Arizona Fall League season awards

Arizona Fall League season awards

The Peoria Javelinas claimed the Arizona Fall League title on Nov. 18. Powered by league MVP and Braves top prospect, Ronald Acuna, Peoria dispatched the Mesa Solar Sox 8-2 in the season finale. For the Javelinas, this marks their sixth AFL title since the league was founded in 1992. But while the AFL recognizes a league MVP, there are no Cy Young award equivalents for the league’s best pitcher. If there were such an award, it would have most likely been a clean sweep for the Braves in the Arizona Fall League season awards in 2017.

League MVP, CF Ronald Acuna

AFL Season slash line: .325/.414/.639/1.053

Arizona Fall League season awards

Seattle prospect Eric Filia won the AFL batting title, but lost out to Ronald Acuna in the MVP race. (Photo: Baseball America)

Much has been written about the season that Ronald Acuna posted in 2017. At 19 years of age, soon to be 20 in December, Acuna has risen through the Braves system this year like a man on fire. Starting the season in Advanced-A with the Florida Fire Frogs, Acuna would reach the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate, the Gwinnett Braves, by season’s end. What’s more, his numbers got better at each level he played at this year.

The young Venezuelan native played at three levels this year, four if you include his inclusion in the AFL. And, quite frankly, it is reasonable to consider the AFL “another level” on the prospect ladder, to be fair. It is, after all, the proving ground for elite talent in MLB’s prospect pipeline. And Acuna wasn’t just good he was dominant in Arizona this fall, leading Peoria to the AFL championship.

Though Acuna didn’t lead the league in batting, on-base percentage, slugging, or even OPS for that matter, he was the league’s best player when you look at the sum of the whole. This young center fielder finished second in OPS, 12th in batting, second in slugging and sixth in on-base percentage, respectively.

This future star was a league leader though, make no mistake about it. Acuna led the AFL in home runs with seven, and total bases with 53. On top of that, he drove in 16 runs, good enough for fifth in the AFL in 2017.

There is no way this kid doesn’t break camp with the big club next spring. Acuna has absolutely nothing left to prove in the minors. He’s ready for his call to the big leagues right now.

AFL Cy Young, LHP Max Fried

AFL Season pitching line: (3-1) 1.73 ERA, 26 IP, 32 K’s, 0.88 WHIP

The AFL’s “Cy Young” award, if one were given out, would’ve been a trickier call than league MVP. Four pitchers could’ve easily walked away with this award. In no certain order, the New York Yankees’ Cody Carroll, Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller, Philadelphia’s J.D. Hammer and Atlanta’s Max Fried all pitched well enough to be considered the best pitcher in Arizona this fall.

Arizona Fall League season awards

Max Fried was the best pitcher in the AFL in 2017. (Photo courtesy of: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

At the end of the day, however, only one can player can take top honors. And this year, Atlanta’s Max Fried would have to be the guy to get the nod. Over his six starts for eventual AFL champions, Peoria, Fried was as dominant as they come. The Braves’ young southpaw was second among all starting pitchers in WHIP (0.88), only bested Yankee’s prospect Justus Sheffield (0.84).

Fried was also the AFL’s strikeout champion for 2017 as well. He finished with 32 strikeouts in his 26 innings of work, good enough for an outstanding ratio of 11 K’s per nine innings. Making Fried’s case even better, he also showed good control walking only 2.77 batters per nine innings. Even though Fried wasn’t as efficient as Mitch Keller in this category (1.9 BB/per 9), he outpaced Keller’s (4.9 K/per 9).

In the cases of Hammer and Carroll, however, both pitchers were closers. This isn’t to slight these two future big leaguers, but generally it’s a rarity that a reliever will win an award for league’s best pitcher. It’s happened only nine times at baseball’s top level, with the last occurrence being Eric Gagne’s 2003 Cy Young season. While Hammer and Carroll both had outstanding seasons in Arizona, the volume of work by Fried must be the deciding factor here.

Based on his body of work, Fried is the AFL’s best pitcher of 2017.

Atlanta’s prospects ready to contribute

Both Fried and Acuna progressed along the prospect ladder in leaps this year. The Braves have moved these young men up the ladder quickly, and they have responded by showing a maturity beyond their years. There is little doubt that both players will more than likely be on the opening day roster come 2018.

It is worth noting that Fried has already made the jump to MLB in 2017. His performance in the AFL this year should solidify his place in next year’s Braves rotation. Especially when you look at his performance in his limited exposure at the major league level. While it is a very small sample, it is apparent that the lights aren’t too bright for this future staff ace.

Moving onto Acuna, now, here’s a player that has absolutely no need to take another swing in the minor leagues. The Braves’ top prospect, and fifth ranked prospect in all of MLB, has shown he’s ready for the call. When the Braves break camp next spring, Acuna should be the man roaming center field in Atlanta every day.

This young man, at 20 years old, will most likely become the youngest player in the majors in 2018 and it’s exciting to speculate how he will handle the jump to MLB. If 2017 is anything to go by, we might be talking about the NL Rookie of the Year here. He will almost certainly be a training camp favorite for the award, no doubt about it.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: sportsnewsinstant.com)

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avoiding elimination game drama

Avoiding elimination game drama in Game 5

The Houston Astros came from behind in Boston on Monday, becoming the first team to make their way in to a league championship series. They produced some late inning heroics and walked out of Fenway Park 5-4 winners. Avoiding elimination game drama in the division series is one of the most important tasks of any World Series hopeful.

The Los Angeles Dodgers also join the Houston in moving on to the next round of games, sweeping Zack Greinke and Arizona right out of the playoffs. They now await the winner of Chicago versus Washington in the NLCS.

Why it Matters

Elimination games are the proverbial pressure cooker in MLB. There is perhaps nothing that can reduce hardened veterans to looking like a rookie quite like an elimination game. Getting the wins early on in the series is the name of the game.

In all division series that have ever been played, you might think having that deciding game at home would be a big feather in your team’s hat. Surprisingly that’s not the case.

avoiding elimination game drama

Luis Severino celebrates a huge out against the Cleveland Indians in Game 4. (Photo courtesy of: Adam Hunger, USA TODAY Sports)

In the American league, there have been 17 divisional series elimination games since New York defeated Milwaukee in 1981 at Yankee Stadium. Since that inaugural Game 5, the home team has won nine, whilst the visitors have won eight. It’s a true pick ‘em type of proposition. Nothing could be more disastrous to a 102-win Indians team like losing a pivotal Game Five at home.

This is exactly the position Cleveland now find themselves in after last night’s 7-3 Game Four loss. The season, for both clubs, now rides on a fateful Game 5 showdown on Wednesday night at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

In the National League, the odds are far worse for the home club. There have been 13 Game 5’s in the history of the NL and, get this, the home team has a paltry four wins to the road crew’s nine collective Game 5 triumphs.

When you roll them all together, that’s a cumulative record of 13-17 for the home team in division series elimination games. The games have been played a litter tighter in the AL than in the NL, but those are odds that I’m not at all interested in tempting if it’s my team gunning for the league title.

The Astros

It would be fair to say this year’s incarnation of the Houston Astros has been brilliant. They pitch, they hit, they hit and they hit. They do a lot of hitting, that would be the main take away here.

Houston has the best team offense in MLB  powered by three-time American League batting champion Jose Altuve. The little spark plug had another momentous year taking home the batting title during the regular season. Altuve however, has saved perhaps his best for last in 2017.

avoiding elimination game drama

Jose Altuve goes deep in ALDS action. (Photo courtesy of: Shanna Lockwood, USA TODAY Sports)

The slight statured Altuve stands 5-foot-6, but he might have the sweetest stroke in the game this side of Tony Gwynn. The work he’s doing this postseason is shaping up to be legendary. If Altuve continues to hit at the torrid pace he’s thus far established, his could be one of the best performances of all-time in postseason play.

Like, Lloyd McClendon in 1992 good. For the Pirates that year, McClendon set the record for postseason batting average. He hit .727 in 16 plate appearances over five games. Of course, with the difference in the amount of games the playoffs entail post-1994, McClendon’s record is probably safe for all times.

Red Sox pitching finally solved Altuve in Game Four at Fenway Park. As a result, his average plummeted to a “meager” .533.  However, the sweet-swinging righty did manage to push across the game’s first run. Albeit he did so by grounding into a double play. Altuve won’t get credit in the box score for an RBI, but that run is no less important in the bigger picture.

Houston has come from off the deck not once, but twice. They’ve showed real resolve for a team with World Series aspirations. The Astros are for real.

The Dodgers

What can be said about the Dodgers that hasn’t already been said?

Los Angeles is certainly looking like the team that finished 2017 with the game’s best record. The Dodgers won 104 games during the regular season and has just kept on winning. And they are fresh off the only sweep in division series play this postseason, taking down Arizona 3-1 last night.

avoiding elimination game drama

Cody Bellinger had a huge Game 3, hitting a his first postseason homer and making this spectacular catch. (Photo courtesy of: fanragsports.com)

The best part of L.A. getting the sweep last night, is they get the extra rest for the pitching staff leading in to the NLCS. This could be the biggest advantage the Dodgers have. With the way Yu Darvish was throwing last night, the Dodgers are going to be a tough out this year. He looked strong.

Also, Count on perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw being ready to rock and roll come Game 1 of the NLCS. Take that to the bank. He’s easily been the most dominant pitcher of the last decade. Kershaw just needs some postseason glory to fully cement his status as living legend. Apparently his evil sorcery on the mound isn’t already enough.

Right now it appears the pitching for L.A. is getting stronger. Sure-fire Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger is finding his playoff power stroke. And the rest of the lineup just continues to hit. There really is no question that the Dodgers are starting to play excellent baseball at the right time.

Dodgers fans are hoping for better tidings this year in the NLCS. This will mark the fifth appearance in the league championship series for Los Angeles since 2008. Is this the year L.A. takes it home?

The Rest of the Field

The Cubs lead their division series with Washington, two games to one after taking another closely pitched game 2-1. With 2016 playoffs hero Jake Arrieta taking the hill, Chicago has a chance to slam the door on this series at home. Washington and Chicago square off later today (5:30 EST) at Wrigley Field.

avoiding elimination game drama

Anthony Rizzo is the difference maker as he bloops a vital RBI single for Chicago in the eighth inning of an epic Game 4 showdown. (Photo courtesy of: AP/David Banks)

The division series between Washington and Chicago stands out because of the pitching. While the rest of the league should be considering protective netting around the outfield bleachers, pitchers in this series have been throwing well. The craziest game in the series has been the 6-3 Nationals win in Game 2. Whoa guys, slow down!

Don’t count Washington out yet though! This team has more than enough life in that pitching staff to put the clamps on any offense. The Cubs will be looking to seal the series tonight and stave off a dreaded Game 5. Washington on the other hand, will be looking to force a Game 5 meet-up in Washington D.C. for Thursday.

The Indians meanwhile, are now in a situation where the series comes back to Cleveland for Game 5. The silver lining for Indians fans is that staff ace Corey Kluber is bringing it back on the mound. Kluber will be looking for the win, but it remains to be seen whether that alone will be enough. It’s why they play the games.

There is no discernible trend of good outcomes for hosting an elimination game in the divisional round. In these types of sudden death meetings, home field advantage counts for very little.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Stan Grossfeld/Boston Globe)

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World Series baseball fans need

The World Series baseball fans need

The Houston Astros are off to a blistering start taking the opening two-game leg of their Division Series with Boston, winning both games in lopsided fashion 8-2. The Washington Nationals however, find themselves on the ropes early against the Cubs. Of the teams left in this year’s postseason, only Washington and Houston have never brought home a World Series title. This is the World Series baseball fans need.

Why not the Indians

The Indians are a popular pick this year to take home the hardware. After last night’s 13th inning emotional 9-8 win in which the Indians surged back from six runs down, it’s hard to argue they won’t win it all. At least for the moment, they look unbreakable.

world series

Tris Speaker hit 792 career two-baggers, still the most in MLB history. (Photo courtesy of: Charles Conlon / National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

While it is true the Indians have a longer drought of championship seasons than both Houston and Washington,the fans in Cleveland still have Bob Feller and the 1948 series. They still have the glory of 1920 when player/manager Tris Speaker, all-time doubles champ, guided the Indians to the title. Behind Speaker’s steady hand, the Indians beat Brooklyn five games to two in a best of nine series.

Cleveland experienced the bitter taste of Game 7 defeat in last year’s World Series against Chicago. What’s more is that it happened on home soil. Ouch. The Indians came oh so close coming off the deck from three runs down and pushing the game into extra’s. It turned out only a tease however, as the Cleveland faithful watched Chicago exorcise that billy-goat voodoo that had kept them down for so long.

The novelty of an Indians World Series resonates with many, but this year we have real chance at seeing something none of us has ever seen. A World Series title in a city that’s never had one. Cleveland has had three shots at the title since 1995, let’s see someone else give it a go.

Why not the Yankees

No.

Futility in Washington… or is it Montreal?

Not wanting to put the horse before the carriage, there is still a long road to travel for both Washington and Houston. Reaching that promised land of World Series glory takes a focus and commitment that few realize. On top of that, it can take an incredibly long time to get there.

And some, like Washington, are still waiting to make their first appearance.

The Washington Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, have more combined city swaps and name changes than they do World Series appearances. They’ve never been there a single time in 48 years of existence, though they were close once.

world series baseball fans need

Gary Carter and some his 1981 Expos teammates pose for a photo prior to first pitch. (Photo courtesy of: ESPN)

In 1981 the Expos lost a best-of-five NLCS. Due to the lockout occurring during the middle of the season, the playoff format was restructured. What sprang out of it were the first League Division Series’ in MLB history. All credit to Montreal, they dispatched the Phillies in five games.

This led to their first ever appearance in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It might seem unusual to us now, but until 1985 the League Championship Series were only best-of-five. Montreal lost in that 1981 NLCS series deciding Game 5 by a score of 2-1. Their hopes dashed by a ninth inning blast off the bat of Rick Monday.

The Nationals’ fortunes have been changing lately however. It’s amazing what a stable full of pitchers who are capable of winning a Cy Young Award will do for your hopes of taking home a championship. Washington’s nasty mixture of starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Max Scherzer make up a doomsday rotation that uses opposing bats to build a funeral pyre.

The Nationals can hit the lights out too. They are led by the exceptional Bryce Harper and a resurgent Ryan Zimmerman. Sprinkle in a few good breaks on the diamond and Washington might be cooking up some championship stew in 2017.

Houston Strong

Houston has been through a lot this year and that’s putting it lightly. A World Series win would be a welcome distraction from all that has happened, if only for a brief period. It would right the wrong of 2005, when the White Sox were hoisting the trophy before Houston even realized the series was on. The south-siders bounced them in four.

Houston has a spotty playoff history that seems to happen in waves, but this is undoubtedly the best grouping of players since the times of the Killer B’s.

world series baseball fans need

Sweet-swinging Jose Altuve won his third AL batting title this season hitting at a .346 clip. (Photo courtesy of: Baselinetimes.com)

Out is Jeff Bagwell, in is Jose Altuve. The 2017 edition of the Houston Astros is about as complete a team as you will see. If they do have an Achilles’ heel, it will be in the field. This season they rank number 24 of 30 teams in defensive efficiency. If defensive woes are going to be their undoing though, they certainly aren’t showing up right now. This team is playing like a team on a mission.

And it has been a long, hard, cruel road.

Consider this, Houston has had a franchise since their inception as the Colt .45’s in 1962. In the years since, they’ve been renamed as many times as they’ve appeared on baseball’s biggest stage; once. For those scoring at home, that’s 55 years without a title. That’s 55 years yielding only one World Series appearance. It’s time Houston, it’s time.

Should Houston and Cleveland match-up in the ALCS this year, the Indians will make the Astros earn it every step of the way. Unless you count the one-game wild card in 2013 as a sweep, you must go all the way back to 1954 to find the last, and only, time that Cleveland has ever been swept in any playoff series. That year, it was Willie Mays and the Giants who did the damage.

It would also be the first time since the Yankees battled the Royals for the AL pennant in 1977 that two 100+ win teams square off in the ALCS.

The World Series baseball fans need 

Washington versus Houston. Why is this the World Series we need? Because it’s something new. It’s something unique, and it’s something that’s never happened before. Heck, Washington hasn’t even been there before.

We need this World Series because of the match-ups it poses.

world series baseball fans need

Stephen Strasburg is planning a vacation to his favorite locale; Blew Bayou. (Photo courtesy of: AP / Mark J. Terrill)

Washington’s pitching versus Houston’s potent lineup is a story line just waiting to unfold. Who will win the day? Stephen Strasburg and his overpowering stuff? Or will it be the wily three-time American League batting champion, Jose Altuve finding the gap with the game on the line?

These two teams have unfinished business to attend to as well. In the regular season, Houston and Washington played a three-game set at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Washington took two of the three games, but both losses for Houston were one-run games that could have easily swung the other way. One was an 11 inning affair that slipped through Houston’s fingers in that final frame. Let’s have some more of that please.

An Astros versus Nationals World Series wouldn’t just be another sports novelty. It will be an epic World Series if it does indeed happen. So, if you’re on the fence, let this be your call to action to jump on either the Washington or Houston bandwagon. I’m sure both team’s fan-bases will be happy to have the extra hands on deck.

In a season that has offered us a lot of remarkable firsts, like rookies named Aaron Judge that hit 52 homers in a year. It would only be right to see another first for MLB. A new champion and “Leading City of Baseball” that has never before been crowned.

Let’s crown a champion that none of us has ever seen before in 2017. Let’s go you Astros! Let’s go you Nationals!

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: doin-work.com)

 

 

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Cain

Matt Cain retirement: A look back at his career

Matt Cain, a three-time All-Star, has announced that Saturday against the San Diego Padres will be the final start of his impressive career.

Matt Cain Retirement

Cain’s clubhouse presence will be missed (Press Democrat)

While Cain has not been as strong in the past couple of years, it doesn’t take away much from what preceded it. Matt Cain played an integral part of a dynasty in San Francisco. The moment comes bittersweet for Cain. He stated to the press, “This organization has meant so much to me. It’s meant so much to my family. I’m just grateful it’s been a part of my life. I’ve enjoyed it so much”.
Cain has had some injury issues in the last few years and that has been what has slowed him down. Some thought that he would look elsewhere to play if the team did not pick up his contract. He has decided that it was time to hang it up though.
While he he may have struggled, he was easily one of the best pitchers in the league when he was on. During his span of success (2006-2012), he achieved an impressive ERA of 3.30 and ranked sixth among all starters in WAR at 30.1. Cain has left a lasting legacy through many of his achievements during this span.

Three World Series trips

While Cain was injured during the 2014 season and did not pitch in the playoffs for the Giants, he still came up big when it mattered most in 2010 and 2012. In 2012, Cain pitched 21.1 innings in the postseason and did not give up a single run. He also struck out nine in that time and only gave up 13 hits.
In his postseason career, he ended up with a 4-2 record with a stellar 2.10 ERA. Madison Bumgarner gets a lot of credit for his postseason performance, but Cain should not be ignored. His performance along with his clubhouse presence are a large part of this San Francisco dominance from 2010-14.
Cain is one of the most beloved Giants pitchers in recent memory. He spent all 13 years of his career in San Francisco, and had plenty of notable moments.

Perfect Game

Matt Cain Retirement

Cain’s perfect game may be one of the most impressive of the bunch (ESPN)

In 2010, Matt Cain pitched the only perfect game in Giants history in a 10-0 win against the Houston Astros. It was only the 22nd perfect game ever pitched.
Felix Hernandez pitched another perfect game later that summer, but those were the last two in the past five years. Cain actually tied the record for most strikeouts in a perfect game with 14. That mark tied the great Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax.
The game also was marked by great plays by Melky Cabrera and Gregor Blanco to protect the gem. The 125 pitches thrown that game were also the most in any perfect game ever. In short, it was a memorable one that Giants fans will never forget.

Legacy

Matt Cain was the 25th overall pick for the Giants in 2005. He went to three All Star games in his career, and finished in the top 10 of Cy Young voting twice in his career.
Bruce Bochy described Cain as the type of guy that will do anything for the team. This season when Cain was put in the bullpen, he did not question his position once. It is because he put the team before himself whenever he could.
He is going to finish his career with a 3.69 ERA, which is always an impressive mark for a starting pitcher. Although he has been struggling the last few years, fans will not forget all of the winning memories that he was able to provide.
Matt Cain is 32 years old which is typically somewhat young of an age to retire, especially for a pitcher with as much success as him. He may have not have been the typical ace, but San Francisco will miss him.

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Cleveland Indians playoffs

Will anyone stop the Indians?

Whether you are a baseball fan or not, you are bound to have heard about the Indians’ win streak. Cleveland reached 22 wins without a single loss in September, and they have not slowed down since the Royals broke that streak. Since the streak ended, the Indians have still won seven of eight games. This makes it so they only lost two games in the past month.
Cleveland has picked the right time to heat up. Many managers and players will tell you that they will take the team that is the hottest going into the playoffs rather than who had the best record.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Cleveland Indians playoffs

Clayton Kershaw is looking to ditch his poor postseason reputation. (USA Today)

Speaking of best record, the Indians really are not far off from it. In the middle of August, it didn’t look like any team in the majors would come close to the Dodgers. The possibility of the Dodgers breaking the single season wins record was even floating around.
Instead, the win streak record was broken. Now the Indians are fighting for home-field advantage in the World Series as they only trail the Dodgers by two games.
Los Angles definitely had more sustained success than the Indians despite falling apart in the dog days of summer. They have been fighting to get back on track just before October and seem to be doing that with Clayton Kershaw back. The Dodgers have a stellar rotation after the acquisition of Yu Darvish and also have the bullpen that can shut down any lineup. Nobody is going to doubt their pitching.
The issue with this team, however, is that it may be just a little bit better than average on offense. That will not be enough to beat Cleveland. The Dodgers rank seventh in the National League in offense. While they have some real stars in Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Justin Turner, it may not be enough to beat the stellar pitching Cleveland has to offer.
With all of the talent the Dodgers have on the mound, the Indians still might beat them out. Their bullpen gained a lot of notoriety last postseason behind Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Corey Kluber would also be a lock for the Cy Young this year if it wasn’t for a man named Chris Sale in Boston.
It looks like Cleveland is the hotter and more well-rounded team out of the two. I wouldn’t count on the Dodgers slowing down the Indians if they were to meet in the Fall Classic.

Houston Astros

Cleveland Indians playoffs

Altuve is almost a sure thing for AL MVP. (MLB.com)

The Astros are the next best team in the American League after the Indians. This would be a fascinating ALCS if it were to happen. Houston was thought to be easily the team to beat in the AL, but Cleveland has taken that title from them in the past month.
Houston prides itself on its strong offense led by Jose Altuve. The veteran second baseman is wrapping up his MVP caliber season while leading the majors in batting average and WAR.
He does not have such a bad supporting cast either. Shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder George Springer are both forces at the plate. They will give any pitcher fits. If it was not for their injuries, they would be competing with Altuve for MVP.
The Astros easily have the best offense in the league and have the best shot at stopping Corey Kluber and the Indians. While they only managed to win one of six games against Cleveland this season, the playoffs are a different animal. Houston has been hot and looks to ride that into the playoffs,
Look for this matchup in October because if it happens, it may be the most intriguing one we see.

Boston Red Sox

Cleveland Indians playoffs

Devers has come onto the scene to add some pop to the Boston lineup. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The Red Sox may have the best pitcher in the league to go head to head with Corey Kluber. Chris Sale, along with Kluber, is a candidate for the AL Cy Young. Both have impressive strikeout rates and can dominate any lineup in the league.
Corey Kluber has only lost one game since the All-Star break, which was against Boston. While he may not have had a whole lot of run support or help from the bullpen, it still may be a sign that the Red Sox have what it takes to beat the hottest team in baseball.
Boston does not have many sluggers on their team, but they do have a group of young talent that can give any pitcher fits. With the emergence of Andrew Benintendi and call-up Rafael Devers, the Red Sox are sitting pretty for the postseason.
They will have a challenge in order to potentially get to the Indians. They will most likely play Houston in the ALDS in what should be an exciting series.
It will be tough for Boston to get past the Astros. However, if they do manage to play Cleveland, they will look to maximize their pitching efforts as they have the second best pitching staff behind the Indians in the AL.
Featured image from NPR

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Deadline

Dodgers, Cubs, others make big moves at trade deadline

One hour before the 4 P.M. MLB trade deadline, nothing was happening. There were rumors and whispers here and there. Some decent names had been moved but nothing that we have been looking for over the past few weeks. All of a sudden news broke that the Yankees would be acquiring Sonny Gray from the Athletics. Would this be the first domino to fall?

As the hour went on nothing else seemed to be happen. Everyone was expecting the Dodgers to make the big move they needed but nothing was coming. Is Los Angeles really going to stay put with the roster they have? Every World Series champion in recent memory had made moves at the deadline to bolster their team. Are the Dodgers really that good that they don’t have to go out and get anyone?

When 4 P.M. hit it seemed like that was the case. After about 20 minutes the news started to break however. The Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish from the Rangers in the blockbuster trade we were expecting. This trade also punctuated a trading season that emphasized pitching and had very little movement with hitters.

This was a very interesting deadline to track. There were some surprises as well as moves that we expected. Here are some of the notable teams that were making moves at the deadline.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquisitions: Yu Darvish, Tony Cingrani, Tony Watson

Los Angeles bolstered its bullpen with two solid left-handed relievers in Watson and Cingrani. These guys are a great compliment to Kenley Jansen and it takes a lot of pressure off of the starting rotation, especially seeing that Kershaw will be out for the coming weeks.

Yu Darvish has been expected to go to Los Angeles for the last month. Most were surprised that no news had broke when the 4 P.M. deadline approached. I was ready to criticize the Dodgers for their lack of improvement. When the news was announced, it immediately became World Series or bust for this team.

Darvish provides the same sort of punch to the rotation that Zach Greinke provided when he was in LA with Kershaw. These pitching acquisitions may make the Dodgers the most complete team in the majors now. They filled their pitching needs and left their offense alone which has been fantastic. What might be the one of the biggest upsides from this trade season is that the Dodgers did not give up any of their top three prospects for Yu Darvish.

The Dodgers know that they will be making the postseason. These trades were specifically for October because they know that it is now or never if they want to break their 30-year championship drought.

Houston Astros

Acquisitions: Francisco Liriano

The Astros currently have the best record in the American League. Going into the deadline, it was obvious that Houston needed to bolster its pitching staff. Dallas Keuchel has been dealing with injury issues and may not be the same pitcher he was when he won the Cy Young. Lance McCullers has also not been consistent. On top of that, the Astros are in much need of bullpen help.

Houston acquired Liriano from Toronto, but this was not the attractive pitcher that many were looking for them to go out and get. They needed a pitcher to fill into a rotation that looks a bit shaky. However, Liriano will not be in the starting rotation and will be filling in the bullpen.

This had to be disappointing for Houston fans because they did not make the improvements that other contenders made. Even though they are sitting comfortably in first place in the West and are a sure thing for the playoffs, they may be sweating a bit.

Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and George Springer are all on the DL right now. The Astros must be comfortable with the injuries since they didn’t make any moves. However, the gap seems to be closing between them and the Yankees and Indians.

New York Yankees

Acquisitions: Sonny Gray, Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, David Robertson

The Yankees made a big move a couple weeks ago acquiring Todd Frazier and David Robertson from the Chicago White Sox. Robertson really helps out a bullpen that needed some help and Frazier is a bat the Yankees needed to fill a hole in the lineup.

Deadline

The Yankees got one of the most valuable pitchers at the deadline in Gray (Getty Images)

The big news from Monday was the Yankees acquiring Sonny Gray from Oakland. This was a trade that made a lot of sense for the Yankees because it helps answer questions in their rotation for 2018 and 2019 as well.

The Yankees may lose the majority of their rotation after this year so getting this deal done is a big deal for New York. For this year though, Gray provides a big punch in the rotation for October seeing that the young pitcher already has postseason experience.

Starting pitching was one of the biggest question marks for the Yankees. Boston made a solid move in getting Addison Reed, but the excellent job at the deadline by Brian Cashman may make the Yankees the better team.

Look for the Yankees to separate themselves from Boston and give Houston some trouble in the postseason potentially.

Chicago Cubs

Acquisitions: Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila

The Chicago Cubs did exactly what they needed to do in order to finally separate themselves from the rest of the NL Central. They addressed a rotation issue, a bullpen issue and a catching issue.

Deadline

Quintana is the highlight of the deadline for the Cubs (Sporting News)

Quintana was a get for the Cubs that was way ahead of the rest of the field at the deadline. Chicago knew what they needed and got a pitcher in the prime of his career that will be under team control for the future.

The rotation has been underperforming for the most part and Quintana provides a spark that has gotten the rest of the team going. With the potential this team has, they may be one of the best teams built for the postseason after the acquisition of Quintana.

Alex Avila adds experience at the catching position that the Cubs really needed. Miguel Montero was sent to Toronto after he ragged on the pitching staff for the Cubs’ shortcomings. He was the veteran presence that the pitchers need behind the plate.

Wilson Contreras has been very productive with a bat in his hands but he does not have the skills needed to call a good game in the playoffs. He is a converted infielder that is still learning the craft, so Avila provides the presence that the Cubs needed.

Theo Epstein went out and addressed the exact problems that needed addressing. Cubs fans should be happy with how he approached the deadline. The only downside is that the Cubs now have no prospects in the MLB Top 100. Much of their talent is at the big league level so that is a big reason for that. However, their talent has been underperforming this year.

The Cubs are hoping that their players play to their potential. If they do, then they are as good as anybody in the league.

Washington Nationals

Acquisitions: Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle

The Nationals’ bullpen has pretty much been a joke this year. It is by far their biggest weakness, so much so that a fan ripped on the bullpen in his obituary.

Deadline

Scherzer got the bullpen help the rotation desperately needed (Getty Images)

Washington has one of the best hitting trios in baseball with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy. They also may have the best starting pitcher in the game in Max Scherzer.

However, they were not taken as seriously to compete with the Dodgers in the postseason because of how important relief pitching is these days.

Sean Doolittle has been struggling this year, but he is still a step in the right direction for Washington. However, Ryan Madson has been a very reliable reliever and Brandon Kintzler was an All-Star this year. Kintzler has converted 28 of 32 saves this season and also provides reliability at the back end of the bullpen.

Relievers were a hot commodity at the deadline this year. The Nationals knew that relievers are what they needed in order to win their first playoff series in franchise history. Mike Rizzo did a good job of getting these guys in order to be a threat in October.

Chicago White Sox

Deadline

Jimenez is the 7th ranked prospect in the majors (Baseball America)

Acquisitions: Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Blake Rutherford, AJ Puckett, Andre Davis, Tito Polo, Ian Clarkin, Dylan Cease, Matt Rose, Byrant Flete, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez

As you can tell, the White Sox had a busy trade season. They traded away many major leagues such as Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera. Even though it is pretty apparent that you could say the White Sox are tanking, fans have to be happy with general manager Rick Hahn’s job this past month.

The White Sox now have two of the top 10 prospects in MLB, and eight in the top 70 according to MLB.com. Chicago is the only team on this list that are not contenders this season but they may have had one of the best months in the league.

The benefits from the past month will not show this season or next season. In a few years though the success of the front office will be apparent.

This may be a slight overreaction, but there is a possibility that we could see a Cubs-White Sox World Series down the road. That may be a bit dramatic but wouldn’t it be exciting to see a Chicago championship series? The only thing I would be concerned about is whether or not the city would still be standing in the aftermath.

Final thoughts on the deadline

The most glaring detail of this trade deadline was the emphasis of pitching. Outside of J.D Martinez, there were no major position players that were moved this year. Yes, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera were moved as well. However, all of the big trades were centered around pitching.

It seems that many teams are content with the hitting they have. It may not be a coincidence that major league players are hitting home runs at one of the highest rates in history. Bullpen and rotation help is the attractive thing these days. Especially considering how difficult it is to close out a game in today’s game.

By no means is the 2017 season decided already. There is still a long way to go in the season and anything can happen in October. Championship teams do look back to the trade deadline though to see what they did right at that time. Monday was a pivotal point in the season, but baseball is a crazy game so it will be fun to see how these moves pan out.

 

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Boston Red Sox Pitching: The Success and Failure

Coming into this season, The Red Sox’ pitching was ranked at the top, if not the best. The Red Sox acquired Chris Sale from the White Sox. Rick Porcello was coming off a Cy Young-caliber year. David Price was back, and hopefully healthy. Craig Kimbrel was coming off a 31-save year.

Although Boston sits in first place in the American League East, the pitching has taken a rocky path so far. Lets take a look.

Success: Chris sale

The American League All Star Game starting pitcher is on pace to winning his first Cy Young Award. The 28-year-old was traded in an offseason deal with the Chicago White Sox, involving four minor league prospects including Yoan Moncada.

Boston Red Sox Pitching

Photo Courtesy of (chicagotribune.com)

Sale is cruising with a 13-4 record and the most wins in the American League. He has tallied a whopping total of 211 strikeouts, the most strikeouts in all Major League Baseball.

Sale is on track to tally 300-plus strikeouts. He reached 200 strikeouts in his start this past Friday against the Angels, making him the fastest pitcher in American League history to obtain 200 strikeouts in a season. Sale did this in 141 1/3 innings.

He joins Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan in reaching 200 strikeouts in less than 20 starts. Keep in mind, Pedro did this in close to 150 innings, also known as one of the best pitchers to wear the Boston uniform.

The Red Sox are coming off a 2-4 road stretch. Sale recorded both wins. In a 6-2 win against the Angels, Sale went 6 innings on four hits with nine strikeouts. On Wednesday, he recorded a 4-0 win against the Mariners, going seven innings with three hits with 11 strikeouts.

Sale is dealing for this team. Even in his four losses, he’s been completely dominant. He’s tallied a total of 45 strikeouts in his four losses. Truly, the Sox did not produce runs for him.

Sale is the best pitcher in the American League, if not Major League Baseball. He will continue to dominate.

Success: Drew Pomeranz

For a guy who went 3-5 last season with a 4.59 ERA, Drew Pomeranz has made a complete turnaround for the first place Boston Red Sox.

Pomeranz has turned his record to an impressive 10-4 year. Yes, three wins shy of Chris Sale’s record, the American League Cy Young contender. Pomeranz has tallied 115 strikeouts on a 3.59 ERA.

Boston Red Sox Pitching

Photo Courtesy of (overthemonster.com)

Quite frankly, whatever Pomeranz did for change, its working. He’s defeated second-place rival New York Yankees twice this season, recording 14 strikeouts against them. He tossed 6 1/3 innings and only allowed four hits in the win against the best team in Major League Baseball, Houston Astros.

The Red Sox expected this from the lefty pitcher when they acquired him through a San Diego transaction. Pomeranz was an All-Star at the time of the transaction, and David Ortiz was one foot out the door to retirement, urging the Red Sox to add another All-Star to the team. They needed to add a starter to join forces with Rick Porcello and David Price.

Pomeranz has taken responsibility for his mistakes on the mound last year, and has transformed himself to a top pitcher on the team.

This is exactly what Boston needs, especially when the playoffs come around. The Sox will need their rotation to belly up and give it their all. Look at the 2013 World Series team. Clay Buchholz went 12-1, Jon Lester went 15-8 and John Lackey recorded 10 wins. You need depth to go deep in the playoffs. The facts show it.

success: Craig Kimbrel

Boston Red Sox Pitching

Photo Courtesy of (masslive.com)

The Red Sox closer has been the reliable factor for manager John Farrell. Kimbrel has tallied 25 saves with nearly 80 strikeouts.

Kimbrel reminds the Boston fans of Jonathan Pabelbon and his dominance he had coming out in the bullpen in late save opportunities.

Kimbrel currently sits in fourth in the American League in saves, however many believe he is the best closer in the American League. He holds a 1.27 ERA, as well as a 2-0 record.

Boston looks to have Kimbrel keep his dominant self throughout the last two months of baseball.

failure: rick porcello

Red Sox Nation had big expectations for right-handed pitcher Rick Porcello this season. He was coming off a 22-4 year last season, capturing the American League Cy Young award.

Porcello was the Red Sox go-to guy, last season and this season. Yeah, they brought in Chris Sale, a guy who finished in the top five for the Cy Young race last season, but they were still depending on Porcello to be their number one guy this season.

Boston Red Sox Pitching

Photo Courtesy of (bostonglobe.com)

Last year, he finished with a 3.15 ERA in 223 innings pitched, finishing an impressive 22-4 year. He tallied nearly 200 strikeouts and was completely dominant the whole way through.

This year, he has a 4-13 record with a sub-5 ERA through 133 innings pitched. He’s currently tied in six place for the most home runs allowed (23). Porcello has let up a total of nearly 80 runs, the most on the team, with the second most having 48.

Truly nothing what Boston had wished for.

However, this can all be forgotten if change starts here. We are only two months shy of October. Boston is on track to winning the American League East, and the Red Sox will need Porcello to do his job to get far.

Failure: David Price

Here come the true opinions. As we all know, David Price has been a dominant pitcher in this league for as long as we can remember.

He signed with Boston in late 2015, agreeing to a record-setting contract of seven years, $2.17 million. That said, Boston is writing a check for $31 million a year for Price.

Boston Red Sox Pitching

Photo Courtesy of (usatoday.com)

Price recorded a 17-9 record last season for the Red Sox, making his Fenway career record a whopping 15-4. Pretty good, right?

Until, this season happened.

Price started off the 2017 season after missing two whole months with elbow pain. Not to mention at the time, Porcello was already starting his current cold streak that he has not broken out of.

Since he has formally recovered, he is 5-3 with a sub-4 ERA. Yeah, he’s pitched 11 games, but throughout those 11 starts, they have not been pretty. He has let up 62 hits with 28 earned runs, allowing eight homers and 22 total walks.

However, we know Price can tend to find himself with off-the-field situations as well. The Price/Eckersley altercation has stirred up in the media, finding yourself to have a new look on left-handed pitcher. For those who aren’t aware, Eckerlsey made a comment regarding Eduardo Rodriguez, which led to Price calling Eckersley out completely on the plane back home from Toronto.

Price, like Porcello, needs to find his old self back. We know what he’s capable of doing. If we didn’t, he wouldn’t be the big talk this season.

 

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Featured Image Courtesy of overthemoster.com

MLB trade deadline: What AL contenders must do to stay in first

Baseball is back and the second half push to the playoffs begins. The MLB trade deadline comes in the second half as well and is Christmas in July for baseball fans. Strategy, money and moves galore (hopefully).

This period is a chance for teams to either sell off parts in order to rebuild or make the trades necessary to help their squad make it to the playoffs and an eventual push for the World Series. These are the moves the teams currently in first place for their respective divisions need to make to remain in first by July 31.

Boston Red Sox

If you follow baseball or this team at all, then you know their weakest position currently is at third base. Pablo Sandoval has been anything but useful or even available and has been designated for assignment. Also they traded away Travis Shaw who is having an excellent season for another first place team.

While everyone believes Todd Frazier is the best and only option available for trade, I would like to look at another in Nick Castellanos.

MLB trade deadline

Courtesy of: Bleacherreport.com

The Detroit Tigers are having a very disappointing season and will most likely be sellers during the trade deadline for the first time in a long time. They also have arguably one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Most of their top players are in Double-A ball and below which means they have a long time to wait to see if they develop.

To speed up the process of their inevitable rebuild, they could and should be looking to trade away as many players as possible.

Castellanos is only 25 and is under team control until 2020 which means Detroit could ask a decent return. So why would the Red Sox make this trade?

To start, they would get a solid everyday third baseman that could grow with the young players they are building around now like Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts and more. Rafael Devers is still at least one or two years away and wont be able to help them win now. It is unlikely they would have to part with him to get Castellanos as well.

Castellanos has been in the league for four full years now. You know what you are going to get out of him, whereas you never truly know with a prospect. He has experience, making playoff runs with the Tigers and still has room to grow.

The Red Sox would most likely only have to give up two of their top 25 prospects, most likely ones in the teens and below. They may also throw in a PTBNL or just an extra pitcher to sweeten the deal.

Nick Castellanos would solidify the Red Sox third base problem not only for now but also for the future. Todd Frazier on the other hand may cost only one top 25 prospect but he would also be a free agent at the end of this year and has seemed to have trouble batting for average ever since he was traded to the White Sox.

Cleveland Indians

It took the Indians awhile to catch up to the Twins, but they have taken hold of first and wont let it go for the rest of the season. This team can hit and is being led by its young superstars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor while getting help from players like Edwin Encarnacion who struggled mightily to start the season but has figured it out.

MLB trade deadline

Photo: Sportsblog.com

Another strength of the World Series runner-ups is their bullpen. Their weakness? Outside of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and surprisingly Mike Clevinger, this team’s starters have struggled. Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, and Josh Tomlin all have ERAs over 5.

There are many attractive options on the market for the Indians. The question will be how much are they willing to give up in order to get the starting pitching help they need?

Last year, they traded away Clint Frazier and a multitude of other prospects in order to get their stalwart setup man, Andrew Miller. That being said the Indians still have some pieces that they could trade. I highly doubt they will trade Bradley Zimmer as he is with the club now and making a solid contribution.

There are a multitude of options for the Indians to help make their second World Series run in as many years. I like Sonny Gray, but I think his asking price will be too high considering how he has pitched in the last two seasons. This leaves two options: Gerrit Cole and Johnny Cueto.

Both the Pirates and Giants respectively have been under-performing and it looks like they will have to be sellers. While Gerrit Cole is better, he and Sonny Gray have a similar problem. They are going to cost more than the Indians are willing to give.

That is why they could trade for Cueto. He has won a World Series and has been in Cy Young contention, but the Indians could get him for a bargain. He has not pitched extremely well this season and the Giants are desperate (or should be) for prospects as they have one of the worst farm systems in baseball.

The Indians could give up one top 25 prospect not named Zimmer or Mejia and two others right outside their top 25 for Cueto. He would be a great pickup and if he could find his form again, he could be a top of the rotation guy to help the Indians try to make it back to the World Series.

Houston Astros

The Astros were my World Series pick back in January and I am glad that they have yet to let me down. Their lineup can hit from 1 to 8 and Keuchel and McCullers make up an amazing top of the rotation.

MLB trade deadline

Photo: SFgiantsrumors.co

Brad Peacock is finally living up to his potential, whether he is in the bullpen or the rotation. While most are looking at the rotation, and they could improve there, Peacock may actually be a legitimate option that will help them keep their first-place standing. Also, Colin McHugh should be coming off the DL soon and can help to solidify the rotation.

The Astros are missing another reliable bullpen arm. We saw how important they were in last year’s playoffs and right now the Astros have a pretty good bullpen. But if they are going to want to make a real run, they need a great bullpen.

They won’t give up what teams gave up to get pitchers like Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman last season. Instead, they will go for options that are a small step down.

In steps another Giants player and someone who has been a crucial piece in their bullpen for a long time, George Kontos.

Kontos has a career ERA under 3 and he has been in many high-pressure situations, including helping the Giants win multiple World Series. While he is not a flashy pickup, he is a reliable one, and should be relatively cheap, as he’s still under team control until 2020.

The Astros would not have to part with any of their major prospects. They could easily throw the Giants one of their lower top 25 prospects and some cash or another lower level prospect with high potential.

Kontos would solidify the bullpen as the Astros head into October. His experience would help the younger Astros team and again he would cost a lot less than someone like Sonny Gray or David Robertson.

Conclusion

The trade deadline is an unpredictable time and has a major affect on the way the rest of the season and future seasons will play out. Look out for what first place NL teams needs to do in order to stay in first place.

 

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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 Stats33 GS22-4 W-L3.15 ERA1.01 WHIP7.63 K/9223 IP
2017 Stats18 GS4-10 W-L5.01 ERA1.48 WHIP8.25 K/9111.1 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 Stats32 GS19-5 W-L2.44 ERA1.10 WHIP8.75 K/9202.2 IP
2017 Stats18 GS5-5 W-L3.94 ERA1.23 WHIP9.22 K/9107.1 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 Stats34 GS16-9 W-L3.04 ERA1.00 WHIP10.04 K/9227.2 IP
2017 Stats17 GS5-5 W-L4.96 ERA1.52 WHIP8.45 K/998 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 Stats32 GS18-5 W-L2.79 ERA1.09 WHIP8.11 K/9219.2 IP
2017 Stats17 GS6-7 W-L4.26 ERA1.33 WHIP8.18 K/9105.2 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 Stats31 GS14-4 W-L3.07 ERA1.08 WHIP7.44 K/9199.2 IP
2017 Stats17 GS7-7 W-L5.25 ERA1.36 WHIP9.03 K/997.2 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 Stats30 GS16-8 W-L2.13 ERA0.98 WHIP8.05 K/9190 IP
2017 Stats11 GS4-3 W-L4.09 ERA1.20 WHIP7.44 K/961.2 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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Collecting the Hardware: National League Preseason Predictions

It’s finally here! After waiting all the cold and dreary months for baseball to return, it has finally arrived. Analysts from all over baseball continue to roll out their predictions for what’s sure to be an incredibly exciting 2017 season.

Last week I issued my picks for Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and MVP in the American League. In the AL, Andrew Benintendi, Marcus Stroman and Mookie Betts took center stage. This week we’ll take a look at the National League and take a shot at some additional bold predictions.

The National League

NL Rookie of the Year: Dansby Swanson

Collecting the Hardware: National League Pre-Season Predictions The rookie hype is undoubtedly surrounding Andrew Benintendi on what is sure to a very successful Red Sox team. The Braves aren’t likely to receive the same notoriety, but Dansby Swanson will be key to their success this season. After his second-half call up in 2016, Swanson slashed .302/.361/.442, with three home runs and three stolen bases.

That call-up coincided with a strong Braves performance after the All-Star break and positioned Atlanta nicely headed into 2017. The Braves didn’t stop there. They added veteran pitching and bolstered the farm system in the offseason. This sets the stage for a Braves’ resurgence led by one of the most exciting young rookies in the MLB.

Swanson absolutely cruised through the minors and has been a demonstrated winner at every level he’s played at. Some may argue for other rookies and their upside, but Swanson is poised to not only take NL ROY, but also have the best overall rookie performance in 2017, period.

NL Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard

Collecting the Hardware: National League Pre-Season Predictions The year-over-year obvious choice for the NL Cy Young is Clayton Kershaw. A pitcher who displays such incredible dominance at his position that it’s honestly a privilege to watch him play. With that said, I didn’t choose Kershaw for the award because where is the fun in that?

Noah Syndergaard met every expectation in his first full season, posting a 2.60 ERA with 218 strikeouts. Syndergaard is the clear ace of a Mets pitching staff whose entire rotation could act as the number one or two guy on most teams in the MLB. Coming in this season at 24 years old, the ceiling is scary high for this young flamethrower.

The Met’s have certainly battled injuries, but with “Thor” anchoring the rotation, the organization has to like their chances.

NL Most Valuable Player: Paul Goldschmidt

I admit this is a bit of a protest pick. I think conventional wisdom would say that the MVP typically belongs on a contender, Mike Trout being the exception. However, if we’re going to give Trout the credit (which he absolutely deserves) for carrying the Angels, than “Goldy” deserves some love here too.

Paul Goldschmidt quietly slashed .297 /.411 /.489 with 24 home runs and 32 stolen bases during the 2016 season. This was the same season where he experienced a significant slump early in the year that had many analysts in panic mode.

There are a number of worthy candidates for this pick, but I’d like to put the statistics in perspective. Goldschmidt stole 32 bases in 2016 as a first baseman. That put him ninth overall right behind speedster names like Jean Segura and Trea Turner. Goldy smacked 24 homers in a down year when he’s displayed power of 30 plus and strong slugging percentages.

Most impressive of all is his on-base and walk ratio. Goldschmidt walked 110 times in 2016, second only to Mike Trout. That was down from his previous year where he walked 118 times. Ranking number four in OBP, two spots behind “best eyes in baseball” Joey Votto, Goldschmidt sees the ball as well as anyone in the game.

The Diamondbacks may still be a few pieces away from contention, but without Paul Goldschmidt, it’s not even a discussion.

These predictions are truly fun because there are almost too many good options. This writer could make a case for any number of stars in the game today. Who knows how the season will play out or if any of the name on the list will be up for their listed award? What we do know is that baseball is back and we are in store for another exciting season of America’s great pastime!

 

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