever in 2017.

1. Zach Britton- Baltimore Orioles

2017 MLB Season

Zach Britton had a historic season for the Orioles in 2016 (Greg Fiume, Getty Images North America).

When you are in the discussion for the AL Cy Young award as a reliever, you know you’ve had a special season. Britton started his career as a starter. But after three years of poor outings as a starter, he was shifted to the bullpen and flourished.

In 2016 Britton had a 0.54 ERA, an astounding number for a pitcher, even a reliever. He also struck out 74 batters over 67 innings pitched and walked 18 men. With a 0.836 WHIP Britton was able to limit the number of men on base, thus lowering his ERA to a minuscule amount.

After a fourth place finish in the AL Cy Young voting, Britton will be hard pressed to repeat his historic 2016. But if anyone can do it, Britton is the man.

Relief pitchers are usually the last ones to enter the game. And it’s fitting they will wrap up our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season. With a new movement coming over baseball, relief pitchers are starting to be viewed differently. As contracts grow and ERA’s shrink, relief pitchers are becoming some of the most valued players in the game.

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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Right Field

In this ninth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we will cover right field. Right field is akin to left in the fact that defense and speed is becoming much more prominent. Let’s take a look at our list starting at number five.

2017 MLB Season

CarGo will look for plenty of balls to carry out of the park in 2017 (Chris Humphreys, USA TODAY Sports).

5. Carlos Gonzalez- Colorado Rockies

Ever since Carlos Gonzalez became a full-time starter for the Colorado Rockies in 2010, he has been a force to be reckoned with.

He hit .298/.350/.505 on his way to his third NL All-Star game appearance in 2016. Gonzalez also provided run support, mashing 25 homers and driving in 100 RBIs. Those are the type of numbers you expect from a middle-of-the-order bat, and CarGo delivers.

He also plays well in the field, as evident last season. Gonzalez had four defensive runs saved in right field this past season, proving him to be a great fielder. He has actually been a much better right fielder than a left fielder, with 18 defensive runs saved in right and -4 in left over his nine year career.

His ability to drive the ball out of the park and hit for average make Gonzalez one of the premier hitters in the game, but it’s a combination of his glove and bat that land him the number five spot on our rankings.

4. Giancarlo Stanton- Miami Marlins

With a career 142 OPS+, you would think Giancarlo Stanton would be hands down number one on this list. However, there’s more to the story. Stanton has been a beast at the plate, when he plays. He has only played two full seasons over his seven-year career.

In a limited number of games, Stanton has still earned his spot on these rankings. In 2016, Stanton hit .240/.326/.489 to go along with 27 homers and 74 RBIs. While his offense is like a dream come true, don’t sleep on his defense.

Stanton has been a solid fielder in right, posting four defensive runs saved in 2016 and 39 over his career. It is even more impressive when considering Stanton’s size at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds. He is able to use his massive frame to drive balls out of the park at a prodigious rate.

At age 27, Stanton is entering his prime and already has 208 career home runs. If he can stay healthy, Stanton has a legitimate chance to join the 500 or even 600 home run club.

3. George Springer- Houston Astros

2017 MLB Season

George Springer provides a little bit of everything for the Houston Astros (Otto Greule Jr, Getty Images North America).

The Astros have returned to relevancy, evident by their surprising playoff run in 2015. One player responsible for that is George Springer.

Springer was drafted by the Astros in the middle of their rebuild, and has been a building block since his inception into the franchise. In 2016, Springer played 162 games while batting .261/.359/.457 as well as slugging 29 homers and driving in 82 RBIs. Springer has been solid offensively since being called up in 2014 with a 126 OPS+.

Springer has also been solid in the outfield, specifically in right field. He had five defensive runs saved in 2016 in right field, showcasing his defensive abilities.

While Springer played his first full season in the majors in 2016, he was still able to show the Astros why he has been called a five-tool player. He will have every chance to showcase his five tools in 2017.

2. Bryce Harper- Washington Nationals

With five years in the majors at age 24, Bryce Harper has been one of the youngest players in the game since his debut in 2012 at 19 years old. He had been one of the most hyped prospects in recent history, and lived up to expectations. He brought home the NL MVP Award in 2015.

He followed up in 2016 with a solid season. He batted .243/.373/.441 while hitting 24 homers and driving in 86 RBIs. He also set a career high in stolen bases with 21. His overall offensive game helps make up for his sometimes subpar defense.

Harper had -3 defensive runs saved in 2016, nothing to write home about but acceptable with his offensive output. Harper has had 7 defensive runs saved in right field throughout his career, so 2016 could be an anomaly. With a staggering 198 OPS+ in 2015, Harper brought home the NL MVP award and set himself up for massive expectations for 2016. While he didn’t quite live up to them, he was solid nonetheless. Not even close to his prime, Harper will look to continue to improve in 2017.

1. Mookie Betts- Boston Red Sox

2017 MLB Season

Mookie Betts will lead the Red Sox in 2017 after David Ortiz’s retirement (Jim Davis , Globe Staff).

While Mookie Betts wasn’t able to stick in the majors in his first call up with the Red Sox, he was able to turn it around in his second call up.

His 2016 season was easily the best of his young career as he hit .318/.363/.534 while blasting 31 homers. He also became a premier run producer, driving in 113 RBIs to go along with 26 stolen bases. That elite level of offensive production gave him a 131 OPS+, easily the best of his career.

Betts was able to blow away expectations both in the batter’s box as well as the outfield. In 157 games in right field, Betts had 32 defensive runs saved. That is a staggering amount for any player in Major League Baseball, let alone one who was only 23 years old in 2016.

If Betts can produce even half of those defensive numbers and continue his offensive pace in 2017, he will loft himself into the elite tier of players in today’s game.

Right field seems to be in good, young hands. With Carlos Gonzalez being the elder statesman of the list at 31 years old, this position is primed to dominate the bigs for years to come.

 

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Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Pitcher Rankings

The MLB season is closing in! With only sixty-six days of preparation left, it’s time to tackle our early 2017 fantasy baseball pitcher rankings.

I have categorized the top 100 pitchers into twelve different tiers. Creating tiers allow owners to separate and compare players based on their projected value and cost. Players at the bottom of a tier present more value, as they project to have similar stats as a player at the top of a tier, with less of a cost.

Tiers below are given a star rating. A five-star rating is given to the best of the best, where a zero-star rating is given to an average, waiver wire pickup type player.

The top and bottom pitcher in each tier will be profiled below.

Tier 1 – 5 StarS

Kershaw looks to reign in fourth Cy Young heading into 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

To qualify as a five-star pitcher, a player must consistently have seasons with a sub three ERA (earned run average), sub one WHIP (walks/hits per innings pitched), and over 200 strikeouts.

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Max Scherzer
  3. Madison Bumgarner

Clayton Kershaw remains the golden standard of major league pitching. He has eight consecutive seasons with an ERA in the twos and a career strike outs per nine innings (K/9) of 9.8. If the 28-year-old retired today, he would be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Kershaw looks to recover from his back ailments and return to his godly form in 2017.

Madison Bumgarner emerges as a five-star pitcher in 2017. Last season was his sixth straight with 200 innings pitched. He has averaged 214 strikeouts per year over the last six seasons, and continues to improve those totals every year. The great playoff performer sports a career 2.99 ERA, and 1.09 WHIP. Bumgarner, at only twenty-seven years old, will remain in Cy Young talks for years to come.

Tier 2 – 4.5 StarS

Thor looks to electrify the competition in his third MLB season. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

This tier is home to the man that will one day overtake Clayton Kershaw for the number one ranked pitcher spot in baseball.

  1. Noah Syndergaard

Thor looks to continue his dominance heading into 2017. The Mets ace enters his third season with hopes of being a top 20 MVP candidate for the second year straight. With a career K/9 of 10.4, Syndergaard will be fanning batters into oblivion for the next decade. A lack of experience is the only reason he is left out of the five-star tier, as he is yet to log 200 innings in a season. He has the potential to be a top 3 fantasy pitcher in 2017.

 

Tier 3 – 4 StarS

Arrieta looks to impress in important contract year. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

To be considered for tier three, one must have multiple seasons with 200 innings pitched, 200 strike outs, and an ERA in the low threes.

  1. Chris Sale
  2. Corey Kluber
  3. Johnny Cueto
  4. Jon Lester
  5. David Price
  6. Justin Verlander
  7. Jake Arrieta

Confident Chris Sale enters 2017 with adversity, will he perform in his first season with Boston? The answer is uncertain, but the numbers suggest he will. Sale has a career 3.00 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 10.1 K/9. He joins a talented and seasoned pitching staff that will relieve him of pressure, as he no longer the lone ace in the rotation. There is no reason Sale can’t finish as a top five Cy Young finisher for a fourth straight season.

Jake Arrieta schemes his way into the four-star category in 2017. The 31-year-old is coming off of two consecutive seasons of 197 plus innings, 190 strike outs, with an average ERA of 2.44. Arrieta signed a one year, $15.6 million contract for 2017, and looks to impress in order to receive a pay day in 2018. With the Cubs lineup currently projected as the top offense, a fourth consecutive top ten Cy Young finish for Arrieta is more than likely.

 

Tier 4 – 4 StarS

Darvish looks to bounce back from injury ridden 2016. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

To qualify for this tier, player must have a high floor and high ceiling. They must show a strong potential to reach 200 innings pitched, 200 strike outs, and a low three ERA. Players in this tier may or may not have reached these marks before, but will do so in 2017.

 

  1. Yu Darvish
  2. Stephan Strasburg
  3. Jacob deGrom
  4. Cole Hamels
  5. Chris Archer
  6. Carlos Martinez

Yu Darvish looks to return to super star form in 2017. He is coming an injury ridden season where he was limited to a mere seventeen starts. When healthy, Darvish is a menace. His career K/9 is 11.3, showing that he has the potential to strike out 260 plus batters. Also, his career ERA sits just below 3.30. Darvish’s extremely high upside is accompanied by injury concerns, but name a player that isn’t.

St. Louis Cardinals Ace, Carlos Martinez, looks to build on his early Major League success heading the upcoming season.  With two consecutive seasons of 180 innings, and a career K/9 of 8.5, Martinez provides a high floor with a potential to continue to improve. The 25-year-old hurler provided a 9.2 K/9 in the minors, which shows that his strike out totals can continue to improve as he adjusts to life in the big leagues.

 

Tier 5 – 4 Stars

Pretty Ricky looks to double his Cy Young total in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

Players in this tier WILL contend for a Cy Young, although are being over looked as they have less of a track record.

  1. Rick Porcello
  2. Aaron Sanchez
  3. Michael Fulmer

Rick Porcello was a completely different pitcher in 2016 than in any of his previous campaigns. He started to make better in game adjustments, allowing him to get through lineups multiple times over. Also, he has done a great job eating innings, as he managed to finish sixth in innings pitched in 2016.  Pretty Ricky has the potential to win another twenty games, and compete for back-to-back Cy Young awards.

2016 Rookie of the year award winner, Michael Fulmer, shows promise of being a future Cy Young candidate. With a career K/9 of 8.4 and an ERA of 3.17, his potential is through the roof. The 23-year-old former first-round pick will look to record 200 innings for the first time in 2017.

 

Tier 6 – 4 StarS

Can Kyle Hendricks repeat his miraculous 2016 season? (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

These players are proven inning eaters, have great ratios, but lack the strikeout upside that makes a top ten pitcher. These players are lower risk than the comeback candidates, but have a lower ceiling as well.

  1. Kyle Hendricks
  2. Masahiro Tanaka
  3. Kenta Maeda
  4. Jose Quintana
  5. Julio Teheran

Top three Cy Young finisher in 2016, Kyle Hendricks looks to continue his dominance heading into 2017. He managed to finish with a 2.13 ERA, .979 WHIP, 170 strikeouts in 190 innings. Even if Hendricks adds an entire point to his ERA, he will still be under 3.2. His dominant sinker and change up will continue to keep hitters off balance in 2017.

Two time all-star Julio Teheran looks to help a young Braves team reach new heights this upcoming season. With a career ERA of 3.39 and K/9 of 7.8, Teheran has continued to impress on a lack luster Braves team. The Braves offense started off 2016 at a historically bad pace, but managed to be a top five offense in the second half. This gives Teheran hope improve his career high win total of fourteen.

 

Tier 7 – 3.5 StarS

Gerrit Cole looks for redemption in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

This tier includes players who look to recover from sub-par or shortened 2016 campaigns. These players are higher risk draft picks, with higher ceilings.

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Danny Salazar
  3. Carlos Carrasco
  4. Zack Greinke
  5. Matt Harvey
  6. Felix Hernandez
  7. Dallas Kuechel
  8. Sonny Gray
  9. Garrett Richards

Gerrit Cole finished 2015 as a top five Cy Young finisher and top twenty MVP candidate. He endured a tough 2016 campaign where he made twenty-one starts with his career worst ERA, WHIP, and K/9. A lingering rib injury, which is gone by the way side, was the cause of his 2016 struggles. The twenty-six-year-old will return to form in 2017, rejoining the Cy Young conversation.

Garrett Richards elected to skip surgery to repair a UCL tear in his throwing elbow in 2016, and instead received a plasma injection to repair the injury. Before the injury, Richards started six games, nursing a 2.34 ERA and 8.8 K/9. Richards will be the ace for the Los Angeles Angels in 2017, and hopes to return to his 2014 or 2015 form, where he averaged a 2.82 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 170 strikeouts.

 

Tier 8 – 3.5 StarS

Will Danny Duffy go into cruise control after inking five-year contract? (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

This tier may be small, but is important none the less. These players have proven to show top-twenty pitcher upside, but don’t have the names to match. They tend to fall in drafts but have tremendous value.

  1. Danny Duffy
  2. J.A. Happ
  3. Tanner Roark

Danny Duffy is expected to be the number one starter for the Royals heading into 2017. He just received a five year, $65 million deal. The twenty-eight-year-old made the transition from the bullpen to the rotation look easy last season. Duffy struck out 188 in 179.2 innings, resulting in a 9.4 K/9. He will reach the 200 innings and 200 strikeout marks in 2017.

Tanner Roark is the most over looked and undervalued players in my opinion. He has two seasons with over thirty starts, over 198 innings, under a 2.85 ERA, while averaging 154 strikeouts. He will slot in behind Max Scherzer and Stephan Strasburg in a very strong Nationals rotation. With the success of the Nationals imminent, Roark’s chances of matching or passing his career win total of sixteen is likely.

 

Tier 9 – 3 Star

McCullers looks to transition from prospect to prodigy in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

Tier nine consists of young studs who are ready to explode. These players will have the opportunity to be enormous contributors come 2017.

  1. Lance McCullers
  2. Kevin Gausman
  3. Marcus Stroman
  4. Steven Matz
  5. Jameson Taillon
  6. Alex Reyes
  7. Jared Eickhoff
  8. Joe Ross
  9. Sean Manea
  10. Aaron Nola
  11. Julio Urias
  12. Blake Snell
  13. Carlos Rodon

2012 first round pick, Lance McCullers, looks to continue his tirade on the MLB. He has started a total of 26 games, resulting in a career 3.22 ERA and 10.2 K/9. McCullers will slot in as Houston’s number two starter in 2017. He will start over thirty games and log over 200 innings for the first time in his career next season.

Carlos Rodon, former third overall pick in 2014, looks to finally reach his potential in 2017. He has struggled early in his career, with an ERA of 3.9 and WHIP of 1.4. Although the bright spot in Rodon’s game is his devastating slider, which helps him strikeout 9.1 batters per nine. Rodon will begin to figure things out in 2017.

 

Tier 10 – 2 Star

McHugh looks to bounce back and revitalize a young Houston Rotation. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

The tenth tier of pitchers is loaded with upside. These players show high K/9 potential, along with being young enough to continue to improve their ratios.

  1. Colin McHugh
  2. Drew Pomeranz
  3. Jake Odorizzi
  4. Matt Moore
  5. Jon Gray
  6. Robbie Ray
  7. Drew Smyly
  8. Michael Pineda
  9. James Paxton

Colin McHugh finished 2016 with his worst ERA and WHIP in his three seasons as a starter, although he had a career high in strikeouts. McHugh looks to rebound to his 2015 Cy Young candidate form where he won nineteen games, with 171 strikeouts. The Astro’s look to impress in 2017, and McHugh will be a huge part of that.

James Paxton is ready to break out. The six foot four lefty managed 8.7 K/9 in 2016, along with a career high in innings pitched and games started. Paxton will be a heavy contributor for the Mariners this upcoming season where he will log a career high in innings pitcher, strikeouts and wins.

 

Tier 11 – 1 Star

We have to respect our veterans! These veterans provide above average value as they are reliable inning eaters with proven track records. They provide value later in drafts because as they tend to fall in draft position due to age concerns.

Invader Zimm looks to recover from 2016 blunders. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

  1. Rich Hill
  2. Ian Kennedy
  3. John Lackey
  4. Gio Gonzalez
  5. Marco Estrada
  6. Francisco Liriano
  7. Jeff Samardzija
  8. Jason Hammel
  9. Chris Tillman
  10. Adam Wainwright
  11. Lance Lynn
  12. Hisashi Iwakuma
  13. Jeremy Hellickson
  14. Mike Leake
  15. Jordan Zimmerman

The anomaly Rich Hill just received a three year, $45 million contract as a thirty-six-year-old pitcher. The age may affect people’s desire to select Hill, but his skill set says otherwise. He has a demoralizing 12-6 curveball, which helped him reach a career high in K/9 as a starter, with 10.5. He will be an integral part to the Dodgers rotation in 2017, and should be drafted in all leagues.

I’m not sure who showed up in Jordan Zimmerman’s uniform last season, but it wasn’t him. The imposter registered career worsts across the board, with a 4.87 ERA, 1.367 WHIP, and 5.6 K/9. No one was more frustrated with Zimmerman’s 2016 than himself, which leads me to believe he will not stand for another disappointing season. If the Tigers have any hope of making the playoffs, Zimmerman will have to step up and return to his form, as his career averages are 3.45 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 7.3 K/9.

 

Tier 12 – 0 Star

Will Bundy find success post Tommy John surgery? (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

Players in this final tier will commonly go undrafted in standard ten team leagues, and are worth the low risk investment. They have had hype in the past, and show potential to be successful in 2017.

  1. Dylan Bundy
  2. Joe Musgrove
  3. Tyler Glasnow
  4. Anthony Desclafani
  5. Eduardo Rodriguez
  6. Trevor Bauer
  7. Taijuan Walker
  8. Dan Straily
  9. Mike Foltynewicz
  10. Matt Shoemaker
  11. Wei-Yin Chen

    Can Conely improve his ratios enough to become fantasy relevant in 2017? (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

  12. Ervin Santana
  13. Mike Leake
  14. Mike Montgomery
  15. Robert Gsellman
  16. Brandon Finnegan
  17. Patrick Corbin
  18. Zach Davies
  19. Ivan Nova
  20. Tyler Anderson
  21. Andrew Triggs
  22. Jharel Cotton
  23. Tyler Skaggs
  24. Daniel Norris
  25. Alex Cobb
  26. Adam Conely

Former fourth overall pick Dylan Bundy looks to gain more major league experience in 2017. He has battled adversity throughout his short career as he underwent reconstructive Tommy John surgery in 2013. Bundy will be an important part of the Orioles fragile rotation come next season. He will continue to improve on his career highs by staying healthy and striking out batters. His career 8.4 K/9 bodes well as Bundy has shown above average strikeout ability at all levels. Whether or not the ratio stats are there, the K’s will be.

Adam Conely is will end up on all of my teams this season. He has struggled mightily in the Majors, displaying a career ERA of 3.82, WHIP of 1.36, and 3.7 walks per nine (BB/9). I understand this is disconcerting, but his K/9 keep me believing. The twenty-six-year-old has averaged 8.2 K/9 through all levels, which gives me hope that he can continue to improve and possibly break out in 2017.

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Center Field

In this eighth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season, we shift over to center field. It is one of the most difficult positions to play in all of baseball and where you can usually find the best athlete on the team.  From slugging to speed, center field has it all. Let’s kick off our rankings with the fifth best center fielder in baseball.

5. Dexter Fowler- St. Louis Cardinals

2017 MLB Season

Dexter Fowler will go from rounding the bases at Wrigley to circling them at Busch Stadium. (Gene J. Puskar, AP Photo)

After helping guide the Chicago Cubs to a World Series title in 2016, Fowler will look to repeat as a champion with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017. Fowler provides the Cardinals with a spark at the top of the order, which is something they have been missing for a long time. He batted .276, .393 and .447 on his way to an OPS+ of 126, which is 26 percent better than league average. Fowler helped fuel his offensive onslaught by smashing 13 dingers to go along with 48 RBI’s and swiped 13 bags. He has an excellent mix of power and speed, but don’t sleep on his defense.

Fowler had long been seen as a subpar defender in center field, and the defensive metrics helped prove it. He made a small adjustment that had a big impact; he stood about 10 feet farther back in center than he had in previous seasons. That might not sound like much, but his defensive metrics speak volumes. Fowler had -12 defensive runs saved in 2015, but improved significantly to 1 defensive run saved in 2016. With a steady offensive approach and improved defense, Fowler is primed to be a big performer in 2017.

4. Kevin Kiermaier- Tampa Bay Rays

From being a 30th round draft pick to being named the best fielder in the majors, Kevin Kiermaier has seen a lot in his time with the Rays. Kiermaier has been the epitome of a draft day steal. The 2016 season was no different for Kiermaier, who batted .246, .331 and .410 while hitting 12 homers and 37 RBI’s. He also stole 21 bases in 2016, putting up an OPS+ of 104. His offense has been above league average for two of his three major league seasons, but he has had Gold Glove potential since day one.

In his past two seasons in the majors, Kiermaier has had 67 defensive runs saved in center field! That is an astronomical number, boosted by his 42 defensive runs saved in 2015. Kiermaier had a “down” year in 2016, posting a measly 25 defensive runs saved. All kidding aside, Kiermaier’s defense is truly something to behold. If he can improve his offensive game and maintain his defense, Kiermaier will be in the running for the upper echelon of elite overall players in the majors.

3. Charlie Blackmon- Colorado Rockies

2017 MLB Season

Charlie Blackmon can sometime be buried in a lineup like Colorado’s, but he shines nonetheless. (Russell Lansford, Icon SMI)

After making the move from pitcher to outfielder in his college days, it’s safe to say Blackmon made the right career move. The Rockies center fielder had his best offensive season in 2016, putting up a slash line of .324, .381 and .552. After three years of average offensive production, his 2016 slash line along with 29 homers, 82 RBI’s and 17 stolen bases were good enough to earn him an OPS+ of 130. While he has played half of his games in hitter friendly Coors Field, OPS+ takes into account the park in which a player plays, and Blackmon was still 30 percent better than league average.

Although Blackmon experienced an offensive explosion in 2016, his defense remained about the same. He posted -2 defensive runs saved in 2016, below average for a major league center fielder. His defense, albeit below league average, is still passable with his explosive offense. Blackmon will need to continue his offensive pace and improve his defense to become a regular on this list.

2. Jackie Bradley Jr.- Boston Red Sox

In his first full season in Beantown, Jackie Bradley Jr. was able to finally lay Jacoby Ellsbury’s ghost to rest. Bradley Jr. showed flashes of pure brilliance in 2016. He hit in 29 straight games and started in the All-Star game for the American League. Over the course of the season, Bradley Jr. hit .267, .349 and .486 as well as slugging 26 home runs. He also added 87 RBI’s and nine stolen bases to give him an OPS+ of 116. While Bradley Jr. was finally able to find his way at the plate, he has long been a master with the glove.

Bradley Jr. had 11 defensive runs saved in 2016, a remarkable number for a player who just played his first full season in the bigs. He has long been known as a defensive savant since his days in the minors, and he proved his reputation true in 2016.  Bradley Jr. made 156 starts in center for the Red Sox, and is entrenched at center for the foreseeable future. With the ability and opportunity finally matching, Bradley Jr. is set to have a monster year in Boston.

1. Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels

2017 MLB Season

Mike Trout is one of, if not the, best player in the game (AP Photo, Jae C. Hong).

Could it have been anyone else? Trout has put up video game numbers since being called up by the Angles at the ripe old age of 19. Since his first full season in the majors at 20 years old, Trout has finished either second or first in the AL MVP Voting, winning two AL MVP awards in that time as well as five Silver Slugger awards. Trout put up another spectacular season in 2016, batting .315, .441 and .550. He also slugged 29 bombs, had 100 RBI’s and stole 30 bases. Trout is the best overall offensive player in the game, but his glove doesn’t trail too far behind.

Mike Trout had six defensive runs saved in 2016 while roaming center field. His high water mark for defense was in 2012 when he had 23 defensive runs saved in center. While that might be difficult even for Trout to match, he is certainly one of the top fielders at his position. Trout is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, and shows no signs of slowing down. 2017 will be what we’ve come to expect of Trout; one of the best players of his generation at the top of his game.

Center field can be considered a top heavy position; it’s Mike Trout and then everybody else. While there may not be that much depth behind Trout, there are still young players who will be looking to take the next step in their careers in 2017. With the position full of young talent, they will all be vying for number two on this list for a long time to come.

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Left Field

In this seventh installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we will move from the infield to the outfield. Left field has long been known as a place to stash the slugger, but that is changing. With defense and speed changing the way the game is played, let’s see if it has spilled over into the top five left fielders.

5. Khris Davis- Oakland Athletics

2017 MLB Season

Khris Davis has mastered the third base high five during his tenure with Oakland. (Ben Margot, AP).

Khris Davis was a force in 2016. After putting up solid power numbers in Milwaukee, Davis was shipped to Oakland in 2015 and was able to tap into his power even more. He slashed .247, .307, .524 in his first season in Oakland. While his average and OBP are nothing to write home about, his .524 slugging percentage, as well as his 42 homers and 102 RBI’s certainly warrant some credence. With a newfound power stroke at the plate, Davis is the big bat the Athletics have been searching for. Although Davis has been a monster at the plate, he was a behemoth in the outfield.

Davis performed below league average on defense in 2016, putting up -1 defensive runs saved. While he was only slightly below average in the field, his bat certainly made up for it in 2016. Davis is only 28 years old and entering the prime of his career. While his defense may not improve, his bat certainly seems here to stay. If Davis can survive another season in Oakland without being traded, he will be relied upon to produce again in 2017.

4. Justin Upton- Detroit Tigers

Tigers fans were ecstatic when Justin Upton moved to Detroit last season. Upton was an established run producer and he was slotted into a deep Tigers lineup. As the season progressed, Upton’s offense stagnated. He was able to turn around an otherwise poor season with a torrid finish in 2016, putting up a slash line of .246, .310, and .465. He also hit 31 homers and drove in 87 RBI’s. Upton fits the traditional mold of a left fielder: a big slugger who will hit tanks and drive in runs. He has also proven to provide more than just power.

Upton posted 1 defensive run saved while playing 146 games in left field for the Detroit Tigers last year. That is solid, but not spectacular glove work. He was also able to swipe nine bags in 2016, a good amount for a slugger like Upton. Upton has always been known as a streaky hitter, but he has always been consistent in one category: putting up above average offensive seasons. That won’t change in 2017 as the Tigers look to regain the AL Central crown.

3. Ryan Braun- Milwaukee Brewers

2017 Season

Ryan Braun will look to continue his strong play in 2017. (Jeff Curry, US Presswire).

Ryan Braun has been a star player in Milwaukee for almost the entirety of his time there, but his PED use has but a black mark on an otherwise stellar career. He has admitted to PED use in his NL MVP season in 2011, but has since passed all drug tests from Major League Baseball. Braun is assumed to be clean of any PEDs, and is putting up good numbers for the Brewers. He batted .305, .365, .538 in 2016 and slugged 30 homers to go along with 91 RBI’s. Braun also stole 16 bases, proving to be one of the top speed/power players in the majors.

Braun was also able to utilize his speed in the outfield. His six defensive runs saved in 2016 were second best of his career, proving him to be a more than capable fielder. Braun is the total package in left field. His power and speed make him a premier offensive player, and his defense lifts his overall game to a whole other level. If Braun can put up more clean seasons like he did in 2016, he will certainly climb this list. Until then, he remains one of the best left fielders, just not the best.

2. Starling Marte- Pittsburgh Pirates

Ever since Starling Marte was called up by Pittsburgh in 2012, he has been a spark plug for the Pirates’ lineup. He is one of the new breed of left fielders becoming more prominent in the majors, utilizing his speed and defense to become a game changer. Marte stole 47 bases in only 129 games played in 2016, proving to be an elite base stealer. He also was able to make a huge impact in the field. He also provided elite defense 19 defensive runs save. His offensive game, while trailing his base running and defense, is still better than advertised.

Marte was able to hit .311, .362, and .456 last year, all three being career highs. While his nine homers and 46 RBI’s won’t blow anyone away, it is still solid production for a limited season. Marte will always be known for his glove and base running, but don’t sleep on his bat. If he can put up a full season in 2017, look for Marte to accumulate some monster numbers.

1. Yoenis Cespedes- New York Mets

2017 MLB Season

From flipping bats over and over, to flipping balls over the fence, Yoenis Cespedes can do it all. (Brad Penner USA Today Sports).

Yoenis Cespedes was shipped from Detroit to New York at the trade deadline in 2015, and has been an offensive juggernaut for the Mets ever since. He was so good in his first full season with the Mets that he finished eighth in the NL MVP voting. Cespedes achieved this by batting .280, .354, and .530 as well as hitting 31 bombs and driving in 86 RBI’s. He has been the run producer the Mets have sorely needed since the departure of Daniel Murphy and the decline of David Wright. Cespedes has also flashed the leather and his arm during his tenure in New York.

Cespedes had four defensive runs saved while playing left field in 2016. He was helped in large part by the cannon attached to his right shoulder. Video of Cespedes firing the ball to home plate will be played for years to come. His arm strength is already legendary. Cespedes combines stellar offensive production with strong defensive skills to claim the top spot in the left field rankings. He is poised to maintain his perch with 2017 providing another chance for Cespedes to dominate.

Left field is slowly changing. No longer can you have a plodding slugger in the outfield. Players with strong defense and good speed are taking over left, and seem here to stay.

 

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