10-year peak WAR

What is 10-Year Peak WAR?

Just when you thought you had enough stats to last a lifetime someone had to come along and muck up the works with 10-year peak WAR.

As the most rabid of baseball stat junkies will tell you, wins above replacement (WAR) is a measure of performance that sets a player against the cumulative league averages to determine how much better or worse that player is compared to the “next best” option. Examining peak WAR as it is used currently, raises questions with about the validity of a player’s “peak” seasons as expressed through the 7-year peak WAR statistic.

My problem with 7-year peak WAR is that it does not give you a player’s peak production. It only tells you what his seven best statistical seasons were regarding wins above replacement. This is wrong for a couple of reasons. Allow me to explain my reasoning.

Peak is Prime

10-year peak WAR

Statistical anomaly, Brett Favre. (Photo courtesy of: The Guardian)

To me, peak is synonymous with a player’s physical prime. I would like to find common ground here because I hate to break it to the hardcore stat guys, peak does not mean seven best seasons. The definition of peak should be the same as talking about a player’s prime years, or when he is at his physical apex.

Settle down and let me finish before you go dusting off those torches. Don’t go thinking problems with peak WAR as it is currently considered is a challenge to WAR itself. Wins above replacement is very useful, especially when gauging a player’s Cooperstown credentials. My problem is with the way it is calculated with respects to a player’s peak.

I have spent countless hours poring over player data and calculating my own version of “peak WAR” and my application isn’t what might be usually expected. It’s hardly an attempt at reinventing the wheel though. Think of it as a minor tweak in how we view a player’s peak production. I must also add; the Cooperstown inductees have nothing to fear.

When looking at the peak of a pro-ballplayer, I don’t need to know what his seven best WAR seasons are, nor do I care. No, what I need to know is how well he performed through his physical peak. Here’s an example showing exactly what’s trying to be conveyed. Brett Favre in 2009 put up the greatest season of his entire career at 40-years old. Now tell me this, is this a guy in his peak? Or, is this an outlier of a season that happened outside of his physical peak? I’m going with the latter folks.

Let me get to the nuts and bolts. What I mean by physical peak is this: what is the player(s) production over his age 23-33 seasons when he is the strongest, fastest and fittest that he will ever be?

10-Year Peak WAR

10-year peak WAR

Not even Dave “Mr. May” Winfield had a higher 10-year peak than Koufax. (Photo courtesy of: Sports Illustrated)

Why pick 10 years as a sample? Firstly, this examination of peak WAR should only be used as a measure for Hall of Fame standards. The way I apply WAR should never be used on active players, unless you are comparing them with the career trajectory of a legend.

As I look at more and more data, those 10 years (23-33) look to be the general peak ages a player does his most damage. Granted there are players that don’t fit that criteria exactly, but these standards of peak envisioned here don’t care about that. If you enter the game at 24 years of age, like Kirby Puckett did for example, I take that as being a peak season. The reasoning is this, Hall of Fame players generally get to the bigs earlier and they stay longer.

Players should be rewarded for their production in their “non-peak” years as well. In my application of WAR, I generate two classes: 10-year peak WAR and Non-peak WAR. All 11 seasons that fall between a player’s age 23-33 seasons are his 10-year peak, and all other seasons up to age 22, and all seasons post-age 33 are calculated to be his non-peak WAR.

These calculations of 10-year peak WAR vs. Non-peak WAR speaks to one thing. Career Longevity. This is not to say that a player cannot be Hall of Fame worthy after playing a limited number of years, but generally, we all know that you need at least a decade of dominant play on your resume to get in to Cooperstown.

There are exceptions to every rule of course, but how many Sandy Koufax’s are there exactly? Koufax, by my system, had eight seasons of his 10-year prime only, and yet still managed a (50.2) WAR over that stretch.

It only becomes more impressive when you realize that in eight seasons from age 23-30, Koufax still put up better 10-year peak WAR than did Molitor, Stargell, Winfield and Puckett along with many more.

Non-peak WAR

10-year peak WAR

Paul Molitor has the highest non-peak WAR among HOF third basemen. (Photo courtesy of: Star Tribune)

This is where examining peak WAR takes a twist. A player should be rewarded for his length of career. If a player makes it to the bigs at 21 for instance, those first two seasons while he’s developing are tacked on to whatever production he shows from age 34 until retirement. This is what I call Non-peak WAR.

Consider my application of WAR as I have outlined it so far. What I am essentially doing, is saying how good were these guys, and for how long? I am favoring career length as much as I am favoring the player’s overall production and worth to his team. Trust me, the Hall of Famers still stand out. Start doing some calculations if you don’t believe me.

If you are a purest like me, Cooperstown isn’t for those that burn out after five seasons (unless you’re ridiculous like Koufax), Cooperstown is for those that do it better and do it longer. In case you are wondering what Sandy’s Non-peak WAR was, it was (3) and that’s not a typo either. The fact that Koufax made the Hall is a testament to how great he actually was.

Consider Paul Molitor. From 1980 through 1990, Molitor posted a (41.3) WAR. That’s damn good. But it’s also off the pace of Hall of Fame standards for third basemen using this version of 10-year peak WAR by nearly 10-points. It’s what Molitor did in those other 10 of his 21 big league seasons that truly sets him apart. His Non-peak WAR (34.2) is over two-times higher than Hall standard at his position (15.9). Molitor’s Non-peak WAR is so good, it puts him as the best of all time at third base in Non-peak WAR by nearly 9-points over Mike Schmidt’s (25.6) Non-peak WAR.

What it Means

10-year peak WAR

Larry Walker breaks toward first after making contact. (Photo courtesy of: Denver Post)

There really is no solid indicator for career longevity. Especially when you isolate a player’s seven best seasons irrespective of when they occurred in a player’s career chronologically. Those who play a shorter amount of time are going to have to be so good they won’t be denied. Like Koufax.

Falling short on one end of these WAR calculations isn’t scuttling a player’s shot at the Hall. But it is putting them to a higher standard to truly dominate for the brief moments they are playing.

What is harsh though, is Larry Walker only getting 21.9 percent of the vote in the most recent Hall of Fame voting. On his seventh ballot, mind you. Here’s a guy that finished with a 10-year peak WAR of (49.4) and a Non-peak WAR of (23.3). Not bad considering Hall average for RF is (52.6/20.6) by my system.

Walker is off the 10-year peak WAR of right fielders by 3-points, but he’s above Non-peak production by nearly 3-points. How is Walker not getting more than 1 in 5 Hall votes? And please, do not give me that, “He played in Colorado!” crap either. I’m not having it, where a player takes the field for their home games should not be looked upon as a sin. Furthermore, if that’s the standard we’re going by I feel bad for any great player that calls Coors Field home. Let’s not make Larry Walker another snub job that the Veterans Committee is going to have to fix.

Like the Alan Trammell debacle.

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Sports Illustrated)

 

 

 

 

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Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers: Contenders Now

The Milwaukee Brewers find themselves 3.5 games behind Chicago Cubs in race for the NL Central division crown with 12 to play; also gain on idle Colorado.

In most seasons, it is with little fanfare the weeks of September pass lazily by for the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans. But wait! Hold on! To quote the fictitious Lou Brown “We’re contenders now.” Please allow me to gush about a team none of us saw coming.

Hell, I thought the Brewers last meaningful game would be on or around the first of May! I bet you did too.

Millennials Don’t Understand

Milwaukee Brewers

Legendary fictitious manager, Lou Brown. (Photo courtesy of: bloguin.com)

Many of the younger Brewers fans can’t recall how terrible this club has historically performed. They can’t wrap their heads around how brutal the dual division format was. There was a time when winning 100 games and missing the playoffs actually happened. Yes, really. They can’t feel the disappointment of finishing with 91 wins and being shut out of the playoffs.

The American League East was a meat-grinder in the 1980s. Millennials just don’t remember how hard losing out to the Red Sox by 2 games in 1988 was. This youngest generation of Brewers fans has been spoiled in comparison to us who are getting a little long in tooth these days.

I have to just shake my head at those who are overly pessimistic about the prospects of seeing meaningful October baseball in Milwaukee. Look alive out there! The Brewers are still in this thing!

Sure, at 3.5 games back they have their work cut out for them. But with 12 games left to play and with four at home against the Cubbies, all bets are off. Sure, they need to be almost perfect to take the NL Central crown but what would you rather be doing right now? Talking about the postseason? Or having a round table debate on how fast the Brewers will move Keston Hiura through the farm system? I know what I pick.

The Beermakers have had fairly consistent playoff baseball to look forward to since they slump busted their way to the 2008 postseason. Granted, they lost out in five to the Phillies in the NLDS but nobody will ever take away that lone series win for Dave Bush. Put that one in your pocket Dave, it’s yours to keep forever.

Ok, so the Milwaukee Brewers have not exactly been perennial playoff contenders like St. Louis and the New York Yankees. What the Brewers have done in the last decade however, is double their playoff appearances from two to four. This was all a long time coming too, 26 years between postseason berths is far too long.

The 1970’s

The 1970’s were the decade of bad music (disco) and horrendous Brewers baseball. From 1970, the Brewers’ inaugural season in Milwaukee, through 1977 they won an average of 69 ballgames. Over that span they put up an atrocious (.427) win percentage. Yikes!

Milwaukee Brewers

Unlikely playoff winner Dave Bush floats one in there. (Photo courtesy of: NY Daily News)

The only thing golden about this period of Milwaukee Brewers team history is George Scott’s five consecutive gold glove seasons manning first base.

After the 1977 season concluded Harry Dalton was hired as GM. This keen hire would ultimately change the hard luck fortunes of Milwaukee’s annual celebration of futility when Dalton wasted no time in hiring new manager George Bamberger.

The change in Milwaukee was sudden. In 1978 the upstart Brewers would post not only their first winning season, but suddenly found themselves in the thick of the AL East pennant race. They would romp to a franchise high 93 wins. However, Bambi’s Bombers would fail to bring the pennant home, finishing in third place behind Boston and soon to be World Champion New York.

As suddenly as this renaissance had taken place however, it appeared to be over when Bamberger suffered a heart attack at spring training in 1980. Bamberger would return after having surgery to repair his condition but he would not finish the season at the helm, resigning his post September 7, 1980.

Oh No! We Suck Again!

While it must have been a thrilling time in the early 1980s for Milwaukee Brewers fans, the period from 1993-2006 was anything but.

After the Brewers won 92 games in 1992 to finish four games off the pace of eventual world champion Toronto,

Milwaukee Brewers

The inspiring Davy Lopes. (Photo courtesy of: Reuters)

an era of 12 uninterrupted losing seasons ensued.

If you’re too young to remember much of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1990s, you aren’t missing much. Those teams left scars, man.

Perhaps no scar is uglier and more painful than the 2002 season.

This was the era of Davy Lopes. I’m sure Davy is a good guy in person, I wouldn’t know I’ve never met him. But his teams were a dumpster fire and of course, the front office had plenty to do with that too. I swear Davy Lopes was sleeping in the dugout during most games. And why not? After all, Glendon Rusch doesn’t really inspire anyone but the opposing fans dreaming of catching a home run ball. My god, their odds of catching one had to be about 50-50 when he took the hill, the bleacher seats were more like an artillery practice range.

We Brewer fans didn’t bring gloves to those games. Hell no. You wouldn’t dare. You brought your hard hat or didn’t come back. That’s just how it was.

Oh 2002, how I loathe you. It’s like a bad ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. The memory always there, haunting you, laughing at you. Reminding you just how bad things were. That’s how it feels to witness a 106-loss season finally cave in on itself, forever buried in the past. No grave marker, no eulogy. Just gone. Dust to dust baby, dust to dust.

Milwaukee Brewers Contenders Now

The Milwaukee Brewers are contenders, so don’t be sad. Definitely don’t be that guy. Nobody thought they would be here right now 3.5 behind the Cubs with a fateful four game series on tap for the weekend but only the most delusional among us (don’t worry we love your foresight). Yet, here we are and you’re going to have to deal with the Brewers if you want the NL Central.

Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee’s first playoff team stands for the national anthem in 1981. (Photo courtesy of: onmilwaukee.com)

The Brewers right now are surviving in Pittsburgh hoping to keep pace with Chicago after taking two of three from Miami on the “road” at Miller Park. If that is a bone of contention for you, I urge you to please, contact the MLB office. I’m sure you’ll be the first knucklehead they’ve heard from too! Get over it, it’s done. I mean, it’s not like a hurricane was threatening to sink Miami or anything.

Losing Jimmy Nelson has hurt, he was just starting to get locked in and it’s an absolute shame that we’ve lost him. You know this guy wants nothing more than to be on that mound, trusting in his grind. I feel bad for him. But be that as it may the Brewers are not done, they are contenders now.

And you know what? I am not even going to hide my homerism here. How can I? It took 26 years at one point in my life already to suckle the sweet, sweet nectar of glorious October baseball. And let’s get real, postseason baseball is a white unicorn for anyone rocking the hottest gear in sports. The ball and glove logo of the Milwaukee Brewers is by far the best logo in MLB for sure, hands down.

And for the love of god, please don’t be like Randy Quaid’s rendition of “angry Indians fan” from Major League II.

Milwaukee historically doesn’t play many meaningful games this late in the year, and winter is coming folks. The long frigid winter. It chills my bones just thinking about it because we very rarely get to warm ourselves by the hot stove either. I urge you all to put aside the speculation on who the next Eric Thames-esque signing is going to be next January. That’s seriously about as much fun to think about as getting a root canal by a meth-head dentist who has since graduated to PCP. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

Let’s hold on to our boys of summer just a little bit longer! I’m headed over to Milwaukee this Saturday and I don’t even have a ticket yet.

What’s your excuse?

 

(feature photo courtesy of: gorillabaseball.com)

 

 

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National League DH

Why the National League needs a designated hitter

As a classic baseball fan, it is hard to say this, but it is time for the National League to adopt a designated hitter position. This has been a topic of conversation ever since the American League established a DH in 1973. However, many have been resistant to the new position because baseball needs to remain pure.

Pitchers are getting hurt

National League DH

Nelson hurt his shoulder sliding back into first base (Photo from MLB)

Jimmy Nelson is the latest pitcher to go down with a non-pitching injury. This is a huge blow for the Milwaukee Brewers as they just swept the Cubs at Wrigley in a pivotal NL Central showdown. The Brewers were out of the division race after getting swept by the Reds, but they did what they had to do to get two games behind Chicago.

Other big name pitchers have also been getting hurt on the base paths unnecessarily. Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright and Josh Beckett are all big name pitchers who have been hurt on the base paths. After their injuries, Wainwright and Scherzer both expressed an open mind to a DH in the NL.

The Nelson injury is a tough pill to swallow for Craig Counsell and company. Nelson was in the midst of a career year and was the ace of an otherwise mediocre rotation. He is on the Brewers to shut down opposing offenses, not leg out doubles.

It is easy to say this is a gross overreaction to an injury that just went down over the weekend, and it may be. The first base coach wouldn’t have tried to send him if he knew what was going to happen, but hindsight is 20/20 of course. However, is it really necessary to put pitchers at risk when they are not in the league to hit?

Pitchers can’t hit

National League DH

Pitchers will only continue to get worse as time goes on (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Having pitchers batting can be very exciting at times. One of the best moments in recent memory was when Bartolo Colon mashed his first career home run at the ripe age of 43.

Another show stopper is Madison Bumgarner, who seems to be able to hit the ball as far as most players in the league. However, pitchers like Bumgarner don’t grow on trees.

According to fangraphs.com, the 2014 slash line for pitchers as hitters was .122/.153/.153. Is that entertaining to watch? Can anyone really argue why that is worth keeping in the lineup? That is not just bad, it is atrocious.

The only real purpose that pitchers serve at the plate is bunting runners over. That is when small ball comes into play, and it can be really helpful when moving runners over for the top of the lineup.

The one thing that is always hard to watch is when a team mounts a rally. Imagine a scenario where a team is down 2-0 in the fifth with runners on second and third and one out. The eighth place hitter comes up to the plate with the pitcher on deck. What would any sensible manager do? They would walk to get to the pitcher of course. That way the fans of the offense just hope that the pitcher strikes out so it doesn’t run the risk of grounding into a double play.

The point of the scenario though is that pitchers can be a real rally killer, which is always hard to see. Remember the slash line for pitchers in 2014? Well, the slash line of the worst hitter in the NL that year, Melvin Upton, was a much more respectable .208/.287/.333 comparatively. Who would you rather have in that nine hole when an important opportunity for runs comes up in the middle of the game?

The DH leads to more excitement

National League DH

If it wasn’t for the DH, Big Papi may not mean the same thing as it does now
(Photo by John Macki of the Boston Globe)

As someone who has followed the National League for the most part, it is always strange to watch interleague play. Once the NL team gets closer to the end of the lineup, it is easy to write off the the ninth spot as an automatic out. What is refreshing to see is that they never reach that gap in the lineup that pitchers usually provide.

What is also nice to see is players that are not as mobile as they used to be can still provide a pop in the lineup in AL formats. That is why older hitters may look to move to the American League. If you average out all the major stats from qualified designated hitters this season, you will get a slash line of .253/.323/.443 with 24 home runs and 75 RBIs.

The DH gives older hitters the chance to focus on what they are good at rather than a hitter that will get one hit every ten at-bats.

There will be resistance

Baseball players as well as fans are very much stubborn when it comes to their beloved game. Baseball is most famous for its unwritten rules and history behind it. That is why many people will be extremely reluctant to the idea of a DH in the National League.

Many baseball purists say that big changes to the game like this are more likely to push away current fans rather than bring in new ones. That is a hard argument to keep up though since viewership didn’t go down after the AL introduced the DH, and replay review has improved correct calls significantly.

It will be a hard adjustment to make, but a designated hitter will lead to a better product on the field.

 

Featured image from Yahoo Sports

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Rookie

The Rookies under the Judge-Bellinger shadow

Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger have been in the limelight this season. On its face, one might think that Judge and Bellinger are the only ones doing anything this year in the world of the rookie. In reality, that is not the case. Names like Paul DeJong, Andrew Benintendi and Josh Bell have been lost in the shadow of the young studs out of New York and Los Angeles. Here is a closer look into those names that might be getting lost.

Andrew Benintendi

Rookie

Photo courtesy of masslive.com

Benintendi has been one of the focal points of a Boston team that has been surging as of late. He has managed to rack up 18 home runs along with a .279/.358/.450 slash line. He also has a 2.0 WAR which ranks 6th among rookies in the MLB.

The Red Sox are not a power hitting club by any means. However, it is still impressive that Benintendi has been able to get himself tied in home runs with his teammates Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez. His slugging ability bodes well for the future of Boston. He also rounds out a club that has had a lot of solid young talent come up recently, including Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts.

Benintendi especially falls victim to being overshadowed by the other sensations in the league, due to the fact he is in the same division as Aaron Judge. Now that Judge is on a cold stretch since the All-Star break, names like Benintendi’s have been coming out of the woodwork more often. Another AL East rookie has been having a heck of a year, but you rarely hear his name.

Trey Mancini

Rookie

Photo courtesy of mlb.com

Mancini has also been having a great year and has been hitting at a similar level as Benintendi, however you hear his name even less than the rookie from Boston. Mancini has racked up 22 home runs along with a slash line of .282/.333/.503. His name would also be in the mix for Rookie of the Year if this was any other year than 2017.

One aspect of Mancini’s game that is somewhat alarming is his strikeout to walk ratio. Mancini has struck out 103 times and only walked on 26 plate appearances. This demonstrates how Mancini needs to work on his plate discipline as well as his batters eye. If he does not cut down on the strikeouts then major league pitchers will figure him out quickly. This is apparent because he is only hitting .223 since the All-Star break, although he has been able to keep up his home run pace with seven in the past month.

Josh Bell

Rookie

Photo courtesy of ESPN

The power numbers for the Pittsburgh first baseman have been there all year. Josh Bell has 21 home runs along with 72 RBIs. His slash line is a respectable .261/.340/.493 along with a WAR of 2.0.

Bell has been progressively better for the Pirates as time has moved on though. Before the All-Star break his batting average was a lowly .239. Since the break, he has been hitting a more impressive .316. His bat has been complimenting the return of Starling Marte in a great manner, as he is a big reason that Pittsburgh has been able to stay in the race for the NL Central, despite the fact that some teams are starting to make their move to separate themselves.

Among qualified rookies, Bell ranks second behind Benintendi in BB/K rate at a .59. He has not fallen as victim to the typical strikeout problem that happens to many rookies. He has definitely started to figure things out at the big league level though, and really adds a big bat to an already solid Pirates lineup.

Paul DeJong

Paul DeJong has been one of the biggest surprises for an otherwise mediocre Cardinals season. DeJong has 20 home runs and 48 RBIs along with a .299/.330/.580 slash line. He also sports a 2.0 WAR despite only playing in 71 games this season.

DeJong has been cemented at the shortstop position for St. Louis despite the fact he was primarily a third baseman when he was coming up through the system. Not only that, but he has been batting in the three-hole for the Cardinals due to their lack of a big bat. DeJong is the first Cardinals rookie to bat in the three-spot since Albert Pujols.

DeJong would be slightly behind the home run pace of Cody Bellinger if he had as much time in the big leagues. However, he is also a victim to the strikeout. He has been struck out 87 times and has only been walked on 11 occasions, which does not give much hope for the future. It would lead one to believe that major league pitchers will catch up with him, and thus he may not be as dominant down the road. In the meantime though, he has been a huge bright spot for his team.

Rookie of the Year

At this point, it is pretty clear-cut that Cody Bellinger in the National League. Bellinger has been able to keep up his spectacular year since the break, however Judge has been sluggish in the past month.

Judge set the record for most consecutive games with a strikeout. He is also hitting .169 since the All-Star break. The Yankees and Judge are hoping that he will be able to break out of this slump because the Red Sox are starting to pull away with the East. At the moment, Judge has the Rookie of the Year most likely. There is more baseball to be played though. If he does not turn things around then he will get people talking about players like Benintendi and Mancini for Rookie of the Year.

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Postseason

National League playoff predictions

The National League has been interesting so far this year. In the Central, there’s a jam-packed division with teams floating around the .500 mark. In the West, the Dodgers have a strong grip on first place but the Rockies and Diamondbacks are also having great years. The East however is pretty much a lock with the Nationals having little competition getting in their way.

Here is a look at who will most likely be making an appearance in October.

Los Angeles Dodgers, National League West

National League playoff predictions

The Dodgers hope Kershaw’s injury will not keep him out for long (nydailynews)

The Dodgers currently have the best record in baseball and they have been tough to stop. They had a stretch of winning 30 of 34 games and are playing like they will be able to break their championship drought.

Los Angeles just took a major hit to their rotation. Clayton Kershaw left in the second inning of Sunday’s game with lower back issues. He landed on the 10-day DL and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

Kershaw has kept up his typical excellence thus far, so the Dodgers will have a lot to overcome with this injury. They are sitting pretty with a 10.5-game lead on the Rockies, but with how the division is playing this is no time to coast.

It will be interesting to see if the Dodgers will be looking for starting pitching help within the next week with this new injury. If Kershaw misses significant time, they may look for some rotation help to shore things up.

The Dodgers’ pitching staff has the best ERA in the majors, however the Diamondbacks are right behind them in that category. Los Angeles should not take the injury lightly as it is important for them to maintain their strong lead in the West. Otherwise, the Rockies or Diamondbacks could make a run for them.

All around, the Dodgers are still the best team in the National League even without Clayton Kershaw. The young duo of Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger have been fantastic this year on top of the stellar season from Justin Turner. The Dodgers have also been in the mix for Orioles closer Zach Britton. If the Dodgers make a move for Britton, it will be nearly impossible to beat them if they have a lead in the seventh inning or later.

Chicago Cubs, National League Central

National League playoff predictions

Jose Quintana has won his first two starts for the Cubs (CBS Sports)

The Cubs have finally started to hit their stride. They are 8-1 since the All-Star break and have caught the Brewers in the Central.

The Brewers however are starting to regress like a lot of people predicted. They are 3-7 since the break with six of those games against the Philadelphia Phillies. Things aren’t getting easier as their next two series are against the Nationals and the Cubs.

Chicago has gotten a spark since the Jose Quintana trade. They gave up their best prospect in Eloy Jimenez, but may have received one of the key pieces they were looking for to fill out their roster.

One more thing they may look for at the deadline though is bullpen help. Wade Davis has been an excellent add this season for the Cubs, but they may need more help to fill out their relief pitching. The Cubs have been linked to Pat Neshak of the Phillies who is having a stellar year. He would make for a great combo of Neshak-Davis in the eighth and ninth.

The offense is also starting to play to its potential as of late. The combo of Bryant-Rizzo-Schwarber was supposed to be one of the most feared cores in the majors. Bryant and Rizzo are playing to expectations while Schwarber is slowly improving from his abysmal first half of the season.

The Cubs are starting to return to their 2016 form though, and if it keeps up then there will be no team in the Central that will be able to keep up with them.

Washington Nationals, National League East

National League playoff predictions

Harper has had an MVP caliber year (Sports Illustrated)

The Nationals may be the surest bet for the postseason at this point. They are not the best team in the league by any means, but they do not have any competition in their division that will come close to threatening them for the title in the East.

As with most teams in the league, the bullpen has the biggest question mark on the team. The Nationals do have some prospects they can deal in order to shore things up, because it will be vital for them to have a more reliable bullpen in the postseason.

Their bullpen currently ranks as the worst in all of baseball, and that simply will not suffice if the Nationals want to compete in the playoffs.

Although they have the worst ranked bullpen, they have the top ranked offense in the National League. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy have been a deadly combo this year that will throw any pitcher fits. Each one of them could be in the conversation for MVP, but the Dodgers have some serious contenders themselves.

Either way, the offense has been a big reason for their success along with their ace, Max Scherzer. It has been discussed that Scherzer may actually be the best starting pitcher in the league today.

Arizona Diamondacks, National League Wild Card #1

National League playoff predictions

J.D Martinez makes the Diamondbacks lineup much stronger (arizonasports)

The Diamondbacks showed the league that they are serious this year with their acquisition of J.D. Martinez. Martinez makes the Diamondbacks’ lineup strong enough to perhaps be able to compete with the best offenses in the league. The Goldscmidt-Martinez combo along with the other Arizona hitters who are having great years would be tough to stop in a playoff series.

Robbie Ray is having a career year and Zack Greinke has returned to his Cy Young form. It seemed that Greinke may have lost his edge when he went to Arizona. However, he is proving that 2016 was a fluke and he is still an elite pitcher.

The pitching staff has overall been a real plus this year as only the Dodgers have been more successful. With the injury to Kershaw, the Diamondbacks may have a better opportunity to catch up to them.

The Diamondbacks have only won three of their past 10 games. This most likely will not last though. Every team has ups and downs during a season, and Arizona is just in the middle of it right now. Although they probably won’t be able to catch the Dodgers, they have a good enough team to take a wild card spot. In any other division in the NL they would have a much better shot at a title, they just happen to be in the best one in the majors right now.

Colorado Rockies, National League Wild Card #2

National League playoff predictions

Blackmon is having a career year in Colorado (The Denver Post)

The third team that has a good shot of making the playoffs from the National League West is the Rockies are having a breakout year. Colorado has some good young pitching but much of their success comes from their offense. Nolan Arrenado is proving to be an elite third baseman and Charlie Blackmon is having a career year.

Colorado is tied with Washington for the second best offense in the majors. What is interesting about this stat is that one would think that this is because they are hitting a lot of home runs since they are in Colorado. However, the Rockies actually rank 16th in home runs in the majors. They are getting guys in all sorts of different ways.

The Rockies will have a tough time holding their lead in the wild card over the Diamondbacks. Since Arizona has such a stronger pitching staff, it is most likely that they will overrun them.

They are looking for players to bolster their rotation, the only problem is that they are in Colorado. Yu Darvish has already stated that he does not want to be traded to the Rockies. The reason why the Rockies have a such hard time getting good pitching is because of their ballpark. However, Colorado needs a stronger rotation in order to compete in the postseason and stay ahead in the National League.

 

 

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The Lackluster National League Central

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

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

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

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

Chicago Cubs

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

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

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

St. Louis Cardinals

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

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

 

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

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

Milwaukee Brewers

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

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

Cincinnati Reds

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

Pittsburgh Pirates

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

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

What to look for in the coming months?

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

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Reviewing the National League so Far

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

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

NL East

National League Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NL Central

National League Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NL West

National League Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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NL Regular Season Award Predictions

With the regular season about to come to a close, it’s time to start talking about who deserves the individual awards in the National League for 2016. Sam Auricchio gave his take on the American League awards, as well.

MVP

Image result for kris bryant

Kris Bryant has been incredible in his second year for the Cubs, leading the team on offense to their second straight division title. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

Daniel Murphy was the strong candidate for the MVP in the eyes of many heading into the All-Star Break, when he was hitting a monstrous .387 to top the entire MLB. He certainly isn’t out of the running, still hitting .347 with 25 homers and 104 RBIs, but I don’t think he’s atop the list anymore. I think that the Cubs’ Kris Bryant has to be the favorite with the season he’s put together. He sits third in the NL with 39 home runs, sixth in the NL with 102 RBIs and fourth in the NL with a .558 slugging.

A guy who matches up with, and actually beats, Bryant on a number of fronts is Rockies third-baseman, Nolan Arenado, who has had a spectacular year at the plate. He leads the NL with 41 homers and 133 RBIs. There are two major factors at work against him in the MVP race, however. The first of which being he plays 81 games at Coors Field, a notoriously hitter-friendly environment. The second, and larger, difference is that Bryant has helped the Cubs to a 100+ win season and the first seed in the National League. Arenado and the Rockies will not be playing playoff baseball, whatsoever.

 

 

Cy Young

In the eyes of most analysts, the NL Cy Young has narrowed down into a two pitcher race. Clayton Kershaw was certainly very high up on the list before his unfortunate injury prevented him from pitching for most of the second half. The two remaining pitchers are Jon Lester and Max Scherzer.

Lester is the current favorite, according to ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor. Both pitchers lead the National League with 19 wins, but Lester has just four losses opposed to Scherzer’s seven. Lester’s ERA also sits at just 2.28, over half a point lower than Scherzer’s 2.82.

Scherzer is certainly hot on Lester’s tail. Scherzer has 86 more strikeouts than Lester in 2016 in 25.2 more innings pitched in 2016. Opponents hit just .193 off of Scherzer, opposed to .208 off of Lester. Both pitchers’ teams won their division, another factor considered in the Cy Young vote, so neither will gain an edge there. Honestly this could go either way, but I think Scherzer’s slow start (he was 5-4 through May, 14-3 since) may ultimately prove to be the difference here.

Rookie of the Year

Image result for corey seager

Corey Seager is not only looking like the best rookie in the NL, he’s looking like one of the best shortstops in the MLB. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

I think the race for NL Rookie of the Year is looking very one-sided at this point. Corey Seager has been the far-and-away the best rookie in the League. He leads the Dodgers with a .311 batting average, and has 26 homers, just one behind team leader, Justin Turner. Seager has been an absolutely critical piece in the Dodgers’ run to retake the NL West from the Giants in the second half of this year. Perhaps if Nationals’ rookie Trea Turner had played more games this year (Seager has played 155, Turner just 71) he could have competed with Seager in the race. As it stands, however, I think Seager is far-and-away the favorite.

A couple of other honorable mentions for the award would be: Seager’s teammate, Kenta Maeda, who became the Dodgers’ ace with Clayton Kershaw out with an injury for most of the second half of 2016. Cardinals’ shortstop, Aledmys Diaz, could have been in the running if he hadn’t sustained a thumb injury that put him on the DL from the end of July to September 12.

Mariano Rivera/Rolaids Relief Reward

The NL chase isn’t quite as one-sided as Sam Auricchio sees the AL Race being. Jeurys Familia certainly has to be near the top, if not at the top, for his performances in 2016. He’s the only closer in the MLB who has 50 saves in 55 attempts on the year, perhaps in part due to the Mets averaging just over four runs-per-game.

Familia’s biggest opponent is Dodgers’ closer, Kanley Jansen, who has 47 saves this year in 53 attempts. Jansen held opponents to just a .148 batting average over 67.2 innings, and is tied for the lead among NL closers with 102 strikeouts in that time.

Manager of the Year
This race is between two managers. The obvious one is the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, who has led this talented Cubs team to the MLB’s best record, currently at 102-57, en route to their second straight NL Central title. Expect to see Maddon a lot atop this list a lot in the coming years, as the Cubs show no sign of slowing down with the amount of youth on this team.

The other manager worthy of recognition in this category is the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts. Los Angeles was eight games out of first place on June 26. Clayton Kershaw, who was 11-2 at the time and the obvious ace of this Dodgers staff, ended up on the DL four days later. Despite that, this Dodgers club has gone 41-29 in the second half of the season, and secured the division earlier this month. The Dodgers may not have the best record in the National League, but they have posted the best record in the second half of the year without their Cy Young favorite coming into July. I don’t think Roberts will win the award, but he’s certainly a worthy second place in my book.

Image result for joe maddon

Joe Maddon has led the Cubs to the best record in the MLB. Well-deserving of the Manager of the Year in the NL, if not the whole MLB. Photo courtesy of nbcchicago.com

Bold Claims: 90 Wins not Enough in the NL in 2016

The National League is shaping up to be a real madhouse. It has a blend of teams in the rebuilding stages against teams that are primed and ready to make a deep postseason run. While it seems a bit early to be discussing how the playoff race will shape up, these first few weeks feature seemingly sleeper matchups that could have huge impacts come September.

Contrary to the American League, where a vast majority of teams  have a shot to compete in their divisions this year, the National League’s divisions each have two teams that should theoretically run the division, and two teams that should be at the bottom of the totem pole.

The Cardinals were the only team to reach 100 wins in the NL last year. They might have to do so again to stave off division rival and World Series favorite, Chicago Cubs. Image courtesy of wikipedia.com.

In the East, the Mets and Nationals seem the obvious top dogs in 2016, with the Phillies and Braves in the midst of rebuilding for the future, and the Marlins continue to be a dark horse.

In the Central, the World Series favorite Cubs and last year’s division champs, the Cardinals, are sitting pretty coming into 2016 with the Reds and Brewers looking fairly weak. The Pirates deserve an honorable mention as well, racking up 97 wins last year (and taking third, showing how intense this NL Central race can be).

The West sees the Giants (it is an even year after all) and the Dodgers, despite some injuries, as the front runners with the Padres and Rockies being the punching bags of the division.

Now comes the fun part. Each team plays their divisional opponents 19 times throughout the year. They play teams from the other National League divisions 6 or 7 times. So, with three potentially weaker teams in each division, the contenders are all playing predictably weaker opposition in roughly 66 games over the course of the season. If they win two-thirds of these games (which isn’t unreasonable considering the apparent talent gap existing between the upper and lower NL teams in 2016), they’re sitting at 66-33. Even if these teams all play .500 ball throughout the “tougher” parts of their schedules, that’s still 97 wins in 2016. With a couple of favorable series against the tops of other divisions or in inter-league play, there could be multiple teams sitting at almost 100 wins come late-September, and only five of them can make the playoffs.

While it’s incredibly unlikely that the 2016 season pans out this way for every single National League playoff contender, this shows just how crucial these series against “lesser” opponents will be over the course of the season. While the opening games may be forgotten by the end of the regular season, their impacts could be huge on where a team sits in regards to Divisional and Wild Card races come September.

This also makes the series played between the marquis teams in the division that much more exciting to watch. Since each team will theoretically have a large number of wins behind them, head to head records could be huge in deciding if a team is playing or watching October baseball.

This is all theoretical, of course, as every team is prone to big-name injuries or other factors that can derail a season. On the flip side, teams that seemingly don’t have a lot going for them can always surprise everyone with an expectation shattering season or play spoiler to one of the supposed top dog teams. It’s a long season, and anything can happen.

I want to give credit to MLB Network Radio, as I heard them discussing these details and it peaked my interest and made me want to look into some of the numbers and gauge the issue for myself.