MLB second half performances

Best MLB second half performances of 2016

With the second half of the 2017 MLB season in course, it’s time to assess the best MLB second half performances of 2016. The players are organized in groups according to whether they were an All-Star, veteran, breakout performer or rookie.

All-Stars 

Jon Lester, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

2016 First Half Stats 18 GS 9-4 W-L 3.01 ERA 1.08 WHIP 8.8 K/9 110.2 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 14 GS 10-1 W-L 1.76 ERA 0.94 WHIP 8.7 K/9 92 IP
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Jon Lester finished second in the NL Cy Young vote after a miraculous second half. (Photo by dailyherald.com)

In his 11th major league season, Lester ended the year with 19 wins and a 2.44 ERA. He finished second in the National League Cy Young vote and was a key part of the Chicago Cubs’ championship run.

In his 14 second half starts, Lester was nearly unhittable. He had a record of 10-1 with a 1.76 ERA and .189 batting average against, or BAA.

His home run to fly ball rate, or HR/FB, dropped from 16.2 percent in the first half to 6.8 percent in the second. This, along with the fact that his left on base percentage, or LOB%, rose from 83.7 percent to 86.4 percent, made him arguably the most successful pitcher in the second half of the 2016 MLB season.

 

 

 

 

 

Miguel Cabrera, First Baseman, Detroit Tigers

2016 First Half Stats 86 GS 18 HR 53 RBI 49 R .293/.370/.507 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 70 GS 20 HR 55 RBI 43 R .346/.423/.653 BA/OBP/SLG

The future first ballot Hall of Famer had an incredible second half. Cabrera batted .346 with 20 home runs, 55 RBIs and 43 runs scored in 70 games.

The largest analytical differences between Cabrera’s first and second halves included his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, rose from .314 to .366, as well as his weighted on-base average, or wOBA, rose from .368 to .438.

The 33-year-old’s second half of 2016 is a prime example of why he is one of the greatest hitters of this generation.

Veterans

Justin Verlander, Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers

2016 First Half Stats 18 GS 8-6 W-L 4.07 ERA 1.13 WHIP 9.2 K/9 117.1 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 16 GS 8-3 W-L 1.96 ERA 0.86 WHIP 10.9 K/9 110.1 IP
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Justin Verlander’s 2016 campaign was a success due to his incredible second half. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander managed to finish 2016 as the American League Cy Young runner-up even after failing to make the AL All-Star team. How is this possible you ask? Well, it may have something to do with his poor 4.07 ERA in the first half.

His astonishing second half resulted in a 1.96 ERA, .180 BAA and 134 strikeouts in 110.1 innings. The 33-year-old’s success could be attributed to his ability to limit walks and strand runners on base. His strikeout to walk ratio, or K/BB, was an incredible 5.58, while his LOB% was an astronomical 90.6 percent.

Many people argue that Verlander was snubbed of the 2016 AL Cy Young award, and for good reason, as his mind-blowing second half lead to a 16-9 record, 3.04 ERA, .204 BAA and a league leading 1.00 WHIP and 254 strikeouts.

 

 

 

 

Joey Votto, First Baseman, Cincinnati Reds

2016 First Half Stats 84 GS 14 HR 42 RBI 48 R .252/.386/.446 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 71 GS 15 HR 55 RBI 53 R .408/.490/.668 BA/OBP/SLG

Votto managed to continue the lore of being one of the greatest second half hitters of all time, as he slashes .327/.440/.569 on his career after the All-Star break.

His 2016 campaign resulted in a .326 average, 29 home runs and 97 RBIs. In the second half alone, Votto managed to bat .408 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs in 72 games. The major changes in his analytics included his strikeout rate, which decreased from 24.2 percent to 10.2 percent, his BABIP, which rose from .308 to .418 and his wOBA, which rose from .357 to .478.

Votto’s 2016 second half will go down as one of the most dominant in baseball history.

Yadier Molina, Catcher, St. Louis Cardinals

2016 First Half Stats 78 GS 2 HR 28 RBI 30 R .259/.329/.341 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 65 GS 6 HR 30 RBI 26 R .365/.398/.529 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Yadier Molina batted .365 in the second half of his MVP caliber 2016 campaign. (Photo by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the greatest catchers of his era, Molina has been a National League MVP candidate on five separate occasions, while also winning eight Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger award. His 2016 second half helped him re-enter the MVP conversation for the first time since 2013, where he finished third in the NL MVP vote.

His first half in 2016 was quite abysmal, as the 33-year-old batted only .259, which was well below his career batting average of .284. Although in the second half, Molina batted a phenomenal .365.

The major analytical difference between Molina first and second half was his BABIP, as it rose from .291 in the first half to .388 in the second.

Molina has always been a more productive player after the break, but he had never taken his production to levels like this.

 

 

 

Breakout performers

Kyle Hendricks, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

2016 First Half Stats 16 GS 7-6 W-L 2.55 ERA 1.03 WHIP 7.8 K/9 98.2 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 14 GS 9-2 W-L 1.68 ERA 0.92 WHIP 8.3 K/9 91.1 IP

Hendricks finished third in the NL Cy Young vote and 23rd in the NL MVP vote in 2016. The 26-year-old led the league in ERA and ERA+, which exemplifies his utter dominance over the entirety of the season. Although he was great all year, his overall success was majorly due to his impeccable second half.

Hendricks managed to finish the second half with a 9-2 record, 1.68 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. One major analytical difference between halves was his ability to strand runners on base, as his LOB% rose from 74.1 percent in the first half to 90.7 percent in the second.

The interesting thing with the rest of Hendricks’ splits include that his BABIP and hard contact rates both rose from the first half to the second, which would suggest he got luckier in the first half, even though he was more successful in the second.

D.J. LeMahieu, Second Baseman, Colorado Rockies

2016 First Half Stats 78 GS 5 HR 32 RBI 53 R 7 SB .334/.398/.490 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 66 GS 6 HR 34 RBI 53 R 4 SB .363/.437/.500 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

D.J. LeMahieu had a fantastic year in 2016, although he was that much more special in the second half. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

After being snubbed in the NL All-Star vote, LeMahieu had an exorbitant second half that landed him 15th in the NL MVP vote.

His BABIP rose from .379 in the first half to an even better .397 in the second, which kept his batting average well above .300. LeMahieu finished the year with a league leading .348 batting average, although it was his .363 batting average in the second half that blew fans away.

The 27-year-old had almost identical contact rates from one half to the other, although the direction of the contact had changed drastically. His pull percentage decreased from 24 percent to 19 percent, while his opposite field percentage rose from 35 percent to 41 percent. LeMahieu was able to spray the ball across the diamond while sustaining contact rates, which makes his 2016 second half even more impressive.

 

 

Rookies

Trea Turner, Second Baseman/Outfielder, Washington Nationals

2016 First Half Stats 3 GS 0 HR 0 RBI 0 R 0 SB .429/.500/.571 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 67 GS 13 HR 40 RBI 53 R 33 SB .340/.367/.567 BA/OBP/SLG

The 13th overall pick in 2014 exploded onto the scene in the second half of last season. Turner batted .340 with 13 home runs, 53 runs, 40 RBIs and 33 stolen bases in 67 starts, which resulted in a runner-up finish for the NL Rookie of the Year (Corey Seager).

His second-half success can be attributed to his .387 BABIP, which positively impacted Turner as 44 percent of his batted balls went for ground balls. His contact rates were also great, as he made over 80 percent medium and hard contact on all balls batted in play.

Turner showed glimpses of what could be an elite fantasy asset, as he displayed contact, power, production, speed and consistency atop the Washington Nationals’ star-studded lineup.

Jose Peraza, Shortstop/Second Baseman/Outfielder, Cincinnati Reds

2016 First Half Stats 15 GS 0 HR 4 RBI 6 R 9 SB .246/.278/.246 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 41 GS 3 HR 21 RBI 19 R 12 SB .355/.380/.477 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Jose Peraza exploded onto the scene during the second half of 2016. (Photo by WKRC)

Peraza was called up in May of 2016 for his first extended stint in the majors, as he made his major league debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015.

After struggling in his first 15 games last season, he finished the year with a .324 batting average, 25 runs scored, 25 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 56 starts.

The 22-year-old put together an amazing second half, where he batted .355 with 19 runs scored, 21 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 41 starts.

Peraza’s second-half success can be attributed to multiple things, including his .389 BABIP, his ability to make 83 percent medium or hard contact and his ability to spray the ball over 29 percent of the time to each field.

His ability to make solid contact and spray to all fields helped propel him to having one of MLB’s best second halves in 2016.

 

 

 

Featured image by ESPN.com

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Big Three

Which Team has the Big 3 of Baseball?

With all the talk in the NBA about big threes and super teams, I got to wondering if there are any teams like that in baseball. Now, it is a bit different in the MLB as you don’t have as many superstars moving teams to create these unstoppable forces.

Baseball is also much more of a team game. One or two players in the NBA can carry a team far into the playoffs. In baseball, the entire team needs to be carrying their weight because each player doesn’t have the same opportunity to make a big play throughout the game.

On that note, let’s take a look and see who might have the best “big three” in their lineup in the 2017 season. This is referring to what three players contribute the most to their team as a collective.

Houston Astros: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa

Combined WAR: 12.1

Altuve: .347/.417/.551 13 HR 50 RBI | Springer: .310/.380/.613 27 HR 65 RBI | Correa: .325/.402/.577 20 HR 65 RBI

Baseball super teams

Correa might be the best shortstop since Jeter (Bleacher Report)

The Houston Astros are proving to be one of the greatest teams in recent memory largely thanks to the work of the core hitters in their lineup. It seems though that their years with high draft picks are finally starting to pay off.

Houston has the best record in the American League and second-best in the majors behind the Dodgers, and they’re putting in a bid to win their first world series in franchise history.

All three of these young hitters are All-Stars in 2017 and it is well deserved. Correa may be the front-runner for MVP over Trout, seeing that Trout has been on the DL for the past few weeks. Not to mention, Correa is only 22 years old.

It is also hard to recall a middle infield combination that has been so threatening in recent years. The first one that comes to mind is Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano for the Yankees. Seeing how young Altuve and Correa are now, they may end up being more effective of a duo than Jeter and Cano ever were.

Springer is also really starting to come into his own now. Everyone always knew that he had some serious punch in his bat. At the All-Star break, he is already two home runs away from his single-season record. On top of that, he is hitting the ball much more effectively as his slugging percentage is at an all-time high.

Seeing as none of of these three players are going to be unrestricted free agents for another two full seasons, this powerhouse doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Even though the best player in baseball is in the same division, it seems that the Astros will be running the division for the coming years largely because of this hitting core.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy

Combined WAR: 8.4

Harper: .325/.431/.590 20 HR 65 RBI | Zimmerman: .330/.373/.596 19 HR 63 RBI | Murphy: .342/.393/.572 14 HR 64 RBI

Baseball super teams

Harper has continued to live up to his high expectations (Sports Illustrated)

Despite the fact that these three hitters are leading the National League in batting average, I had to think about who belonged in this big three. Anthony Rendon had a pretty good bid into this but it was just too difficult to leave the other three out.

Zimmerman has reignited his career and may be having his best year. He has only batted over .300 in his career once but now he is competing with his teammates for the best in the NL.

Harper has continued his rise to super-stardom and nobody seems to be getting in his way. After a somewhat slow 2016 he has reached new levels in 2017. He is currently on pace to break 100 RBIs for the first time in his career and could also reach 40 home runs for the second time.

Thanks to his teammates also hitting the long ball, it is not as easy to pitch around Harper either. Because of Murphy’s success with the Nationals thus far, it is giving Harper more opportunities do excel.

Daniel Murphy has far exceeded the expectations of the Nationals in his first two years with the club. He has become a power threat which he had never been before. We all know how valuable power-hitting second basemen are too. Murphy is also running for the hitting title for the second year in a row. The bottom line is that there is no break from this Nationals lineup. Every batter will be a battle, but these three especially will drive any pitcher nuts.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto, Zach Cozart, Adam Duvall

Combined WAR: 8.8

Votto: .315/.427/.631 26 HR 68 RBI | Cozart: .316/.394/.547 9 HR 35 RBI | Duvall: .278/.321/.557 20 HR 61 RBI

Baseball super teams

Votto, Duvall,and Cozart have continued to be the only bright spot for the Reds (USA Today)

The Reds have not been great this year. As I mentioned in the introduction, three players cannot carry a team to greatness. The Reds are a perfect example of that.

Votto and Cozart are both All-Stars this year and along with Duvall they have been a bright spot for Cincinnati. However, their abysmal pitching keeps them in last place in perhaps the worst division in baseball. We are not here to talk about poor pitching however.

Votto has continued a spectacular career despite him being on one of the worst teams in baseball in the past few years. He leads a club that currently ranks in the top 10 in hitting in the majors.

What makes Votto so difficult to pitch against is his smarts at the plate. He is not easy to fool, as he currently has 62 walks on the season compared to 42 strikeouts. With players that hit home runs as much as he does, it is more typical to have a higher rate of strikeouts. That is something that you can see with Votto’s teammate, Duvall.

Adam Duvall broke out as a serious power threat last season. However, he is striking out in 25 percent of his at bats and only walking in five percent of them. In order for him to be an even bigger threat, he is going to take after Votto. He has improved as an overall hitter though as he is on pace to have the highest average and OPS of his career.

Cozart may be a valuable trade piece at the deadline. He has still been hitting on all cylinders despite his injury issues. He provides good pop at the top of the lineup and is a good setup man for whoever follows him. Knowing the Reds’ need for young pitching, they may deal him because of his current value. Because of this, the Cincinnati big three may not be in tact much longer.

New York Yankees: Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorious

Combined WAR: 9.3

Judge: .329/.448/.691 30 HR 66 RBI | Sanchez: .276/.360/.491 13 HR 40 RBI | Gregorius: .291/.346.458 10 HR 38 RBI

Baseball super teams

Judge has already passed Dimaggio for most home runs by a Yankees rookie (Sporting News)

Aaron Judge has come onto the scene and is already one of the best hitters in baseball. He largely carries this big three due to his ability to hit the ball out of the park as well as hit for average.

There is no getting around him and his surrounding hitters have made is especially difficult. While the Yankees are fairly banged up at the moment, his supporting cast has been coming through.

Gregorious is not typically known for his bat but rather his glove. He came onto the scene at the plate last season with 20 home runs. This year, he is picking back up where he left off and is nearly a .300 hitter. While he is just an above average hitter on the moment, he is proving to be a key part of the lineup.

Gary Sanchez is proving to be one of the better power-hitting catchers in the league. Despite only playing in 57 games at the midway point in the season, he has 13 home runs. He and Judge are bringing back the Bronx Bombers, and they will be hard to stop for the coming years.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner

Combined WAR: 10.0

Seager: .298/.395/.502 13 HR 45 RBI | Bellinger: .261/.342/.619 25 HR 58 RBI | Turner: .377/.473/.583 10 HR 37 RBI

Baseball super teams

Bellinger is the latest Dodgers rookie to make a splash in the bigs (Sports Illustrated)

These three All-Stars have led the best team in baseball to a 61-win season at the break. They are the best team in the National League while being in perhaps the best division in baseball. Cody Bellinger is a big reason for that with his breakout season at the plate.

Justin Turner won the final vote to get into his first All-Star game. The only reason he probably didn’t get in originally was because of the time he has missed. Once he gets enough at-bats to be eligible for the batting title, he may run with it.

Corey Seager is showing that he deserved to be ranked as one of the best prospects in baseball. After his Rookie of the Year campaign last year, it looks like he wants to pass the torch along to his teammate. With Turner coming onto the scene in Los Angeles at the right time, these young players are showing how the Dodgers can win their first championship in almost 30 years.

The Final Rankings

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Washington Nationals
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Cincinnati Reds

Honorable Mentions:

Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado, Mark Renyolds, Charlie Blackmon: Each of these guys have some serious pop.

Tampa Bay Rays: Corey Dickerson, Evan Longoria, Logan Morrison: Dickerson and Morrison are having big years while Longoria continues his stellar career.

Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber: If this was any other year, they might be at the top of the list.

 

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2016 Cy Young Candidate Struggles

What is wrong with these 2016 Cy Young candidates?

Winning back-to-back Cy Young awards is quite the feat, as it has only been done by seven different players since the year 1956, most notably in 2013 and 2014 by Clayton Kershaw. Repeating as Cy Young is rarely anticipated, although having severe struggles are the last thing expected.

In 2017, we have seen six individuals suffer a hangover from their 2016 Cy Young-caliber seasons. In this piece, I will discuss why the player is struggling and what to expect from them moving forward.

The statistics below are accurate up to July 8, 2017

Rick Porcello

2016 Stats 33 GS 22-4 W-L 3.15 ERA 1.01 WHIP 7.63 K/9 223 IP
2017 Stats 18 GS 4-10 W-L 5.01 ERA 1.48 WHIP 8.25 K/9 111.1 IP
2016 Cy Young Candidate Struggles

(Masslive.com)

The reigning American League Cy Young award winner has regressed back to his normal self.

When looking at his pitches, Porcello has generally thrown his change-up at a 12 percent clip, although in 2017 he is only throwing it nine percent of the time, and for good reason.

According to his pitch values on fangraphs.com, where zero represents the average, Porcello’s 2016 change-up measured in at a 10.0, although so far in 2017, his change-up is valued at -2.2. His struggles with the change-up are possibly connected to his fastball woes as well, as in 2016 his fastball was valued at 13.0, although it is currently valued at -10.3.

His career BABIP sits at .312, although during his two most successful seasons in which he posted a 3.15 and 3.43 ERA, his BABIP sat comfortably below .300. Currently in 2017, his BABIP is an astronomical .346, which does scream for positive regression, although it explains part of his struggles.

His career home run to fly ball rate, or HR/FB, is a respectable 11.4 percent, although in his most successful seasons, he was able to keep it under 9.5.

Clearly, Porcello’s struggles have to do with the fact that he is extremely hittable. You can’t expect too much of a pitcher whose batting average against is almost .300.

Jon Lester

2016 Stats 32 GS 19-5 W-L 2.44 ERA 1.10 WHIP 8.75 K/9 202.2 IP
2017 Stats 18 GS 5-5 W-L 3.94 ERA 1.23 WHIP 9.22 K/9 107.1 IP

The 2016 National League Cy Young runner-up has been a serious disappointment this season.

He currently sports a left on base percentage, or LOB, of 71.6, which is much closer to his career average of 75.2 percent than his 2016 mark of 84.9 percent. Similarly, his current batting average against of .249 is also significantly closer to his career mark of .241, although his batting average against in 2016 was an incredible .209.

He is mixing his pitches in an almost identical fashion as he did in 2014, although his results have been quite the opposite. When looking at his pitch values and velocity, his fastball and curveball have both become negative in value while decreasing significantly in velocity.

It is fair to say that this 2017 Lester, opposed to the 2016 Cy Young-caliber Lester, is what we should expect moving forward.

Justin Verlander

2016 Stats 34 GS 16-9 W-L 3.04 ERA 1.00 WHIP 10.04 K/9 227.2 IP
2017 Stats 17 GS 5-5 W-L 4.96 ERA 1.52 WHIP 8.45 K/9 98 IP
2016 Cy Young Candidate Struggles

(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander’s 2017 season has been a serious anomaly. He has posted an ERA above four only twice in his 12-year career, although he seems to be on track to do so again this season.

The 2016 American League Cy Young runner-up won 16 games while posting a 3.04 ERA and an incredible .204 batting average against. Most people would say he was snubbed in the Cy Young vote, as his ratios far outshined Porcello’s, who won the award majorly because of his 22 wins and only four losses.

So far in 2017, Verlander has severely struggled with pitch location, as his career walk rate is 2.76 per nine innings, although his current walk rate is at a career high 4.39. This has caused his WHIP to rise from 1.00 in 2016 to 1.52 this year.

The 34-year-old’s BABIP of .316 suggests that he is due for some positive regression and his velocity has increased from last season, although his struggles seem control induced, which is not a good sign moving ahead.

Johnny Cueto

2016 Stats 32 GS 18-5 W-L 2.79 ERA 1.09 WHIP 8.11 K/9 219.2 IP
2017 Stats 17 GS 6-7 W-L 4.26 ERA 1.33 WHIP 8.18 K/9 105.2 IP

Cueto’s 2016 campaign reminded us of his 2014 Cy Young runner-up season, where at 28 years old, he finished the season with 20 wins and a 2.25 ERA.

In 2016, Cueto was astounding, recording 18 wins and a 2.79 ERA. Now in 2017, Cueto is having his worst career year since his sophomore season with the Cincinnati Reds in 2009.

The 31-year-old is currently allowing 35.4 percent hard contact, which is about seven percent higher than his career mark, and 13 percent higher than in his 2014 season. He seems to be getting a bit unlucky as well, as his HR/FB is very high at 16.8 percent, which is well off his career average of 10.3 percent.

The most notable change to his pitch values are with his change-up, which has been his best complimentary pitch over his career and measures in at 21.7, although in 2017 alone his change-up is valued at -3.5.

An ineffective change-up, mile-high HR/FB rate and excessive amount of hard contact all seem to be the prime causes of Cueto’s 2017 struggles. A turnaround is definitely possible if he can reign in his change-up and begin to limit hard contact.

Masahiro Tanaka

2016 Stats 31 GS 14-4 W-L 3.07 ERA 1.08 WHIP 7.44 K/9 199.2 IP
2017 Stats 17 GS 7-7 W-L 5.25 ERA 1.36 WHIP 9.03 K/9 97.2 IP
2016 Cy Young Candidate Struggles

(Photo by the Japanese Times)

Tanaka’s 2017 season has been nothing like we’ve ever seen from the Japanese international.

His current walk rate is at 2.40 per nine innings, although he had a walk rate under 1.62 in each of his last three seasons. Also, his BABIP is over .300 for the first time in his major league career, which is a bad sign for a ground ball pitcher like himself.

The major problem for Tanaka seems to be his lack of ability to throw the fastball. His four-seam fastball and cutter both rank in the deep negatives for pitch values. His off-speed pitches remain his bread and butter, although they are much less effective without a successful fastball to work off of.

Without a moderately effective fastball, Tanaka will remain unsuccessful.

Kyle Hendricks

2016 Stats 30 GS 16-8 W-L 2.13 ERA 0.98 WHIP 8.05 K/9 190 IP
2017 Stats 11 GS 4-3 W-L 4.09 ERA 1.20 WHIP 7.44 K/9 61.2 IP

Hendricks is a very interesting pitcher, as he managed to be a Cy Young candidate in 2016 while having on average an 86 mile per hour fastball.

He finished the 2016 season with 16 wins and an incredible 2.13 ERA, although in 2017, his command has decreased significantly. He is walking a full player more per nine innings than in both of his previous years.

The 27-year-old is also allowing 36 percent hard contact, which is over 10 percent higher than he has let up in his last four seasons. He is currently dealing with right middle finger inflammation, although he is scheduled for a rehab start on July 10 at the Double-A level.

It seems as though an injury has led to a lack of command, which is allowing hitters to make much better contact than in years past. If he can get healthy, there is a chance he can get back on track.

 

Featured image by the Chicago Tribune 

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St Louis Cardinals

How the St. Louis Cardinals will win the NL Central

In one of my previous articles, I mentioned that the weeks leading up to the trade deadline will determine the Cardinals’ future. Thus far, they have seemed to turn things around a bit. They have won eight of their last 12 games which includes a couple of tough matchups against the Diamondbacks and Nationals. Because of those two series, they may just have shown what it takes to win an underwhelming division.

In 2006, the Cardinals won the Central with only 83 wins. It looks like someone may win just by nudging over a .500 record this year as well. The year they only won 83 games the Cardinals made a run to win the World Series despite going into the postseason slow. It can be done, so it is important not to discount any of the teams in this division. Here are some ways the Cardinals will make it to the postseason once again.

Move Dexter Fowler to right field

The Cardinals signed Fowler to a hefty five-year, $82.5 million contract this past offseason. While he had a rough go of things in the first month of the season, he began to pick it up before landing on the DL in late June. He has also had one of his best power hitting years so far with 13 homers, while his career-best is 17 in a season. Fowler has performed better than the Cardinals would have hoped so far. Now that he is off the DL, St. Louis should consider moving him to right field.

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Pham has been one of the best hitters on the Cardinals this year (MLB.com)

Why move a guy out of center field that has been playing there for a decade and is having a great year? Well, frankly he has never been that great of a center fielder. Bernie Miklasz of 101.1 ESPN in St. Louis noted that Fowler has always had his fair share of struggles commanding the outfield.

While he has not committed any errors so far his year, he is sitting at -9 defensive runs saved. This means that his fielding has cost the Cardinals nine runs so far. It does not look any better in the past either. In his career he has actually cost his team 64 runs.

It is apparent that he is not doing many favors for the Cardinals in center field, so who could replace the $82 million man? The answer is actually already manning center for the Cardinals in Tommy Pham. It is difficult to keep his bat out of the lineup as it is, so being in the National League, the Cardinals have to find a place for him in the field. He currently has a slash line of .289/.377/.492 which is one of the best on the Cardinals.

Pham also has shown that he can be more productive in center field. He has started 18 games at the position and has a total of six defensive runs saved. Knowing Fowler’s defensive performance in the field over the past decade, it is hard to argue why Fowler should keep his spot in center.

Some people may argue that because of his contract. he should be able to play where he is comfortable. In order for the Cardinals to maximize their chances of winning though, they will need to move Fowler over to right field and keep Pham in center.

Stephen Piscotty has also been having a rough go of things as of late. His hitting numbers are down, and someone is going to have to make room for Fowler. Randal Grichuk has been much better since returning from the minors, however he has still been very streaky. He should be given the chance to display his skills.

The one downside to this move is putting Piscotty aside. However, he will need to show signs of turning around in order to stay in the lineup during this critical time for the Cardinals’ season.

Don’t make any big moves at the trade deadline

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Matheny and Mozeliak have some tough decisions to make to get the Cardinals to the postseason (101 Sports)

The Cardinals are coming pretty close to being a healthy ball club. Kolten Wong will be returning to the field after the All-Star break along with veteran reliever Zach Duke.

St. Louis has a lot of good pieces still on the team from last year, a club that won 86 games. Eighty-six games may be just enough to win the division this year as well. What is important for them to remember, which they have done in the past, is to trust the players in the system and not jeopardize the future.

One glaring hole the team has is in the closing role. Both Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal have the potential to be reliable closers. However, Rosenthal has been wild recently and Oh fails to remain reliable.

If the Cardinals do anything, it should be to find a decent reliever that they can get on the cheap. It does not have to be any eye-popping names, but it needs to be someone who is consistent. If all else fails, the Cardinals could potentially give Brett Cecil a couple of opportunities to prove himself in the closing role as he has picked it up from his slow start this season.

Some small changes made by the Cardinals can fix problems they have been facing. John Mozeliak evaluated the talent in his system well.

However, many of their issues come from the lack of ability to execute simple plays on the field. The Cardinals are among the worst in fielding in the league, and make silly outs on the basepaths that can end up costing them games. The answers to some of these problems are within the organization and decent coaching should be able to remedy some of these issues.

remove Adam wainwright from the rotation

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Wainwright has had one of the most difficult years of his career (MLB.com)

It is one of the hardest things to watch in baseball, but it happens often. Adam Wainwright used to be one of the premier starting pitchers in the major leagues. Despite finishing in the top three of the Cy Young voting four times, the prestigious award eluded him.

Wainwright has severely regressed over the last two years. Last season, he finished with a 4.62 ERA which was the highest of his career. This year he has not shown many signs of improvement.

Wainwright currently has a 5.48 ERA this year and he is not showing signs of getting better. He had an excellent month of May in which he looked like his old self with a 3-0 record and 2.64 ERA.

Since then, he has given up 30 runs in 34 innings. His nine wins can be credited to his large run support this season, getting 6.1 runs a game which ranks 10th in all of baseball.

It isn’t easy to watch some of the league’s best players regress, especially when it is such an important leader and personality in the clubhouse. However, Mike Matheny and the Cardinals have to keep in mind what is best for the team. It is obvious that Wainwright is not getting the job done at the level he needs to.

Matheny is a player’s manager though and has a rough time making these kinds of decisions when he needs to. What would be best is to potentially move Wainwright to the bullpen and then move young prospect Luke Weaver to the rotation.

It may be a different story if one of the league’s best prospects, Alex Reyes, was not hurt. Because he is most likely out for the season, the Cardinals are faced with the dilemma of having to replace their most notable pitcher of the past decade with one of their new arms.

Final thoughts

The theme of the NL Central this year has been underperforming. Many of the clubs in the division have players that are better than they have been playing. Even the Reds have one of the more daunting offenses in the league, yet they are in last place in the division.

Theo Epstein and the Cubs have come out and said that the answer to their problems are in house. This may be true with all the teams in the division. The Brewers are starting to roll and may be a tough team to catch. They stuck with their guns though and it has been paying off.

The NL Central has the potential to be a much more powerful division with its given pieces. It has just yet to show up this late in the season.

St. Louis has begun to show signs of life this summer. Their rotation is still proving to be one of their strengths, led by All-Star Carlos Martinez. Michael Wacha has also started to get back on track which means a lot for the team.

If Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak can find the right formula of where each of their pieces fits into the lineup, they can compete and make it a fun race for October.

 

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The Lackluster National League Central

Just a short two years ago the National League Central was the cream of the crop in baseball.  The Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs all finished with 97 or more wins.  This gave them the top three records in baseball, which had never been done before.  The only other division to have three teams with more than 95 wins was the 1977 AL East.  So it would be easy to say the 2015 National League Central may be the best division in baseball history.

Two years can make a big difference in sports, which is evident in this division alone.  As of June 26th the Brewers sit in first place at an underwhelming 41-37.  Even the defending World Champion Cubs are a mediocre one game above .500.  On top of that, the Cardinals who always seem to be at the top of the league are struggling with a 34-40 record.

What could have possibly led to this steep decline?  Well when it comes down to it, the key players in the Central just aren’t performing up to expectations.  Other than Joey Votto and Zach Cozart, not a single qualifying hitter has above a .300 batting average in the division.  This is surprising considering the talent in the Central such as Kris Bryant, Andrew McCutchen and Matt Carpenter.

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

Chicago Cubs

Kyle Schwarber, one of the heroes for the Cubs last October, got sent down to Triple-A Iowa on Thursday.  He is supposed to be part of the core for the Cubs but he was not pulling his weight with his splits showing .171/.295/.378.  He is in a sense the poster boy for the failure of many players in the division this year.  If things don’t start to turn around soon, jobs will be on the line.

The Cubs are 14th in the National League in hitting at the moment, but that will turn around.  Jason Heyward is currently on the DL, but he showed signs of improvement from last year at the plate and is doing a decent job of filling the hole in outfield production left by Fowler.

Once the trade deadline comes, Theo and company could be going after Sonny Gray or Ervin Santana to bolster their struggling rotation.  At that point they could go steam-rolling like they were just one year ago.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are at a critical spot for their organization.  The next four weeks will determine what will happen in the coming years for them.  Whether that be sell some of their key players, or maybe even decide to push Mike Matheny out the door.  The bottom line is that John Mozeliak may have over-valued some of his pieces and put stock in the wrong players for the future.

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

 

Over the course of the year the Cardinals have been streaky. It is a common struggle for a lot of teams when they can’t get their pitching and hitting to go on hot streaks at the same time, but it has been a glaring issue for them this year.  At this point, Carlos Martinez is the only starter that can be relied on and the middle of their lineup has been missing that spark to get them going.

The National League West has already pretty much determined the wild card race.  So the only thing giving the Cardinals hope is how lackluster the division has been.  If they don’t string together some wins in the coming weeks then we will possibly start to see some pieces moving elsewhere and the Cardinals will be planning for the coming years.

Milwaukee Brewers

There have been several instances where it appeared that the Cubs would take over the Brewers.  However, that day has yet to come.  Eric Thames has been a great surprise for Milwaukee thus far–powering the club with 20 home runs. Travis Shaw is also proving himself to be a legitimate threat in the lineup.  They don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, however, the question for Milwaukee is whether or not their pitching is going to hold up.

So far the Milwaukee has been serviceable but nothing special.  They do not have a bonafide ace but have been relying on Chase Anderson who has been pulling the rotation so far this season.  If he is able to keep this pace along with Jimmy Nelson then the Brewers may have a chance to hang in there come the race for October.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have the best hitter in the division in Joey Votto.  On top of that, Scott Schebler and Zach Cozart have been pushing the offense to be perhaps the best in the division.  The problem has been their lack of pitching.  They are just now getting some of their top pitchers back in Homer Bailey and Brandon Finnegan.  However, their 30th ranked pitching also doesn’t bode well despite their return.  So look to see the Reds possibly moving some pieces at the deadline.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh has been getting back into the mix of things thanks to the improvement of Andrew McCutchen.  Despite the rough start, he has comeback with a line of .380/.462/.671 in the month of June.  The suspension of Starling Marte has not helped however, as they have sorely missed his bat in the lineup.  The Pirates have showed some signs of life but they will also need some help from their pitching staff.  Their -33 run differential will not translate to any improvements.

Taking two of three games in St. Louis this past weekend could possibly give the Pirates a spark they needed.  Marte is also nearing the end of his suspension.  His bat being back in the lineup could also give them a boost in morale and keep them tight with the Brewers and Cubs.

What to look for in the coming months?

It is hard to see the Cubs not making any big moves at the deadline as they still have a lot of their pieces from their championship team.  So look for them to be aggressive.  Schwarber’s demotion should also serve as a notice to the rest of the team that they are under-performing.  It is doubtful to see the Cubs trailing the Brewers for much longer with all the talent they have.  If the Cubs do not start pulling away soon though, then the division is up for grabs for any of these teams.

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The best position group in the MLB

The sport of baseball is unlike any other in that you can compare all position players’ offensive stats equally. Each position group in football does a different task. You can’t compare a guard to a center in basketball because their jobs are different.

Using the same stats for any sport other than baseball doesn’t paint an accurate picture when comparing two players.

That in mind, we can interpret baseball players’ performance better than any other sport. You can compare a short stop’s average to a second baseman’s equally, and you can compare a third baseman’s home run tally to a first baseman’s without fault as well.

So, I took the liberty of tallying up all qualifying players’ averages, home runs and RBIs at each position in order to find which position produces the most at the plate. Believe it or not, one position dominated, leading in all three categories.

The best position group in the MLB

Led by league-leading hitter Ryan Zimmerman (.368), the first baseman position leads the MLB in not only the power numbers, but also average. Among qualified players, the position group leads the MLB in average, hitting at a clip of .268.

Best position group MLB

Joey Votto’s precise eye at the plate helps the position thrive. (Photo: Sports Illustrated)

Five players are hitting above .300 for the position, but what’s special is that there’s only one player hitting below .200 (Mike Napoli at .197). Everyone else at the position hits .220 or better. No other position does that.

In terms of power, everyone knows that first basemen generally smack more dingers than any other position, but the margin is what’s insane. With 248 home runs, first basemen crush the competition. The next best position is right field, as 209 home runs have been clubbed by right fielders this season.

First basemen have driven in 749 runs, which again is first among all positions. Yet again, right fielders knock in the second-most runs, while still being well behind first basemen with 665 RBIs.

What’s more, according to The Game Haus columnist Avery Seltzer, 12 of the top 50 players in the MLB are first basemen. According to TOVAR (total offensive value above replacement) which takes into account nine offensive stats (R, XBH, SB, HR, RBI, BA, BB, TB and OPS), four of the top ten players in the MLB are first basemen (Goldschmidt, Zimmerman, Freeman and Votto).

With names like the aforementioned Zimmerman, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and a resurgent year from Mark Reynolds, the first baseman position is in as good of shape as ever.

Right Field Sweeps Second PLace

Best position group MLB

Aaron Judge’s incredible rookie campaign helps surge the right field position to second. (Photo: Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

With players like Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper, many wonder how the right field position isn’t in first. Because the position is top-heavy, many of the bottom-performing players drag the position down.

Of the players with the top 11 most at bats among the position, only one is hitting above .300, while seven are hitting below .270. This causes the entire potion’s composite average to be brought down enough points to trail first base.

Even if you were to break this down to home runs per qualifying player, right field trails first base by 2.02 home runs. First basemen average 10.72 home runs per player, while right fielders average 8.70.

In terms of blunt star power, right field isn’t getting the production it usually gets. Carlos Gonzalez is hitting just .237 this season and has just four home runs. Yasiel Puig is still yet to find a stroke from his rookie campaign, hitting .229. Andrew McCutchen’s fall from the grace of the baseball gods has been well documented, and he’s the third-worst right fielder in terms of average this season.

Barring Anthony Rizzo, the first baseman position is seeing all of its stars produce in the top ten of qualifying players which helps carry the position.

So, who’s the worst?

After documenting the top two positions, it just feels right to tell which position is the worst in offensive production. It would be obvious to point out the catcher position, but only eight players qualify right now, so we’ll spare them.

In terms of average, third basemen are by far the worst hitters, batting at a clip of .251. However, the position known traditionally for producing power has done that, as it has produced 195 home runs, and could overtake right field for the No. 2 spot as the season grinds on.

Second basemen and short stops are never known for power, and rightfully so. They are neck-and-neck at the celler of the home run standings, as second basemen have produced 116 home runs compared to short stop’s 117 long balls.

In terms of total star power, short stop should definitely be thrown into the conversation with how well the top players have played this season, especially in the A.L. However, the lack of consistency within the position really hurts it.

Although many people may believe first basemen are around the top of offensive production every season, the position is dominating every other position this season.

 

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Fantasy Baseball

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (May 21st – May 27th)

With two months of the season in the books, it is time to continue our weekly fantasy baseball update. We will continue to notify fantasy owners about eight players who are either hot, or cold, and whether they will continue to trend in that direction. Previous weekly fantasy baseball updates can be found at thegamehaus.com.

Who’s Hot

Anthony Rendon, Third Baseman, Washington Nationals

Last seven: .476 BA, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 1 SB

Rendon flew under the radar to begin the season since third base is arguably the deepest position in fantasy baseball. So far this season, he has shown flashes of greatness with two multi-homer games, including a record-setting three-homer performance in late April.

The 26-year-old is a former first-round pick by the Nationals, and officially broke out in 2014. In his sophomore season, he batted .287 with 21 home runs, 111 runs, 83 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. Rendon clearly has the ability to be a high-end fantasy producer.

However, after battling injuries in 2015, his stock dropped significantly. He rebounded with a respectable 2016 campaign and so far has exceeded expectations this year.

He is currently batting .286 with nine home runs, 24 runs, 32 RBIs and three stolen bases. Also, Rendon’s ISO has risen significantly, which would help propel high into the next tier of elite third basemen. He is currently on pace for over 30 home runs and 100 RBI.

 

Dallas Keuchel, Starting Pitcher, Houston Astros

Fantasy Baseball

Dallas Keuchel is a clear Cy Young candidate in 2017. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

Last three: 3-0 W-L, 1.59 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 17 IP, 21/3 K/BB

Keuchel’s success in 2017 has been immaculate. He has shown that when healthy, he is a true Cy Young caliber pitcher. He recently missed one start due to a pinched nerve in his neck, although it clearly hasn’t slowed him down whatsoever. He is currently 8-0 with a 1.81 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 8.01 K/9.

The 29-year-old has an incredible xFIP of 2.75, which shows that he is finding success without his defense or other factors of randomness. His BABIP of .223 is bound to rise, especially because he is a ground-ball pitcher. However, this shouldn’t affect him too severely. At this pace, Keuchel looks to be pitching his way to a second career Cy Young award.

 

Devon Travis, Second Baseman, Toronto Blue Jays

Last seven: .419, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB

Travis underwent knee surgery this offseason, which clearly contributed to his extremely slow start this season. He is currently batting .252, although over the last 30 days he is batting .344.

The 26-year-old was on many fantasy owners’ radars entering this season, as he had batted .300 with 11 home runs, 54 runs and 50 RBIs in only 432 plate appearances last year. His career BABIP is an outstanding .340, but his current BABIP is only .286, suggesting some progression is in store. Travis will certainly be a top 20 second baseman, and possibly top 15 at the end of the year.

 

Robbie Ray, Starting Pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks

Fantasy Baseball

Robbie Ray is an official strikeout machine. (Photo by The Edwardsville Intelligencer)

Last three: 2-0 W-L, 1.93 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 18 2/3 IP, 17/6 K/BB

Ray exploded onto the scene last year after striking out 218 batters in 174.1 innings. So far this year he is 4-3 with a 3.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 11.10 K/9. His current BABIP of .271 is sure to rise. However,  because he is generally a strikeout pitcher, it shouldn’t hurt his WHIP too much.

The 25-year-old has and will continue to be a great source of strikeouts for the foreseeable future, although he has been far from elite. His control issues will hold him back from being considered a top 20 fantasy starter this season for sure.

Who’s Cold

Eric Thames, First Baseman/Outfielder, Milwaukee Brewers

Last seven: .087 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 SB

Former KBO star Eric Thames has been a major story this season. He is coming off of three consecutive 37-plus home run and 120 RBI campaigns, and has shown flashes of similar greatness at the MLB level.

The 30-year-old currently has 13 home runs, 26 RBIs and 39 runs scored while batting .278. Over the last 15 days, Thames is batting just .103, with zero home runs, one RBI and six runs scored. Ups and downs must be expected as pitchers are bound to adjust to his approach.

Thames’ plate discipline and isolated power make him a great source for home runs, RBIs and runs, but his 23 percent strikeout rate will prevent him from entering the elite first baseman conversation along with Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt.

 

Julio Urias, Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

Fantasy Baseball

Julio Urias will be apart of the Dodgers rotation for the remainder of the season. (Photo by NBC Sports)

Last three: 0-2 W-L, 9.24 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 12 2/3 IP, 6/6 K/BB

Urias, formerly the Dodgers top pitching prospect, has now made 20 starts in his major-league career. This year he is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and 4.24 K/9. So far, he has struggled to locate the ball, strike batters out and make it deep into a ball game.

The Dodgers have said they are committed to the 20-year-old staying in the majors, although his current struggles are quite alarming. His xFIP is an atrocious 5.68 and his BABIP is under .300. I would not feel comfortable starting Urias in any formats for the time being.

 

 

Manuel Margot, Outfielder, San Diego Padres

Last seven: .160 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB

Margot had arguably been the favorite to win National League Rookie of the Year this season before entering his current slump. His stat line this year consists of a .259 batting average, four home runs, 16 runs scored, 13 RBIs and five steals.

Rookie woes are typical and should be expected, so do not give up on the 22-year-old just yet. He was recently placed on the 10-day disabled list due to a strained soleus muscl, and is without a time table for return. However, his skill level makes him too talented to drop in the majority of formats. Margot will have solid fantasy value once he returns, and should not be abandoned.

 

Amir Garrett, Starting Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds

Fantasy Baseball

Amir Garrett has succumb to some serious struggles at the major-league level. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images).

Last three: 1-1 W-L, 9.00 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 15 IP, 9/9 K/BB

Garrett began the season with three electric performances. Since then, he has struggled with control and health issues.

He was recently placed on the 10-day disabled list with right hip inflammation. He is expected to make his next start on June 4 against the Atlanta Braves, although I would recommend benching him since he has allowed 13 earned runs in his last nine innings pitched.

The 25-year-old clearly has talent, but his current .232 BABIP suggests that he getting fairly lucky even with his current struggles. His 4.75 xFip would also be considered extremely poor, which shows that bad luck and defense are not the reasons for his poor performances. Garrett was a prime sell high candidate, although now on the DL, you will have to simply ride out the storm and hope for the best.

 

Featured Image by Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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MLB Trade Deadline Targets

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

SS Zack Cozart – Cincinnati Reds

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

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

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

1B Justin Smoak – Toronto Blue Jays

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

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

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

SP Gerrit Cole – Pittsburgh Pirates

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

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

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

SP Andrew Triggs – Oakland Athletics

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

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

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

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

Feature image by Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo.

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Reviewing the National League so Far

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

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

NL East

National League Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NL Central

National League Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NL West

National League Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Tools of the Trade: Top Five in Hitting

Major League Baseball is one of the most heavily scouted games in sports. Whether it be at the high school, college or the major league level, players are always under a microscope. But what do scouts use to grade these players? They are evaluated based on the five basic tools of baseball; hitting, power, speed and base running, fielding and arm strength. In this first installment of our Tools of the Trade series, we will be analyzing the top five players at each tool.

Using the last five seasons for analysis, players will be evaluated and ranked. Sticking with the traditional 20-80 scales, players have been assigned a grade and then ranked accordingly. When a tie grade is encountered, number of games played, total hits within the five year span, and batting average will be used as a tie breaker.

Hitting Tool

Joey Votto has done nothing but rake since his first day in Cincinnati (David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports).

5. 1B Joey Votto- Cincinnati Reds

Hit Tool: 75

Joey Votto has been a mainstay in Cincinnati since his call up in 2007. He wasn’t considered the top player in his draft, going in the second round to Cincinnati, but he hasn’t let that slow him down. Votto has long been known for his ability to get on base, evident by his astounding career .425 OBP. But it’s his ability to put the ball on the bat that earns him the fifth spot in these rankings.

From 2012-2016, Votto put up a .312 batting average. He also amassed 711 hits across those five seasons. Votto’s ability to put the ball in play is bolstered by is impeccable batting eye. By being able to pick and choose the perfect pitch to hit, Votto has become a premium hitter for Cincinnati. But his recent injury history hurts him in these rankings, as he has been limited to 130 games per season in the last five years. Even so, Votto is one of the top hitters in all of baseball.

4. 3B Adrian Beltre- Texas Rangers

Hit Tool: 75

Entering his age 38 season, many believed Adrian Beltre would have been on the decline long ago. But he seems to just get better with age. He was signed as an international free agent by the Dodgers and made his MLB debut way back in 1998. And ever since he has done nothing but hit. But even with a solid career .286 batting average, Beltre has somehow stepped up his game in the past five seasons.

With a .310 batting average from 2012-2016, Beltre has bested his career average by almost 30 points. And to make it even more impressive, Beltre has done all of that at 33 years old and over. He has also been a mainstay in the Rangers lineup, playing an average of 152 games per season over the previous five campaigns. In that time he has accumulated 909 hits, averaging almost 200 hits per season. Even at age 38, Beltre still possesses an elite hit tool, good enough to place him among the games best.

3. CF Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels

Hitting Tool

Mike Trout has been locked in for years (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Hit Tool: 75

Mike Trout is one of the few true “five tool” players in the game, so don’t be surprised to see his name in our other installments of the Tools of the Trade series. Even as a first round pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, Trout is considered one of the greatest steals in draft history. After being selected 25th overall, Trout tore through the Angels minor league system to make his MLB debut at 19 years old. And ever since, all Trout has done is rake.

When looking at Trout’s stats from the past five seasons, they put him among some of the best pure hitters in the game. He boasts a .310 batting average from 2012-2016. Trout also has 890 hits to his credit, far surpassing Votto in that regard. And while Votto does boast a better batting average, Trout has been more reliable. Trout has averaged 154 games per season in the past five years. While Votto does have Trout beat in average, it’s not enough to make up for his lack of playing time. Trout is a mainstay in the Angels lineup that will be a top hitter in the game for years to come.

2. 2B Jose Altuve- Houston Astros

Hit Tool: 75

Jose Altuve is one of the most diminutive players in the majors. Listed at a generous five feet six inches tall, one would believe that Altuve would have no place in major league baseball. But just like some scouts, Altuve has proven them wrong as well. After debuting for the Astros in 2011, he quickly became the team’s building block. And Altuve has done some building of his own, elevating himself to elite status.

With a .314 batting average from 2012-2016 and two AL Batting Titles thrown in for good measure, Altuve has been an elite hitter for an up and coming Astros organization. During that time he has clubbed 985 hits, by far the most for players in contention for this list. He has also played in about 154 games a season since 2012, providing a reliable spark to the Astros lineup. And at only 26 years old, look for Altuve to add to his already impressive trophy case.

Hit Tool

Expect to see a ton of this from Miguel Cabrera this season (Duane Burleson/Getty Images North America).

1. 1B Miguel Cabrera- Detroit Tigers

Hit Tool: 80

Miguel Cabrera is one of the best pure hitters of his generation. After being acquired by the Tigers in a steal of a trade from the Florida Marlins, Cabrera has been terrorizing opposing pitchers. The two time AL MVP has won seven Silver Slugger awards in his career, and put up a .321 career batting average. His career average would be good enough for tops on this list, but of course, Cabrera has done even better than that in his past five seasons.

From 2012-2016, Cabrera has punished pitchers to a .328 batting average. That is insane production, and easily paces the majors in average over the past five seasons. He has also amassed 922 hits, driving the ball to all fields. While he has average 149 games per season over the past five years, that’s the second lowest amount of games on this list. Even so, that type of insane production can not go unrewarded, making Miguel Cabrera the best pure hitter in all of baseball.

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