Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (April 23rd – April 29th)

In week four of our fantasy baseball 2017 update, we will continue to notify owners about which players are hot, or cold, and whether they will continue to trend in that direction. The previous weekly updates can be found at thegamehaus.com/fantasy.

 

Who’s Hot

Trea Turner, Shortstop, Washington Nationals

 

  • 14 for 33 with 13 runs scored, two home runs, 11 RBI, and one stolen base.

 

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Trea Turner has a bright future, but what is his ceiling? (Courtesy of Federal Baseball)

Turner is off to a torrid pace after recovering from a hamstring injury that landed him on the 10-day disabled list. The 23-year-old is currently batting .333 with 14 runs scored, two home runs, 13 RBI, and four stolen bases in only 14 games. His elite production can not only be attributed to his innate athletic ability, but also to the Nationals star studded lineup, as teammates Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Daniel Murphy are all top three in National League RBI totals.

 

The first-round pick in 2014 is a massive part of Washington’s future, and according to manager Dusty Baker, looks like “Ricky Henderson”, as he has an incredible combination of power and speed. He has 16 home runs and 39 stolen bases in only 428 major-league plate appearances. The potential to be a top 10 fantasy player is real for Turner, who will be a staple atop the Nationals’ order for the next decade.

 

Ivan Nova, Starting Pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates

 

  • 2-0, allowing one earned run on seven hits and one walk, with 14 strikeouts, in 16 innings pitched.

 

Nova came over to Pittsburgh from the New York Yankees in 2016. Prior to becoming a Pirate, he had a career 4.41 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 729 innings pitched. After joining Pittsburgh, Nova managed to decline his ERA to 2.50 and WHIP to 0.97 in 100 2/3 innings. The Pirates coaching staff, more specifically pitching coach Ray Searage, are famous for turning average pitchers into All-Stars, as average arms like A.J. Burnett, Zach Duke, Kevin Correia, and Jeff Locke found their way to All-Stars games while in the Pirates uniform.

The 30-year-old is coming off a “Greg Maddux” performance, which is a baseball term used to describe a complete game shutout consisting of 99 pitches or less. Nova has gotten off to an incredible start in 2017, sporting a 1.50 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. He will continue to find success, as his next start is at home against the struggling Cincinnati Reds.

 

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Matt Kemp is healthy and ready to make an impact in 2017. (Courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors)

Matt Kemp, Outfielder, Atlanta Braves

 

  • 8 for 23 with five runs scored, four home runs, and 11 RBI.

 

Kemp has finally returned after being placed on the 10-day DL with a right hamstring strain on April 11th. He has been a consistent producer of 89 RBI or more since 2014, and looks to continue that trend this season. Kemp, along with Freddie Freeman, will be high-level producers as they anchor the Braves lineup.

Since 2014, the 32-year-old has a .273 batting average, 246 runs scored, 83 home runs, and 297 RBI in 472 games. Kemp’s hot start in 2017 will continue as long as he can stay on the field. He has played over 150 games in each of the last three seasons, so injury concerns should not be too disconcerting either.

 

Luis Severino, Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees

 

  • 1-0, allowing zero earned runs on three hits and two walks, with six strikeouts, in seven innings pitched.

 

Severino started 11 games in 2016, resulting in an atrocious 5.83 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 71 innings pitched. After being demoted to AAA, he started 13 games and finished the year with a 3.36 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, putting him back on track, as he had a career minor-league ERA of 2.51 and WHIP of 1.06.

In 2017, the 23-year-old broke spring training with the Yankees, and hasn’t looked back. He is currently 2-1, allowing only nine earned runs, with 33 strikeouts, in 27 innings pitched. Severino had similar success in 2015, and looks to be the long-term answer for a questionable Yankees rotation.

 

Ryan Zimmerman, First Baseman, Washington Nationals

 

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Ryan Zimmerman is off to a torrid start in 2017 (Alex Brandon/AP Photo).

  • 12 for 24 with nine runs scored, six home runs, and 13 RBI.

 

Zimmerman, a three time MVP candidate, two-time Silver Slugger, and runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year, is on pace to have the best season of his career. The 32-year-old has a league-leading .410 batting average, 34 hits, 11 home runs, and 27 RBI.

He has completely healed from his 2016 wrist injury, which may be the first time he is fully healthy since 2013. The sky is the limit for Zimmerman, who is batting behind former MVP Bryce Harper, and All-Star Daniel Murphy.

 

Who’s Cold

 

Jason Kipnis, Second Baseman, Cleveland Indians

 

  • 3 for 20 with one run scored, zero home runs, and zero RBI.

 

Kipnis has finally returned from an early-April rehab assignment, which was extended until late-April after he was hit by a pitch. He has been off to a slow start, as he only has four hits in his first 27 at-bats.

The 30-year-old has been a stable producer at the top half of the Indians order for years, and should pick things up sooner than later. He is a career .271 hitter, who had set a career high in home runs just a year ago, with 23. Do not give up on Kipnis, as he is a proven producer in one of the league’s top lineups.

 

Tyler Anderson, Starting Pitcher, Colorado Rockies

 

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Tyler Anderson is a young stud off to a rough start in 2017. (Courtesy of Purple Row)

  • 0-0, allowing 10 earned runs on 13 hits and four walks, with seven strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings pitched.

 

Anderson has struggled in all six of his starts so far in 2017, although I believe it is too early to give up on the 27-year-old. He has a career minor-league ERA of 2.38, WHIP of 1.10, and K/9 of 7.4. Clearly the potential is there, but his early struggles have caused owners to drop him at alarming rates.

The first-round pick in 2011 has faced the Dodgers twice, the Nationals, Giants, Brewers, and Diamondbacks so far in 2017. Four of these five teams have top 12 scoring offenses, while three of them are ranked one, two, and three consecutively. Anderson will find success in 2017 as he battles lesser talented lineups and adjusts to his first full big-league season.

 

Chris Davis, First Baseman, Baltimore Orioles

 

  • 3 for 19 with two runs scored, zero home runs, and one RBI.

 

The two-time league leader in home runs has gotten off to a cold start in 2017. He has only three home runs and five RBI in 22 games played. Davis, as a career .238 hitter, often has hot and cold streaks, so his lack of production should not be too worrisome.

The 31-year-old has hit a total of 200 home runs in 765 games over the last five seasons, which makes him one of a handful of 40 home run potential players in Major League Baseball.

 

Adam Conley, Starting Pitcher, Miami Marlins

 

  • 0-1, allowing nine earned runs on five hits and three walks, with two strikeouts, in 1 2/3 innings pitched.

 

Fantasy Baseball 2017

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

Conley, someone who I was very high on entering 2017, has gotten off to a shaky start. He is currently 1-2, after allowing 15 earned runs, with 16 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings pitched.

 

The 26-year-old has a minor-league career ERA of 3.52, which earned him the right of 25 major league starts in 2016, where he managed to have a sub-four ERA, with 124 strikeouts in 133 1/3 innings pitched.

The strikeout potential is there, although his control remains an issue, as he has a career K/9 of 8.1 and WHIP of 1.37. Conley makes his next start on Wednesday in Tampa Bay, where he should get back on track after pitching only 1 1/3 innings against the Pirates in his last start.

 

Stephen Vogt, Catcher, Oakland Athletics

 

  • 3 for 19 with zero runs scored, zero home runs, and zero RBI.

 

Vogt, a career .253 hitter, is off to a horrendous start in 2017, batting .210 with only one home run and three RBI. The Athletics catcher has seen the majority share of playing time over the last two seasons, as he has played in at least 135 games each year.

The 32-year-old has been an important piece of Oakland’s lineup, as he has mustered up 33 home runs and 130 RBI in his last 291 games. As long as Vogt is healthy, he should continue to see the majority of starts behind the plate in 2017.

 

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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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2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

The Game Haus presents our 2017 fantasy baseball first base rankings.

The first base position is among the deepest in fantasy baseball. Nine first basemen had at least 25 home runs and 100 RBIs last season. 23 had at least 20 home runs, and 19 had at least 80 RBIs. First base continues to offer plenty of power and production for your fantasy team.

With the start of spring training games upon us, it is time to rank the top 25 first basemen for 2017. Players have been grouped into three tiers, with the top and bottom player of each profiled below.

Honorable mentions: Joe Mauer (MIN), Lucas Duda (NYM), Chris Carter (NYY), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Ryan Zimmerman (WAS), and Dan Vogelbach (SEA).

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Paul Goldschmidt is the golden standard at first base. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  1. Paul Goldschmidt ARI
  2. Miguel Cabrera DET
  3. Joey Votto CIN
  4. Anthony Rizzo CHC
  5. Freddie Freeman ATL
  6. Edwin Encarnacion CLE

Paul Goldschmidt is the golden standard at first base in 2017. He has completed four consecutive All-Star seasons, finishing as runner up for MVP in 2013 and 2015. He offers five-category production and will bat third for the Arizona Diamondbacks, hit for average and power, and will steal plenty of bases.

The addition of A.J. Pollock and David Peralta to the lineup should increase his value as well. Goldy was without both of them for the majority of 2016. Also, he has 99 career stolen bases with a success rate of 81 percent, which is outstanding. His floor of about 15 steals gives him an edge over other superstar first basemen.

Edwin Encarnacion will make the move from the hitter friendly Rogers Centre to one of the toughest for right handed hitters. However, he remains in the top tier of elite first basemen. He will bat clean-up for a hungry Cleveland Indians team featuring Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana.

Encarnacion remains an elite fantasy option. He has hit at least 30 home runs with 98 or more RBIs. He also has batted at least .260 in his last five seasons. Expect more of the same out of the 34-year-old.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Wil Myers expects a 40/40 season from himself in 2017. (Courtesy of gaslampbell.com)

  1. Wil Myers SD
  2. Jose Abreu CWS
  3. Daniel Murphy WAS
  4. Ian Desmond COL
  5. Chris Davis BAL
  6. Hanley Ramirez BOS
  7. Matt Carpenter STL
  8. Carlos Santana CLE
  9. Eric Hosmer KC
  10. Adrian Gonzalez LAD

Wil Myers’ 2016 season resembled the likes of a poor man’s Paul Goldschmidt. He finished with 28 home runs and 28 stolen bases. His atrocious second half led to his batting average dipping to an underwhelming .259, causing his value in 2017 to be fairly low. His 20/20 upside should not be overlooked, as he was among only nine players to accomplish this feat last season.

The former rookie of the year completed his first full campaign in 2016, amounting 155 hits in 676 plate appearances. Myers will continue to be a horse in the middle of the San Diego Padres lineup for many years to come.

Adrian Gonzalez has been a consistent fantasy contributor his entire career. He has amassed 600 plus plate appearances in his last 11 seasons, while sporting a career .290 average. His power numbers have dwindled, as he tied a career low of 18 home runs in 2016. However, his production has not faltered, as he has had at least 90 RBIs in 10 consecutive seasons.

The 34-year-old will bat clean-up for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017, giving him ample RBI opportunities once again. Gonzalez looks to be a safe fantasy pick once again for the twelfth consecutive season.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Brandon Belt, under or over rated? (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Brandon Belt SF
  2. Mike Napoli TEX
  3. Tommy Joseph PHI
  4. C.J. Cron LAA
  5. Justin Bour MIA
  6. Greg Bird NYY
  7. Josh Bell PIT
  8. Mitch Moreland BOS
  9. Eric Thames MIL

Brandon Belt is another consistent fantasy performer. However, he has limited value as he has yet to surpass the 20-home run mark in his six-year career. The career .272 hitter did have a career high 82 RBIs in 2016, which was due to him batting primarily fifth.

The 28-year-old stole zero bases last season but has managed to steal 32 bases from 2011 to 2015. There is a chance that he adds some steals back to his stat line. Belt has a higher floor than most first basemen, although his ceiling is limited.

This Eric Thames is not the same guy we saw in 2011 or 2012. He returns to the U.S. after mashing 124 home runs in three seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). Thames will have to re-adjust to life in the MLB, but was rewarded a three-year $15 million contract with a player option for a fourth. This shows that the Brewers are fully invested in Thames being their current and future first basemen.

The 30-year-old will bat clean-up in an aggressive and youthful Milwaukee Brewers lineup that looks to do damage in 2017. Thames will be a great value pick as his current average draft position according to fantasypros.com is 231.

 

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Players to avoid

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks: Players to Avoid in 2017

The 2017 Major League Baseball season is upon us, as pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than two weeks. In order to ease the drafting process, The Game Haus presents you with its’ second installment of our fantasy baseball tips and tricks series: players to avoid in 2017.

The following players are being valued too high compared to other players at their position, and should be passed on in drafts.

This specific guide is for re-draft leagues only, and does not discuss any keeper or dynasty league strategies.

 

Adam DuvalL CIN OF

In his first full season, Duvall tallied thirty-three homeruns, with 103 runs batted in, while batting .241. He participated in the 2016 homerun derby after hitting twenty-three homeruns in the first half of the year. The twenty-eight-year-old will be the everyday left fielder and cleanup hitter for the Cincinnati Reds come 2017.

Players to avoid in 2017

Adam Duvall looks to prove doubters wrong as he begins his second MLB campaign. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

He is a proven power threat, as he mashed 130 bombs in six minor league seasons, although the hit on Duval is his ability to get on base. His major-league career on base percentage of .291 is a red flag. According to FanGraphs, a player’s OBP should be sixty points higher than their batting average, where Duval’s is only fifty. Also, Duvall will see more off-speed pitches in the cleanup spot. This is a concern as he already sports a poor career walk to strikeout ratio of .24.

Another thing to consider is, the more at-bats he accumulates, the more information pitchers will have on him. I predict a severe drop off in batting average as pitchers gain an understanding of how to approach Duvall.

Finally, we must consider alternative options. According to couchmanagers.com , two players who are being selected after Duvall, are Kole Calhoun and Jay Bruce.

Calhoun offers a solid power upside with much higher floors regarding batting average. He will also bat ahead of Mike Trout in 2017, which gives him a great opportunity to score ninety runs for the third time in his short career.

Bruce offers similar power upside to Duval, as he hit thirty-three homers in 2016, and has a similar career batting average of .248. Although, the major difference between the two is experience, as Bruce has nine seasons under his belt, with 241 homeruns and 737 RBI’s.

 

Matt Harvey NYM SP

2010 first-round pick, Matt Harvey, will enter his fifth MLB season come 2017. After three seasons of a sub three earned run average, he ended his 2016 campaign with a 4.86.

Players to avoid in fantasy baseball

Matt Harvey looks to bounce back from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

The major risk with Harvey is his surgically repaired elbow. He underwent season ending surgery to fix thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). TOS can cause a painful, swollen, blue arm, and can also lead to eye problems and vision loss. These symptoms were the prime causes of his lack of production in 2015. The procedure consists of removing one rib to release pressure off of the entrapped nerves in his neck and shoulder.

The only pitcher two pitchers to reach 1000 innings pitched post-surgery are Kenny Rodgers, who underwent the surgery at thirty-six, and Aaron Cook, at twenty-five. Other than Cook, some notable pitchers who underwent TOS surgery before they turned thirty include Kip Wells, Jeremy Bonderman, Alex Cobb, Matt Harrison, and Jamie Garcia.

Harvey’s risk is too high based on where he is being drafted. Pitchers being selected after him include Julio Teheran and Tanner Roark.

Teheran is coming off of his fourth straight 180 plus inning season, while nursing a career 3.39 ERA. The Atlanta Braves’ twenty-six-year-old is a two-time all-star, and a trade to a contending club could sky rocket his value.

Roark is coming off of his second sub three ERA season in three years. He will slot in as the third starter for the heavy favorite in the National League East, the Washington Nationals.

 

Javier Baez ChC 2B

The ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft had his first season of significant playing time in 2016. He finished the year with fourteen homeruns, twelve steals, and a .273 batting average in 450 plate appearances.

Players to avoid in fantasy baseball

Javier Baez hopes to contribute to back-to-back World Series titles come 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com)

If Baez can amount 600 plate appearances, he has twenty-twenty upside, but 2017 will not be the year. With the excessive amounts of talent in Chicago, the at bats will have to be spread equally. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist will take away playing time at second base when Jon Jay and Albert Almora start in the outfield; as well as when Wilson Contreras moves to left field and Miguel Montero mans the backstop.

When he is in the lineup, the NLCS MVP will bat at the bottom half of the order, limiting his opportunity to score runs and produce RBI’s. Second basemen being selected after Baez include Jonathan Schoop, Logan Forsythe, and Dustin Pedroia.

Schoop, who hit twenty-five homeruns in 2016, will bat in the heart of the Baltimore Orioles lineup behind Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Mark Trumbo. This will give him ample opportunities for RBI’s come 2017.

Forsythe and Pedroia both project to bat leadoff, which, barring injuries, guarantees them each 600 plate appearances. Both will bat ahead of MVP candidates, in Corey Seager in Los Angeles, and Mookie Betts in Boston, which gives them a high chance of scoring over 100 runs.

 

David Dahl COL OF

Like Baez and Harvey, Dahl was a top ten pick in the first round. He was called up for sixty-three games in 2016, finishing the year with seven homeruns, five steals, with a .315 average. If he continued the season at that pace, he would finish with eighteen homeruns, twelve steals, and sixty-one RBI’s. Although he batted primarily in the five hole in 2016, he will move down to the seven spot with the acquisition of Ian Desmond.

Players to avoid in fantasy baseball

David Dahl looks to earn starting left fielders job in 2017. (Courtesy of ESPN.com

One issue with Dahl is that he will be battling for playing time with eight year veteran Gerardo Parra. Parra, the two-time gold glover, struggled in 2016 as he dealt with a lingering ankle injury. Now that he is healthy, he is sure to take some playing time away from Dahl.

Another problem with Dahl is his average draft position. Dahl is selected as a top twenty-five outfielder, which is much to high for a seventh hitter who may share time with a veteran.

Other options in the outfield are Stephen Piscotty and Lorenzo Cain.

Piscotty finished the season with twenty-two homeruns and eighty-five RBI’s in his first full MLB season. He will be the everyday right fielder and will bat cleanup for the Cardinals in 2017. Slotting in behind Dexter Fowler, Aledmys Diaz, and Matt Carpenter will give him plenty of RBI opportunities.

Cain looks to lead the Kansas City Royals back to the promise land in 2017. He will continue to bat third in a star-studded lineup that reached the world series only two years ago. Cain poses as a twenty-twenty threat who can also bat around .300. He is in store for a bounce back candidate after an injury riddled 2016 season.

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AL East Shenanigans: Just How Close is the Race?

By the time September rolls around, there is generally a couple of teams who have secured playoff spots and can look to rest key players sporadically during the remainder of the season. As of September 9th, Texas had a nine game lead over the 2nd place team in the AL West, the Houston Astros. Cleveland has been cruising lately, going 8-2 in their last 10 games to secure a six game lead in the AL Central. The AL East, on the otherhand, is where it get reals interesting.

What sets the AL East apart from the rest of the American League is that the division has four teams that are within four games of each other. Not only does the division hold a playoff spot for the division leader, but also has both of the wild card spots in the AL, and a fourth team just two games back for a wild card spot. The beauty of September baseball, as well, is that the majority of games that will be played by the teams will be against their division opponents. So not only is it a tight race for the division lead, but the race is nowhere near the finish line as the standings will be in constant flux.

The Boston Red Sox are the current division leaders in the AL East with a one game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays. Buoyed by the fanfare of David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s retirement tour and an MVP-worthy season from youngster Mookie Betts, the Red Sox are looking every bit like a playoff team. The pitching has come around since the beginning of the season, with David Price, Rick Porcello and deadline acquisition Drew Pomeranz (The Killer P’s?) resembling a strong rotation come playoff time.

Rick Porcello has impressed this season, throwing himself into the Cy Young conversation. Photo courtesy of Dan Hamilton of the USA Today

Rick Porcello has impressed this season, throwing himself into the Cy Young conversation. Can he keep up his dominance down the stretch and propel the Sox into the playoffs? Photo courtesy of Dan Hamilton of the USA Today

Porcello especially has impressed, reducing his BB/9 to a career low 1.35 while maintaining a K/9 near 7.5. Porcello’s off-speed pitches have come around this season, which has led to hitters not receiving as many easy pitches to hit and thus leading to more outs generated for Porcello and the Sox. Fangraphs says this season, opponents are only hitting .171 against his change and .212 against his slider, compared to .292 and .342 respectively last season. The weakness of the Red Sox is the bullpen, especially bridging the gap from starter to Kimbrel in the 9th. The Red Sox addressed the issue at the deadline, adding Ziegler from Arizona, but Ziegler has produced mixed results since the move. Look for the bullpen being the reason why the Red Sox will either keep producing efficiently, or start to move down the standings as the month rolls by.

The Toronto Blue Jays currently sit in second by a game and lead the wild card race. I profiled the team briefly in my article on the AL Division Race a week ago, so I will just give a quick rundown. Basically, Toronto has the best offense on paper, headlined by potential AL MVP Josh Donaldson and bat flipping champion Jose Bautista. A supporting cast of hitters including Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, and Edwin Encarnacion rounds out the most potent lineup in the American League, if not all of baseball (I’d argue the lineup is more potent than the Cubs).

Jose Bautista has powered the Jays to the playoffs before...can he do it again? Photo courtesy of Getty Sports

Jose Bautista has powered the Jays to the playoffs before…can he do it again? Photo courtesy of Getty Sports

 

What could be the Blue Jays downfall, and my reason of hesitancy, is that pitching matters, and the Blue Jays do not have the stud pitching seen in other potential playoff team’s rotations. Just this past weekend, the Jays’ starters gave up a combined 11 earned runs in 13.2 innings (in 3 games) against the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that is twenty-one games below .500. That is not pitching a fan wants to see leading into the playoffs.

The Baltimore Orioles are the often forgotten studs in the AL East. The Orioles currently reside only two games back in the AL East standings and are perched in the second wild card spot with a one game lead over the Detroit Tigers. The Orioles also feature a potent lineup starring Manny Machado, Chris “Crush” Davis, and Adam Jones. Yet, those are not the only ones doing the heavy lifting, as the rest of the lineup has been hitting dingers all season as well. Mark Trumbo, most notably, has been a key fixture in the middle of the Orioles lineup, despite being traded for in the offseason for a backup catcher.

Mark Trumbo has been very productive for the Orioles, especially since he was traded a backup catcher. Photo courtesy of Butch Dill of the USA Today

Mark Trumbo has been very productive for the Orioles, especially since he was traded a backup catcher. Will his power be enough to get the Orioles playoff-bound? Photo courtesy of Butch Dill of the USA Today

This season, Trumbo has put up 41 homeruns while maintaining an adequate .255 batting average for the season. Another notable hitter is the underrated second basemen Jonathan Schoop, who despite only having 18 walks this year, has put up a .282 batting average and 21 homeruns for the club.

Despite all the power in the Orioles lineup, the problem comes down to the rotation once again, as the Orioles rotation is filled with veteran journeymen and super young pitchers. Keep an eye on Kevin Gausman though, who despite his record, has pitched well lately, not giving up a run in his last three starts. The rotation will be the question mark for the Orioles as the postseason looms ever closer.

The final team still battling for the AL East is the New York Yankees. The Yankees are interesting because the Yankees were sellers at the MLB Trade Deadline, moving Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and Carlos Beltran for a plethora of high upside prospects. Yet, a month after the deadline, the Yankees are only sitting four games back in the division and two back from the Orioles for the final wild card spot. The Yankees have been by their promoted youngsters, especially the polarizing Gary Sanchez.

Gary Sanchez has been raking for the Yankees. Can he keep up the hot hitting down the stretch? Photo courtesy of Brad Penner of the USA Today

Gary Sanchez has been raking for the Yankees. Can he keep up the hot hitting down the stretch? Photo courtesy of Brad Penner of the USA Today

Sanchez was promoted right after the deadline and has played in thirty-one games since, sporting a .336 batting average and knocking out 11 homers. Tanaka has been pitching like the ace that was expected out of his contract and the team has also received decent pitching from Michael Pineda and C.C. Sabathia over the course of the season.

The thing to watch with the Yankees will be whether the hot hitting will continue. The team is currently riding a five game winning streak (as of 9/9), but if the team strings together a couple of losses, it will be interesting to see if the veterans will be able to steer the rookies back on track or the team will fade off.

The battle has been raging all season long for the division, and yet, despite five months of baseball, there is no clear indication who will lead the division at the end of the season. Question marks surround each team as the margins are constantly fluctuating throughout the month. The Red Sox appear to be the most complete team on paper, but a shaky bullpen can turn a few wins into losses and hurt a team’s place in the standings. The Jays and Orioles face question marks surrounding their rotations, despite the electric lineups each team fields. The Yankees have been buoyed by their youngster hitters, but it will be interesting to see what happens when the team starts stringing together a couple of losses back to back instead of riding the hot streak forever. The 2016 AL East is the reason why baseball is exciting in September and will be a fun story to follow for the rest of the month.

 

Stats courtesy of fangraphs and standings according to MLB.com

Shoutout to u/twistedlogicx for pointing this out on r/baseball

O’s Quietly on the Verge of Great Offseason

Sep 30, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo (49) leaves the field after the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy of CBS Sports

The Baltimore Orioles are on the verge of taking advantage of an offseason that has moved at a leisurely pace, resulting in several reputable players being available at reasonable rates.

The O’s are linked to several key players still available including Pedro Alvarez, Jay Bruce, Dexter Fowler, and Yovani Gallardo. A combination of Gallardo and one or two of the aforementioned hitters could round out their offseason and make them a serious contender in 2016.

Having already resigned key free agents Chris Davis, Darren O’Day, and Matt Wieters along with acquiring high upside players in Hyun-soo Kim and Mark Trumbo, the O’s look to be on the verge of having an exemplary offseason.

Retaining Davis, O’Day, and Wieters was substantial, especially considering the team lost key contributors Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller the previous offseason. Those loses loomed large in the O’s fall from their AL East throne in 2014 to a .500 record in 2015.

One blemish on their offseason this far is seeing Wei-Yin Chen depart and sign with the Miami Marlins. Saying goodbye to Chen resulted in a compensatory draft pick, but it also left a hole in an already weak starting rotation.

This brings us to the top remaining starter on the free agent market in Gallardo. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney the team and Gallardo are working on a deal in the ballpark of 3 years and 40 to 45 million.

If the sides could come to an agreement in this range it would certainly have the makings of a steal. Consider the 5 year-70 million dollar deal the Kansas City Royals dished out to Ian Kennedy and Gallardo looks even more appealing. Gallardo is not only younger than Kennedy, he is also coming off a better season despite pitching his home games at hitter friendly Globe Life Park.

Gallardo would reinforce the Orioles rotation and make it more respectable. Chris Tillman could be due for a bounce back season after a rough 2015. Meanwhile Kevin Gausman offers a high upside option.

A solid rotation backed by a reliable bullpen led by Zach Britton and O’Day gives the O’s a good enough pitching staff to contend in 2016.

The O’s could further strengthen their offseason by diving into the discount bin for outfielder Fowler who is coming off a solid season for the Chicago Cubs. Also from ESPN’s Buster Olney the O’s are interested in Fowler for a deal similar to what Howie Kendrick received from the Los Angeles Dodgers at 2 years-20 million.

Outside of perennial All-Star Adam Jones in center field the team has question marks at the corner outfield spots. Fowler, especially at a discounted rate of 2 years-20 million, would help offer the O’s a plethora of options in the outfield corners.

With Fowler, Ryan Flaherty, Kim, Nolan Reimold, and Trumbo the team would have an impressive amount of depth. This depth would give them the flexibility to ride the hot hand at the corners. It could also provide an opportunity for Kim to get his feet wet in American baseball by spending some time in the minor leagues.

Taking this hypothetical free agent signing frenzy one-step further, consider the idea of bringing in former Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Alvarez. After hitting 30+ HR’s in 2012 and 2013, Alvarez saw his production drop in 2014 and 2015.

Given he is still relatively young he could sign a 1-year deal to try and re-establish his value. Alvarez would give the O’s more depth at first base, third base, and DH. Camden Yard’s shallow power alleys could be the perfect spot to ignite another 30+ HR season from the former All-Star.

If the O’s were to bring Alvarez in a one-year deal it would be a low risk move that could reap huge rewards in 2016.

There is still work to be done but the best of the Orioles offseason is yet to come. The best news is that the available players left appear to be available at club-friendly rates.

Being patient, acquiring high-upside pieces, and retaining key free agents could result in a phenomenal off season for the Orioles and a return to the top of the AL East in 2016.