Surprise Performances Around the MLB

The MLB season is still in its infancy with just one full week in the books. However, there are multiple players who are opening some eyes around the league. Whether it’s just a hot start or a cold spell, players and fans alike take notice. Who is making the most of the opening week of the season, and who could use a mulligan?

1B Logan Morrison – Tampa Bay Rays

Surprise Performances

Logan Morrison has been a bright spot in Tampa’s lineup (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times).

The 29-year-old first baseman has turned it around so far this season after struggling last year with a .238 batting average. He has helped the Rays to a 5-3 record and been a driving force in their offense. Morrison is currently batting .333 with two homers and six RBIs through eight games.

While it is a small sample size, the Rays don’t seem to mind. The Rays could be in playoff contention if Morrison can come close to continuing this type of production throughout the season.

C Jason Castro – Minnesota Twins

Jason Castro was acquired by the Twins in the offseason as a defensive specialist. He put up uninspiring numbers in Houston and left the city with a .232 career batting average.

It seems Castro may have found something in Minnesota, evident by his hot start. He is currently batting .353 with one homer and six RBIs through six games this season. However, it’s his OBP that draws the most attention. This season’s .542 is astounding compared to his career OBP of .311. Supported by the seven walks he has already drawn, Castro is looking like a steal of a signing for Minnesota.

If he can play close to what he’s shown already, the Twins will have made one of the shrewdest moves of the offseason.

1B Mark Reynolds – Colorado Rockies

Surprising Performances

Mark Reynolds has performed exceptionally well in Ian Desmond’s stead (Denis Poroy/Getty Images).

With the signing of Ian Desmond to play first base in Denver, many thought Mark Reynolds would see few at bats this season. However, a spring training injury to Desmond opened the door for Reynolds, and he’s taking full advantage of it.

Reynolds has always been known as a slugger with 255 career home runs. This season, he has been doing so much more. He’s posted a .345 batting average to go along with four home runs and 10 RBIs. That astounding offense has also been paired with some stellar defense, as Reynolds has made some great plays at first this season.

Reynolds will be going back to the bench when Ian Desmond returns, but if he can keep it up, he just may become a top trade deadline target.

2B Jose Altuve – Houston Astros

Jose Altuve is one of the best players in the game today. His third place finish in the 2016 AL MVP voting only supports that claim. However, he certainly hasn’t shown it to start this season.

The diminutive second baseman has posted a lowly .188 batting average through his first eight games. His poor performance is seemingly out of the blue given he led the AL in hitting with a .338 batting average last season.

With a player of Altuve’s status, it’s only a matter of time before he turns it around.

1B Anthony Rizzo – Chicago Cubs

After winning the World Series in 2016, the Chicago Cubs were consensus favorites to repeat in 2017. One of the main forces for that projected repeat was first baseman Anthony Rizzo, but he has fallen far short of expectations this season.

He is batting .172 to start the year. He has struggled at the plate, but luckily it hasn’t impacted his team. With the Cubs sitting at 5-2 and atop the NL Central, the Cubs should have no worries.

Rizzo will turn it around eventually and should help carry the club back to the playoffs.

1B Edwin Encarnacion – Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians were contenders in 2016 and were favorites by many entering the 2017 season. With the offseason acquisition of Edwin Encarnacion, many believed it would push the Indians over the top. However, seven games into the season, the Indians are 4-3, and Encarnacion is batting .185.

It’s not the kind of start Indians fans were hoping for. Even so, the Indians are still over .500 and treading water. When Encarnacion turns it on (not if), the Indians will be prime contenders in the AL Central. They’ll need to hurry with surprise performer Minnesota and the Tigers in front of them for the lead in the division.

 

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Must Add Players in Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Must Add Players

If you’ve ever played fantasy baseball, you know that your league championship isn’t won on draft day. One key to success is staying active on the waiver wire. As draft day has come and gone, the easiest way to acquire talent is by adding free agents. Below are five players that are under 25 percent owned on ESPN.com, but should be rostered in all formats.

 

Travis Shaw, First Base/Third Base, Milwaukee Brewers, (24 Percent)

Must Add Players in Fantasy Baseball 2017

Travis Shaw will be an everyday player for the first time in his career. (Courtesy of The Tribune)

My Predicted Stat Line: .275 BA/ 80 R/ 25 HR/ 90 RBI/ 5 SB

The newly acquired corner infielder has gotten off to a hot start in 2017. He has batted in the four and five spot in the four games the Brewers have played, tallying one home run and five RBIs while batting .357.

These stats obviously don’t hold much weight, but Shaw’s opportunity does. The 26-year-old will be an everyday player for the young Brewers and bat in the heart of lineup. It will give him plenty of chances to produce RBIs and runs.

The son of former MLB player, Jeff Shaw, has been a streaky hitter his entire career, batting .270 in the first half of 2016 and .194 in the second. However, I believe Shaw’s growing confidence will make him an everyday player. He also has a lack of pressure since he is out of Boston and is no longer on a contending team. He can join the ranks as a top fantasy producer in 2017.

Lance Lynn, Starting Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals, (22 percent)

My Predicted Stat Line: 15 W/ 170 K/ 3.4 ERA/ 1.3 WHIP

Lynn has officially re-entered the St. Louis Cardinals rotation after missing the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery. He fits in behind Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright as their third starter.

The 29-year-old has been a great fantasy pitcher in the past. His 162-game career average of 15 wins, a 3.37 ERA and 8.71 K/9. If he can return anywhere close to this, he will have great fantasy value. He is currently owned in 22 percent of ESPN leagues, which is a travesty for someone who has won 15 games or more three times since 2012.

The Cardinals, who finished fourth in runs scored in 2016, have added lead off specialist Dexter Fowler to improve their already elite offensive. This increases Lynn’s value, who is off to a great spring. He’s pitched a total of 15 innings to result in a 1.20 ERA and a .93 WHIP.

Lynn’s first outing of the year went well. He pitched 5.1 innings with four K’s and two earned runs. The Cardinals missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010. If they want to make it back in 2017, Lynn will have to be a major factor.

Corey Dickerson, Left Field/Designated Hitter, Tampa Bay Rays, (22 percent)

Must Add Players in Fantasy Baseball 2017

Corey Dickerson sheds 25 pounds in the offseason, signs of good things to come? (Courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

My Predicted Stat Line: .285 BA/ 90 R/ 25 HR/ 75 RBI/ 5 SB

Dickerson had a rough transition from Colorado to Tampa Bay in 2016, as he batted a mere .245 after batting .304 and .312 in the two previous seasons. He still managed to hit 24 home runs to go along with 70 RBIs, which was productive enough to warrant him top 80 outfielder status.

The 27-year-old dropped 25 pounds this offseason, which will make him more athletic than ever before. Dickerson will be an everyday player for the Rays in 2017, batting primarily lead off. He has begun the year batting .300 through the first four games, hitting his first home run at the Trop this Wednesday.

The career .279 hitter is a lock to improve his batting average from last season, which along with his power potential and opportunity as an everyday player, warrant him a spot on your roster.

Kendall Graveman, Starting Pitcher, Oakland Athletics, (17 percent)

My Predicted Stat Line: 11 W/ 140 K/ 3.6 ERA/ 1.3 WHIP

Graveman was the Athletics opening day starter this year and started off hot. He pitched six innings with seven strikeouts while only surrendering two runs. The elite ground ball pitcher has a career groundball rate of 51.5 percent and a fly ball rate of 27.6 percent. That shows he can keep the ball on the ground opposed to in the stands.

Unfortunately, the Athletics have the worst fielding percentage in the MLB, which may hold the groundball pitcher back. A positive is his increased confidence in his fastball. He has increased his use of the pitch consistently every season and increased its velocity from 93 to 95. That may help increase his strikeout rate.

Overall, Graveman will be the most consistent pitcher and a silver lining for the underdog Athletics this season.

Mitch Haniger, Right Field, Seattle Mariners, (17 percent)

Must Add Players in Fantasy Baseball 2017

Mitch Haniger may be sleeper of the year. (Courtesy of Minor League Ball)

My Projected Stat Line: .270 BA/ 95 R/ 20 HR/ 80 RBI/ 15 SB

Haniger was sent to Seattle along with Jean Segura in exchange for Taijuan Walker in the offseason. After slashing .406/.472/.719 in 32 at bats this spring, he has earned the everyday right fielder position against American League foes. He also will be the starting left fielder during interleague play, which will give him dual eligibility in leagues with individual outfield positions.

The 26-year-old will bat second behind Segura and ahead of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager, which makes him a likely candidate to score 100 runs. His combination of power and speed makes him a threat to be a serious producer atop one of the most talented lineups in the league, as the Mariners finished sixth in runs scored in 2016.

The rookie is currently owned in only 17 percent of leagues, which is sure to jump as he begins to produce.

 

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Franchise Relocation

Franchise Relocation Roulette

The NFL has seen three franchises relocate in the past year. The St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers both moved to Los Angeles. Two days ago, the NFL owners voted 31-1 in favor of the Oakland Raiders moving to Las Vegas.

One of the main reasons teams end up relocating is stadium troubles. The Raiders could not work out a solution with the city of Oakland which led to them looking for greener pastures. Sports is still a business and owners will do whatever is necessary to keep their business successful.

Another reason a team might locate is attendance. Owners are willing to move if they believe there is more money to be made elsewhere.

There are other franchises who may be looking to relocate their team across all major sports and this article will take a look at which franchises may be relocating sooner rather than later.

NHL

Franchise Relocation

(Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes have been rumored to be relocating a few times. Before Las Vegas was awarded an expansion team the Coyotes were considering moving to Vegas. Arizona has the second worst attendance average in the NHL with 13,020 fans per game.

The Gila River Arena in which they play in was built in 2003. 2003 wasn’t that long ago but with the attendance issue, the Coyotes could find more success in other another city.

The Coyotes have had little success on the ice as well, finishing ninth or worse in the Western Conference going on five straight years. The Coyotes could use a fresh start.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes are in the same boat as the Coyotes. They rank last in the NHL in attendance with an average of 11,778 fans per home game. Their arena was built in 1999 and they definitely need a new one. The Hurricanes haven’t made the playoffs for eight straight seasons and only once in the last 11 seasons. A change of scenery is something the Hurricanes franchise needs.

Both the Hurricanes and Coyotes could be open to moving to the following cities: Quebec City, Toronto, Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Hamilton and Indianapolis. If the NHL decides to relocate these are the two most likely franchises to move.

MLB

Tampa Bay: Tampa Bay is a city where a lot of people move to retire. The Rays attendance is the worst in the majors, based on average, with just 15,878 fans per game. The franchise has had the worst attendance in the majors since 2012 and the attendance has dropped significantly every year.

Tropicana Field is also almost 30 years old as it was built in 1990. Fans are not going to watch the Rays and their field is getting old.

Franchise Relocation

(Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu AP)

Oakland: The Athletics play on the same field as the Raiders. Golden State couldn’t get a stadium built in Oakland so they got one built in San Fransisco. The Athletics are now in the same boat. Oakland Coliseum opened in 1966 and players have mentioned water leaks in the locker rooms when it rains. It is clear this stadium is one of the worst in the country.

The Athletics have also had some of the worst attendance numbers in the past decade similar to the Rays. Due to the stadium issues in Oakland and the lack of attendance, the A’s may be on the move soon.

Possible relocation cities could include Las Vegas, Mexico City, Montreal, or Vancouver.

NFL

Buffalo Bills: There has been so much relocation as of late in the NFL it is hard to imagine anybody else moving cities. Buffalo is one franchise with a slim chance to relocate. Ralph Wilson Stadium was built in 1973 making it out of date. The city of Buffalo needs to handle this situation with the Bills better than Oakland did with the Raiders or the beloved Bills will find the best option for the franchise.

Possible relocation cities include Portland, St. Louis, Toronto, or Mexico City.

NBA

Milwaukee: The Bucks are usually in the bottom of the NBA when it comes to attendance. They have averaged 14,839 fans per game over the last five years. Their attendance has steadily improved as the team has improved but there is a chance owners think they do better elsewhere.

BMO Harris Bradley Center is 29 years old and needs to be upgraded for modern times. If another city gives the Bucks an offer they can’t refuse they will relocate.

With all that said the fans in the Milwaukee area are extremely passionate and it is hard to imagine them actually moving cities.

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2017 American League Preview: The AL East

Divisional competition consistently provides us some of the most compelling storylines in sports. While there are classic rivalries across any league, few match the excitement of a tight September pennant chase. In the weeks leading up to the season, The Game Haus will breakdown these classic divisional matchups and predict their outcome.

This week’s preview looks into the fierce battleground shaping up in the AL East. Baseball is famous for league parity, providing an environment where any team can emerge if they’re in the October hunt. In 2017, no division better represents this notion than the hotly contested American League East.

In addition to playing host to the storied rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox, several other teams have proven themselves contenders in recent years.  The road to the playoffs is never easy, but teams emerging from this division will have undoubtedly earned their spot.

 

#5 Tampa Bay Rays

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 70-92

One has to admire the Rays continued offseason efforts to infuse young talent into the organization. However, this is not the year for the Rays to compete with the remainder of the division. Tampa still has franchise stalwart Evan Longoria, and Kevin Kiermaier continues to improve.

It won’t be enough to contend. The Rays should improve slightly this year, but their main focus will be expediting young talent through the minors.

 

#4 Baltimore Orioles

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 82-80

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

The Orioles’ front office must have breathed a collective sigh of relief when Mark Trumbo signed on the dotted line. Attempting to replace league leading home run production with the acquisition of Seth Smith can hardly be considered a strategy. Most would expect some regression as it relates to Trumbo’s torrid power spree, but Baltimore will need every last long ball given the pitching situation.

There’s a ton to like about Baltimore’s lineup, and their power potential could very well lead the MLB once again. That said, relying on Chris Tillman to act as rotation ace should be a clear indication of a gap. Baltimore ended up posting an impressive 89 wins in 2016, but it’s hard to visualize a repeat performance.

 

#3 New York Yankees

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 85-77

Viewing the Yankees as the dark horse candidate in this division feels foreign. New York has spent the last few years on the cusp of contention but experienced a disappointing finish in 2016. However, a subpar finish to the season was quickly replaced by incredible optimism for the future. In an impressive series of moves, general manager Brian Cashman orchestrated the acquisition of several of the league’s top prospects from contenders.

The Yankees will look to put some of that young talent on display in 2017. Behind young bats Gary Sánchez and Aaron Judge, the Yankees should see an uptick in offensive production. The question facing New York will be last year’s injured and underperforming rotation.  The Yankees will give their divisional opponents headaches but may be a year out of real contention.

 

#2 Toronto Blue Jay’s

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 87-75

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

Edwin Encarnacion’s WAR in 2016 was 3.7, so perhaps projecting the 2016 win total to only drop by two is optimistic. The acquisitions of Kendrys Morales and Francisco Liriano, along with a dominant rotation has to count for something.

The Jays were also able to resign Jose Bautista and have many options to replace Michael Saunders. Overall, not much has changed for the Jays.

The core of what makes Toronto dangerous is still in place and this fiery Jays team will compete in 2017. The lineup is still strong, but the Jay’s will rely on the rotation that led the American League in ERA.

 

#1 Boston Red Sox

2017 American League Preview: The AL East

2017 Projected Record: 92-70

There are many worthy teams in the AL East, but one club stands above the rest. The Red Sox fell short in the ALDS last year but look to return with a vengeance in 2017. With the offseason acquisition of Chris Sale and rapid progression of star prospect Andrew Benintendi, Boston stands ready to compete.

The team that sported the most runs last year will miss the production of legend David Ortiz. However, the amount of young talent in the batting order backed by a star-studded rotation should put Boston at the top of arguably the most competitive division in the MLB.

 

*All logo images courtesy of MLB.com*

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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Center Field

In this eighth installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season, we shift over to center field. It is one of the most difficult positions to play in all of baseball and where you can usually find the best athlete on the team.  From slugging to speed, center field has it all. Let’s kick off our rankings with the fifth best center fielder in baseball.

5. Dexter Fowler- St. Louis Cardinals

2017 MLB Season

Dexter Fowler will go from rounding the bases at Wrigley to circling them at Busch Stadium. (Gene J. Puskar, AP Photo)

After helping guide the Chicago Cubs to a World Series title in 2016, Fowler will look to repeat as a champion with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017. Fowler provides the Cardinals with a spark at the top of the order, which is something they have been missing for a long time. He batted .276, .393 and .447 on his way to an OPS+ of 126, which is 26 percent better than league average. Fowler helped fuel his offensive onslaught by smashing 13 dingers to go along with 48 RBI’s and swiped 13 bags. He has an excellent mix of power and speed, but don’t sleep on his defense.

Fowler had long been seen as a subpar defender in center field, and the defensive metrics helped prove it. He made a small adjustment that had a big impact; he stood about 10 feet farther back in center than he had in previous seasons. That might not sound like much, but his defensive metrics speak volumes. Fowler had -12 defensive runs saved in 2015, but improved significantly to 1 defensive run saved in 2016. With a steady offensive approach and improved defense, Fowler is primed to be a big performer in 2017.

4. Kevin Kiermaier- Tampa Bay Rays

From being a 30th round draft pick to being named the best fielder in the majors, Kevin Kiermaier has seen a lot in his time with the Rays. Kiermaier has been the epitome of a draft day steal. The 2016 season was no different for Kiermaier, who batted .246, .331 and .410 while hitting 12 homers and 37 RBI’s. He also stole 21 bases in 2016, putting up an OPS+ of 104. His offense has been above league average for two of his three major league seasons, but he has had Gold Glove potential since day one.

In his past two seasons in the majors, Kiermaier has had 67 defensive runs saved in center field! That is an astronomical number, boosted by his 42 defensive runs saved in 2015. Kiermaier had a “down” year in 2016, posting a measly 25 defensive runs saved. All kidding aside, Kiermaier’s defense is truly something to behold. If he can improve his offensive game and maintain his defense, Kiermaier will be in the running for the upper echelon of elite overall players in the majors.

3. Charlie Blackmon- Colorado Rockies

2017 MLB Season

Charlie Blackmon can sometime be buried in a lineup like Colorado’s, but he shines nonetheless. (Russell Lansford, Icon SMI)

After making the move from pitcher to outfielder in his college days, it’s safe to say Blackmon made the right career move. The Rockies center fielder had his best offensive season in 2016, putting up a slash line of .324, .381 and .552. After three years of average offensive production, his 2016 slash line along with 29 homers, 82 RBI’s and 17 stolen bases were good enough to earn him an OPS+ of 130. While he has played half of his games in hitter friendly Coors Field, OPS+ takes into account the park in which a player plays, and Blackmon was still 30 percent better than league average.

Although Blackmon experienced an offensive explosion in 2016, his defense remained about the same. He posted -2 defensive runs saved in 2016, below average for a major league center fielder. His defense, albeit below league average, is still passable with his explosive offense. Blackmon will need to continue his offensive pace and improve his defense to become a regular on this list.

2. Jackie Bradley Jr.- Boston Red Sox

In his first full season in Beantown, Jackie Bradley Jr. was able to finally lay Jacoby Ellsbury’s ghost to rest. Bradley Jr. showed flashes of pure brilliance in 2016. He hit in 29 straight games and started in the All-Star game for the American League. Over the course of the season, Bradley Jr. hit .267, .349 and .486 as well as slugging 26 home runs. He also added 87 RBI’s and nine stolen bases to give him an OPS+ of 116. While Bradley Jr. was finally able to find his way at the plate, he has long been a master with the glove.

Bradley Jr. had 11 defensive runs saved in 2016, a remarkable number for a player who just played his first full season in the bigs. He has long been known as a defensive savant since his days in the minors, and he proved his reputation true in 2016.  Bradley Jr. made 156 starts in center for the Red Sox, and is entrenched at center for the foreseeable future. With the ability and opportunity finally matching, Bradley Jr. is set to have a monster year in Boston.

1. Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels

2017 MLB Season

Mike Trout is one of, if not the, best player in the game (AP Photo, Jae C. Hong).

Could it have been anyone else? Trout has put up video game numbers since being called up by the Angles at the ripe old age of 19. Since his first full season in the majors at 20 years old, Trout has finished either second or first in the AL MVP Voting, winning two AL MVP awards in that time as well as five Silver Slugger awards. Trout put up another spectacular season in 2016, batting .315, .441 and .550. He also slugged 29 bombs, had 100 RBI’s and stole 30 bases. Trout is the best overall offensive player in the game, but his glove doesn’t trail too far behind.

Mike Trout had six defensive runs saved in 2016 while roaming center field. His high water mark for defense was in 2012 when he had 23 defensive runs saved in center. While that might be difficult even for Trout to match, he is certainly one of the top fielders at his position. Trout is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, and shows no signs of slowing down. 2017 will be what we’ve come to expect of Trout; one of the best players of his generation at the top of his game.

Center field can be considered a top heavy position; it’s Mike Trout and then everybody else. While there may not be that much depth behind Trout, there are still young players who will be looking to take the next step in their careers in 2017. With the position full of young talent, they will all be vying for number two on this list for a long time to come.

 

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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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Hitting Tool

Potential Dark Horse Teams for 2017 MLB Playoffs

Just as the leaves change each fall, so do MLB’s playoff teams. Each year there are a number of surprise contenders looking to make a run at the World Series. Whether they come out of the gate strong or turn it on late, you can almost guarantee that one team will fit the Cinderella Story narrative.

So with the season fast approaching, which teams are primed to be this year’s Cinderella? Let’s take a look at four teams who might be able to fit into the glass slipper for the 2017 MLB Playoffs.

Colorado Rockies-NL West

Nolan Arenado looks to provide the power in a deep lineup. (Photo by Ben Margot/AP Photo)

The Colorado Rockies finished 2016 at 75-87, good for third in the NL West. While they were 12 games under .500, don’t let last years results fool you. They received strong contributions from home grown starting pitchers Tyler Anderson and Jon Gray. Both were in their first full seasons in the majors, and performed well; Gray struck out 185 batters over 168 innings pitched while Anderson posted a solid 3.54 ERA. With the offseason addition of Ian Desmond to play first base and the continued growth of Gray and Anderson, the Rockies could look to turn some heads in 2017.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- AL West

The Los Angeles Angels have one of, if not the best player on the planet. Automatic playoff berth, right? Not so much. In Mike Trout’s tenure with the Angels, they have only made the playoffs once, while Trout has won two MVPs in that time. The Angels are hoping to provide Trout with more support in 2017. With the acquisition of disgruntled second baseman Danny Espinosa from Washington, the Angels have added more pop to their lineup. Couple Espinosa with prime Trout and past-his-prime-but-still-dangerous Albert Pujols, and you have the core of a pretty good lineup. Couple in the additions of outfield speedster Ben Revere and Cameron Maybin and the Angels have a lineup that can compete with most any in baseball. If Pujols and Espinosa can take some pressure off Trout, the Angels could make a surprise run to the 2017 MLB Playoffs.

Miami Marlins- NL East

2017 MLB Playoffs

Giancarlo Stanton looks to send plenty of balls into orbit in 2017.(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

With the loss of pitcher Jose Fernandez in 2016, the Miami Marlins lost more than an ace; they lost the soul of their team. With heavy hearts, the Marlins were able to go 79-82 in 2016, finishing third in the NL East. It was an inspiring finish to the season, and one I believe will carry over to 2017. The Marlins will look for Giancarlo Stanton to improve on his lackluster 2016 season, in which he posted a slugging percentage of .489, the lowest of his career. Stanton won’t have to carry the Marlin’s offense on his own though. Dynamic second baseman Dee Gordon will be back to start the season and will be joined by steady outfielder Christian Yelich and power hitting Marcell Ozuna. If starting pitcher Adam Conley can build upon his solid 3.85 ERA and Wei-Yin Chen can get back to his career average 3.90 ERA, the Marlins will have two good starting pitchers to build their staff around. If Giancarlo Stanton can deliver on his 40+ homer potential and the pitching staff can stay near league average, this team could mash it’s way to a playoff berth.

Tampa Bay Rays- AL East

Out of the previous three teams, this team will have the most difficult time of making it to the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Rays finished the 2016 season at 68-94, 25 games back of first place in the AL East. The AL East is one of the most stacked divisions in baseball, with three out of the five teams making the postseason in 2016. But the Rays have one thing that every team covets; young, good starting pitching. The Rays have one of the deepest and youngest starting rotations in all of baseball, with five starting pitchers logging more than 100 innings pitched, and those same starters averaging 27 years old. With the addition of slugging catcher Wilson Ramos and the resurgence of third baseman Evan Longoria, the Rays will look for their offense to help carry them to the 2017 MLB Postseason.

The MLB season is full of surprises. Players and teams alike will burst onto the national stage, defying expectations. But while players look to their cleats to propel them from base to base, some teams will be looking for more dainty footwear. Maybe a glass slipper?

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2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Two

Welcome to the second installment of The Game Haus’ 2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season. Since the initial ranking, a number of small deals have continued to occur across the MLB. However, none of these deals have yet to include some of the larger trade candidates still being named by the rumor mill.

Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, and Brian Dozier still remain a heavy topic of conversation. Both free agent sluggers Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo are also still available in free agency. That fact would make Quintana the most likely candidate for movement until the slugger market dries up.

This week’s rankings include five teams who wouldn’t quite be considered rebuilding, but rather retooling. Recently, many of these clubs have reestablished a young core and are now looking to grow and mature that base. These clubs stand further back in the rankings, in large part, due to their youth. However, if their front offices stay on course, these teams could be the “look out” contenders in 2-3 years.

All logo images courtesy of MLB.com.

25. Milwaukee Brewers

2016 record: 73-89

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Two The Brewers are an organization with a number of young players beginning to emerge, with even more on the way. The Brewers are among the top rated farm systems in the MLB with several of those top prospects already in Triple-A. Last year’s emergence of young players such as Zach Davies, Jonathan Villar, and Keon Broxton represent a strong core to build around. The dark cloud over the Brewers continues to be the curious case of what to do with Ryan Braun. At age 33, Braun posted a very respectable slash line of .305/ .365/ .538, while adding 30 home runs to the mix.  The Brewers just need to find a partner willing to roll the dice on that kind of production. If so, the Brewers may quickly become one of the younger, more formidable teams over the next few years.

 

24. Tampa Bay Rays

2016 record: 68-94

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Two The Rays have been a tricky team to predict. One can’t help but feel as though they have under performed given their talent. Part of it is due to a struggling Chris Archer and an Alex Cobb who simply can’t seem to stay healthy. The Rays did manage the solid pickup of Wilson Ramos, who can provide stability behind the plate while adding pop to the lineup. At just 31 years old, Evan Longoria continues to be one of the quietest super stars in the game. All the signs point to an improved Rays team in 2017, but it may be a long road to get the top of the highly competitive AL East.

 

23. Philadelphia Phillies

2016 record: 71-91

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Two The signing of Clay Buchholz provides stability and veteran leadership to one of the most promising young pitching staffs in baseball. Buchholz may even prove to be a valuable trade piece at the deadline. Regardless, the Phillies are one of a few teams I expect to a make a surprise leap forward in 2017. The addition of Howie Kendrick alone won’t make up for an offence with the worst run differential in baseball. Another year for this young team to mature with some solid veteran additions definitely shows promise.

 

22. Miami Marlins

2016 record: 79-82

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Two There is simply no filling the void left by Jose Fernandez. Pitching will be an area of need. However, a fully healthy Giancarlo Stanton alongside a continuously emerging Christian Yelich makes for a nasty outfield 1-2 punch. Add that to a solid young infield and you have the makings of a pretty strong lineup. Unfortunately for the Marlin’s, the Phillies and Braves aren’t going to be the punching bags of past years. The Nationals and Mets will likely both be contenders or at least in the hunt. This could leave the Marlins in a much more competitive situation then they’ve faced in years past.

21. Los Angeles Angels

2016 record: 74-88

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Two The only offseason move of significance for the Angels has been the trade for second baseman Danny Espinosa. While this move provides a nice boost in their lineup, few around the league feel this changes the Angels 2017 outlook. Smaller moves like signing outfielder Ben Revere and trading for catcher Martin Maldonado also represent decent additions. However, they really aren’t game changers. If the Halos can stay healthy, they have enough in the tank to compete, but not to contend. The real question for this organization will be whether or not they sign Mike Trout for the “king’s ransom” that this once in a generation talent commands.

If you are interested in part one, you can find it here.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

American League East Opening Week Recap

Apr 8, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (19) high fives third base coach Bobby Dickerson (11) after hitting a home run in the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The O’s are on fire to start the season. (Photo: USA Today Sports)


 

You may not know it by the weather, but baseball is back. Usually the return of baseball brings warm weather and a foreshadowing of summer, but this year makes me want to climb back into my winter lair of a wood burning stove and multiple blankets.

As spring gives way to summer, and baseball gets into full swing, I’ll be documenting life inside the American League East. If you’re late to the MLB preview party, you could at least take a gander at my American League East article.

If you read the aforementioned article, I predicted the Baltimore Orioles to go 162-0. So far, so good (I’m a liar, I didn’t even predict Baltimore to win the division.). The Orioles beat Tampa Bay to improve to 5-0 today, and they are the winners of the first week of baseball.

It’s too bad there’s 162 games in the MLB season, because now Baltimore has to keep playing well for a long time. I predict Baltimore loses at least one game during the season, and I hope you appreciate my #HotTake for the day.

I thought Toronto was going to be very good this season. I’m not trying to overreact, but the Blue Jays’ pitching staff better wake up and smell the freedom. Just because they aren’t part of the United States doesn’t mean they have to distribute runs equally just like their Canadian government would approve of. Prior to shutting out Boston today, the Jays had given up 21 runs in their past three games, which is the opposite of good.

Speaking of Boston, they’re doing okay. At 3-2, Boston hasn’t gotten much playing time due to half of their scheduled games in Cleveland being cancelled due to the cold.

You know where it’s not cold? Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay is warm, like, always. I predicted them to be painfully average this season, and they are pretty average so far. They’re 2-3, and they currently are at a -6 run differential this season. I root for that to be +/- 10 once the season ends.

The New York Yankees are 3-2, and have dealt with some games being postponed as well. They went 2-1 against Houston, which is good. Originally scheduled to play on Sunday Night Baseball, the game has been cancelled.

There’s your primer, now let’s get a little more affectionate with the American League East. We’ll start with the top of the division, and go downward.

Baltimore Orioles, 5-0

Baltimore has enjoyed their opening week, as they’ve faced two projected bottom feeders in Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Baltimore allowed two runs against the Twins in each of their three games, and they’ve given up just four runs total in their two games against Tampa. Their date on Saturday against Tampa was postponed.

The services of Joey Rickard and Mark Trumbo are valued highly right now in Baltimore. They’ve combined for 7 hits each, and Rickard has launched one home run and a double so far this season.

Chris Tillman has proved to be more than just a scrub ace so far this season. In two starts, he’s 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA. Tillman threw just two innings in his first start, thanks to multiple rain delays throughout the game. Tillman followed with a five inning outing in which he allowed just one run, notching his first win of the season.

Not to be outdone, Ubaldo Jimenez’s first outing was a seving-inning win. He’s also sporting a 1.29 ERA.

It’s only been five games, but so far Baltimore’s pitching and timely hitting has propelled the O’s to a 5-0 record. This will only put them a few games ahead of the rest if a losing streak comes.

Boston Red Sox, 3-2

Boston’s first scheduled game of the year was cancelled due to cold and rain, but their bats have been hot to start the season. Boston is fourth in the AL with a .276 team batting average, and fourth in the AL with six home runs.

Mookie Betts (50) must product from the plate this season. (Photo: zimbio.com)

Mookie Betts (50) must produce from the plate this season. (Photo: zimbio.com)

Mookie Betts is yet to catch fire like some of the other Boston hitters. He’s hitting just .130 with eight strikeouts compared to three hits this season. Betts must pick it up, as he and Xander Bogaerts (.227 average) were supposed to be the 1-2 punch of youth in Boston’s lineup.

If you’re looking for a stud to add on your fantasy baseball team, consider Brock Holt. Holt plays both infield and outfield, and is owned in a little over half of fantasy baseball leagues across all formats. He’s hitting .412 with two home runs and eight runs batted in, but is dealing with a minor foot injury.

Boston should be right in the thick of the playoff race come September, and just a week of baseball isn’t enough to tell how good any teams will be. Nevertheless, it’s a quality start for Boston this week.

New York Yankees (3-2)

Today’s rubber game against the Tigers was cancelled, so New York will get two days off before heading to Toronto for a three-game set against the Blue Jays.

New York’s hitting has been even better than Boston’s, as they are second in team batting average and third in home runs in the AL. A large portion of that production came in game three of four against Houston, as they scored 16 runs in their 16-5 win.

There hasn’t been a dominant game in terms of starting pitching so far for the Yankees. The longest outing by a starting pitcher was six innings by C.C. Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka has allowed the least amount of earned runs at two.

New York should be happy with a 3-2 start, as I don’t see them as being contenders in the AL East this season. With a very old team, the Yanks will have to steer clear of injuries in order to have any shot of the playoffs.

Toronto Blue Jays, 3-4

The Blue Jays are off to a slow start, as both the bats and arms aren’t doing as well as I projected. Josh Donaldson is the only hitter with an average of at least .300 at .310, and the Jays’ pitching staff is waiting on a solid outing from R.A. Dickey and Marcus Stroman.

Josh Donaldson is up to four dingers, but Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Troy Tulowitzki are all struggling at the dish in some capacity this season.

Jose Bautista must help the Blue Jays in order to notch another division crown. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Jose Bautista must help the Blue Jays in order to notch another division crown. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Toronto blanked Boston today, 3-0, thanks to a stellar performance from Marco Estrada. Estrada threw seving innings of scoreless baseball to lead Toronto to the win.

It’s still very early, so I’m not too concerned about Toronto. However, inconsistencies in the pitching staff could become startling if they don’t find a grasp within the next two weeks or so.

Tampa Bay Rays, 2-4

A 5-3 loss sent the Rays to 2-4 today against the Orioles. Tampa sits in the bottom half of the AL in batting average, runs, and walks so far this season. They’re also in the bottom half of the AL in ERA, walks allowed, and opposing batting average.

I’m hoping Tampa Bay improves, but only a little. I really want my prediction for them to be overwhelmingly average to be correct. So far, Tampa is slightly below average, so they’ll have to pick it up a little.

The Rays’ leading hitter is Steven Souza Jr., who sports a .381 batting average. However, Logan Morrison and Brad Miller have combined for just two hits in 25 at bats this season.

Lead starting pitcher Chris Archer is 0-2 so far with a 7.20 ERA. He must pitch better in order to set the tone for the Rays this season.

Tampa probably doesn’t have much to play for this season, and they haven’t proved me wrong so far. Again, it’s only been a week, but Tampa is already looking like a bottom feeder in the AL.

Did the Rays pull one over on the Rockies?

Sep 16, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies left fielder Corey Dickerson (6) hits a home run during the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 16, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies left fielder Corey Dickerson (6) hits a home run during the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

When your stadium sits 5,200 feet above sea level, batted balls carry more than usual, breaking balls have a little less break, and nobody wants to pitch there.

This is the largest problem the Colorado Rockies face as a franchise. In a league that values pitching at an increasingly historic rate, see offseason signings of starting pitchers for astronomical dollar amounts, the Rockies have a hard time finding pitchers who can be successful in Coors Field’s dimensions.

In their most recent attempt to correct this issue the Rockies acquired talented relief pitcher Jake McGee and a minor league pitcher German Marquez for outfielder Corey Dickerson and minor league infielder Kevin Padlo.

On the surface, this trade makes plenty of sense. The Tampa Bay Rays needed some firepower for their lineup and had a surplus of pitching, and the Rockies needed young, talented, hard throwing pitchers and had four starting outfielders.

Approaching this trade in this simple matter ignores one huge issue. Dickerson is a much more valuable asset as a baseball player than McGee is.

To start with the obvious, McGee is older than Dickerson, and he becomes a free agent two years before Dickerson does. These extra two years of club control are of the utmost importance for any club, especially for a rebuilding team like the Rockies, or a small market club like the Rays.

McGee instantaneously gives the Rockies a better bullpen, but, does a rebuilding team like the Rockies really need a potential lock-down closer? McGee could prove vital if the Rockies find themselves in contention in 2016 or 2017, however that does not seem to be the most likely scenario for the rebuilding franchise.

It would be more valuable for the Rockies to have four years of an everyday player in Dickerson than two years of a closer like McGee.

Dickerson is also a great hitter, with a career .879 OPS. While this number is certainly inflated by Coors Field being his home ball park, it is still an impressive number.

Before a seemingly season-long battle with plantar fasciitis in 2015, Dickerson appeared to quietly be on the cusp of stardom. In 131 games in 2014 he posted a .312/.364/.931 slash line to go along with 24 HR’s.

The plantar fasciitis issues of 2015 slowed down his production and lowered his trade value, but, going to the AL where he can DH occasionally will help with that issue.

McGee himself could also be seen as an injury risk, as he missed the start of the 2015 season after arthroscopic surgery on his pitching elbow.

The Rockies also received a slight edge on the prospect front, especially considering their desperate need for pitching.

In the 20-year-old Marquez, they received a young, hard-throwing, high upside starter. Something that is of great value to the Rockies considering their problems with developing competent pitching at Coors Field.

In return the Rays received a young third baseman in Padlo. Padlo opened up this season by struggling in Low-A ball. He rebounded nicely, albeit at a lower competition level, with short-season Boise where he posted a .904 OPS in 70 games. At age 19 Padlo has plenty of time to develop into a productive major leaguer.

This edge on the prospect front is not enough to make up for the value difference between Dickerson and McGee. Both of the prospects included in this deal are very young, and have yet to play in the higher minor-league levels, meaning they are more risky prospects.

Although Marquez appears to be the more valuable prospect, there is a possibility he will never be a productive major leaguer. Something that Dickerson has already proven to be.

McGee is a great relief pitcher, something that has more value to a contending team than a rebuilding one like the Rockies. Dickerson is younger, has more years of club control, and could have been a dominant force, especially playing his home games at Coors.

Ultimately the Rockies desperate need for pitching saw them lose a great hitter for a sub-par trade return.