Judge

What in the world has happened to Aaron Judge?

Aaron Judge has hit a wall since coming off the All-Star break. His slash line before the break was an impressive .329/.448/.691. That line was a big compliment to his 30 home runs and 66 RBIs in that span.

Since the break, his line reads as an underwhelming .182/.349/.358 along with eight home runs and 19 RBIs. The most alarming stat out of all of this though is his MLB leading 181 strikeouts on the season, 72 of them coming since the break.

The streak

Judge

Judge leads the majors in strikeouts this season (SB Nation)

Usually when talking about in a streak in baseball, it has a positive connotation. For example, the Oakland Athletics had a 20-game winning streak in 2002. Joe DiMaggio also had one of the most famous streaks ever, hitting in 56 consecutive games which is believed to be unbeatable.

Aaron Judge has a streak of his own that has given him some notoriety this season. He broke Adam Dunn’s record with 37 consecutive games with a strikeout this season. Now that isn’t the sole reason for his struggles. Judge had been big on strikeouts all season long, so it was not a surprise when they started to catch up to him.

One of the problems that Judge has been facing during these struggles is his BABIP. This stat can be used to measure how lucky or unlucky a hitter can be. It stands for batting average on balls in play, and it excludes home runs. This helps people who evaluate a player’s performance determine whether or not they find holes in the defense or maybe defenders pull off great plays against him.

In the first half of the season Judge had a .426 BABIP which was tops in the league. In the second half he has a .256 BABIP, which ranks 142nd in all of baseball. This shows that his strikeout streak is not the sole reason why he is struggling, rather the defense opposing him has been playing better.

That is not to say the strikeouts have been getting worse. He has been striking out in 43 percent of his at-bats in the second half which is a very alarming rate. It is especially alarming for a young hitter still trying to learn the game at the big league level.

Home run derby hangover?

One reason that we may not have seen Bryce Harper in the derby yet is because he is more concerned with his play during the season. Many people have wondered if the derby is detracting players from participating because it messes with their regular swing too much.

Brandon Inge participated in the derby in 2009 and even though he regressed significantly in the second half, with only six home runs compared to 21 in the first half, he still stated that he did not believe the derby had any impact on it. He would say that baseball players are professionals, and one night of changing their swing should not do significant damage down the road.

In Judge’s case, he took many more swings during the derby than Inge did in 2009. Inge did not hit a single home run while Judge hit a staggering 47 (which will probably be more than he ends with this season). Therefore, his performance may have a more lasting effect on his season.

It is also worth noting that Miguel Sano, who reached the derby final counter to Judge, has also struggled since the event in comparison to his first half. Although, he has missed time with a shin injury. Other than Sano though, all the other participants have been having as good if not better seasons since the derby (other than Justin Bour who only has 31 at-bats in the second half).

Charlie Blackmon and Giancarlo Stanton both come some home run swings in at the derby, and they are both tearing up the league in the second half. This makes it difficult to blame the derby for Judge’s struggles.

He is still a rookie

Judge

Judge stole the show during All-Star Weekend (The Courier)

Judge got caught up in talks for MVP when he was at his peak this season. It seemed like nobody was able to stop him. At the All-Star festivities in Miami, he looked to be the face of baseball. With Mike Trout injured and not participating, there was a void that Judge was able to fill.

At that point it would be easy to consider Judge the best player in baseball. There was one simple thing we were all forgetting though, and that is he is still a rookie. Rookies do not put up 50 home run years with a .330 batting average to go along with it. Judge showed us that it was still not going to happen with him even though he was on pace to do so.

The thing with rookies is they are also new to the league, so teams are still learning more about them just like how the rookie is learning more about the league. Once Judge got enough exposure at the big league level, teams learned to exploit his weaknesses.

What does this mean for his future?

There is one classic saying in sports and that is, “The one thing you can’t teach is speed”. This statement is true, to an extent. A coach can teach a hitter power, but only so much. What they can’t teach is how to hit a ball as far as Aaron Judge.

Judge has the top four highest exit velocity hits this season along with the longest home run in the majors at 495 feet. That kind of power is not going to just go away. What may go away is his ability to hit to all fields and get good solid hits at clutch times. Those are qualities of some of the best hitters ever, and much like some other hitters in the league today such as Joey Votto and Mike Trout.

What may become of Judge may be similar to the guy whose record Judge broke this year, Adam Dunn. In coming seasons, Judge could take the Dunn approach and crank 40 homers a year while batting .220 and striking out 180 times.

Aaron Judge is still only 25 years old and has a career in the majors that should last for a while. He may have looked like the best player in baseball this year at times, but that may not be what his future holds. That does not mean that he will not be a quality player for the Yankees, but it may mean that fans should maybe bring him a notch down from legend potential.

 

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Cooperstown

Five active MLB players destined for Cooperstown

There has been a lot of Hall of Fame talk as of late after Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines all were inducted into Cooperstown last weekend. On top of that, Adrian Beltre had his 3,000th hit in Texas. All this talk has had me thinking about what major league ballplayers are a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame when they are eligible.

The criteria for this list is that to be on it, a player has to have a current resume that would be worthy of a Hall of Fame induction. Here are the players in the MLB that have proven they belong in the hall.

Ichiro Suzuki

Seasons: 17 | Career WAR: 59.5 | Hits: 3060 | Accolades: 10x All-Star, 10x Gold Glove Award, 2x Batting Titles, 1x AL MVP, 2001 ROY

Cooperstown

Ichiro has had one of the more storied MLB careers (MLB.com)

It is hard to believe that Ichiro actually played eight seasons for Orix Blue Wave before coming to America to play baseball. He had a very respectable career in Japan and has totaled over 4,000 hits in his career if you combine his Japanese career with the MLB.

Ichiro came bursting onto the scene in 2001 where he broke the single-season hit record with 262 hits. He also set the record for most consecutive 200-hit seasons with 10 in a row. He helped lead the Mariners to an MLB-record 116 wins that season as well. That is not all however, as he has the most hits by a foreign-born player in MLB history.

Ichiro has superstar status in Japan and the United States. He should be considered one of the greatest ballplayers to ever play and it would be hard to argue why he shouldn’t be enshrined in Cooperstown. Although he does not have a World Series championship under his belt, it should not bring down his illustrious career.

It will is hard to imagine him not getting in on his first ballot.

Albert Pujols

Seasons: 17 | Career WAR: 100.2 | Home Runs: 608 | Accolades: 10x All-Star, 3x NL MVP, 2x World Series Champion, 2001 NL ROY

Cooperstown

Albert Pujols’ Hall of Fame career was highlighted in St. Louis (USA Today)

Albert Pujols came onto the scene in 2001, the same year as Ichiro. He was not expected to be as good as he has been or even close to it. He was drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB Draft. You could say that the Cardinals got a pretty good return on him.

Pujols may have had the best 10-year start to a career with 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a .300 average in every one of his first 10 seasons in the majors. He also won three National League MVP awards and won a World Series championship with the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011.

He also was the keystone piece in the Cardinals’ “MV3” which featured Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds from 2002-2007. They were the core of the Cardinals who won made it to the NLCS four times during that seven year span.

Albert Pujols also has been able to flash some leather at first base. He has won the Gold Glove in two seasons. Pujols also has an excellent baseball IQ. His knowledge of the game is a big asset to his team around him. The Pujols Family Foundation also highlights his work off the field with children with autism and improving living conditions for families in the Dominican Republic.

Pujols signed a monstrous contract with the Angels after the 2011 championship season with the Cardinals, leaving at the same time as his manager for his whole career, Tony La Russa. Pujols has not even been the best player on his team since joining the Angels thanks to Mike Trout. However, the first 10 years of his career is enough to warrant a first ballot Hall of Fame induction.

Miguel Cabrera

Seasons: 15 | Career WAR: 69.8 | Home Runs: 459 | Accolades: 11x All-Star, 2x AL MVP, 2012 AL Triple Crown, 2003 WS Champion

Cooperstown

Cabrera is one of the best all-around hitters in recent memory (Getty Images)

In 2012, Miguel Cabrera became the first player in 45 years to win the AL triple crown. This achievement is a testament to Cabrera’s all-around ability at the plate. He is currently sitting at 2,602 hits, so he will most likely reach 3,000 at his current rate. Seeing that he is 34 years old now, he may not be around long enough to reach the elusive 600 home runs.

Miguel Cabrera is a career .318 hitter, so much like Pujols he is not just a masher. This guy knows how to hit. He has also been to the World Series on three occasions, but has only won one.

Cabrera has been rather quiet this year. He is not hitting at the same rate that he usually does with his average sitting around .250. However, his resume is already at the point where he is worthy for getting the nod into Cooperstown. He might not be able to have sustained success in the twilight of his career, but that should not affect his status.

Miggy may not get in on his first ballot but it should not be long before he is enshrined in Cooperstown.

Adrian Beltre

Seasons: 20 | Career WAR: 92.4 | Hits: 3,001 | Accolades: 4x All-Star, 5x Gold Glove Award, 2x Platinum Glove Award

Cooperstown

Beltre tips his helmet to the fans after hit #3000 (New York Times)

Beltre does not have the same sort of resume that Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols or Ichiro Suzuki have. He was a bit of a late bloomer. Beltre is one of those rare cases where he actually got better with age.

Beltre’s 3,000th hit came over last weekend and it was a good one. Now there have been talks about how he is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. He is the first Dominican-born player to get 3,000 hits (Pujols will reach the mark soon as well), and has been one of the best to man the hot corner.

The only players to not be in the Hall of Fame that have reached 3,000 hits are Pete Rose, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki and Rafael Palmeiro. As you can see the only reason that they are not in the hall is because there are scandals surrounding them or they are not eligible to be voted on yet. Because of this, it will be hard to imagine Beltre not getting voted in since his character matches his excellence on the field.

Clayton Kershaw

Seasons: 10 | Career WAR: 57.2 | Career ERA: 2.34 | Accolades: 7x All-Star, 3x NL Cy Young, 1x NL MVP, 2011 Pitching Triple Crown

Cooperstown

Kershaw is making a case to be one of the greatest pitchers of all-time (Baseball Essential)

Clayton Kershaw has by far the least amount of service in the MLB on this list. That speaks to how good he is though. He has been the most dominant pitcher in the majors since coming to the big leagues in 2008. Kershaw also is one of only 10 pitchers to claim the MVP and Cy Young in a single season.

The one downfall of Kershaw’s is his postseason performance. The Dodgers have not been to the World Series since 1988, so he does not have a ton of postseason experience deep in October.

When he does pitch though he has not been his sharpest. His career postseason ERA is 4.55 which is over two whole runs above his career ERA in the regular season. The Dodgers are expected to make a run this year though, and if Kershaw is able to make an impact despite his back injury, it will be a milestone in his career.

Besides his injury this year, Kershaw has shown no real signs of slowing down. With the way he pitches as well, he may a long time away from retirement. It would be hard to argue why he shouldn’t be in the hall even if he retired today.

Honorable Mentions

These honorable mentions are players that will make it on the ballot. The issue is their resume may not be complete, or not have enough time in the MLB.

Yadier Molina

Molina is one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time. He also is one of the greatest to call a game behind the plate. The only issue is that he may not reach 2,000 hits in his career. No hitter has ever been enshrined in Cooperstown with under 2,000 hits.

Mike Trout

Mike Trout may be the most well-rounded baseball player we have seen since Willie Mays. If he keeps up his current pace, he should be a sure thing for the hall. He just can’t be a guarantee for Cooperstown yet because he has not played long enough.

Joey Votto

Votto has won an MVP and may be one of the best disciplined hitters in recent memory. He may need five more productive years in order to get a spot in Cooperstown though.

Bryce Harper

Much like Trout, Harper is a once in a generation type player. He also just needs more time to prove himself.

Jon Lester

Lester has been a stellar postseason pitcher in his career. He has won three World Series championships and his playoff performance is a big reason for that. He is still a bit of a stretch to get into the Hall of Fame though.

Buster Posey

Buster Posey is the most productive hitting catcher in the league today. He also has brought three championships to the San Francisco Bay. If he keeps up his current pace then he may have a shot for Cooperstown.

Robinson Cano

If Cano is able to reach the 3,000-hit mark, he will have a good shot at making the hall. The only problem is that he is 34 and has 700 hits to go. If he doesn’t reach the mark, he will be right on the border line.

 

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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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“From Our Haus to Yours”

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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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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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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2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

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

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

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

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

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball First Base Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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National League Central

2017 National League Preview: National League Central

The National League Central is one of the most top-heavy divisions in the majors. With the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, perennial playoff contenders St. Louis Cardinals, and the ever competitive Pittsburgh Pirates, this division is one of the toughest in the National League. The top team in the National League Central is a no-brainer, but 2-5 are another story all together.

5th: Cincinnati Reds

Projected 2017 Record: 70-92

National League Central

Joey Votto headlines a rebuilding Cincinnati club . (Credit: Al Behrman/ AP Photo).

The Cincinnati Reds seem to be on the tail end of a long rebuild with three straight losing seasons. Reds stalwart Brandon Phillips was traded in the offseason. Accordingly, infielder Jose Peraza will be the Opening Day starter at second base. He will join Scott Schebler, Tucker Barnhart and Billy Hamilton to form a solid young core for the Reds.

Veterans Joey Votto and Adam Duvall will support the offense while the younger players come along. Those two won’t be enough to carry a weak offense and a developing pitching staff.

The Reds will use 2017 as a tryout year and will be putting out lineups that will not be competitive. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, but the sun should come up soon in Cincinnati.

4th: Milwaukee Brewers

Projected 2017 Record: 75-87

Its been half a decade since the Brewers tasted postseason baseball. Three of the team’s top 12 players by WAR in 2016 are gone, and their roles will need to be filled. Gone are solid relievers Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress, as well as catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The Brewers will rely on a mix of veterans and prospects to lead them.

Up the middle, shortstop Orlando Arcia will pair with second baseman Jonathan Villar to form a young infield tandem that should provide a spark at the top of the order. They will rely on Ryan Braun and former KBO star Eric Thames to drive them in.

Veterans Junior Guerra and Matt Garza bookend a young rotation. Zach Davies, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson all need to improve. The offense should be around league average, but the pitching staff will need to make solid improvements to make 2017 anything more than a rebuilding year.

3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates

Projected 2017 Record: 84-78

National League Central

Andrew McCutchen should return to form in 2017 (Credit: Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images).

The Pirates are coming off a dramatic offseason in which they almost traded away their franchise player Andrew McCutchen. He will enter the 2017 season in a new frame of mind and at a new position. He will move from center to right field, accompanying a reshuffle of the outfield.

Even with a realignment in the outfield, it remains the team’s strength. McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco form a robust top of the lineup. Jung Ho Kang and Francisco Cervelli also add to Pittsburgh’s solid offense.

The rotation is filled with former top prospects. Ivan Nova is the only non-home grown starter. Gerrit Cole is the ace, and it remains to be seen if the rest of the rotation can turn its promise into prosperity.

With a solid club all around, the Pirates could finish anywhere in the top two of the National League Central.

2nd: St. Louis Cardinals

Projected 2017 Record: 87-75

After two World Series appearances in the previous five seasons, the Cardinals failed to qualify for the postseason in 2016. This year’s team is full of talent and NL All-Stars all over the diamond.

On the mound, 25-year-old Carlos Martinez will lead the rotation. He will be backed by Mike Leake, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and veteran Adam Wainwright. All five have at least one NL-All Star appearance.

Nevertheless, the talent isn’t limited to just the mound. Matt Carpenter headlines the lineup. The addition of Dexter Fowler provides speed St. Louis has been lacking. He will be joined by outfielders Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to give the Cardinals an excellent outfield trio. Stalwart catcher Yadier Molina will be behind the plate for his 14th season in St. Louis.

A deep pitching staff is the strength of the Cardinals, but their offense is not far behind. They will compete for one of the two National League Wild Cards in 2017.

1st: Chicago Cubs

Projected 2017 Record: 105-57

National League Central

Kris Bryant and the Cubs should easily win the National League Central (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

Coming off a dramatic World Series victory, the Cubs are the de facto favorite in the National League Central, if not a favorite to repeat as World Series Champions. It’s easy to see why.

Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester sit atop of a solid rotation. Young starters Kyle Hendricks and Mike Montgomery will be joined by grizzled veteran John Lackey to round it out. The talent on the mound is good, but it’s what’s off the mound that has Cubs fans drooling.

Former top prospects Addison Russell and Javier Baez form one of the elite shortstop-second base tandems in the National League. In the corners of the infield, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Kris Bryant are some of the top producers at their respective positions.

Supported by super utility man Ben Zobrist and right fielder Jason Heyward, the Cubs are stacked in the field. That doesn’t even include uber-prospect catcher Willson Contreras, who will play his first full season in the majors in 2017.

Chicago Cubs fans have plenty to be excited about in 2017, as a repeat title is well within reach.

 

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: First Basemen

In this third installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB season, we will examine the top five first basemen in Major League Baseball. First base is the most heavily relied on position for offense, so defensive metrics will not factor in as much as with catchers.

Let’s take a look at the top first basemen around the league.

5. Freddie Freeman- Atlanta Braves

2017 MLB Season

Freeman will look to bring the Braves back to relevancy in 2017. (John Bazemore/Associated Press)

Freddie Freeman has developed into the franchise cornerstone the Atlanta Braves have been coveting since the retirement of Chipper Jones. Freeman finally delivered on his power potential last season, launching 34 bombs to go along with 91 RBI’s. He also provided the Braves with a consistent bat in the middle of the line up with a .302 batting average. At only 27 years old, Freeman is poised to be the next franchise great. Freeman will lead the Braves into SunTrust Park in 2017 and beyond.

4. Anthony Rizzo- Chicago Cubs

Chicago was able to claim the 2016 World Series. Since they are led by Anthony Rizzo and other stars, it shouldn’t be their last. Garnering his third All-Star game appearance of the past three seasons, Rizzo was a vital cog to the Cubs championship machine. His 32 homers and 109 RBI’s were fueled by the best slash line of his career. Rizzo batted .292, had an OBP of .385, and a slugging percentage of .544. It’s easily the best of his five-year career. When he wasn’t providing big hits for the Cubs, Rizzo flashed the leather. He had 11 defensive runs saved in 2016, proving Rizzo to be one of the better overall first basemen in the majors.

3. Joey Votto- Cincinnati Reds

2017 MLB Season

Joey Votto hopes his glove will mat h his bat in 2017. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

With the Cincinnati Reds in the middle of a long rebuilding process, Joey Votto has proven to be their cornerstone. Votto does not fit the typical slugging first basemen prototype, but he still provides plenty of pop in an extremely disciplined bat. Votto hit 29 home runs last season to go along with 97 RBI’s. That’s plenty of production from a middle of the order bat.

What Votto excels at most is getting on base. Votto posted an OBP of .434 last season, one of the highest of all first basemen in the majors. While Votto did have a solid year with the bat, his glove tailed off some from his career averages. Votto had -14 defensive runs saved last season, the worst of his stellar career. What Votto lacks in defense, he more than makes up for in offense. Look for Votto to bring the Reds back towards respectability in 2017.

2. Paul Goldschmidt- Arizona Diamondbacks

When Paul Goldschmidt was taken by the Diamondbacks in the eighth round of the 2009 Amateur Draft, all 30 MLB teams had passed on him multiple times. What they wouldn’t give to have a chance at him again. All Goldschmidt has done is rake since being called up to the majors in 2011. With 24 long balls and 95 RBI’s, Goldschmidt provided Arizona with another solid offensive season.

One thing Goldschmidt brings to the table that other first basemen lack is speed. Goldschmidt stole 32 bases last season! The second most stolen bases by a first baseman last season was Wil Myers with 28 and the third guy on that list had 12. It’s safe to say Goldschmidt can fly on the base paths. Couple that speed with power and the ability to hit for average, and you have a gem of a first baseman.

1. Miguel Cabrera- Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Season

Miguel Cabrera is launching balls out of the park at historic rates. (Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Until Miguel Cabrera proves he isn’t the top first basemen in the majors, atop this list he will stay. At 33 years old, Cabrera is still in the prime of his career. He provided the Tigers with 38 homers and 108 RBI’s, good to earn him his 11th All-Star game appearance in 2016. While he did post a negative defensive runs saved last season of -6, the offensive firepower he provides more than makes up for a few gaffes down at first base. Cabrera is the prototypical slugging first baseman. His career slash line of .321 average, .399 OBP, and .562 slugging are enough evidence to prove Cabrera is the top first basemen of 2017, if not the past 14 years.

For these five aforementioned first basemen, they will look for 2017 to bring 2016-like results. They are all fairly young or in their prime, so this list should be set for some time.

 

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