2018 Kansas City Royals preview

2018 MLB preview: Kansas City Royals

2017: 80-82 (third place in AL Central)

Last postseason appearance: 2015

Last World Series title: 2015

2017 Recap

Falling one win shy of winning it all in 2014 and then following that season up with a World Series title in 2015, Kansas City’s success was beautiful, but it has run its course. 2017 was understood to be the last season in which the Royals had possession of all three of their best offensive players, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. Unfortunately, the team was unable to do much damage.

Kansas City had a terrible April, going just 7-16, and was never able to own first place in the AL Central over the course of the entire season. They had losing records against the Twins, White Sox and Indians, which made it hard for the Royals to ever gain any momentum.

A team that finished top-five in the AL in ERA from 2013-15, Kansas City finished 10th this past season and 16th in the majors in terms of bullpen ERA. Good pitching had been their identity, and without it, the Royals are just an average ball club.

2018 Kansas City Royals preview

Eric Hosmer was tremendous in 2017. Will he re-sign with Kansas City? (Photo from Royals Review)

Among the AL teams, the Royals offense finished 11th in slugging and home runs, 12th in OPS, 13th in runs and dead-last in OBP. Salvador Perez was able to hit 27 home runs, but had just a .297 OBP. Mike Moustakas, who finished eighth in home runs with 38, had a .314 OBP.

Luckily for Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, two players who were hoping for a big payday after the 2017 season, both had tremendous seasons. Hosmer finished fifth in hits, eighth in batting average and ninth in times on base. Hosmer had career highs in batting average, OBP, slugging percentage and hits. Cain hit .300 with 15 home runs, 26 steals and a career-high .363 OBP. He looked a bit more patient in 2017, walking 54 times, which was 17 more than his previous high of 37.

In late January, Cain was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers and signed a five-year deal worth $80 million. Hosmer has yet to be signed, but is reportedly looking for a contract worth more than seven years. Kansas City hopes to bring him back, so we will have to see how things pan out.

Like Hosmer, Moustakas is also yet to be signed, but the Yankees, among others, are rumored to be interested in the third basemen.

2018: Around the Diamond

Cain is now in Milwaukee, Hosmer is looking for a big contract and Kansas City does not appear interested in bringing back Moustakas. With that said, the Royals’ lineup will have some big shoes to fill.

Salvador Perez will remain behind the plate. If Hosmer is not with the team on Opening Day, expect Cheslor Cuthbert to fill in at first. Cuthbert made his MLB debut in 2015 and hit .231 in 58 games during the 2017 season.

One of the surprises from last season was second baseman Whit Merrifield. Merrifield finished fourth in the MLB in steals and joined Jose Altuve as the only players to hit at least 18 home runs and steal 30 or more bases. Shortstop Alcides Escobar will remain with Kansas City after signing a one-year deal worth $2.5 million.

The most likely candidate to start at third would be Hunter Dozier. Dozier, a former first-round pick, had a horrific 2017 season, but has potential. In 2016, at the Triple-A level, Dozier hit .294 with 15 home runs in 103 games. Clearly, he has produced at the minor league level, so we will see if that translates over to the bigs.

2018 Kansas City Royals preview

Is 2018 the year for Jorge Soler? (Photo from ESPN.com)

Alex Gordon, who had a dreadful 2017, hitting just .208 with an OBP of .293, will remain in left, while Paulo Orlando is in line to take over for Cain in center. Orlando struggled at the plate last season, hitting just .198 in 39 games. Jorge Bonifacio, who smacked 17 home runs in 113 games, will play right. Bonifacio has some pop and is able to draw a fair amount of walks.

If you are a fantasy baseball guy, make sure to keep an eye on DH Jorge Soler. Soler dealt with injuries in 2017 and was never able to figure it out at the plate, which led to his demotion to Triple-A. In 74 games at Triple-A, Soler mashed 24 home runs with a .388 OBP. Clearly, Soler is talented, and 2018 could be the year where everything comes together.

On the Bump

It doesn’t look like the Royals will be bringing back Jason Vargas, who won a league-high 18 games in 2017. Even if they had Vargas, this staff would still be in trouble.

Danny Duffy will most likely start Opening Day, with Ian Kennedy, who allowed the seventh most home runs last year, following him. Jason Hammel will remain in the rotation after allowing the fourth most hits and fourth most earned runs in the MLB.

The other two spots will most likely go to Nathan Karns, who is recovering from his thoracic outlet surgery in July, and Jakob Junis. Junis went 9-3 with the Royals in 2017 and posted a 1.281 WHIP. Kansas City is also hoping closer Kelvin Herrera can return to the pitcher he was when they were making postseason runs.

The Future

In all honesty, Kansas City has one of the weaker farm systems in baseball. They do not have one single prospect in MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list. Their 2017 first-round pick, Nick Pratto had a decent Rookie Ball season, but he still needs more time to develop. Pratto is a first baseman who can hit for power and plays tremendous defense.

Khalil Lee is another name to note. The 19-year-old can play all three outfield positions. In 2017, at the A-level, he hit 17 home runs and stole 20 bases.

2018 Prediction: 75-87

With or without Hosmer, this team will struggle on offense. There is not enough skill around the field, and the pitching is weak. At best, this is a third place team in the weak AL Central.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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MLB free agency 2018

Turning up the heat on the hot stove

As is tradition in baseball, the long winter months are kept warm by the hot stove. But that stove has been running cold this winter. So we’re gonna turn up the heat and predict where some of the top MLB free agents will play in 2018.

Jake Arrieta

MLB free agency 2018

Jake Arrieta will look to join another World Series contender. (Photo from sportingnews.com)

The former Baltimore Oriole and World Series Champion Cub is a free agent this offseason and is testing the waters. Att 31 years old, not many fish are biting.

That can’t be blamed on Arrieta though. The burly right-hander went 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA last season. Any team would take that kind of production out of a starter. That is, any team that already had him.

While the Astros, Rangers, Twins, Blue Jays, Rockies, Brewers and Cardinals have all been linked to Arrieta, no deals have been offered. Arrieta is an ace-caliber pitcher and will have significant contract demands. Deals of 4-6 years and upwards of $180 million have been rumored to be what Arrieta is searching for. But in the prime of his career, it will be interesting to see what Arrieta values more: financial security or World Series aspirations. Look for Arrieta to have his cake and eat it too.

Prediction: Twins

Yu Darvish

After making 31 starts last season, Yu Darvish is out to prove he’s worth an ace’s salary and workload. He pitched to a 4.01 ERA with the Rangers in 2017, but pitched well for the Dodgers after being moved at the trade deadline.

But all of that work in the regular season won’t be able to change what Darvish did in the postseason. After two solid starts against the Diamondbacks and the Cubs, Darvish imploded on the biggest stage in baseball; the World Series.

In two starts against the Astros, Darvish posted a 21.60 ERA in only 3.1 innings pitched. Even in those limited innings, it’s the last impression the baseball world has of Darvish. He has been rumored to make a return to Los Angeles, but with the reacquisition of Matt Kemp, those rumors may be put to rest.

The Astros, Yankees, Cubs and Twins seem to be his remaining suitors. After bludgeoning him in the World Series, the Astros don’t seem like a good fit. The Cubs could really use a replacement for Arrieta though.

Prediction: Cubs

J.D. Martinez

MLB free agency 2018

J.D. Martinez is still looking for a long-term deal. (Photo from Arizona Sports)

The failed Astro and successful Tiger and Diamondback is looking to cash in coming off one of the best seasons of his career. After being sent from Detroit to Arizona, Martinez proceeded to tear the cover off of the ball for the remainder of the season. In 62 games with the Diamondbacks, Martinez blasted 29 bombs and slugged .741. Those are eye-popping numbers and are good enough to earn him a big pay day. At least, they seem to be.

Martinez has also been slow on receiving long term offers, with the Boston Red Sox five-year deal being the only one reported. Granted, there are other teams interested, like the Diamondbacks, Blue Jays and Giants, but they have yet to make a concerted effort to acquire Martinez.

The Giants seem like the best fit, with them in win-now mode after trading for Evan Longoria. But something special is brewing in the desert, and the Diamondbacks don’t want to change that recipe.

Prediction: Diamondbacks

Eric Hosmer

For Eric Hosmer and the Kansas City Royals, the World Series parade of 2015 seems long ago. Hosmer is now a free agent, and the Royals face one of the toughest rebuilds in the majors.

Even so, it is because of Hosmer. The 2017 season was arguably the best in Hosmer’s career, as he posted career highs in batting average (.318) and OPS+ (132). Coming off a career year like that, Hosmer will look to get paid this offseason.

But even coming off the best year of his career isn’t enough to move the market on Hosmer. Just like every other major free agent, Hosmer still sits unsigned as Spring Training inches ever closer. He does have one advantage over his contemporaries though; multiple long term offers.

Both the Padres and Royals are rumored to have offered the first baseman seven-year deals of more than $140 million. While the Royals offer seems to be chasing what they already had, the Padres offer seems like a chase of what could be.

With the Padres on the rise (one of the best farms systems in baseball) and the Royals on the decline (one of the worst farm systems in baseball), Hosmer will have to decide on where his loyalties lie.

Prediction: Royals

 

Feature image by Julie Jacobson/AP Photo. 

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Hosmer

Eric Hosmer free agency: Best landing spots

With all of the talk surrounding Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani, some free agents have been lost in the mix. Eric Hosmer is an intriguing name on the market and could prove to be helpful for many teams. Here are the top destinations for the All-Star first baseman.

Boston Red Sox

Eric Hosmer free agency: Best landing spots

Boston has emerged as a favorite to land Eric Hosmer (Photo by ESPN.com)

First base was not a strong spot for Boston in 2017. Mitch Moreland was serviceable, but not much else. He was able to mash 22 home runs and brought in a 2.0 WAR. He was a plus fielder, however he is a free agent now and it does not look like he will be returning to Boston.

Eric Hosmer would make a lot of sense for the Red Sox. With the hole they have at first base and a need to bolster their lineup, Hosmer could provide a more reliable bat in that lineup. He is a guy Boston could count on to drive in 100 runs and knock 20 home runs along with a .280+ average.

The Red Sox GM, Dave Dombrowski, is also known for bringing in big name free agents. He is currently focused on trading for Giancarlo Stanton, but the first backup he should look at is Hosmer. A splash like Hosmer could really energize Boston and have them competing with the Yankees for AL East supremacy yet again.

The one caveat to signing Hosmer is his price. Hosmer is only 28 years old, so he still has a good amount of time left of being in a batter’s prime. He will be looking to sign a long term contract though, potentially around $100 million. Hosmer has shown he deserves that kind of money, the problem with the Red Sox is that they are only $9 million under the luxury tax. It would be ideal to stay under that figure, but Dombrowski and the Red Sox are serious about competing with the Yankees and Astros. It would not be absurd to see Hosmer in Fenway next year.

Kansas City Royals

Eric Hosmer has called Kansas City home since 2011. He has solidified himself as a above average first baseman there as well. Hosmer won a World Series with the Royals in 2015, so he would have no problem sticking around. The problem is that the old Royals core is starting to fade. Hosmer may be on the move, and Lorenzo Cain may be on the move as well.

The Royals have made it clear they want to bring Hosmer back as they do not have a good replacement for him at first base. He is their number one target, and they are hoping that he may be okay with a discount for the team that drafted him.

Hosmer is still likely to go where he is going to make the most money, but it will be interesting to see how much he would really like to stay in Kansas City. His leadership is forefront in their clubhouse. If the Royals were to go into rebuild mode, Hosmer would have a long enough contract to stick around and play well while leading the young new talent into the majors.

St. Louis Cardinals

Eric Hosmer free agency: Best landing spots

Carpenter was solid at first in 2017, but he is capable of playing almost anywhere on the field too (SI.com)

The cross-state rivals of the Royals are looking for a big name bat in the middle of their lineup. They already have Matt Carpenter manning the first base position, but the front office has already approached him about being an “everyday utility man”. This means he will basically be playing a different position everyday. This would free up room for Hosmer hypothetically, as they have been looking for a solidified first baseman since Albert Pujols left in 2011.

St. Louis has plenty of money to spend, so Hosmer would be very affordable compared to trading for Stanton or signing J.D. Martinez. That is why this move would make sense.

The one thing that may be holding them back is that Carpenter can still play first base, but even if he is not there, they can plug in Jose Martinez. Martinez broke out at the end of last year as one of the best rookies in the league. Martinez is already 29 years old, but he was still able to hit 14 home runs and had a .309 average despite only playing in 106 games.

New York Yankees

The Yankees, much like the Red Sox, have a luxury tax problem at the moment. However, first base may be their weakest position in their lineup at the moment. Nobody was able to really solidify themselves as the Yankees first baseman in 2017. Brian Cashman says Greg Bird is the future at fist base, but if they want to compete for a championship, they may have to look elsewhere for help.

New York is not shy to bring in veteran free agents. Not to mention, it is always a perk to keep them from their rival in Boston. Hosmer would serve as an excellent compliment to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, as well as provide stability at first base for the next five to seven years.

The Yankees do have a young core in Severino, Judge, Sanchez, and Gregorius. That is what may make them more likely to wait out for Bryce Harper potentially as he will hit the market next year. 2018 will be an impressive draft class, so it may be worth to wait.

Where will he go?

Hosmer will likely stay in the state of Missouri. The Cardinals would be a likely destination if they are not able to get Martinez or Stanton, so him going there is contingent on those players as well. In all though, it is most likely that he will stay in Kansas City. As stated earlier, it is a top priority for the Royals to keep Hosmer on. They are not close to the luxury tax either, unlike the Yankees and Red Sox.

New York is need for a first baseman the most, but they ought to stick it out with Bird for at least one more year. Brandon Moss would likely take over the roll in KC if Hosmer is to leave, but the Royals don’t necessarily want that. The Royals will have to pay up though as Hosmer may look for this contract to play out for the duration of his career.

 

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Backyard Baseball 2001

Most disrespected pros of Backyard Baseball 2001

Produced by Humongous Entertainment, the Backyard Sports franchise has been a staple of amusement for children since 1997. The Backyard Sports franchise included games such as Backyard Football, Backyard Soccer, Backyard Basketball, Backyard Hockey and yes, even Backyard Skateboarding. The majority of the games featured one or more professional athletes, which added a sense of realism to this imaginary sports realm.

More specifically, Backyard Baseball 2001 starred 31 different major league players from all 30 MLB teams. Out of the 31 players, nine have already been inducted into the Hall-of-Fame (Ken Griffey Jr., Cal Ripken Jr., Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Randy Johnson, Frank Thomas, Barry Larkin and Tony Gwynn), while Derek Jeter, Vladimir Guerrero and Chipper Jones promise to propel that number to 12 by 2019.

For myself, Backyard Baseball 2001 was the original catalyst for my obsession with the sport itself. I was able to learn about the players and teams that made the professional game so great. All baseball fans will remember icons like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez, who were all featured in Backyard Baseball 2001, although I will forever remember and respect lower-profile players like Marty Cordova and Alex Gonzalez, specifically because of this incredible game.

The final remaining active player from the 2001 class was Carlos Beltran, who just recently retired after winning his first World Series in his 20 years in the MLB. Beltran will make quite the Hall of Fame case, although looking back at his attributes in Backyard Baseball, I don’t recall him being one of the pros that chosen very often, if at all. He tended to be outshined by Kenny Lofton’s speed, Larry Walker’s power or Vladimir Guerrero’s all-around ability, causing him to consistently fall short of making my Humongous Melonheads lineup.

After looking back at each player’s in-game stats and their real-life stats prior to the 2001 season, it’s fair to say some of these major leaguers were significantly snubbed.

Carlos Beltran

Beltran took the league by storm in 1999, batting .293 with 22 home runs, 27 stolen bases, 112 runs scored and 108 RBIs. He was subsequently voted the American League Rookie of the Year, receiving 95 percent of the first place votes. His 2000 season was cut short due to injury, which was the likely cause for his low attributes.

Backyard Baseball 2001

Beltran has a great swing and can steal bases like nobody’s business. He’s also one of the best switch-hitters around. The outfielder’s exceptional coordination and defensive ability make him an asset to any team. (Photo via Cespedes Family BBQ on Twitter)

At 24 years old, Beltran represented the Kansas City Royals in Backyard Baseball 2001, although his stats failed to resemble his real-life ability. His batting attribute was 5/10, which was the same rating given to pros Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, who were the two pitchers featured in the game.

Both Schilling and Johnson’s career batting averages were under .151 at this point in their careers. Why the developers gave Beltran, Schilling and Johnson the same batting attributes is beyond me.

In 2001, Beltran had a 20/30 season while batting over .300. He must have used his poor attributes as motivation, as he would go on to hit over 400 home runs and steal over 300 bases in his illustrious career.

Jason Giambi

To me, Giambi is easily the most disrespected player on this list. As the American League MVP in 2000, Giambi batted .333 with 43 home runs and 137 RBIs. He led the league in walks, on-base percentage and on-base plus slugging.

Backyard Baseball 2001

Great power, excellent fielder with great hands, drives in runs, walks – everything you ask for from a first baseman. Great coordination that rivals Vicki Kawaguchi’s. His all-time favorite baseball player is Mickey Mantle, in case you’re wondering. (Photo from Viva La Vita)

Giambi, who represented the Oakland Athletics in 2001, had a batting attribute that measured 7/10, which may seem respectable at first glance. However, Derek Jeter and Jason Kendall, who also shared a 7/10 batting stat, had less combined home runs and RBIs than Giambi in 2000. Anyone who saw Giambi play in late ’90s knows that he deserved a full 10/10 batting stat, as he was arguably the most dangerous hitter in the game at that time.

In 2001, Giambi batted .342 with 38 home runs and 120 RBIs, coming in second in the American League MVP vote behind Rookie of the Year and MVP Ichiro Suzuki. In my opinion, Giambi was snubbed, as his WAR measured a full 1.5 points higher and lost by seven vote points.

Due to his admitted steroid use, Giambi will likely fall short of the Hall of Fame. His career .277 batting average, 440 home runs and 1,441 RBIs make him a Hall of Fame caliber player either way.

Jeromy Burnitz

Backyard Baseball 2001

Jeromy is one of the best left-handed batters in the league. This talented outfielder has a sweet swing and can hit to all fields. His defense is solid and his arm is fantastic. He also likes to play Ping-Pong – but hey, who doesn’t? (Photo via Reddit from r/Baseball)

Coming off of three consecutive seasons with over 30 home runs from 1998-2000, one would expect Jeromy Burnitz to receive one of the higher batting attributes among sluggers in Backyard Baseball 2001. I would consider his 7/10 batting rating to be a bit disrespectful.

Representing the Milwaukee Brewers, one could expect Burnitz to be snubbed in the ratings department, as the team had failed to reach the .500 mark since 1992.

Both Kenny Lofton and Barry Larkin had identical 7/10 batting stats as Burnitz, although Lofton and Larkin combined failed to hit as many home runs through the same three-year period as Burnitz did alone. I believe Lofton and Larkin deserve their 7/10 marks, as they were both great contact hitters in their own right, although I believe Burnitz absolutely deserved a higher rating in the batting category.

Shawn Green

Green had a miraculous 1999 campaign, batting .309 with 42 home runs, 123 RBIs and 20 stolen bases with the Toronto Blue Jays. In 2000, he would move out west to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a deal centered around fellow Backyard Baseball pro Raul Mondesi.

Backyard Baseball 2001

Shawn, a rare blend of power and speed, has a strong arm and is a decent fielder. This outfielder’s mighty swing can send the ball yard and then some. He’s been playing baseball since he was a toddler – and it shows! (Photo via Reddit from r/Baseball)

Green took a step back in 2000, but still managed to score 98 runs and drive in 99 RBIs with 72 extra-base hits.

Due to our shared Jewish heritage, I tended to select Green quite often. His batting stats are not what I am putting into question, rather his fielding. The vision of Green costing me precious runs after taking a fly ball of the head remains to this day.

The Backyard Sports developers decided to give him 5/10 for his fielding attribute, which made him tied for the second worst fielding player of the featured pros despite being only one season removed from winning a Gold Glove award.

Two notable names that have a better fielding attribute than Green include Mo Vaughn (8/10) and Mark McGwire (7/10). McGwire won his sole Gold Glove in 1990, ten years before the game had been released, while Vaughn never did. Interesting to see Green be snubbed so blatantly.

Which sport stars do you think were disrespected in the Backyard Sports series?

 

Featured image by MuseumOfPlay.com

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Fantasy Baseball 2017: Heat Check 2.0

In the beginning of June, we looked over some players who were on fire and analyzed if they should be sold. In this heat check, we will identify and analyze some more of the hottest players in baseball right before the deadline.

They are who we thought they were!

These players were drafted early, although they have reached or exceeded expectations. All players were selected within the top 25 overall picks, and are ranked within the top six at their respected position in ESPN standard scoring formats.

Jose Altuve, Second Baseman, Houston Astros

ADP (average draft position): 3.5

Position Rank: 1

2017 Season: .369 AVG, 74 R, 15 HR, 59 RBI & 21 SB

Last seven: .615 AVG, 8 R, 1 HR, 6 RBI & 1 SB

Altuve is having a career year. The 5-foot-6 phenom is legitimately chasing .400 and is nearly a lock to earn his third batting title in four years.

He is currently on a 19-game hitting streak where he has tallied four home runs and 10 doubles, while driving in 19 and scoring 21 runs. Altuve is, and will remain, an elite fantasy asset for the long-term future.

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Heat Check

Chris Sale is having a once in a generation season. (Photo by: USA TODAY Sports)

Chris Sale, Starting Pitcher, Boston Red Sox

ADP: 18.1

Position Rank: 1

2017 Season: 148.1 IP, 13-4 W-L, 211 K, 2.37 ERA & 0.88 WHIP

Last three: 20.2 IP, 2-0 W-L, 33 K, 0.00 ERA & 0.73 WHIP

Sale’s expectations heading into 2017 were enormous, as for the first time in his career he found himself on a contending team. He is currently on pace to set career highs in wins and strikeouts, and career lows in WHIP and hits per nine.

After finishing as the ninth-best fantasy pitcher in 2016, it is safe to say that Sale has exceedingly outperformed his expectations. He is now firmly entrenched in the elite tier of fantasy pitching along with Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw.

Bryce Harper, Outfielder, Washington Nationals

ADP: 9.9

Position Rank: 2

2017 Season: .338 AVG, 86 R, 27 HR, 79 RBI & 2 SB

Last seven: .348 AVG, 6 R, 3 HR, 6 RBI & 0 SB

The first-overall pick in 2010 is healthy and performing like his former MVP self. Harper is on pace to hit 47 bombs, score 151 runs and drive in 139 runners, which would all be career highs.

He is leading the National League in OPS as well as OPS+ and is arguably the favorite to win the NL MVP award. His fantasy value moving forward is just a hair below Mike Trout’s, who is the undisputed number one fantasy player in baseball.

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Heat Check

Corey Kluber has gone full-Klubot in 2017. (Photo by: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports)

Corey Kluber, Starting Pitcher, Cleveland Indians

ADP: 22.8

Position Rank: 6

2017 Season: 108.1 IP, 8-3 W-L, 149 K, 2.74 ERA & 0.96 WHIP

Last three: 20.0 IP, 1-0 W-L, 33 K, 2.25 ERA & 0.90 WHIP

Kluber missed almost all of May with a back injury, although he still manages to be ranked a top-10 starter in 2017. He has struck out double digit batters in eight of his last 10 starts and is on pace to set career lows in ERA and WHIP.

If he can stay healthy, the 31-year-old will be a Cy Young candidate for a fourth straight year and possibly an MVP candidate for a third time.

Nolan Arenado, Third Baseman, Colorado Rockies

ADP: 4.5

Position Rank: 1

2017 Season: .313 AVG, 69 R, 23 HR, 89 RBI & 2 SB

Last seven: .350 AVG, 4 R, 1 HR, 7 RBI & 0 SB

Arenado is arguably the best third baseman in the game today. Many overlook his greatness, or dismiss it due to his home and away splits, although he will have the opportunity to go down as the greatest third baseman of all time.

Arenado is on pace to have 148 career home runs and 520 RBIs at the end of this his 26-year-old season, which puts him on pace to be more productive than Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett (74 HR & 461 RBIs at age 26) and Mike Schmidt (131 HR & 373 RBIs at age 26).

Kansas City Resurgence

The Kansas City Royals struggled mightily to begin 2017, as they sported a record of 7-16 through April. In the next three months, the club went 47-31 and now are in second place in AL Central behind the Cleveland Indians.

The Royals’ recent success is due to their red-hot bats, as within the last 14 days, the team is on a nine-game winning streak, in which they are batting .302 with 21 home runs, 76 runs scored and 70 RBIs.

Eric Hosmer, First Baseman, Kansas City Royals

ADP: 88.9

Position Rank: 6

2017 Season: .320 AVG, 63 R, 16 HR, 54 RBI & 6 SB

Last seven: .400 AVG, 8 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI & 2 SB

Hosmer began the year slow, batting only .225 with one home run, five runs scored and six RBIs in his first 23 games. On the contrary, in his last 23 games, he is batting .374 with 6 home runs, 21 runs scored and 19 RBIs.

Hosmer is beginning to prove his true value and is likely to return to the AL MVP conversation, which he has been absent from since 2015.

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Heat Check

Mike Moustakas is an integral piece to this Royals lineup. (Photo by: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Mike Moustakas, Third Baseman, Kansas City Royals

ADP: 187.6

Position Rank: 8

2017 Season: .279 AVG, 53 R, 30 HR, 69 RBI & 0 SB

Last seven: .333 AVG, 6 R, 4 HR, 9 RBI & 0 SB

Moustakas is on the final year of his contact, although he is expected to remain a Royal for the remainder of the year, as the Royals have recently became a contender. His team-high 30 home runs and 69 RBIs have helped carry the load, as he has accounted for over 12 percent of the team’s runs scored and 16 percent of their runs batted in.

The 28-year-old has been, and will continue to be, a great contributor in real life and in fantasy, as he offers well above average power and production in the heart of a red-hot lineup.

Salvador Perez, Catcher, Kansas City Royals

ADP: 177.0

Position Rank: 1

2017 Season: .284 AVG, 44 R, 21 HR, 63 RBI & 1 SB

Last seven: .278 AVG, 3 R, 3 HR, 4 RBI & 0 SB

Perez is the most important piece to the Royals’ puzzle due to his ability behind the plate. The fact that his bat is producing at its current levels is simply a plus.

The 27-year-old is currently ranked as the top catcher in fantasy due to his position-high 21 home runs and 63 RBIs. He is on pace to set career highs in almost every major hitting category and should treated as one of the MLB’s elite at his position.

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Heat Check

Whit Merrifield has taken full advantage of his everyday role in 2017. (Photo by Rotoprofessor.com)

Whit Merrifield, Second Baseman/Outfielder, Kansas City Royals

ADP: 260

Position Rank: 6

2017 Season: .294 AVG, 42 R, 11 HR, 43 RBI & 16 SB

Last seven: .360 AVG, 5 R, 3 HR, 5 RBI & 0 SB

Merrifield went undrafted in almost all formats, although he has managed to become a top-10 player at his position in 2017. He has found a home in the leadoff spot, as he has played 54 out of his 68 games in that position, which gives him a better chance to produce than if he were batting in the bottom third of the lineup.

Merrifield’s ceiling isn’t miraculously high, although a 15 home run and 30 steal campaign isn’t out of the question. The 28-year-old is taking full advantage of receiving everyday playing time and is sure to continue his production moving forward.

Jorge Bonifacio, Outfielder, Kansas City Royals

ADP: 260

Position Rank: 64

2017 Season: .265 AVG, 44 R, 14 HR, 32 RBI & 1 SB

Last seven: .400 AVG, 7 R, 3 HR, 4 RBI & 0 SB

Bonafacio is having a very solid rookie year. He was called up in late April and has been particularly impressive, as his 162-game average would predict him to hit 29 home runs, score 90 runs and produce 66 RBIs.

The 24-year-old has batted primarily in the two-hole for Kansas City, which is a pivotal spot in the lineup for production purposes.  His value is low right now, but it should increase as the Royals continue to find success.

 

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One hit wonder MLB seasons

One-hit wonder MLB seasons since 2000

In Major League Baseball, players often breakout seemingly out of nowhere. The question then follows: Will their production continue, or will they simply fade away back to obscurity?

Methodology

In music, the term “one-hit wonder” refers to an artist who creates a song that ranks on the Billboard’s national top 40 list, while failing to recreate another with the same level of success. In baseball, we can label a player as a “one-hit wonder” if they experience a breakout season and are unable to recreate anywhere near the same level of success. In this case, success can be measured in accolades and wins above replacement player, or WAR.

For hitters, we will look at statistics like offensive WAR and accolades like MVP candidacy, Silver Slugger awards and All-Star appearances. For pitchers, we will assess the same group of statistics and awards, while also looking at Cy Young candidacies.

The main criteria used to compile the following list includes a blatant discrepancy between a player’s total career WAR and their WAR over a specific breakout season. Yearly awards are also taken into consideration, as a player can be considered a one-hit wonder if they finish within the top-25 voting for most valuable player, or MVP, while failing to ever do so again.

The following players combined make up the all “one-hit wonder” MLB team of the 2000’s. Note that being on this list does not mean the player had a bad career, but means they had a season that was a blatant anomaly.

Honorable mentions include: Angel Berroa (2003), Morgan Ensberg (2005) and Dontrelle Willis (2005)

Paul Lo Duca, Catcher, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2001

2001 Stats 125 G 25 HR 90 RBI 71 R .320/.374/.548
162 Game Avg. 162 G 12 HR 72 RBI 72 R .286/.337/.409
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Paul Lo Duca may be a three time All-Star from 2003-2006, but his most productive season came in 2001. (Photo by Getty Images)

Lo Duca was a 25th round draft pick by the Dodgers in 1993. He grinded through the minors, playing a total of 718 games at three different minor league levels.

He expected to get a shot at the everyday catcher’s job in 1998 after the Dodgers traded away arguably the greatest hitting catcher of all time, Mike Piazza, to the Florida Marlins.

Although this was not the case, as the Dodgers received catcher Charles Johnson in return. This delayed Lo Duca’s first full MLB season until 2001.

In 2001, Lo Duca showed out, batting .320 while hitting a career-high 25 home runs with 90 RBIs in only 125 games. His offensive WAR measured 4.2, which was considerably higher than any other season, as his second-highest offensive WAR came the following season at 2.9.

Although Lo Duca made four consecutive All-Star appearances from 2003-2006, 2001 was the only season where he ranked within the top-25 in National League MVP voting at 19.

 

Darin Erstad, First Baseman, Anaheim Angels, 2000

2000 Stats 157 G 25 HR 100 RBI 121 R 28 SB .355/.409/.541
162 Game Avg. 162 G 12 HR 68 RBI 89 R 18 SB .282/.336/.407

Erstad may be one of the most obvious MLB players to have a one-hit wonder season. After being selected as the first overall pick in the 1995 draft by the California Angels, Erstad made a quick jump to the majors in 1996 after playing in only 143 games at four different minor league levels.

Erstad’s breakout came in 2000, as he managed to bat a miraculous .355 while hitting 25 home runs, scoring 121 runs and setting an MLB-record for most RBIs by a leadoff hitter with 100. It looks as if this record will be shattered by either the Houston Astros George Springer or the Colorado Rockies Charlie Blackmon this season, although it remains incredible feat either way.

In his 26-year-old season, Erstad ranked eighth in American League MVP voting while also being named an AL All-Star, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner. His offensive WAR during this season totaled 5.6, which accounted for over 30 percent of his total offensive WAR over his 14-year career.

Junior Spivey, Second Baseman, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2002 

2002 Stats 143 G 16 HR 78 RBI 103 R 11 SB .301/.389/.476
162 Game Avg. 162 G 17 HR 71 RBI 91 R 11 SB .270/.354/.436
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Junior Spivey’s career was short but was in MVP conversation in 2002. (Photo by Getty Images)

Spivey’s 2002 season matches up fairly evenly with his 162-game average, although he only managed to play in over 100 games in a season twice, as he only tallied 457 career games played in the major leagues.

 

In 2002, Spivey set career-highs across the board in home runs, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, stolen bases, walks and runs scored.

He managed to make his first and only All-Star team while also finishing the year 14th in National League MVP voting. His offensive WAR totaled 4.3, which is over 50 percent of his total career offensive WAR, which totals 7.3.

 

Chase Headley, Third Baseman, San Diego Padres, 2012

2012 Stats 161 G 31 HR 115 RBI 95 R 17 SB .286/.376/.498
162 Game Avg. 162 G 15 HR 69 RBI 72 R 4 SB .263/.343/.399

The current New York Yankee has been an above-average player for his entire career, as in each of his ten seasons, he has tallied an offensive WAR above one. It was Headley’s 2012 season that makes him one of MLB’s one-hit wonders of the 2000’s.

In his fourth season as a full-time starter, the former second-round pick flourished, batting .286 with 31 home runs, 115 RBI, 95 runs and 17 stolen bases. Headley managed to win a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, while also finishing fifth in the National League MVP vote. His offensive WAR of 6.5 in 2012 makes up for over 25 percent of his total career offensive WAR of 24.2.

Rich Aurilia, Shortstop, San Francisco Giants, 2001 

2001 Stats 156 G 37 HR 97 RBI 114 R .324/.369/.572
162 Game Avg. 162 G 18 HR 74 RBI 73 R .275/.328/.433
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Rich Aurilia’s 2001 season remains a massive anomaly compared to the rest of his career. (Photo by Getty Images)

Aurilia mustered up some productive years, but nothing like his 2001 campaign. In his lone All-Star season, Aurilia led the league in hits with 206, 37 of which went for home runs. In 2001, he batted .324 with 114 runs scores and 97 RBIs.

At 29 years old, Aurilia managed to earn a Silver Slugger while also being voted 12th in the National League MVP race. His offensive WAR in 2001 totaled 6.3, which is 33 percent of his 15-year career total offensive WAR of 18.9. His second most productive offensive season came the year before in 2000, where he totaled an offensive WAR of 2.2.

 

Lew Ford, Left Fielder, Minnesota Twins, 2004

2004 Stats 154 G 15 HR 72 RBI 89 R 20 SB .299/.381/.446
162 Game Avg. 162 G 11 HR 55 RBI 73 R 15 SB .268/.345/.399

Former 12th round pick by the Boston Red Sox, Ford was traded to the Twins in 2000 for a veteran reliever. Ford played 230 games in the minors for Minnesota, batting .297 with 24 home runs and 124 RBI before being called up in 2003.

It was Ford’s 2004 campaign that puts him on the map of one-hit wonder seasons. Ford batted .299 with 15 home runs, 72 RBIs, 89 runs and 20 stolen bases in 154 games.

In his first full major league season, the 27-year-old finished 24th in the American League MVP vote. His offensive WAR in 2004 was 3.3, which is about 64 percent of his career offensive production, as his total career offensive WAR is 4.9.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Center Fielder, Boston Red Sox, 2011

2011 Stats 158 G 32 HR 105 RBI 119 R 39 SB .321/.376/.552
162 Game Avg. 162 G 14 HR 68 RBI 98 R 46 SB .285/.341/.418
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Jacoby Ellsbury’s 2011 campaign resulted in a second place finish in the AL MVP race. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Before joining the “Evil Empire”, Ellsbury enjoyed plenty of success as a part of the Boston Red Sox, winning two championships in 2007 and 2013. However, many tend to forget how outlandish his lone All-Star season was in 2011.

At 27 years old, Ellsbury batted .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBIs, 119 runs scored and 39 stolen bases. He won a Silver Slugger, Gold Glove and finished second in the American League MVP vote behind the Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander.

There was one occasion in 2013 in which Ellsbury finished within the top-25 in MVP voting, although the numbers he was putting up were nowhere close to his 2011 campaign. His offensive WAR in 2011 registered at 7.4, which accounts for 28 percent of his total offensive production over his 11-year career, whereas his offensive WAR in 2013 measured in at only 4.1.

Carlos Quentin, Right Fielder, Chicago White Sox, 2008 

2008 Stats 130 G 36 HR 100 RBI 96 R 7 SB .288/.394/.571
162 Game Avg. 162 G 30 HR 95 RBI 81 R 2 SB .252/.347/.484

Quentin’s 162 game average is very respectable, although due to the fact that he only played in at least 130 games in a season twice, he finds himself as the starting right fielder of the one-hit wonder team of the 2000’s. The former first-round pick managed to hit 154 home runs and 491 RBIs over his nine-year career, although the majority of his offensive production came in 2008.

Quentin finished his 25-year-old season with a career-best .288 batting average, 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 96 runs scored. His offensive WAR of 5.3 accounts for exactly one third of his total career offensive production. If Quentin could stay healthy, he doesn’t end up on this list.

Mark Prior, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs, 2003

2003 Stats 30 GS 18-6 W-L 2.43 ERA 1.10 WHIP 245 K 211.1 IP
162 Game Avg. 34 GS 13-9 W-L 3.51 ERA 1.23 WHIP 243 K 211 IP
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Mark Prior’s career was cut tragically short due to a slew of injuries. (Photo by ESPN.com)

Prior was drafted 43rd overall by the Yankees in 1998, but decided to forgo and attend the University of Southern California instead. Three years later, he was selected second overall by the Cubs in the 2001 draft.

He made his major league debut in May of 2002, and finished the season with a 6-6 record, 3.32 ERA and 147 Ks in 116.2 innings pitched. In 2003, Prior officially broke out, recording an 18-6 record with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts.

He was voted an All-Star for the first and only time, while finishing third in the National League Cy Young and ninth in the NL MVP vote.

Prior’s career was derailed by multiple injuries including a broken ankle, broken elbow, torn labrum and torn rotator cuff, which caused him to retire at just 25 years of age in 2006.

His career WAR over five seasons is 15.7, although a good bit of his production occurred in 2003, where his WAR totaled 7.4.

John Axford, Closer, Milwaukee Brewers, 2011 

2011 Stats 74 G 46 SV 1.95 ERA 1.14 WHIP 86 K 73 IP
162 Game Avg. 68 G 20 SV 3.68 ERA 1.41 WHIP 74 K 65 IP

After being drafted in the seventh round in 2001, Axford decided to forgo the draft and attend the University of Notre Dame. He was then selected in the 42nd round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2005, although he did not sign. After spending a season with the Yankees, Axford made a move to Milwaukee where he would be until 2013.

Axford spent three full seasons as the Brewers’ primary closer, although his 2011 campaign was unparalleled to any other. He recorded 46 saves, a 1.95 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 73 innings pitched. His WAR in 2011 totaled 2.3, which accounts for over 50 percent of his nine-year career WAR of 4.2.

 

Featured image by Ed Betz of MLB.com

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The race to the top: The AL Wild Card

As the trade deadline draws nearer, teams have to determine if they will be buyers or sellers. The separation between the two is pretty evident in the National League (minus the NL Central). But with six teams within two games of the last American League Wild Card spot, the race is wide open. Even so, only two teams make it to the Wild Card game. Let’s take a look at the top four teams vying for the coveted Wild Card berths and determine if they have what it takes to make it to the playoffs.

New York Yankees (44-37)

AL Wild Card

C.C. Sabathia has been a key contributor in the Yankees rotation (Kathy Willens/Associated Press).

Current Wild Card Standing: 1st Wild Card

After spending the majority of the season atop the AL East standings, a rough patch has left them two and a half games back of the Boston Red Sox. Even so, the Bronx Bombers are making a comeback, with an offense that can rival any team in the American League. Just look at the numbers; fourth-best team batting average in the majors (.269), fourth-most home runs (125), and second-best on base percentage (.347). That also included AL MVP front-runner Aaron Judge, who has buoyed the Yankees offense.

The pitching staff has also performed well. With the sixth-best team ERA in the majors (3.93), fifth-best WHIP (1.24), and fourth-best batting average against (.237), the Yankees are a complete team. Even though team ace Masahiro Tanaka has struggled this season with a 5.56 ERA. Jordan Montgomery and C.C. Sabathia have been key contributors for Joe Girardi. And with Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman in the ‘pen, the Yankees can hold a lead as well as anyone. Look for them to be a lock for the AL Wild Card and to contend for the AL East for the remainder of the season.

Tampa Bay Rays (43-41)

Current Wild Card Standing: Tied for 2nd Wild Card

AL Wild Card

Corey Dickerson has been an excellent addition to a surprising Rays’ offense (mlb.com).

Even occupying the second Wild Card spot hasn’t been enough to earn the Rays the attention they deserve. But with only one player making the AL All-Star roster (Corey Dickerson), the Rays have relied on timely hitting and clutch pitching so far. The offense’s strength has been power, with the second-most home runs in the majors (128) and seventh-best slugging percentage (.447). Even though the offense has the ability to bludgeon opponents, it hasn’t had to. The pitching staff has done more than hold its own this season.

Ranking in 11th place in the majors in team ERA (4.18), WHIP (1.31) and tied for ninth in batting average against (.250), the pitching staff has given the offense plenty of opportunities to win games. Chris Archer and Alex Cobb have both had average seasons so far, and will need to turn it on down the stretch to ensure the Rays stay in contention. But if rookie Jacob Faria can maintain his 2.23 ERA, the pressure on Archer and Cobb will be vastly diminished. The Rays should hover around the top of the Wild Card standings and could make a run for the top spot.

Kansas City Royals (42-40)

AL Wild Card

Jason Vargas has put up a Cy Young caliber season in Kansas City (mlb.com).

Current Wild Card Standing: Tied for 2nd Wild Card

Of all of the teams in contention for the AL Wild Card, the Royals are the most interesting. Just two years removed from winning the Fall Classic, the majority of the championship roster remains intact. Although the team has a World Series pedigree, the offense has been sub-par. Ranking 20th in the majors in team batting average (.251), 29th in on base percentage (.303) and 22nd in slugging (.414) doesn’t bode well for their playoff hopes. Even strong seasons from Lorenzo Cain and All-Star starter Salvador Perez haven’t been enough to right the offense.

The pitching staff has fared better than the offense, but not by much. With the 13th best team ERA in baseball (4.26), 18th best WHIP (1.37) and 19th best batting average against (.260), the pitching staff has been below league average. The bright spot in the rotation has been Jason Vargas, who is a legitimate AL Cy Young candidate. Vargas and Danny Duffy have carried the pitching staff, but it’s not nearly enough to keep the Royals in contention. With a tough division and even tougher Wild Card race, the Royals don’t have enough to contend. Look for them to be big sellers at the trade deadline and gear up for a long rebuild.

Minnesota Twins (42-40)

Current Wild Card Standing: Tied for 2nd Wild Card

AL Wild Card

Sano has been terrific this season, earning his first All-Star appearance (mlb.com).

After years of rebuilding, the Twins are trying to turn promise into playoffs. But so far, the results have been mixed. Miguel Sano has turned into an All-Star third baseman, while second baseman Brian Dozier has put up an average season. Their contributions have led to the Twins 18th best team batting average in the majors (.252), 10th best on base percentage (.328) and 23rd best slugging percentage (.413). Even with a middling offense, it has driven the team’s success so far, as the pitching staff has struggled.

Ranking in the bottom third of the majors in team ERA (4.88, 27th), WHIP (1.44, 26th) and batting average against (.269, 26th) has kept the Twins from being true contenders in the AL. Even with Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios pitching well, the remainder of the Twins’ staff has let the team down. The Twins are in a precarious position; too young to rebuild but not quite good enough to be serious contenders. They could add a pitcher at the deadline, but it wouldn’t make much difference in a competitive AL Wild Card race. The Twins will ride out the remainder of the season and finish around the .500 mark.

Feature image by John Sleezer, TNS. 

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Biggest surprises of the 2017 MLB Season

Biggest Surprises of the 2017 MLB Season

This Major League Baseball season has brought many big surprises. One being that MLB hitters are on pace to hit about 500 more home runs this season than ever before. With this in mind, it’s time to look at five players who have been the biggest surprises of the 2017 MLB season.

Ryan Zimmerman, First Baseman, Washington Nationals

Biggest surprises 2017 MLB Season

Ryan Zimmerman is finally healthy and on pace for over 40 home runs in 2017. (Photo by Nick Wass/Associated Press)

At 32 years old, Zimmerman is having a career year. He is currently ranked within the top 10 in National League home runs, RBI and batting average.

Unfortunately, he has been riddled with injuries in the last three seasons, as he hasn’t played in 140 games since he was 28 years old in 2013. In 115 games in 2016, Zimmerman batted only .218 with 15 home runs.

Now finally 100 percent healthy, Zimmerman is batting .337 and is on pace to set a career-high with 40-plus home runs. He has been an integral piece to the Nationals league-best offense.

Ervin Santana, Starting Pitcher, Minnesota Twins

Santana was suspended for 80 games in 2015 after testing positive for PEDs. Post-suspension, he managed to have a solid 2016 campaign, as he mustered up a 7-11 record with a 3.38 ERA in 181 innings.

Due to Minnesota’s newfound success in 2017, Santana has a 10-5 record and sports an impressive 3.07 ERA. The analytics would suggest he is getting fairly lucky, as his FIP is 4.71 and xFIP is 4.86, although as they say, “it’s better to be lucky than good”, and in this case, Santana has been both.

Aaron Judge, Outfielder, New York Yankees

Biggest surprises 2017 MLB Season

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

Judge’s first major league stint came in August of 2016. He struggled mightily in his first 27 games, batting a mere .179 and striking out 44 percent of the time. Many questions arose to whether Judge’s raw power would translate to the major league level.

He has since proved all doubters wrong, as he is batting .326 with a league-leading 27 home runs and 62 RBIs. He has set the Statcast record for hardest hit home run at 121.1 mph, while also having the farthest home run recorded in 2017 at 495 feet and highest average exit velocity at 96.9 mph. The 25-year-old has officially emerged as an elite ballplayer and will continue to impress for years to come.

Jason Vargas, Starting Pitcher, Kansas City Royals

Vargas tore his UCL in 2015 which caused him to miss almost the entire 2016 season. After over a full calendar year of recovery, Vargas is back and playing better than ever.

He currently has a league-best 12 wins with a 2.22 ERA. The 34-year-old is in line to make his first All-Star team in his 12-year career.

Cody Bellinger, First Basemen/Outfield, Los Angeles Dodgers

Biggest surprises 2017 MLB Season

Cody Bellinger has been the most pleasant surprise of 2017. (Photo by Dodgers Photo Blog)

Bellinger had been tearing the cover off of the ball in the minors, hitting a combined 56 home runs and 174 RBIs in 245 games at three different levels. He was called up in late April after the Dodgers placed outfielders Joc Pederson and Franklin Gutierrez on the disabled list.

With a slew of outfielders including Yasiel Puig, Andrew Toles, Scott Van Slyke, Kike Hernandez, Brett Eibner and Trayce Thompson along with the aforementioned Pederson and Gutierrez, Bellinger wasn’t expected to stick with the club, but rather be a short-term replacement.

The 21-year-old had different plans, as he took his opportunity and ran with it. Bellinger is currently batting .267 with an NL-high 24 home runs and 56 RBIs. The young phenomenon has been arguably the biggest surprise of 2017, as he has made a severe impact on a first-place Dodgers team that didn’t expect to see him until September call-ups.

 

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Eric Thames

Evaluating Top Performers in MLB

There are players in the majors that far exceed expectations every year. Whether it’s a young rookie blowing away the competition or a veteran player who has finally found “it,” these are the players that draw the most attention.

Let’s look at four of the most surprising performers this season and see if their success can be explained. The numbers never lie, so let’s take an in-depth look at some of the more advanced metrics on these four players and see what they tell us.

1B Yonder Alonso – Oakland Athletics

Surprise MLB Performers

Yonder Alonso has finally found “it” in Oakland (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Yonder Alonso has been a revelation for the A’s this year after a lackluster season last year. He’s put up a .303/.389/.687 slash line in 32 games. He also has 11 home runs and 27 RBIs.

The home runs are more than he has slugged in any of his previous seven seasons. How has Alonso been so productive this season?

Numerous metrics vary widely from the norm for Alonso, and they may just be the reason for his resurgence. Alonso has a fly ball rate of 46.7 percent this season. That is much higher than his 27.5 percent last year.

What does this really mean? It means Alonso is putting the ball in the air almost 50 percent of the time he makes contact. That allows him to utilize his power and drive the ball for more doubles and homers.

He has also lowered his ground ball rate from 44.6 percent last year to 26.7 percent this year, causing him to have more opportunities to turn those hit balls into base knocks.

His improved fly ball rate has caused his home run numbers to increase, and his ability to hit the ball up the middle at a 40 percent clip has helped anchor his average. He is also making hard contact on 41.3 percent of the balls he puts into play, far outperforming his career 31.0 percent.

Alonso is having a career season, and it’s easy to see why. His 41.3 percent hard-contact rate combined with his 46.7 fly ball rate have resulted in Alonso being one of the most productive first basemen in baseball this season. If he keeps it up, don’t expect him to remain in green and gold for long.

SP Jason Vargas – Kansas City Royals

Jason Vargas has had an up and down career, but he has transformed himself into a new player in Kansas City. In his four years in a Royals uniform, he has a 3.35 ERA, a solid mark for any starter.

However, he has taken his play to a whole new level this season. He has a 1.19 ERA in six starts and is striking out 8.4 batters per nine innings. How has Vargas gone from solid to spectacular?

One way he has improved is his ability to leave runners on base. His 87.4 left-on-base percentage is much higher than his career 73.3 percent. By leaving runners on base, he has drastically lowered his ERA.

Vargas isn’t relying on smoke and mirrors to produce his minuscule ERA. Opposing hitters have a .282 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). While that is lower than the average .300 BABIP experienced by pitchers, he is still relatively close to the norm. Vargas isn’t relying on an unsustainable BABIP to produce, meaning his performance is strong and should carry on throughout the season.

Another indicator of his sustainable success is his fielding-independent pitching (FIP). FIP measures a pitcher’s ERA independent of the fielders behind him, leading to a more accurate measure of the pitchers performance. With a 2.15 FIP this season, Vargas is performing at an elite level.

Don’t expect his 1.19 ERA to last throughout the season, but he will keep putting up spectacular numbers throughout the season.

1B Ryan Zimmerman – Washington Nationals

Ryan Zimmerman has found the fountain of youth in 2017 (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP).

When you’re hitting like Ryan Zimmerman, it seems like luck is on your side. Zimmerman is having a renaissance year in Washington and is currently tied or leading in all three Triple-Crown categories.

His .393 batting average and 34 RBIs lead all of baseball. He is also tied with Aaron Judge and Eric Thames for the lead in home runs with 13. How has a player that hit .218 last season vaulted himself into contention for the Triple Crown?

The metrics are mixed on Ryan Zimmerman’s performance this season. He has an unsustainable .422 BABIP, which has helped loft his batting average to around .400. His BABIP will surely drop as the season continues, and with it his batting average.

Even so, he is getting hard contact on 45.8 percent of the balls he puts into play. He also has a medium-contact rate of 43.8 percent. His hard-contact percentage will surely drop, but it should increase his medium-contact percentage.

Zimmerman’s home-run-per-fly-ball (HR/FB) percentage is also astronomical, hovering around 36.1 percent so far. It will surely regress, but no one is taking away his league leading 13 home runs.

Even with regression imminent, Zimmerman is still performing exceptionally well this season. He has been a key cog in the Nationals lineup, and he shouldn’t experience too much of a drop off in performance.

1B Eric Thames – Milwaukee Brewers

Eric Thames is close to becoming in the U.S. what he was in Korea: a spectacle of epic proportions. His performance this season has been among the best in all of baseball.

His .331 batting average, 13 homers and 25 RBIs are close to the rate of success he experienced in Korea. Surely major league pitching will figure him out soon, right?

If they do, it won’t be any time soon. Thames is tearing the cover off the ball with a 47.1 percent hard-contact rate. His ability to produce solid hits off of the bat has allowed him to increase his batting average as well as his home run total.

However, he may be due for regression in the slugging department. His 36.1 percent HR/FB rate is astoundingly high, and will surely regress as the season moves forward.

His .351 BABIP is also pretty high, and has helped carry his batting average. Even with a regression in BABIP, HR/FB rate and a lower hard-contact percentage, Thames will still be a productive player for the Brewers. Look for Thames to be a key piece in the rebuilding Brewers’ lineup.

 

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2017 American League Preview: The AL Central

Last week’s preview of the AL East examined a division where it appears almost any team could see the playoffs. This week’s look at the American League Central tells a different story with far fewer teams in realistic contention. That said, there are no sure things in baseball and this division is certainly no different.

One team looks to harness last year’s postseason success. Two others will fight hard to take advantage of their limited window. The final two teams look to the future and groom this league’s next set of stars.

#5 Minnesota Twins

2017 Projected Record: 61-101

The Twins should plan for some improvement in 2017. The return of ace starting pitcher Ervin Santana should add additional stability to the rotation. Furthermore, another year of experience for Miguel Sanó and Byron Buxton should aid in the offensive campaign. Max Kepler and other developing players give hope for the future, but the upcoming season optimism stops there.

The Twins simply don’t have horsepower to compete in 2017. The likelihood of another incredible power display by Brian Dozier isn’t high and team staple Joe Mauer continues to regress. The Twins have the opportunity for player development in the coming season but should temper expectations past that.

#4 Chicago White Sox

2017 Projected Record: 70-92

2017 American League Preview: The AL Central

Lucas Giolito #27 (Courtesy Getty Images)

The well documented offseason escapades of the White Sox have been widely praised around the league. The unloading of key players Chris Sale and Adam Eaton will undoubtedly hurt the cause in 2017, but it’s hard to argue with the return.  Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito are just the start of the strong prospect class Chicago has accrued.

While the future looks bright, the upcoming outlook is significantly bleaker. There’s plenty of youth that will have the opportunity to earn their spot this season, but few sure things.

Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera are solid veterans, but they alone won’t make the difference. Furthermore, touted slugger Jose Abreu has star potential, but has been inconsistent at times throughout his career.

There’s no reason for Chicago fans to be disappointed with the direction the team’s headed, but may have to wait awhile to get to the destination.

#3 Kansas City Royals

2017 Projected Record: 83-79

The Royals could be an intriguing team in 2017. While the window is rapidly closing, the core of what made Kansas City World Series champions remains.

The Royals have consistently sported a small-ball lineup and strong bullpen that sneaks up on teams late in games. The offseason additions of Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss may even add an element of pop to the lineup.

With the rotation now anchored by the volatile Danny Duffy, the real test for the Royals will be starting pitching. If the Royals can get an early lead, fans should be confident in Ned Yost’s ability to manage the win.

Chances of the Royals making a serious run in 2017 aren’t likely given their divisional opponents. Of course, that’s what everyone said the year they took it all.

#2 Detroit Tigers

2017 Projected Record: 88-74

2017 American League Preview: The AL Central

Miguel Cabrera #24 (Courtesy Getty Images)

The Tigers will get a boost to their win total over last year contingent on one factor: health. Detroit is a team that underachieved given their talent, but that could be attributed to the injury bug.

Watching Michael Fulmer emerge and Justin Verlander reclaim his Cy Young form was impressive to say the least. If the Tigers can add firepower to the bullpen, Detroit can feel good about the arms they’ve assembled.

With pitching in relatively good hands, the real strength of the team will have the opportunity to do some damage. This Tigers lineup is full of savvy veterans who can hurt you in a number of ways. At age 33, Miguel Cabrera remains one of the best hitters in baseball and he is just one of many weapons.

If the Tigers can stay off the DL, look for them to put the heat on the projected front-runners.

#1 Cleveland Indians

2017 Projected Record: 93-69

The team who fell just one game shy of World Series glory last year has not been shy about their future intentions. From players’ comments to front office investment in star slugger Edwin Encarnacion, the goal is clear. Get back and win the World Series. However, stating that goal and achieving it are two very different things, especially in the game of baseball.

That said, there is plenty to feel good about with this Indians bunch. The return of Michael Brantley and the improving health of their rotation is a good sign. Upgrading at first base, a full season of Andrew Miller, and another year of cohesion all have the Tribe in a good spot.

The AL central isn’t going to let Cleveland run away with the division, but it’s going to be an uphill battle to stop them.

 

*Team Logos Courtesy of MLB.com*

 

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