J.D. Martinez free agency: Where should he sign?

Arguably the top free agent in the upcoming 2018 class, J.D. Martinez is anticipated to receive a hefty contract next offseason, although which team he will sign for is unknown.

After missing all of April and part of May, Martinez clearly has no shot of winning league MVP, although after his monstrous second half, he has been propelled into the conversation. The 30-year-old has played a total of 107 games, where he has batted .318 with 39 home runs, 25 of which have come in the second half. When healthy, it is clear that Martinez is one of MLB’s premiere power hitters, and thus will continue to be a sought-after fantasy commodity.

Any Chance of returning to an old club?

J.D. Martinez free agency

J.D. Martinez began his career in Houston after being drafted in the 20th round of the 2009 MLB draft. (Photo by Getty Images)

Houston Astros

Martinez began his career in Houston after being drafted in the 20th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. He failed to make an impact in his 252 games as an Astro, batting only .251 with 24 home runs and 126 RBIs. He was consequently released by the club in 2014.

Now a serious World Series contender, the Houston Astros don’t necessarily need Martinez, although adding his bat to a lineup of George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa would allow the Astros to compete to be the best offense in baseball with the Cleveland Indians.

The Astros will head into 2018 with nine players under contract and over $93 million already on their total payroll. Their total payroll in 2017 was $148 million, which included over $14 million in retained salaries. It is approximated that Martinez will earn a multi-year $25 million offer, so it seems unlikely the Astros would spend nearly half of their remaining salary on an aging outfielder, as they already have Springer, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez, Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker under contract.

Detroit Tigers

After being released by the Astros, Martinez was signed two days later by the Detroit Tigers. Martinez was under the tutelage of future Hall of Famers Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Torii Hunter. Martinez improved drastically, batting .315 in 2014, his first season in Detroit. He would go on to bat .300 with 99 home runs and 285 RBIs in 458 games.

Detroit had a fire sale this summer, trading away the aforementioned Verlander, along with former All-Stars Justin Upton and Alex Avila. It isn’t likely that Detroit would resign Martinez, although with Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler and Nick Castellanos still in the lineup, they should compete in the consistently competitive American League Central.

J.D. Martinez free agency

Since his arrival in Arizona, J.D. Martinez has batted .285 with 23 home runs and 49 RBIs in 50 games. (Photo by the Detroit Free Press)

Arizona Diamondbacks

Martinez was traded to the Diamondbacks in July for three minor league prospects. Since his arrival, he has been phenomenal, batting .285 with 23 home runs and 49 RBIs in 50 games. At this pace over a full season, Martinez would have 74 home runs and 158 RBIs. Although that is clearly an unsustainable pace, it shows how elite Martinez can be during a stretch, especially in a lineup like Arizona.

According to AZcentral.com’s Nick Piecoro, Martinez said “he would love to return to the Diamondbacks”, although their financial situation makes that possibility seem very unlikely.

Where do we want him to land?

Obviously, we would all love to have Martinez sign with our favorite team. For me that would mean Boston. With the Red Sox outfield filled, Martinez would be forced into the everyday designated hitter role. This move is more realistic than I originally thought, as Mitch Moreland is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. So, if the Sox let him walk and move Hanley Ramirez back to first base, Martinez would fit perfectly into the designated hitters role.

He would undoubtedly dominate in Boston, as he bats .444 at Fenway on the career. Also, he would assume the same mentor role that Miguel Cabrera once played for him, as he would join a young lineup with blossoming stars Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers.

Fantasy-wise, where would the optimal landing spot be?

J.D. Martinez

(Photo by Latinoathlete.com)

Aside from the Red Sox, the best landing spot for Martinez would be with the Baltimore Orioles. With Baltimore, Martinez would replace Seth Smith in right field. He would be in line for improbable levels of production, as he be surrounded by the likes of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Chris Davis, Trey Mancini and Mark Trumbo.

It is clear that Martinez is most comfortable when batting fifth, as his career batting average in that lineup position is .296, compared to .264 when batting third and .266 when batting second. If he were to land in Baltimore, he would likely fit in to the fifth spot in the order due to the depth of their lineup.

Also, Martinez has had incredible amounts of success against American League East foes. He has a batting average at least .300 against the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays. Unfortunately, he has had minor struggles against the Tampa Bay Rays in his career, as he bats .250 when in a dome and more specifically .257 at Tropicana Field, although it is public knowledge that the Rays need a new stadium, so if they were to leave the Trop, Martinez could thrive even further in the AL East.

Martinez is good enough to be an impact fantasy player on any team, although some situations are clearly more beneficial than others.

If J.D. Martinez ended up in San Francisco, which is a very possible move as they are desperate for power hitters and outfielders, it would not bode too well for his fantasy outlook. Although Martinez would be given the opportunity to play a good chunk of games in Arizona and Colorado, he would be forced to play over half of his games in San Francisco and San Diego, creating a disadvantage as San Francisco and San Diego are notorious pitchers ball parks. Also, Martinez would be forced to bat clean-up behind Buster Posey, placing an abundance of pressure and lack of protection around the 30-year-old.

If Martinez can stay healthy and find himself in the middle of an elite offense, he will be a top-10 fantasy player next season.

Featured image by AZcentral.com

 

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2017 MLB breakout performers

The following MLB hitters have officially broken out in 2017. This piece intends to inform fantasy baseball owners about whether these breakout performers will continue to achieve, or if their level of success is unsustainable.

Honorable mentions include: Whit Merrifield (KAN), Domingo Santana (MIL), Yonder Alonso (OAK), Alex Bregman (HOU), Paul DeJong (STL) and Andrelton Simmons (LAA).

Aaron Judge, Outfielder, New York Yankees

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .300/.426/.627 .389 34 75 83 30.7 %
July .230/.364/.483 .310 7 13 13 36.4 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Judge has become the best power hitter in baseball in 2017. (Photo by The New York Daily News)

The Yankee slugger has officially broken out in 2017. Judge is the heavy front runner to win American League Rookie of the Year, as he has mashed 34 home runs and 75 RBIs while batting .300 so far this season.

According to the New York Daily News, Major League Baseball’s commissioner Rob Manfred described Judge’s performance as “phenomenal”, and added that Judge is “the kind of player that can become the face of the game.”

While this comment may be justified, Judge’s performance has significantly cooled off since it was made in mid-June.

In July, Judge batted merely .230 while striking out at an atrocious 36.4 percent clip. Also, his 39 strikeouts were the most by any player in July.

On June 17, his BABIP was .433, although inevitably it has dropped .44 points to .389 in less than two months. I documented my opinion in mid-June, exclaiming that it was time to sell Judge, as his value was clearly at its peak.

Selling Judge now may not be the best decision, as his value has declined in the last month. His fantasy value should be similar to that of fellow sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Marcel Ozuna. His value would be closer to that of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout if it wasn’t for his lack of experience and elevated BABIP and strikeout rates, which all raise questions about his consistency.

Cody Bellinger, Outfielder/ First Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .264/.344/.599 .284 30 71 58 26.9 %
July .263/.372/.463 .298 4 13 9 20.2 %

Bellinger has been quite the producer since being called up in late April. In only 89 games, he has recorded 30 home runs and 71 RBIs, which puts him on pace to hit over 50 home runs and 129 RBIs over the course of a 162-game season.

The 22-year-old has noticeably changed his approach at the plate since the All-Star break, as his strikeout rate has dropped from 29.1 percent in the first half to 18.8 percent in the second. Bellinger slots into to the clean-up spot in the lineup behind the National League leader in batting average, Justin Turner, and 2016 NL Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager.

Bellinger has joined the ranks of elite young sluggers and should be valued similarly to Aaron Judge moving forward.

Justin Smoak, First Baseman, Toronto Blue Jays

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .301/.380/.597 .313 31 74 64 19.7 %
July .310/.410/.610 .354 8 19 17 23.1 %

Despite the Blue Jays’ struggles this season, Justin Smoak has emerged as a silver lining. He was voted an All-Star for the first time and is currently batting .301 with 31 home runs and 74 RBIs.

The 30-year-old has set career highs in all major hitting categories, while also dropping his strikeout rate from 32.8 last season to 19.7 percent in 2017.

In July, Smoak’s success continued, although it seems majorly due to his BABIP as he sported a .354 BABIP. Also, his strikeout rate has risen up to 23.1 percent which is a bit concerning.

Smoak should finish the year batting under .300, although chances that he hits 40 bombs and drives in 100 are very likely. He is firmly entrenched within the top 10 first baseman right now, although his value in keeper and dynasty formats is weaker than in standard re-draft due to lack of sample size and consistency.

Travis Shaw, First Baseman/ Third Baseman, Milwaukee Brewers

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .288/.361/.555 .329 24 74 61 23.1 %
July .305/.400/.622 .367 7 17 19 27.4 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Travis Shaw was a first time All-Star in 2017. (Photo by Pintrest)

Shaw came over to the Brewers this offseason in a deal that sent reliever Tyler Thornburg to the Boston Red Sox. Thornburg has yet to pitch an inning for the Red Sox, whereas Shaw has become an All-Star.

The 27-year-old has found a home batting clean-up for Milwaukee, as he has hit a career-high 24 home runs while driving in a career-high 74 RBIs.

Shaw’s BABIP of .329 is significantly higher than last season’s .299 mark, although this may be due to an increase in hard contact, as he has raised his hard contact rate from 29 percent in 2015, to 33 percent in 2016 and now 37 percent this season.

His improved approach has allowed him to become an elite fantasy producer in 2017. His value moving forward is similar to the likes of Jake Lamb and Mike Moustakas, as his batting average is still extremely BABIP driven and his strikeout rates are high and continuously rising.

Chris Taylor, Outfielder/ Second Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .316/.383/.545 .419 14 52 60 27.7 %
July .394/.412/.660 .523 3 15 15 26.8 %

Taylor was a fifth-round pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2012. He was acquired by the Dodgers in a trade that sent prospect pitcher Zach Lee to Seattle in 2016.

Since arriving in Los Angeles, Taylor has stumbled upon some newfound success, as he has hit more home runs in 91 games this season than he did in 249 games at the AAA-level.

The 26-year-old has become the everyday lead-off hitter for the Dodgers, which bodes well for his fantasy value, although his rising strikeout rate and inflated BABIP are cause for concern.

Taylor, whose BABIP in July measured .523, has an unsustainable BABIP of .419 on the year. Also, his home run to fly ball rate of 18.7 percent is unsustainable, as that would put him the same conversation as Paul Goldschmidt and Logan Morrison in terms of HR/FB rates.

Taylor’s fantasy value seems to be at its peak, which makes this a prime time to sell high. He will continue to be a valuable asset as he bats lead-off for arguably the best team in baseball, although his BABIP and home run to fly ball rate are sure to plummet.

Michael Conforto, Outfielder, New York Mets

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .296/.399/.566 .355 21 56 62 25.0 %
July .301/.363/.658 .313 7 14 12 22.5 %

Conforto has been the lone bright spot for the Mets during thier abysmal 2017 season. He has batted primarily in the lead-off spot for New York, although due to a lack of talent around him, he has only scored 62 runs in his 91 games. His BABIP of .355 is very high, although his BABIP in July of .313 and batting average of .301 suggest that his .300 batting average may be sustainable over the course of a full season.

The 24-year-old is not in the upper echelon of outfielders just yet. It is fair to value him similarly to Corey Dickerson or Domingo Santana moving forward due to his lineup potential, production, upside and age.

Jonathan Schoop, Second Baseman, Baltimore Orioles

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .302/.352/.550 .337 24 79 68 21.5 %
July .343/.377/.638 .355 9 28 21 19.3 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Jonathan Schoop has emerged as a center piece of the Orioles future. (Photo by Alchetron)

Schoop had a successful 2016 campaign, although he has taken his talents to the next level this season. He is a lock to set career bests in all major hitting categories, as he is on pace to hit 36 home runs and drive in 119 RBIs.

He has found a fantasy friendly spot in the three-hole of a dangerous Baltimore lineup and promises to be a big part of their future moving forward.

His BABIP of .337 suggests that his batting average is in line for a small amount of regression, although his improved strikeout rate and incredible July totals insinuate that he is trending upward.

He ranks just below Jose Ramirez in terms of value due to a lack of steals and batting average, although his production puts him firmly in the top tier of second basemen, well behind Jose Altuve of course.

 

Marwin Gonzalez, First Baseman/ Third Baseman/ Shortstop/ Outfielder, Houston Astros

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .311/.388/.578 .346 20 65 50 20.5 %
July .307/.378/.591 .344 7 18 17 21.4 %

Marwin Gonzalez, once known as a backup utility player, has officially broken out. Many didn’t expect Gonzalez to receive everyday at-bats due to the Astros having such a deep roster, although due to injuries and his hot bat he has found himself in an everyday role.

The 28-year-old has set career highs in home runs and RBIs, while being on pace to set a career-high in batting average. Gonzalez is a great fantasy asset, as he has a multitude of position eligibilities and bats in the heart of the Astros’ dangerous lineup.

His BABIP is high, which does cause concern regarding his .300-plus average, although his production and power seem to be sustainable. His playing time shouldn’t falter even when stars Carlos Correa and George Springer return from the disabled list, as his production has been arguably the team’s best of late.

 

Featured image by SBNation

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Postseason

National League playoff predictions

The National League has been interesting so far this year. In the Central, there’s a jam-packed division with teams floating around the .500 mark. In the West, the Dodgers have a strong grip on first place but the Rockies and Diamondbacks are also having great years. The East however is pretty much a lock with the Nationals having little competition getting in their way.

Here is a look at who will most likely be making an appearance in October.

Los Angeles Dodgers, National League West

National League playoff predictions

The Dodgers hope Kershaw’s injury will not keep him out for long (nydailynews)

The Dodgers currently have the best record in baseball and they have been tough to stop. They had a stretch of winning 30 of 34 games and are playing like they will be able to break their championship drought.

Los Angeles just took a major hit to their rotation. Clayton Kershaw left in the second inning of Sunday’s game with lower back issues. He landed on the 10-day DL and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

Kershaw has kept up his typical excellence thus far, so the Dodgers will have a lot to overcome with this injury. They are sitting pretty with a 10.5-game lead on the Rockies, but with how the division is playing this is no time to coast.

It will be interesting to see if the Dodgers will be looking for starting pitching help within the next week with this new injury. If Kershaw misses significant time, they may look for some rotation help to shore things up.

The Dodgers’ pitching staff has the best ERA in the majors, however the Diamondbacks are right behind them in that category. Los Angeles should not take the injury lightly as it is important for them to maintain their strong lead in the West. Otherwise, the Rockies or Diamondbacks could make a run for them.

All around, the Dodgers are still the best team in the National League even without Clayton Kershaw. The young duo of Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger have been fantastic this year on top of the stellar season from Justin Turner. The Dodgers have also been in the mix for Orioles closer Zach Britton. If the Dodgers make a move for Britton, it will be nearly impossible to beat them if they have a lead in the seventh inning or later.

Chicago Cubs, National League Central

National League playoff predictions

Jose Quintana has won his first two starts for the Cubs (CBS Sports)

The Cubs have finally started to hit their stride. They are 8-1 since the All-Star break and have caught the Brewers in the Central.

The Brewers however are starting to regress like a lot of people predicted. They are 3-7 since the break with six of those games against the Philadelphia Phillies. Things aren’t getting easier as their next two series are against the Nationals and the Cubs.

Chicago has gotten a spark since the Jose Quintana trade. They gave up their best prospect in Eloy Jimenez, but may have received one of the key pieces they were looking for to fill out their roster.

One more thing they may look for at the deadline though is bullpen help. Wade Davis has been an excellent add this season for the Cubs, but they may need more help to fill out their relief pitching. The Cubs have been linked to Pat Neshak of the Phillies who is having a stellar year. He would make for a great combo of Neshak-Davis in the eighth and ninth.

The offense is also starting to play to its potential as of late. The combo of Bryant-Rizzo-Schwarber was supposed to be one of the most feared cores in the majors. Bryant and Rizzo are playing to expectations while Schwarber is slowly improving from his abysmal first half of the season.

The Cubs are starting to return to their 2016 form though, and if it keeps up then there will be no team in the Central that will be able to keep up with them.

Washington Nationals, National League East

National League playoff predictions

Harper has had an MVP caliber year (Sports Illustrated)

The Nationals may be the surest bet for the postseason at this point. They are not the best team in the league by any means, but they do not have any competition in their division that will come close to threatening them for the title in the East.

As with most teams in the league, the bullpen has the biggest question mark on the team. The Nationals do have some prospects they can deal in order to shore things up, because it will be vital for them to have a more reliable bullpen in the postseason.

Their bullpen currently ranks as the worst in all of baseball, and that simply will not suffice if the Nationals want to compete in the playoffs.

Although they have the worst ranked bullpen, they have the top ranked offense in the National League. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy have been a deadly combo this year that will throw any pitcher fits. Each one of them could be in the conversation for MVP, but the Dodgers have some serious contenders themselves.

Either way, the offense has been a big reason for their success along with their ace, Max Scherzer. It has been discussed that Scherzer may actually be the best starting pitcher in the league today.

Arizona Diamondacks, National League Wild Card #1

National League playoff predictions

J.D Martinez makes the Diamondbacks lineup much stronger (arizonasports)

The Diamondbacks showed the league that they are serious this year with their acquisition of J.D. Martinez. Martinez makes the Diamondbacks’ lineup strong enough to perhaps be able to compete with the best offenses in the league. The Goldscmidt-Martinez combo along with the other Arizona hitters who are having great years would be tough to stop in a playoff series.

Robbie Ray is having a career year and Zack Greinke has returned to his Cy Young form. It seemed that Greinke may have lost his edge when he went to Arizona. However, he is proving that 2016 was a fluke and he is still an elite pitcher.

The pitching staff has overall been a real plus this year as only the Dodgers have been more successful. With the injury to Kershaw, the Diamondbacks may have a better opportunity to catch up to them.

The Diamondbacks have only won three of their past 10 games. This most likely will not last though. Every team has ups and downs during a season, and Arizona is just in the middle of it right now. Although they probably won’t be able to catch the Dodgers, they have a good enough team to take a wild card spot. In any other division in the NL they would have a much better shot at a title, they just happen to be in the best one in the majors right now.

Colorado Rockies, National League Wild Card #2

National League playoff predictions

Blackmon is having a career year in Colorado (The Denver Post)

The third team that has a good shot of making the playoffs from the National League West is the Rockies are having a breakout year. Colorado has some good young pitching but much of their success comes from their offense. Nolan Arrenado is proving to be an elite third baseman and Charlie Blackmon is having a career year.

Colorado is tied with Washington for the second best offense in the majors. What is interesting about this stat is that one would think that this is because they are hitting a lot of home runs since they are in Colorado. However, the Rockies actually rank 16th in home runs in the majors. They are getting guys in all sorts of different ways.

The Rockies will have a tough time holding their lead in the wild card over the Diamondbacks. Since Arizona has such a stronger pitching staff, it is most likely that they will overrun them.

They are looking for players to bolster their rotation, the only problem is that they are in Colorado. Yu Darvish has already stated that he does not want to be traded to the Rockies. The reason why the Rockies have a such hard time getting good pitching is because of their ballpark. However, Colorado needs a stronger rotation in order to compete in the postseason and stay ahead in the National League.

 

 

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Fantasy Baseball Buy Low Targets

Fantasy baseball 2017: Buy low targets

In fantasy baseball, the best time to trade for a player is when their value is at its lowest point. The buy low theory is clearly the best way to acquire top-tier talent for fairly cheap prices. Below are four players that could be considered buy low targets, as they offer immense upside despite their current levels of performance.

Manny Machado, Third Base/Shortstop, Baltimore Orioles

Fantasy Baseball 2017 Buy Low Targets

Manny Machado is on pace for 35 home runs, but his low batting average makes him a perfect buy low target. (Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images).

Machado’s 2017 campaign has not gone as planned. After batting over .285 with at least 35 home runs in his two previous seasons, he was considered one of the top 10 fantasy hitters in the game. So far in 2017, he is batting only .224 with a raised strikeout rate by over four percent.

His career BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, is .303, although his current BABIP sits at a mere .234. BABIP tends to represent whether a hitter is getting lucky or unlucky. According to fangraphs.com, a BABIP “in the .230 range is very atypical for a major league hitter”, so for Machado, it is clear he is getting extremely unlucky.

His home run totals have sustained as he has an ISO, or isolated power, of .224 and is on pace for 35 home runs. If you have an opportunity to pick up Machado, as his value seems to be at its deepest point, now is the time.

Francisco Lindor, Shortstop, Cleveland Indians

Lindor had gotten off to a slow start in 2017. His current BABIP of .251 is quite far off from his career BABIP of .315. This is negatively affecting his batting average as he is currently batting .255, whereas he is a career .295 hitter.

The 23-year-old’s strikeout rate has continued to drop in every consecutive season which shows how he is progressing as a hitter. Also, his ISO is an amazing .227 and his HR/FB rate is a fairly sustainable 13.3 percent, showing that his power seems sustainable.

Lindor will surely set a career high in home runs this season as he is currently on pace for 32. If you can get your hands on Lindor while his value is still low, it will be an incredible steal as his performance is sure to improve.

Rougned Odor, Second Base, Texas Rangers

Fantasy Baseball 2017 Buy Low Targets

Rougned Odor had an extremely slow start in 2017. (Photo by MLB Trade Rumors)

Odor’s struggles were very real in 2017, as he had been batting under the Mendoza line for about three months. So far in June, he is batting .228, although his BABIP remains under .240, suggesting he is in line for major progression as his career BABIP sits around .281.

In 2016, Odor exploded onto the scene, hitting 33 home runs and stealing 14 bases while batting .271. Odor’s current .212 batting average is due to be on the rise because of his extremely low BABIP.

If you can pick up Odor now before his performance improves, you will have found yourself a top-tier fantasy asset, as he has the potential to be a great producer of home runs, RBIs, runs and steals.

Kyle Schwarber, Outfield, Chicago Cubs

Schwarber was recently sent down to Triple-A Iowa to clear his head and improve his approach. According to reports, the minor league stint shouldn’t be long, although it is well deserved. The 24-year-old is slashing a poor .171/.295/.378 with 12 home runs and 28 RBI.

His production has been solid even while batting well under the Mendoza line. His .193 BABIP suggests that he is getting absurdly unlucky, as he currently has the lowest BABIP in the MLB out of qualified batters.

His value has declined due to his current struggles and demotion, so now is the time to make a move for the former fourth overall pick.

 

Featured image by David Klutho

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American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Over-Performing Underdogs

The American League West has been dominated by the Astros, but the other two divisions have been surprising. Cleveland got off to a slow start, creating a tight early-season race in the AL Central. The AL East has arguably been the most competitive division with some surprise contenders rising to the top.

Today’s wrap-up looks at those teams who have exceeded preseason expectations and how they got there.

The New York Yankees

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Over-Performing Underdogs

Photo by Reinhold Matay | USA Today Sports

We knew the Yankees were going to be better than the last few seasons, but not this good. The Yankees have done a masterful job bolstering their young core during prior seasons. Players like breakout rookie Aaron Judge and Ronald Torreyes were advertised as great, but they weren’t supposed to be ready this soon.

While the younger talent has certainly performed, the rest of the team has more then pulled their weight. Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks are all 27 years old and batting above .300. Adding to this strong mix are veterans Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Holliday, who have also been key contributors so far this season.

New York’s lineup has been a wonderfully-balanced attack on offense and has them sitting in the top five in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and RBIs.

The only thing that could have held this offensive juggernaut back was a questionable pitching staff. That rotation currently holds the third best ERA in the AL. Things are firing on all cylinders for the Bronx Bombers as they continue to battle for top position in the East.

The Baltimore Orioles

The other club battling for the top position in the East has been the surprising Baltimore Orioles. Most analysts, including this one, thought the Red Sox were a shoo-in for a repeat of their 2016 performance. However, it’s been the Yankees and Orioles dominating the top of the division.

While the Yankees have the stat lines you’d expect to see at the top of the division, the Orioles are a bit more of an enigma. A look at their statistical standings places them mid-tier in most major pitching and hitting categories. Their pitching staff suffered early season injuries, and their MVP-caliber third baseman, Manny Machado, has struggled early.

Those issues haven’t deterred the back-half of the Orioles rotation from silencing critics. Dylan Bundy and Wade Miley have been the picture of consistency, posting a combined 2.36 ERA through 15 starts. These impressive performances combined with the recent return of team ace Chris Tillman may signal continued success for this staff. Combine solid pitching with the ever-present power threat of the Orioles lineup and you have a combination that can steal a lot of games.

The Minnesota Twins

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The 2017 AL Central discussion has been about nearly every team other than the Indians. Cleveland continues to press the top of the standings, but it’s been Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota who have kept it close.

The Twins in particular have been a surprise given their last place finish in 2016. The reemergence of Ervin Santana as a top league ace has certainly helped their cause. The remainder of the Twins pitching staff has posted respectable performances and should get better with the recent call up of José Berríos. Highly-touted young gun Miguel Sano has emerged this season, slashing .297 / .439 / .667 with 10 home runs.

Interestingly enough, Sano is the only member of the Twins lineup hitting anywhere near .300. In fact, the Twins average, slugging percentage and RBIs rank in the bottom half of the league. That said, their on-base percentage is in the AL’s top five, and they’re clearly doing enough to win games. Minnesota is definitely on a hot streak, capturing six of their last ten.

This recent success is promising for the Minnesota fan base. However, unless some of the offensive statistics pick up, it’s hard to foresee a sustained push by the Twins.

 

Featured Image by Tony Gutierrez / AP

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Major League Baseball Weekly Wrap-Up: Opening Week

The experience of an opening day is like few others in sports. There is something truly special about the crack of the bat after a long winter. A new season means new hope and the chance at unforeseen excitement from around the league.

162 games is a haul, but opening week always presents a reminder of the great things to come every year. This year is certainly no different. The Game Haus is committed to highlighting all the action from around baseball all season long, starting with Opening Week.

Off to the Races

A few teams always seem to start hot out of the blocks. With many games to be played, there is certainly no crowning of a champion yet. However, for fans around the league, it’s hard not to get excited about a great start. Here are a few teams that have emerged quickly out of the gates.

Colorado Rockies

MLB Opening WeekThe Colorado Rockies are off to a hot start with five quick wins under their belt. They are tied for the best record in the MLB with the equally hot Diamondbacks. The NL West looks extremely exciting.

Nolan Arenado has led the charge, treating fans to a ninth inning shot giving Colorado an early season 2-1 win.

Later in the week, Clayton Kershaw experienced the power of this offense after giving up back-to-back home runs to Mark Reynolds and Gerardo Parra.

We knew the offense was going to be good, but up to this point, the pitching has been impressive as well. A solid young rotation and the resurgence of Greg Holland makes this Rockies team look incredibly promising in 2017.

Baltimore Orioles

Mark Trumbo showed everyone just why he was worth that contract in an opening day display. He blasted a walk-off home run in an 11-inning showdown with Toronto to help Baltimore set the tone early. The power on this Orioles team is unquestioned, but it was the pitching that presented the biggest unknown.

This Orioles’ staff has collectively posted a 3.64 ERA through five games. With Chris Tillman out, the remainder of the rotation was thought to be suspect at best. This hasn’t stopped Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy from picking up the slack and putting on impressive displays in week one. Look out AL East. Don’t sleep on the Orioles.

Minnesota Twins

MLB Opening Week

The hot start in the Central belongs to the defending AL champions, right? Not quite. Minnesota currently leads the Central and is tied for the most wins in the AL with five.

The Twins weren’t exactly saddled with high expectations to start the season, but this doesn’t seem to bother Minnesota. So what’s going on?

The return of Ervin Santana has certainly helped to anchor the rotation, and the bullpen has shown surprising upside. Names like Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Byron Buxton should give Twins fans something to be excited about.

If veterans Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer can lead the way for these young players, the Twins may end up much better off than originally thought.

The Twins haven’t exactly played world beaters in the Royals and the White Sox, but a W is a W, and you can’t take those away.

 

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Tools of the Trade: Top 5 Power Hitters

This is the second installment of our Tools of the Trade series. In our first installment, we reviewed the Top 5 Hitters in MLB.

Now we will overview the top five power hitters in MLB by using five statistical categories to evaluate their overall power. Home run total, home runs per season, slugging, isolated power and games per season will be analyzed.

Let’s look at the top five power hitters in the game using the past five seasons. Honorable mentions include Jose Bautista (TOR), Josh Donaldson (TOR), Nolan Arenado (COL), Giancarlo Stanton (MIA), Bryce Harper (WAS) and Miguel Cabrera (DET). All honorable mentions were excluded from the list due to too few games played, dip in performance or short power surges (two years or less).

5. Chris Carter – New York Yankees

Top Power Hitters

Chris Carter has one of the best power bats in the game (Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports).

Chris Carter has played for three teams over his seven-year career and has done nothing but mash year in and year out. Carter has always been known for his power, but he may be known more for his strikeouts.

After striking out over 200 times twice in the past five seasons, Carter had to sit and wait for a contract this past offseason. The Yankees scooped him up for what could be a steal of a deal.

Carter had the second highest isolated power of all the players analyzed for this article. His .254 ISO over the past five seasons is higher than Miguel Cabrera’s (.242 ISO). He has also put up a respectable .474 slugging percentage while smashing 147 homers over that span.

His low .221 batting average has limited his playing time to 130 games per season in the past five years, but his power is elite. He has easy power to all fields. When he does make contact, it usually goes a long ways.

4. Nelson Cruz – Seattle Mariners

After putting up solid power numbers from 2009-2013, Nelson Cruz exploded with 40 homers in his first season in Baltimore. He moved to Seattle in the 2015 season and has continued his power surge. Cruz has absolutely smashed the baseball despite playing at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. He has increased his power numbers in each of the previous three seasons.

Cruz has hit 178 total home runs in his previous five campaigns to average 36 bombs per season. He also boasts an impressive .524 slugging percentage over that time and has averaged 147 games played per season.

Cruz has turned into a slugger since his move from Texas with a .247 ISO. His previous three seasons have vaulted Cruz into the upper echelon of power hitters, all while moving away from hitter-friendly parks in Baltimore and Texas. He has brought the thunder to the rainy northwest and doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

3. Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels

Top Power Hitters

Mike Trout will launch plenty of balls over the fence this season (Huffington Post)

Again, Mike Trout makes his presence known in this series. The talented center fielder has made his presence known since his first full season in the majors in 2012.

He has averaged 33 homers per season in the past five years. His high point was in 2015 when he launched 41 bombs into orbit. He has hit 163 total home runs since 2012. While that is impressive by itself, a deeper look at his numbers show a pure slugger.

Trout’s slugging percentage has been one of the highest in the game since 2012 at a staggering .564. Even more impressive is his ISO. He is averaging 154 games played per season and has put up a .254 ISO. That is an astronomical number that proves Trout’s power is one of the strongest tools he has.

Trout has been both available and productive, given his number of games played and the numbers he has put up. He could vault up this list in no time at all at his current pace.

2. Chris Davis – Baltimore Orioles

Chris Davis is one of the best pure power hitters in the game today. The 6-foot-3 Texas native has been known to go off at any given moment with his ability to launch balls all over the yard seemingly at will.

He has the second most homers in the past five seasons of the players evaluated with 197. That is an average of 39 homers per season and a massive amount of production. Let’s look at his numbers a little closer.

His .518 slugging percentage may not be overwhelming, but his .265 ISO certainly is. He is driving the ball out of the park at an impressive rate while averaging 149 games played every season. Davis has been the power source in Baltimore for years with seasons of 53 and 47 homers. He has also been dependable and given skipper Buck Showalter a reliable source of prodigious power.

At only 30 years old, look for Davis to keep putting up the massive numbers.

1. Edwin Encarnacion – Cleveland Indians

Top Power Hitters

Edwin Encarnacion’s power will play on either side of the border (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America).

Edwin Encarnacion is the top slugger in the game and will provide the Indians with one of the biggest bats in all of baseball. His 193 total homers since 2012 prove him to be a legitimate power threat. He has also averaged 145 games played per season in that five year time span.

Encarnacion provides power and dependability to an already deep Indians lineup. Just how much power does EE have?

Encarnacion has averaged 39 homers per season since 2012. That insane production is only made even more outrageous by his .544 slugging percentage. With the ability to hit the ball out of the park, it’s no wonder he boasts the best ISO on this list by a fair margin. His .272 ISO bests Chris Davis’ by .07 points. That is a noticeable difference in production.

Encarnacion will look to continue his power surge on the other side of the border in 2017 with one of the strongest swings in the game today.

 

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Making the Cut: Non-Roster Invitees Who Could Make an Impact in 2017

Teams are always trying to gain an edge over their opponents. Whether its installing nutrition plans or the Red Sox building a nap room at Fenway, teams are always looking for an advantage. That is what non-roster invitees present to a club: an edge. Many non-roster invitees are players who are past their prime or prospects whose time hasn’t come yet.

Some are able to stick after a strong spring training, and this season is no different. Who could emerge from spring training with a major league roster spot?

OF Michael Bourn- Baltimore Orioles

Michael Bourn enters spring training with 11 years of major league experience. After spending the tail end of the 2016 season in Baltimore, he has a good feel for the organization. He performed well for the Orioles, slashing .283/.358/.435 in 24 games after coming over from Arizona. Bourn also brings speed as he swiped 15 bases in 113 games. Bourn still has ability, but it may be opportunity that allows him to break camp with the Orioles.

Joey Rickard is listed as the back up at all three outfield positions. The 25-year-old played in 85 games for Baltimore in 2016, slashing .268/.319/.377. Rickard has age, while Bourn has experience.

If Bourn is able to outplay Rickard in spring training, don’t be surprised to see Baltimore keep Bourn for the regular season. With a team looking to compete in a deep AL East, manager Buck Showalter may go with the veteran Bourn as the fourth outfielder.

OF Anthony Gose- Detroit Tigers

Non-roster Invitees

Anthony Gose will need to flash with the bat and glove to make the Tigers roster (Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America).

Anthony Gose was once the second overall prospect in the Blue Jays system but failed to live up to the billing north of the border. He was shipped south to Detroit for the 2015 season and played 140 games for the Tigers. That was the best offensive season of his career, albeit with a paltry 90 OPS+.

After only playing 30 games in 2016, Gose enters Tigers’ camp as a non-roster invitee this spring. He has an excellent chance to make the 25-man roster.

Center field is already a question mark, and the corner outfield spots are backed up by 6-foot-7 behemoth Steven Moya. With his immense size at 260 pounds, Moya is better served as a DH than an outfielder. That gives Gose an opportunity to swipe the backup job from Moya, and maybe even compete to start in center field.

If Gose can turn it on this spring training, he will be a key reserve in an outfield devoid of depth.

IF Omar Infante- Detroit Tigers

Omar Infante broke into the league with the Detroit Tigers in 2002. After three seasons in Kansas City, Infante is back home in the Tigers’ spring training camp. Even though he has transformed from young prospect to grizzled veteran, the goal is still the same: make the major league roster. Infante will have plenty of chances to prove he still has it in spring training.

Infante played 39 games for the Royals in 2016 and put up poor numbers. His slash line of .239/.279/.321 earned him a 60 OPS+. At age 35, Infante’s days of starting may well be behind him. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute. Detroit has almost no depth at any position, slotting Andrew Romine as the backup at second base, third base and shortstop.

If Infante can put together a good spring training, he should be able to wrestle the utility infield position from Romine.

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia- Toronto Blue Jays

Non-roster Invitees MLB

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is almost a given to make the Blue Jays roster (Caylor Arnold/USA TODAY Sports).

Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be on his fourth team in the past three years entering spring training. He has largely been a starter for the majority of his career, but will be vying for the back up catcher role in Toronto this season.

Saltalamacchia has the inside track to the job, with almost no competition to speak of. The Blue Jays have so much confidence in him that he has already been listed as the backup catcher to Russel Martin.

Over the past four seasons, Saltalamacchia has averaged 12 homers and 43 RBIs in 104 games played per season. He has a career slash line of .234/.309/.413. While those numbers certainly aren’t eye popping, they are solid for a back up catcher. He will be able to provide a solid option in Toronto whenever Martin needs a day off. Saltalamacchia can also fill in at DH when needed, given his solid power.

Saltalamacchia is a solid, if not spectacular, catcher who benefits greatly from the lack of catcher depth in Toronto. He will make the 25-man roster for the Blue Jays.

 

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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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