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.

 

Featured Image by Sporting News

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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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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Catchers

This is the second installment of the 2017 MLB Season Position Rankings. In this installment, we will be focusing on catchers. Catchers will be weighed by their offensive as well as defensive stats.

Lets start our list of backstops at number five.

5. Yasmani Grandal- Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 MLB Season

Yasmani Grandal will be a steady presence behind the plate for the Dodgers in 2017. (Kevin Sullivan, Dodgers Staff Photographer)

Yasmani Grandal has proven to be a steadying presence behind the plate for the Los Angeles Dodgers. After being acquired from the Padres in the 2014 Matt Kemp trade, he has come into his own. He has provided a solid bat with some good power, knocking 27 long balls to go along with 72 RBI’s in 2016.

Grandal also has good control over the opposing team’s running game. In 2016, Grandal threw out would-be base stealers at an above average 29 percent. Grandal also had 13 defensive runs saved in 2016, providing elite defense behind the plate.

While Grandal does hit for a relatively low average (career .238 hitter), he makes up for it with good power and exceptional defensive skills. Look for Grandal to contend for his second career NL All-Star appearance in 2017.

4. Wilson Ramos- Tampa Bay Rays

Wilson Ramos turned into an offensive force for the Washington Nationals in 2016. With the decline of Bryce Harper from his 2015 MVP form, Ramos was able to pick up some of the slack and help Washington to their third NL Division Series in the last five years. However, the Nationals were unable to get over the hump.

Ramos posted career highs in all major offensive categories. He batted .307 and launched 22 bombs to go with 80 RBI’s. While putting up career highs in offensive numbers, Ramos also exhibited a strong control over the base paths. Ramos was well above league average (27 percent) in throwing out baserunners, limiting opposing teams to 37 percent.

While Ramos did provide ample control of the run game, his overall defense left something to be desired. He posted -1 defensive runs saved in 2016. The Tampa Bay Rays snagged the slugging catcher this off season, and will value him more for his bat than his glove in 2016.

3. Salvador Perez- Kansas City Royals

2017 MLB Season

The base paths are on lock down with Salvador Perez behind the dish. (John Rieger, USA Today Sports)

Salvador Perez has been one of the top catchers in all of baseball since becoming a full-time starter in 2013. In that time, Perez has garnered four AL All-Star appearances to go along with four Gold Gloves. He has provided a steady presence for the Royals and helped fuel their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014-2015.

While his bat did slip some from his career averages (career .272, .247 in 2016), his power was ever present. Perez slammed 22 home runs, the most of his career to go along with 64 RBI’s.

He also continued to show why he is considered one of the best defensive catchers of the game. Perez threw out opposing baserunners at an astounding 48 percent, easily tops for the catchers in contention for this list. He also provided solid overall defense with 3 defensive runs saved. Perez is set to continue his run as top defensive catcher in all of baseball for years to come.

2. Jonathan Lucroy- Texas Rangers

Jonathan Lucroy saw his season be split between the NL and the AL as the top catcher available was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers at the 2016 trade deadline. Lucroy posted solid numbers in both leagues in 2016, batting .292 while providing exceptional power evident from his .500 slugging percentage. He used his 24 home runs to pad his slugging percentage while pairing them with 81 RBI’s.

Lucroy was a force for the Texas Rangers down the stretch, both behind the plate as well as in the batters box. He threw out runners at a 39 percent clip, more than 10 percent better than the league average. Lucroy also had 4 defensive runs saved in 2016, proving he is one of the top overall catchers in baseball. A change of scenery seemed to fuel Lucroy in 2016. Look for him to continue his ascent while helping lead the World Series contending Texas Rangers in 2017.

1. Buster Posey- San Francisco Giants

Buster Posey has proven to be the total package for the San Francisco Giants. He has four career NL All-Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers, one Gold Glove, and an NL MVP Trophy to go along with his NL ROY award. Posey easily gained the top spot in these rankings, but not just by his trophy case. He posted a batting average of .288 to go along with 14 home runs and 80 RBI’s.

Posey was able to couple his solid offense with his stellar defense to garner his fourth NL All-Star appearance and earn his first Gold Glove. Posey posted stellar defensive numbers, providing 23 defensive runs saved in 2016, easily tops on this list. Combine that with his ability to limit the running game by throwing out 37 percent of baserunners, and you have the best defensive catcher of the 2016 season. Posey will give the Giants a strong glove and bat in 2017.

Catchers play a vital role in the offense and defense of a team. While catchers are more heavily weighed on their defensive stats, in the next installment of this series we will be looking at some of the biggest bats in the game. Stay tuned!

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Why Baseball is the Greatest Sport

Baseball has been dying. America’s pastime is not as popular as it once was. Football and Basketball have risen above it because they are faster and “more” exciting sports. The faster pace is definitely true and nobody would argue that. However, baseball is definitely exciting. In fact, baseball is the best sport.

No Clock

In football, basketball, hockey, soccer, and basically every sport, you have a clock. This allows fans to know how much time is left in the game and when they can expect it to be over. With the clock, teams can also manage it to their advantage. Teams with a small lead can kill the clock to help them win.

SCOREBOARD

Photo: ESPN

In baseball, there is no clock. Baseball has innings. Fans and teams have no idea how long a game can last. It could last two and a half hours, or it could last four hours. Baseball does not let a clock dictate how much time is left in a game. As a result, teams can’t kill clock. Baseball teams can’t take the easy way out. They have to play hard all the way through. They can’t let up and take it easy.

All-Star Game

The MLB All-Star game is better than any other All-Star game in sports. The league that wins the MLB’s All-Star game gets to host the World Series. This gives both teams a reason to play hard.

The NFL’s All-Star game, which is the Pro Bowl, is a joke. The best players rarely play. They are worried about getting hurt. The Super Bowl is also the week after, meaning no one from the two best teams in football will be playing.

Last year, the six quarterbacks on the rosters were Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Manning, Derek Carr, and Tyrod Taylor. Those guys are decent quarterbacks, but they are nowhere near the best in the NFL. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Aaron Rodgers were all absent.

allstar_chicagotribune

Photo: Chicago Tribune

The NBA’s All-Star game is filled with entertainment. There is a lot of exciting offense, but that is mostly because zero defense is played. It just becomes guys shooting wide-open threes and throwing alley-oops from all across the court. The best players play, but it is not a hard fought game and the guys mess around more than anything else.

In the MLB’s All-Star game, the best players play. They play hard and they play to win. Home field advantage for the World Series is on the line. Baseball is also not a violent game and no one is worried about getting injured.

Player Rings

NFL players, quarterbacks specifically, and NBA stars get overrated and underrated based on the amount of championships they have won. Dan Marino is hardly ever talked about as a top 5 all-time quarterback, but John Elway is. Fans say Tom Brady is better than Peyton Manning because he has more Super Bowls. Bill Russell is actually considered an all-time great because he won 11 championships in an era where the NBA was small and slow. Elgin Baylor doesn’t get the credit he deserves because his NBA finals record is 0-8.

Seattle Mariners

Photo: Huffington Post

Championships are team accomplishments, and baseball fans seem to understand that better than any other sports fans. No one thinks less of Ken Griffey Jr. or Tony Gwynn for never winning a ring. Griffey and Gwynn were some of the greatest hitters of all time and they get that credit despite not winning a title. Nobody thinks Yogi Berra is the greatest player of all-time due to the fact he has won more World Series than any other player. In baseball, players put up the numbers and get the credit they deserve.

Team Sport

Baseball is more of a team sport than any other. Lebron James lead the 2007 Cavs to the NBA Finals with his best teammates being Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Daniel Gibson. In basketball, one player can lead a team a long way, even to the championship like Lebron. There is no way they are going to win it all though. That season the Spurs swept the Cavs in the Finals 4-0.

Football is more of a team sport. You need a lot more than one star player to lead a team to the championship. Both the offense and defense need to do well. Tom Brady couldn’t save the Cleveland Browns’ season with how bad their team has been.

unpredictability_espn

Photo: ESPN

In baseball, you don’t really need a superstar to win the World Series. Take a look at the 2010 San Francisco Giants. Buster Posey was their only 300 hitter. No one on their team hit 30 home runs. They didn’t even have a batter get 90 RBI’s. They didn’t have a starting pitcher with an ERA below 3. Tim Lincecum lead the starters in wins with 16.

This Giants team beat the star-powered Texas Rangers. Josh Hamilton was the best hitter in the league with a 359 batting average, 32 home runs, and 100 RBI’s. Vladimir Guerrero hit 300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI’s. Nelson Cruz joined the team late, but hit 318 with 22 home runs and 78 RBI’s. They had two great starting pitchers in CJ Wilson and Cliff Lee and the hottest closer in the league in Neftali Feliz.

The Giants victory over the Rangers proved that baseball is a team game. Championships are a team accomplishment and every position is important.

Unpredictability

clay_bostonglobe

Photo: Boston Globe

The Giants 2010 World Series proves just how unpredictable baseball can be. Last place teams can beat first place teams in the regular season. The Cubs overcame a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series. The 2004 Boston Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter in his second career start. Josh Hamilton, Lou Gehrig, and 14 others once hit four home runs in a single game. You never know what is going to happen. No lead is safe in baseball either. Baseball may be low scoring, but it just takes one swing to put one run on the board.

It is difficult to predict the playoff teams in the MLB at the beginning of the season. Almost everyone can predict most of the NBA playoff teams and almost everyone predicted a Cavs/Warriors rematch in the finals. In the NFL, it is also not too difficult to predict playoff teams. In baseball, it is much more challenging. The season is long. Teams can go hot and cold so quickly. There are always teams that breakout.

Playoffs

padres_sportslogos-net

Photo: SportsLogos.net

You won’t see any team below 500 in the MLB playoffs. The worst team to make the playoffs in baseball was the 2005 San Diego Padres, who finished with an 82-80 record. The 1981 Kansas City Royals made it with a 50-53 record in a strike-shortened season and different system. The bottom line is only the best teams in baseball make the playoffs.

Each league now allows five postseason teams. There are three division winners and two wildcards. The NFL allows six teams from each conference and the NBA allows eight. Teams below 500 have also made the playoffs in these leagues. It is fairly common to happen in the NBA. The Carolina Panthers recently won their division with a 7-8-1 record and the Seattle Seahawks won with a 7-9 record. You would never see this in baseball and you should never see it in any sport.

Contracts

In baseball, there are no max-contracts or even a salary cap. Max contracts put a maximum on how much players can make based on their years of experience in the league. Max contracts have allowed the NBA to form the “super team” culture that traditional basketball fans hate because teams don’t have to necessarily break the bank to sign a top free agent. For example, Lebron James could have signed with any team he wanted to in free agency. The offer he received from each team would be essentially the same because each team could only offer him a certain maximum amount of money to come play for their team. Money does not talk in situations like this. Instead, the team’s success and location does.

Giancarlo Stanton recently signed a 13-year contract with the Marlins for $325,000,000. This is the largest in baseball history. Before him, Alex Rodriguez had the richest contract of 10 years for $275,000,000. The free market determined the value of these players and not a max-contract. The free market allows talent to be distributed evenly among baseball teams. It is difficult to build a super team in baseball.

stanton_cbssports

Photo: CBS Sports

The NBA, along with the NFL, has a salary cap. A salary cap puts a limit on the amount a team can spend to put together its roster. The MLB does not have a salary cap. This forces teams to make money so they can afford to buy players. Some people may argue and say it is unfair that only the rich can win. This is not always the case. Big-name free agent signings don’t always work out. The 2016 champion Cubs were 14th in payroll. The 2015 champion Kansas City Royals were 16th. The Dodgers and Yankees, who were the top paying teams in both of those seasons, were no where to be found in the World Series. Spending money can make a roster look good on paper, but it does not always guarantee success.

Some fans will say that a salary cap is necessary because it will keep competitive balance. Well, lets look at the NBA as an example. Since the NBA implemented the salary cap for the 1984-85 season, only ten different teams have won the NBA Finals. That is just ten teams in 32 years. Three of those teams, the Cavaliers, Warriors, and Mavericks, have only won the Finals once. Then there are teams like the Lakers, who have won eight. The Bulls have won six. The Spurs have won five. If you are going to make the competitive balance argument, the NBA is not the league to look at. 

Baseball, which does not have a salary cap, has had a much more even spread of world champions. Since 1985 (the same year the NBA added their salary cap), 18 different teams have been crowned world champs. Compare that to the 10 in the NBA. Only eight of those teams have won more than once. The MLB proves that a salary cap does not bring competitive balance.

 

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Players of the Week in the AL Central: 5/23-5/29

The American League Central really started to get competitive this week. The White Sox are currently on a six game skid to move from first place to third. Kansas City has won their last three games to claim the top spot. The rest of the division held serve, with the Indians staying in second and the Tigers and Twins rounding out the bottom of the division. Here are five position players and five pitchers who did the most for each team in the division:

  1. Kansas City Royals (27-22)

    Wade Davis has proven again that he is a premier closer in baseball. Photo courtesy kansascity.com.

Pitcher: Wade Davis

The Royals played six games on the week and Davis managed to pick up three saves to get them to first place. He had five strike outs and no earned runs allowed, to add to his impressive season. With 14 saves and a 0.92 ERA, Davis is in great position to win the Reliever of the Year Award.

Position Player: Salvador Perez, C

Perez only played five games on the week, but still managed to pick up ten hits. His .526 average led the team, and he added four RBI. His power numbers were solid, as he hit two doubles, a triple and a home run.

2. Cleveland Indians (26-22)

Pitcher: Corey Kluber

Kluber had one start this week, going seven and one third innings against the White Sox and picking up a win. He only allowed one run and struck out 9 batters.

Mike Napoli had a great all-around week for Cleveland. Photo courtesy cleveland.com.

Position Player: Mike Napoli, 1B

Napoli hit .318 on the week, but the amazing thing was his power numbers. His three home runs and nine RBI generated some much needed offense for the Tribe. The two stolen bases for Napoli were the lone ones of the season.

3. Chicago White Sox (27-24)

Pitcher: Zach Putnam

Putnam appeared in three games, without allowing a run. His five innings pitched and .125 batting average against made him the most impressive pitcher of the week for the White Sox.

Austin Jackson was the only bat who produced for the White Sox this week. Photo courtesy southsideshowdown.com.

Position Player: Austin Jackson, CF

The bats went cold for the White Sox this week, but Jackson tried his best to keep them hot. He hit .462 with 4 RBI. His 12 hits for the team were four more than the next highest player on the team.

4. Detroit Tigers (24-25)

Justin Verlander had a great start this week for the Tigers. Photo courtesy stack.com.

Pitcher: Justin Verlander

There were plenty of pitchers who could’ve been the pitcher of the week for the Tigers, but Verlander led them all with ten strike outs. He only gave up three hits in eight innings against the Phillies. His two walks allowed showed how precise he was with the ball this week.

Position Player: Victor Martinez, DH

Martinez had a blistering-hot week by hitting .500 with 11 hits. He didn’t draw any walks, but did add six RBI to help the Tigers stay in the race for the American League Central.

5. Minnesota Twins (15-34)

Pitcher: Fernando Abad

Abad threw 3.1 innings in four relief appearances on the week. His two hits allowed and .167 batting average against helped the Twins win four games this week.

Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano couldn’t stop hitting home runs if they tried this week. Photo courtesy twincities.com.

Position Player(s): Joe Mauer, C and Miguel Sano, RF

Both Mauer and Sano crushed the ball this week. They both finished with four home runs and seven RBI and hit home runs in three straight games. Without their offensive output, the Twins wouldn’t have won four out of six games on the week.

Royals Set to Showcase Impressive Depth Amid Injuries

Image Courtesy of MLB.com

Image Courtesy of MLB.com

On a 1-0 pitch from Luke Hochever to Melky Cabrera in the bottom of the 7th inning, the Kansas City Royals lost the contributions of two 2015 All-Stars from their lineup.

Mike Moustakas has been ruled out for the season (torn ACL) and Alex Gordon is expected to miss roughly a month with a fractured scaphoid bone in his wrist.

This collision is the type of thing that could ruin a season, but, the Royals have more depth than some in the national media are giving them credit for.

The Royals cannot possibly find another Moose or Gordo out of nowhere, but what they do have is several young players set to be given an opportunity to shine.

Starting at third base, the Royals have Cheslor Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier, and Whit Merrifield who could replace Moose in the lineup.

Cuthbert has received most of the reps at third so far and has been serviceable. His .254/.266/.349 slash line in 16 games so far is not particularly impressive, however, he has flashed a plus glove at the hot corner while holding his own against Major League pitching.

The other more tantalizing option is the possible arrival of the 8th pick in the 2013 MLB draft in Dozier. Dozier, who has struggled at times in his minor league career, looks to be putting it all together in 2016.

In 44 games so far this season in the minors Dozier has already hit 12 HR’s and driven in 36 runs while slashing .300/.367/.582.

Cuthbert rightfully will get the first opportunity at third base. If he fails to seize the job, or struggles at the plate, the Royals will pull the trigger on Dozier and give the youngster a chance to showcase his power at the Major League level.

Another option at 3rd base could be the super utility man Merrifield. In his first seven major league games Merrifield has hit an impressive .370 while logging starts at second, third, and in left field.

Merrifield made a strong push for a bench job out of spring training before falling short to Reymond Feuntes and Terrance Gore to start the season. Now given the chance to contribute at the major league level amid injuries, the 27-year-old rookie looks poised to make the most of his opportunity.

Dozier has the highest upside of the bunch, and if he continues to mash in Omaha he will certainly force the Royals hand. If that ends up being the case, Cuthbert and Merrifield could help take over the second base job where veteran Omar Infante’s contract continues to look like a mistake.

Moving on to shorter void that Alex Gordon’s injury has opened, the Royals also have several options at the corner outfield spots.

Currently on the big league roster Jarrod Dyson, Brett Eibner, Merrifield, and Paulo Orlando are all capable of playing both corners and should fill in well in Gordo’s absence.

Jorge Bonifacio and Fuentes are also producing well in AAA and even Dozier has logged 8 games in left field in 2016.

The former Brazilian track star Orlando has been destroying the baseball of late. Seen mostly as a role player, although this could just be a hot streak, Orlando is trying to prove he deserves and everyday job with his .390 batting average and solid defense in right field.

Dyson, who is also probably best suited as a role player, is a known quantity at this point. He provides elite speed on the base paths and elite defense in the outfield while providing zero pop with the bat. He may be best suited as a 4th outfielder, but he’s nothing to scoff at as an everyday player either because of those 2 elite tools.

Eibner, who went 1-3 in his major league debut with a run scored, has proven that he can hit AAA pitching with great numbers at the highest level of the minors over the past 2 seasons. Finally it was enough for the Royals to give him a chance, and should he harness his power, he could end up as the everyday right fielder even after Gordo’s return.

Looming in the minors is Bonifacio who was once regarded as one of the Royals better prospects. After several down years in the minors, Bonifacio looks to finally be putting in together with AAA Omaha this year.

Through 45 games he has crushed 9 HR’s and driven in 37, all while hitting .318. Much like Dozier at the hot corner, Bonifacio has the highest upside of the list of potential corner outfielders, and should he continue to hit in AAA, will be given the opportunity to showcase his skills in the Royals lineup.

The foul pop up off the bat of Cabrera could have been devastating for the Royals. Instead, because of the impressive depth that Dayton Moore has compiled, it is an opportunity to see what else the Royals have to offer.

With question marks at second base, third base, and in the corners of the outfield the Royals have plenty of options to find consistent production.

The infusion of new players could be exactly what the Royals, who are off to a sluggish start in their World Series defense, need. With several options at each key opening, someone should take reigns of the open big league jobs.

It’s matter of who will emerge, not a matter of if someone will emerge for the now crippled 2016 Royals.

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