2017 MLB breakout performers

The following MLB hitters have officially broken out in 2017. This piece intends to inform fantasy baseball owners about whether these breakout performers will continue to achieve, or if their level of success is unsustainable.

Honorable mentions include: Whit Merrifield (KAN), Domingo Santana (MIL), Yonder Alonso (OAK), Alex Bregman (HOU), Paul DeJong (STL) and Andrelton Simmons (LAA).

Aaron Judge, Outfielder, New York Yankees

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .300/.426/.627 .389 34 75 83 30.7 %
July .230/.364/.483 .310 7 13 13 36.4 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

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

The Yankee slugger has officially broken out in 2017. Judge is the heavy front runner to win American League Rookie of the Year, as he has mashed 34 home runs and 75 RBIs while batting .300 so far this season.

According to the New York Daily News, Major League Baseball’s commissioner Rob Manfred described Judge’s performance as “phenomenal”, and added that Judge is “the kind of player that can become the face of the game.”

While this comment may be justified, Judge’s performance has significantly cooled off since it was made in mid-June.

In July, Judge batted merely .230 while striking out at an atrocious 36.4 percent clip. Also, his 39 strikeouts were the most by any player in July.

On June 17, his BABIP was .433, although inevitably it has dropped .44 points to .389 in less than two months. I documented my opinion in mid-June, exclaiming that it was time to sell Judge, as his value was clearly at its peak.

Selling Judge now may not be the best decision, as his value has declined in the last month. His fantasy value should be similar to that of fellow sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Marcel Ozuna. His value would be closer to that of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout if it wasn’t for his lack of experience and elevated BABIP and strikeout rates, which all raise questions about his consistency.

Cody Bellinger, Outfielder/ First Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .264/.344/.599 .284 30 71 58 26.9 %
July .263/.372/.463 .298 4 13 9 20.2 %

Bellinger has been quite the producer since being called up in late April. In only 89 games, he has recorded 30 home runs and 71 RBIs, which puts him on pace to hit over 50 home runs and 129 RBIs over the course of a 162-game season.

The 22-year-old has noticeably changed his approach at the plate since the All-Star break, as his strikeout rate has dropped from 29.1 percent in the first half to 18.8 percent in the second. Bellinger slots into to the clean-up spot in the lineup behind the National League leader in batting average, Justin Turner, and 2016 NL Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager.

Bellinger has joined the ranks of elite young sluggers and should be valued similarly to Aaron Judge moving forward.

Justin Smoak, First Baseman, Toronto Blue Jays

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .301/.380/.597 .313 31 74 64 19.7 %
July .310/.410/.610 .354 8 19 17 23.1 %

Despite the Blue Jays’ struggles this season, Justin Smoak has emerged as a silver lining. He was voted an All-Star for the first time and is currently batting .301 with 31 home runs and 74 RBIs.

The 30-year-old has set career highs in all major hitting categories, while also dropping his strikeout rate from 32.8 last season to 19.7 percent in 2017.

In July, Smoak’s success continued, although it seems majorly due to his BABIP as he sported a .354 BABIP. Also, his strikeout rate has risen up to 23.1 percent which is a bit concerning.

Smoak should finish the year batting under .300, although chances that he hits 40 bombs and drives in 100 are very likely. He is firmly entrenched within the top 10 first baseman right now, although his value in keeper and dynasty formats is weaker than in standard re-draft due to lack of sample size and consistency.

Travis Shaw, First Baseman/ Third Baseman, Milwaukee Brewers

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .288/.361/.555 .329 24 74 61 23.1 %
July .305/.400/.622 .367 7 17 19 27.4 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Travis Shaw was a first time All-Star in 2017. (Photo by Pintrest)

Shaw came over to the Brewers this offseason in a deal that sent reliever Tyler Thornburg to the Boston Red Sox. Thornburg has yet to pitch an inning for the Red Sox, whereas Shaw has become an All-Star.

The 27-year-old has found a home batting clean-up for Milwaukee, as he has hit a career-high 24 home runs while driving in a career-high 74 RBIs.

Shaw’s BABIP of .329 is significantly higher than last season’s .299 mark, although this may be due to an increase in hard contact, as he has raised his hard contact rate from 29 percent in 2015, to 33 percent in 2016 and now 37 percent this season.

His improved approach has allowed him to become an elite fantasy producer in 2017. His value moving forward is similar to the likes of Jake Lamb and Mike Moustakas, as his batting average is still extremely BABIP driven and his strikeout rates are high and continuously rising.

Chris Taylor, Outfielder/ Second Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .316/.383/.545 .419 14 52 60 27.7 %
July .394/.412/.660 .523 3 15 15 26.8 %

Taylor was a fifth-round pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2012. He was acquired by the Dodgers in a trade that sent prospect pitcher Zach Lee to Seattle in 2016.

Since arriving in Los Angeles, Taylor has stumbled upon some newfound success, as he has hit more home runs in 91 games this season than he did in 249 games at the AAA-level.

The 26-year-old has become the everyday lead-off hitter for the Dodgers, which bodes well for his fantasy value, although his rising strikeout rate and inflated BABIP are cause for concern.

Taylor, whose BABIP in July measured .523, has an unsustainable BABIP of .419 on the year. Also, his home run to fly ball rate of 18.7 percent is unsustainable, as that would put him the same conversation as Paul Goldschmidt and Logan Morrison in terms of HR/FB rates.

Taylor’s fantasy value seems to be at its peak, which makes this a prime time to sell high. He will continue to be a valuable asset as he bats lead-off for arguably the best team in baseball, although his BABIP and home run to fly ball rate are sure to plummet.

Michael Conforto, Outfielder, New York Mets

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .296/.399/.566 .355 21 56 62 25.0 %
July .301/.363/.658 .313 7 14 12 22.5 %

Conforto has been the lone bright spot for the Mets during thier abysmal 2017 season. He has batted primarily in the lead-off spot for New York, although due to a lack of talent around him, he has only scored 62 runs in his 91 games. His BABIP of .355 is very high, although his BABIP in July of .313 and batting average of .301 suggest that his .300 batting average may be sustainable over the course of a full season.

The 24-year-old is not in the upper echelon of outfielders just yet. It is fair to value him similarly to Corey Dickerson or Domingo Santana moving forward due to his lineup potential, production, upside and age.

Jonathan Schoop, Second Baseman, Baltimore Orioles

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .302/.352/.550 .337 24 79 68 21.5 %
July .343/.377/.638 .355 9 28 21 19.3 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Jonathan Schoop has emerged as a center piece of the Orioles future. (Photo by Alchetron)

Schoop had a successful 2016 campaign, although he has taken his talents to the next level this season. He is a lock to set career bests in all major hitting categories, as he is on pace to hit 36 home runs and drive in 119 RBIs.

He has found a fantasy friendly spot in the three-hole of a dangerous Baltimore lineup and promises to be a big part of their future moving forward.

His BABIP of .337 suggests that his batting average is in line for a small amount of regression, although his improved strikeout rate and incredible July totals insinuate that he is trending upward.

He ranks just below Jose Ramirez in terms of value due to a lack of steals and batting average, although his production puts him firmly in the top tier of second basemen, well behind Jose Altuve of course.

 

Marwin Gonzalez, First Baseman/ Third Baseman/ Shortstop/ Outfielder, Houston Astros

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .311/.388/.578 .346 20 65 50 20.5 %
July .307/.378/.591 .344 7 18 17 21.4 %

Marwin Gonzalez, once known as a backup utility player, has officially broken out. Many didn’t expect Gonzalez to receive everyday at-bats due to the Astros having such a deep roster, although due to injuries and his hot bat he has found himself in an everyday role.

The 28-year-old has set career highs in home runs and RBIs, while being on pace to set a career-high in batting average. Gonzalez is a great fantasy asset, as he has a multitude of position eligibilities and bats in the heart of the Astros’ dangerous lineup.

His BABIP is high, which does cause concern regarding his .300-plus average, although his production and power seem to be sustainable. His playing time shouldn’t falter even when stars Carlos Correa and George Springer return from the disabled list, as his production has been arguably the team’s best of late.

 

Featured image by SBNation

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Fantasy Baseball

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (May 21st – May 27th)

With two months of the season in the books, it is time to continue our weekly fantasy baseball update. We will continue to notify fantasy owners about eight players who are either hot, or cold, and whether they will continue to trend in that direction. Previous weekly fantasy baseball updates can be found at thegamehaus.com.

Who’s Hot

Anthony Rendon, Third Baseman, Washington Nationals

Last seven: .476 BA, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 1 SB

Rendon flew under the radar to begin the season since third base is arguably the deepest position in fantasy baseball. So far this season, he has shown flashes of greatness with two multi-homer games, including a record-setting three-homer performance in late April.

The 26-year-old is a former first-round pick by the Nationals, and officially broke out in 2014. In his sophomore season, he batted .287 with 21 home runs, 111 runs, 83 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. Rendon clearly has the ability to be a high-end fantasy producer.

However, after battling injuries in 2015, his stock dropped significantly. He rebounded with a respectable 2016 campaign and so far has exceeded expectations this year.

He is currently batting .286 with nine home runs, 24 runs, 32 RBIs and three stolen bases. Also, Rendon’s ISO has risen significantly, which would help propel high into the next tier of elite third basemen. He is currently on pace for over 30 home runs and 100 RBI.

 

Dallas Keuchel, Starting Pitcher, Houston Astros

Fantasy Baseball

Dallas Keuchel is a clear Cy Young candidate in 2017. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

Last three: 3-0 W-L, 1.59 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 17 IP, 21/3 K/BB

Keuchel’s success in 2017 has been immaculate. He has shown that when healthy, he is a true Cy Young caliber pitcher. He recently missed one start due to a pinched nerve in his neck, although it clearly hasn’t slowed him down whatsoever. He is currently 8-0 with a 1.81 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 8.01 K/9.

The 29-year-old has an incredible xFIP of 2.75, which shows that he is finding success without his defense or other factors of randomness. His BABIP of .223 is bound to rise, especially because he is a ground-ball pitcher. However, this shouldn’t affect him too severely. At this pace, Keuchel looks to be pitching his way to a second career Cy Young award.

 

Devon Travis, Second Baseman, Toronto Blue Jays

Last seven: .419, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB

Travis underwent knee surgery this offseason, which clearly contributed to his extremely slow start this season. He is currently batting .252, although over the last 30 days he is batting .344.

The 26-year-old was on many fantasy owners’ radars entering this season, as he had batted .300 with 11 home runs, 54 runs and 50 RBIs in only 432 plate appearances last year. His career BABIP is an outstanding .340, but his current BABIP is only .286, suggesting some progression is in store. Travis will certainly be a top 20 second baseman, and possibly top 15 at the end of the year.

 

Robbie Ray, Starting Pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks

Fantasy Baseball

Robbie Ray is an official strikeout machine. (Photo by The Edwardsville Intelligencer)

Last three: 2-0 W-L, 1.93 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 18 2/3 IP, 17/6 K/BB

Ray exploded onto the scene last year after striking out 218 batters in 174.1 innings. So far this year he is 4-3 with a 3.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 11.10 K/9. His current BABIP of .271 is sure to rise. However,  because he is generally a strikeout pitcher, it shouldn’t hurt his WHIP too much.

The 25-year-old has and will continue to be a great source of strikeouts for the foreseeable future, although he has been far from elite. His control issues will hold him back from being considered a top 20 fantasy starter this season for sure.

Who’s Cold

Eric Thames, First Baseman/Outfielder, Milwaukee Brewers

Last seven: .087 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 SB

Former KBO star Eric Thames has been a major story this season. He is coming off of three consecutive 37-plus home run and 120 RBI campaigns, and has shown flashes of similar greatness at the MLB level.

The 30-year-old currently has 13 home runs, 26 RBIs and 39 runs scored while batting .278. Over the last 15 days, Thames is batting just .103, with zero home runs, one RBI and six runs scored. Ups and downs must be expected as pitchers are bound to adjust to his approach.

Thames’ plate discipline and isolated power make him a great source for home runs, RBIs and runs, but his 23 percent strikeout rate will prevent him from entering the elite first baseman conversation along with Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt.

 

Julio Urias, Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

Fantasy Baseball

Julio Urias will be apart of the Dodgers rotation for the remainder of the season. (Photo by NBC Sports)

Last three: 0-2 W-L, 9.24 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 12 2/3 IP, 6/6 K/BB

Urias, formerly the Dodgers top pitching prospect, has now made 20 starts in his major-league career. This year he is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and 4.24 K/9. So far, he has struggled to locate the ball, strike batters out and make it deep into a ball game.

The Dodgers have said they are committed to the 20-year-old staying in the majors, although his current struggles are quite alarming. His xFIP is an atrocious 5.68 and his BABIP is under .300. I would not feel comfortable starting Urias in any formats for the time being.

 

 

Manuel Margot, Outfielder, San Diego Padres

Last seven: .160 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB

Margot had arguably been the favorite to win National League Rookie of the Year this season before entering his current slump. His stat line this year consists of a .259 batting average, four home runs, 16 runs scored, 13 RBIs and five steals.

Rookie woes are typical and should be expected, so do not give up on the 22-year-old just yet. He was recently placed on the 10-day disabled list due to a strained soleus muscl, and is without a time table for return. However, his skill level makes him too talented to drop in the majority of formats. Margot will have solid fantasy value once he returns, and should not be abandoned.

 

Amir Garrett, Starting Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds

Fantasy Baseball

Amir Garrett has succumb to some serious struggles at the major-league level. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images).

Last three: 1-1 W-L, 9.00 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 15 IP, 9/9 K/BB

Garrett began the season with three electric performances. Since then, he has struggled with control and health issues.

He was recently placed on the 10-day disabled list with right hip inflammation. He is expected to make his next start on June 4 against the Atlanta Braves, although I would recommend benching him since he has allowed 13 earned runs in his last nine innings pitched.

The 25-year-old clearly has talent, but his current .232 BABIP suggests that he getting fairly lucky even with his current struggles. His 4.75 xFip would also be considered extremely poor, which shows that bad luck and defense are not the reasons for his poor performances. Garrett was a prime sell high candidate, although now on the DL, you will have to simply ride out the storm and hope for the best.

 

Featured Image by Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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MLB Trade Deadline Targets

With a quarter of the season in the books, we are drawing ever closer to the trade deadline. Contenders and pretenders are weeding themselves out, and the trade market is forming. Accordingly, we will analyze four of the top trade targets and their potential landing spots.

SS Zack Cozart – Cincinnati Reds

After hitting a career high 16 home runs last season, Cozart has improved his play in 2017. The 31 year old is batting .352/.433/.602 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. He has been a key cog in the Red’s offensive attack, but his days in Cincinnati may be numbered. With the Reds slowly fading to the bottom of the NL Central, the Reds may have no choice.

Sitting at 20-22, the Reds are fourth in their division and 4.5 games back of first place. While they have performed well to this point, they are starting to show their true colors. With a 3-7 record in their past 10 games, Cozart may become expendable. Given his age and his potent season, the Reds may sell high and get a crop of young players in return.

Best Fit – Baltimore Orioles: Sitting at 25-16, the Orioles are primed to wrestle control of the division. J.J. Hardy has not had an OPS+ over 100 in the past five seasons, and at 34, it may be time to move Hardy to the bench.

1B Justin Smoak – Toronto Blue Jays

A solid 8.5 games out of first place and a 18-26 record have the Blue Jays as sellers at the trade deadline. And with all the moves the team has made in recent seasons, the organization could use an influx of young prospects. That leaves first baseman Justin Smoak as a prime target at the trade deadline.

His .279/.344/.537 slash line is by far the best of his career, and Toronto could capitalize on his success. And with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs, Smoak has proven to be a consistent contributor in the Blue Jays’ lineup. Given his hot start and his teams struggles, it makes too much sense to hold onto him.

Best Fit – New York Yankees: Even if trades to division rivals are few and far between, this is one that could be the exception. Chris Carter has been absolutely dreadful in pinstripes. And Greg Bird, when healthy, hasn’t been much better. Given the Yankees’ deep farm system, Smoak should be easy to acquire.

SP Gerrit Cole – Pittsburgh Pirates

As the season progresses, the fate of Pirates ace Gerrit Cole is becoming all too clear. Sitting in the cellar of the NL Central, it seems the Pirates’ window of opportunity has finally closed. And with star center fielder Starlin Marte out for the season, there is little hope in Pittsburgh. But what hope does exist lies with Gerrit Cole.

The staff ace sports a 2.84 ERA in his nine starts this season, providing a great opportunity for the Pirates to earn a W every time he takes the hill. The 26 year old also has four years of MLB service, and will demand top dollar on the open market. And with the Pirates falling deeper into obscurity, the time is now to capitalize on Cole’s value.

Best Fit – Houston Astros: With a 29-14 record, the Astros have seemingly no holes. But if the team is serious about being top flight contenders, then a player like Gerrit Cole would elevate them to the next level. He would fit in perfectly behind Dallas Keuchel to form one of the best one-two punches in any rotation.

SP Andrew Triggs – Oakland Athletics

Andrew Triggs has been a revelation for the A’s (John Hefti/USA TODAY Sports).

The Oakland Athletics are always one of the more active sellers at the trade deadline. And sitting at nine games back of the Houston Astros for first place in the AL West, this season will be no different. But one of their top trade chips is someone you have probably never heard of – Andrew Triggs.

His 2.12 ERA in eight starts for the A’s has been spectacular. The 28 year old was solid in Oakland last season, but has brought his production to new heights in 2017. Given his age, performance and the A’s willingness to trade away players, he won’t be in green and gold for too much longer.

Best Fit – Colorado Rockies: The Rockies are 27-17 and in first in the NL West, but the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are hot on their heels. Pitching has always been a source of woe for Rockies fans, but Triggs could help stabilize the rotation. With a short track record of success, Triggs shouldn’t demand a king’s ransom on the market. Triggs would be a welcome addition in Denver.

Feature image by Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo.

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Fantasy Baseball 2017: Injury Update (May 17, 2017)

As we dive deeper into the 2017 fantasy baseball season, it is time to once again identify and analyze some key injuries around the league. This injury update intends to provide insight to a player’s current health status and their outlook moving forward. The following players have been listed on the disabled list as of May 17, 2017.

 

Josh Donaldson, Third Baseman, Toronto Blue Jays

Injury Update

Josh Donaldson plans to return within the week. (Photo by of Patrick Semansky of the Associated Press)

 

Injury: Right calf soreness

Status: 10-day DL

Expected return: Late May

 

Donaldson was placed on the 10-day disabled list after reaggravating his calf in which he originally injured during spring training. He has dealt with reoccurring lower half injuries his entire career, although he has still managed to play at least 155 games in four straight seasons.

The 31-year-old has been a perennial MVP candidate since 2013, and is an invaluable fantasy asset. Before the reaggravation, Donaldson was batting .310 with two home runs, five runs and four RBIs in only nine games. His toughness and mental fortitude have allowed him to succeed even when playing injured, which increases his fantasy value even more so.

 

Robinson Cano, Second Baseman, Seattle Mariners

Injury Update

Robinson Cano has unexpectedly been placed on the 10-day DL with a right quadriceps strain (Photo by MLB.com)

 

Injury: Right quadriceps strain

Status: 10-day DL

Expected return: May 23

 

Cano was placed on the 10-day disabled list after missing five consecutive games due to his strained right quadriceps. The Mariners expect Cano to return after the minimum 10-day period, as he was originally expected to forgo a stint on the disabled list entirely.

The 34-year-old’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .286 suggests that his batting average will rise once he returns to the field. Also, he set a career high in home runs last season, showing that he is no-where near the end of his Hall-of-Fame career.

 

Yoenis Cespedes, Outfielder, New York Mets

Injury Update

Yoenis Cespedes eyes a return for May 23 after battling reoccurring lower body injuries. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann of Getty Images)

 

Injury: Left hamstring strain

Status: 10-day DL

Expected return: May 23

 

Cespedes has been sidelined since late April by a left hamstring injury that has been lingering since spring training. He has begun his running program and expects to be ready to return by May 23.

The 31-year-old had been on fire to start 2017, totaling six home runs, 12 runs and 10 RBIs in only 18 games. Cespedes is an elite-caliber fantasy outfielder when healthy and will resume his production in about a week.

 

Ryan Braun, Outfielder, Milwaukee Brewers

Injury Update

Ryan Braun will look to continue his strong start after he returns from his calf injury in late May. (Photo by Jeff Curry of the US Presswire).

 

Injury: Left calf strain

Status: 10-day DL

Expected return: May 23 – May 30

 

The Brewers lost a major piece of their puzzle after placing former MVP Ryan Braun on the 10-day disabled list with a calf injury. The injury has been called a grade one strain, which is the lowest grade on the spectrum. The Brewers expect Braun to be back after the minimum 10-day period, although Braun owners must be cautious of a minor forearm injury that may cause another setback.

The 33-year-old has been one of the most productive players in the last decade. An average 162-game season for Braun includes a .304 batting average, 34 home runs, 112 RBIs and 105 runs. He will remain a top-tier fantasy outfielder until the day he retires.

 

A.J. Pollock, Outfielder, Arizona Diamondbacks

Injury Update

A.J. Pollock has reinjured his groin, which held him out of almost the entire 2016 season. (Photo by MLB.com)

 

Injury: Right groin strain

Status: 10-day DL

Expected Return: Early – Mid-June

 

Pollock, who missed almost the entire 2016 season due to a left groin sprain, has been placed on the 10-day disabled list with a right groin strain. The strain was given a grade one and does not seem too serious.

However, for someone who utilizes their speed as much as Pollock, this could be very bad news. There is no exact time table for his return, but he expects to be back sometime in June.

The 29-year-old has only played one full season in the big leagues, but he has already made a name for himself as an elite fantasy commodity. In 2015, he batted .315 with 20 home runs, 111 runs, 76 RBIs and 39 steals. This may be the only time that Pollock is attainable through trade, as his fantasy potential is through the roof.

 

(Featured Image by Calltothepen.com)

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American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week Two

Week two is in the books, and the early season continues to shake up preseason predictions. April batting averages and win records are hardly worth over analyzing, but that doesn’t change the standings.

Last week’s Wrap-Up was dedicated to teams with impressive starts. This week examines those teams on the other end of that spectrum and a few reasons for optimism, because let’s be honest, its still April.

Early Season Struggles

Toronto Blue Jays

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week Two

Image Courtesy of Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesKendrys

Toronto was facing a seven-game losing streak until a walk-off home run from Kendrys Morales liberated the club. The offseason acquisition of Morales was a nice boost to, what so far, has been an anemic offense. The Jays are clearly missing both the bat and leadership of Edwin Encarnacion, but unfortunately, trouble doesn’t stop there.

Toronto’s luck worsened when team lynch pin Josh Donaldson was placed on the 10-day with a calf injury. Russell Martin is admittedly in one of the worst down hitting streaks of his career. Vocal player Jose Bautista has started with a .136 average and hasn’t generated a single dinger. It has been a cold start in the frozen north, but all is not lost.

Turning it around in Toronto

The Jays pitching staff currently ranks 14th in the MLB. While this isn’t their overall best ERA as seen in 2016, all the pieces remain for a repeat performance.

The Donaldson injury is frustrating, but before that, he led the team in average, OBP and homers. If Donaldson can continue his typical MVP-caliber play, the Jays’ star can keep them in contention. Joey Batts and Martin won’t hit this way forever, and both represent a power threat that can surprise opponents.

Finally, the return of closer of Roberto Osuna should give Toronto confidence they can secure wins when they carry the lead.

Seattle Mariners

After a busy offseason, Seattle can’t be thrilled with the slow start to the season. The offense currently ranks in the bottom third of the MLB, and the pitching is not far off.

With key veterans Robinson Canó and Nelson Cruz off to a slow start, it’s no surprise the Mariners have struggled to generate runs. Further compounding these issues has been the fact that every game, and therefore every loss, has been against divisional opponents.

Silver Lining in Seattle

It’s fine to be a little disappointed with the early start, but there are significant reasons for optimism in Seattle.

How about the fact that James Paxton has tossed 21 scoreless innings to start the season? Many analysts, including this writer (who snagged Paxton in fantasy), believe this was the year Paxton established himself. Early signs point to Paxton’s ability to establish himself as the ace, and that is until you remember that King Felix is still on this team. There is also plenty of talent in the back half of the rotation that shouldn’t be discounted, despite a slow start.

Pitching will be a strength for this team, but the offense has some work to do. Fortunately, early performance is proving out the acquisition of Jean Segura, who has started the season batting an impressive .313.

On top of that, there is plenty of veteran’s offense on this ball club. The start may have been slow, but if there’s any group that understands the baseball rollercoaster, it’s this team.

Cleveland Indians

American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Week Two

(Photo Courtesy of Ron Schwane / Associated Press)

Best bets wouldn’t have placed the defending AL champs at the bottom of the division two weeks into the season. After an impressive series against the Rangers to start off 2017, the Tribe has struggled as of late. Most shocking is the Indians highly touted rotation currently sporting the worst ERA in Major League Baseball through 12 games.

The offense has been a strange mixture of extremely hot and ice cold. Failing to get nearly anything going against the Diamondbacks and White Sox, the Indians have also crushed multiple grand slams in the first two weeks. It’s hardly time to panic, but the Indians could undoubtedly benefit from a little more consistency.

 

Turning the Corner in Cleveland

Cleveland has traditionally been a slow starting team in April, but there are already signs of life from the Tribe. Carlos Carrasco has been brilliant in his first two starts, sporting a 2.13 ERA and displaying top notch command. Danny Salazar wasn’t able to secure the win, but in his most recent start, he fanned 11 to tie a career high. Corey Kluber, stoic as ever, continues to generate solid performances despite the occasional blow-up inning. Long story short, pitching will be just fine in Cleveland.

On the offensive front, Cleveland currently sports a top 10 offense despite missing a few key pieces. The Indians appear to be easing Michael Brantley back into the mix. Lonnie Chisenhall returned in grand slam fashion and Jason Kipnis is just a few Minor League starts away from his debut. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have both been off to torrid hitting starts, and the rest of the team has been contributing regularly.

Slow starts are nothing new in Cleveland, and it certainly appears the Tribe is about ready to turn the corner.

 

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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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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Third Basemen

The sixth installment of our position rankings lands us at the 2017 third basemen rankings. Third base is one of the most top-heavy positions in all of baseball. With steady veterans and young studs all around the league, let’s start our list with number five.

5. Adrian Beltre- Texas Rangers

Like a fine wine, Beltre just seems to get better with age. By the way Beltre has been playing, you wouldn’t know he’s entering his 20th season in the majors. He bested his career averages in 2016 batting (.300/.358/.521.) And while he didn’t earn an All-Star selection in 2016, Beltre was still able to finish seventh in the AL MVP voting by hitting 32 home runs with 104 RBIs. But it wasn’t just his offense that vaulted him into the MVP conversation.

Beltre’s defense has been spectacular throughout his time in Texas, and it continued in 2016. He posted 15 defensive runs saved and was a wizard with the glove down at third base. That fancy glove work and powerful offensive production makes Beltre a solid pick to make the top five. Although he will be entering 2017 in his late 30’s, don’t expect Father Time to catch up with him anytime soon.

4. Manny Machado- Baltimore Orioles

2017 Third Basemen Rankings

Many Machado will try to carry the Orioles to the playoffs in 2017. (Rob Carr, Getty Images).

At 24 years old and entering his fifth season in the majors, Manny Machado will be a mainstay on this list for years to come. Machado really came into his own in 2016, putting up career highs in batting average (.294), slugging (.533) and posting a OBP of .343. Machado was also able to continue to utilize his power in 2016, mashing 37 homers and driving in 96 RBIs.

Like Beltre, Machado was also in the 2016 AL MVP conversation, finishing fifth. Machado also proved to be pretty steady with the glove as well.

Coming up as a shortstop with the Baltimore Orioles, Machado has always been a great fielder. He has been able to utilize his defensive skills at the hot corner, posting 13 defensive runs saved in 2016.

Machado has found his power, and coupled that with an excellent ability to make contact, good batting eye, and stellar defense to up his game even more in 2016. The 2017 season should prove no different for Machado.

3. Josh Donaldson- Toronto Blue Jays

While Josh Donaldson was a great player in 2013 and 2014 with Oakland, he blossomed into a legit MVP player when he was shipped north of the border in 2015. He continued his offensive onslaught in the 2016 season, slashing .284, .404, .549 and launched 37 homers to go along with 99 RBIs.

While Donaldson did have a drop off from his 2015 MVP season to his 2016 season, it is extremely hard to improve on an MVP season. Donaldson also experienced a sight drop off in his defense as well in 2016.

Donaldson had 2 defensive runs saved in 2016, not spectacular, but solid nonetheless. As Donaldson enters the 2017 season, he will look to continue what he accomplished in 2015 and 2016. His glove and his bat are one of the best in all of the majors, and Donaldson has a chance to prove it in 2017.

2017 Third Basemen Rankings

Nolan Arenado has launched 80 plus homers in the past two seasons. (Ben Margot, AP Photo).

2. Nolan Arenado- Colorado Rockies

After two seasons of 40 plus homers, Nolan Arenado has officially cemented himself as one of the best players in the league. He put up a slash line of .294, .362, .570, career bests in average and OBP in 2016. He also earned an NL All-Star appearance, Gold Glove award and Silver Slugger award for the second year in a row.

Arenado has produced at a ridiculous rate in the past two seasons, hitting 83 homers to go along with 263 RBIs. He has certainly found his swing at the plate, but he has always had a stellar glove.

Arenado has been a Gold Glover for his entire major league career, earning the award each season he has been in the majors. And 2016 was no different. He had 20 defensive runs saved in 2016, an amazing number for a third baseman. He is without a doubt one of the best overall defenders in all of baseball, and 2017 will be no different. If Arenado can continue his torrid offensive pace and spectacular defense, he will be a perennial MVP candidate.

1. Kris Bryant- Chicago Cubs

With just two seasons in the majors under his belt, Kris Bryant has done things that many thought would never be done. He helped bring the Cubs a World Series title in 2016 and won the NL MVP in 2016 after winning the NL ROY award in 2015.

Bryant has put up monster numbers since being called up in 2015, batting .284, .377, .522 as well as blasting 65 bombs to go along with 201 RBIs in his career. He has also stole 21 bases in his time in Chicago, exceptional for a slugger like Bryant.

Bryant has also made his name with the glove. Coming up as a third baseman with the Cubs, Bryant was always a solid fielder. But his defensive prowess has grown since being called up to Chicago. He posted 4 defensive runs saved at third base in 2016, providing a solid glove at the hot corner.

But Bryant has also proven to be a solid defender all over the field. Logging time at third, the outfield and first base in 2016, Bryant has become one of the game’s most versatile player. Bryant is a once in a generation talent, and is just beginning his young career.

It is a golden age for third basemen, with multiple young players performing at a high level. From Gold Glovers to Silver Sluggers, the major league landscape is dotted with players who are set to put up monster numbers in 2017.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

We’re back with the Game Haus’ fourth installment of 2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four. In recent news, the Mariners decided to spite my previous ranking by making a plethora of moves and trades to shore up their rotation heading into the season. While Seattle undoubtedly improved it was the Braves and the Rays that both left that exchange with a promising future. In the meantime, teams all across the league continue to avoid arbitration and extend their players with a multitude of contracts being signed. Finally, with less than a month remaining before pitchers and catchers report, several worthy veterans remain on the open market.

The rankings must go on! This week takes a look at teams 15-11. Now we’re talking competition. Each one of these teams has enough pieces for a solid 2017 campaign. While most wouldn’t place these teams in the top tier, any of these organizations could make a wild card run. As we all know, if you are still in the running in October, anything can happen.

 

15. Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

Record: 86-75

Many pegged the Tigers as sellers this offseason, but that sale never really came. Detroit returns in 2017 sporting much of the same core it’s competed with the last several years. Last season, Justin Verlander reclaimed his ace status and Michael Fulmer emerged as an extremely promising second option. Add that to a lineup chalk full of seasoned veterans led by Miguel Cabrera, and you’ve got yourself a shot. The Tigers should find success given the largely depleted AL Central, but will it be enough to match the Indians?

 

14. New York Yankees

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 84-78

No one would accuse Yankees GM Brian Cashman of being dormant this Winter. Not only did the Yanks clean up last trade deadline, but also managed to reclaim star closer Aroldis Chapman. Blue Chip prospects like Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres came over during the Yankees closer sale, but aren’t even part of the young core already on the field.  Didi Gregorious, Aaron Judge, and breakout star catcher Gary Sánchez have already emerged, and are expected in the 2017 lineup. The real question facing the Yankees is whether Masahiro Tanaka and company can bounce back from a tough 2016. Rotation aside, the Yankees may be a bit young for a serious run, but lookout for the pinstripes very soon.

 

13. Colorado Rockies

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 75-87

Admittedly this feels a bit high up in the rankings for a Rockies team with 87 losses in 2016. That said, one can’t help but be impressed by the lineup Colorado has assembled. The surprise signing of Ian Desmond alone gives the Rocks a sizable infield boost. Pair that with young players like Trevor Story and potential NL MVP candidate Nolan Arenado, and you’re looking at serious potential. Like many teams, the question mark hangs over a young rotation that did show promise in 2016. Coors Field will never be a pitchers dream, but if just one of those young pitchers can establish themselves as an ace, look for Colorado to do some damage in 2017.

 

12. Toronto Blue Jays

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 89-73

The Blue Jay’s had an AL leading 3.78 ERA in 2016, and that whole rotation will be returning. Tack on a presumably healthy Francisco Liriano, and you have one of the more dangerous rotations in the MLB. The rotation is set, but now Toronto must cope with the loss of star slugger Edwin Encarnacion. Further adding complexity is the loss of Michael Saunders from the lineup. Jose Bautista will be staying in Toronto. However, losing both Encarnacion and Saunders leaves a considerable gap for the Jays to fill. The offseason signing of Kendrys Morales certainly helps soften that blow by adding a solid DH. The Blue Jays may have a different dynamic than in years past, but expect them to be competitive regardless.

 

11. St. Louis Cardinals

2017 MLB Rankings: Sizing up the Season Part Four

2016 record: 86-76

The Cardinals are just solid. At this point, it’s basically their thing. The team continuously churns out seasons on the better side of 85 wins. Continue packing Busch Stadium with loyal red birds’ fans, and they continue their war against the top team in the MLB. The Cards have great depth and flexibility throughout their lineup bolstered by the poaching of center fielder Dexter Fowler. At this point, this question is the broken record of baseball, but again we’re asking, “What about that rotation?” Adam Wainwright is the perennial staple for this staff, but a slow decline the past few years is concerning. However, if Wainwright reclaims some former glory and Michael Wacha can bounce back from an injury-wrought 2016, the Cards may just have enough in the tank to cause trouble for the Cubs.

*Logos courtesy of MLB.com*

Link to Previous Rankings

Part 1: Here

Part 2: Here

Part 3: Here

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

ALCS Preview: Toronto Blue Jays vs Cleveland Indians

Both ALDS series were over as soon as they began, as the Indians and Blue Jays swept their opponents in the first three games of the five game series to move on to the ALCS.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays came into this series as underdogs to the Texas Rangers, who had the best record in the American League. By the end of the series, however, it was evident that the Jays showed up to play and the Rangers complacency and “playoff curse” struck again.

The Blue Jays blew out the Rangers in the first game of the series on the back of an exciting pitching performance from underrated Marco Estrada. Estrada went 8 1/3 innings, giving up only four hits and one earned run. Despite settling into more of a back of the rotation role with the Milwaukee Brewers, Estrada has pitched very well ever since signing with the Jays before the 2015 regular season. Often overlooked due to the potency of the Jays lineup, Estrada will be a big factor for the Jays as ALCS Game 1 looms closer.

josh-donaldson

Josh Donaldson just flat out raked during the ALDS. Donaldson went 9 for 18 with 5 doubles to help lead the Jays over the Rangers in 3 games. Photo courtesy of Patrick Semansky of the Associated Press

Game 2 saw the Blue Jays do what they do best, aka hit home runs like crazy. The Jays hit a total of four home runs, three of them solo shots, to beat the Rangers 5-3. The Rangers pulled a couple runs back in the 8th, but it was nice for Jasy fans to see their closer, Roberto Osuna, come in and shut the door after Francisco Liriano was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Osuna had been brought into a sticky spot with runners on 1st and 3rd and no outs, but managed to only give up one unearned run and preserve the Jays lead for the last two innings.

Game 3 was the most exciting of the bunch, as the Jays won in walkoff fashion. The inning got started with a Josh Donaldson double, a recurring theme through much of the series. Edwin Encarnacion walked and Jose Bautista struck out, which brought up Russell Martin. Martin grounded into what looked like a routine 6-4-3 double play, but a throwing error by the second basemen, Rougned Odor, led to Donaldson crossing the plate and wild celebration for Jays fans everywhere.

The X-factor for the Blue Jays against the Indians will be the starting pitching. Aaron Sanchez, arguably the best Jays pitcher throughout the season, got roughed up in Game 3 against the Rangers. The Jays will need him to bounce back along with Marco Estrada repeating a performance similar to what he did Game 1 against the Rangers. The Jays have a plethora of all-stars in their lineup and the bullpen looks stronger than ever. It will be up to the Jays starters to not dig them a hole to deep to get out of.

Teams like the Red Sox showed this postseason that despite being a strong team on paper, if the core of the lineup is not hitting, then the results will not be in their favor. The Jays core is hitting real well so far this postseason, and coupled with a strong bullpen performance and great starts from 2 of their 3 starters, the Jays look like they can make some noise this ALCS despite being the wild card team.

 

Cleveland Indians

The Indians came in as small market underdogs against a Boston Red Sox team that was expected to compete in the playoffs before the regular season even began. Many pundits even thought the Indians would not even finish top two in their division, as the Kansas City Royals were coming off a world series and the Detroit Tigers upgraded their already potent lineup with the signing of Justin Upton. Yet, it was the Indians who secured home field advantage on the final game of the season and was crowned AL Central champs when all was said and done.

andrew-miller

Andrew Miller is proving that even though the Indians gave up a hefty price tag for his services, it may all be worth it. He mowed down Red Sox hitters all series, holding them scoreless over four innings. Photo Courtesy of Zack Meisel of cleveland.com

The Indians and Red Sox ALDS series provided a little more excitement than the Jays and Rangers series. Game 1 concluded with a 5-4 victory for the Tribe as Indians Manager Terry Francona went to his bullpen early and successfully, getting 4 1/3 innings out of 3 relievers and only giving up one run in the process. Andrew Miller, the trade deadline acquisition that saw the Indians give up two top 100 prospects, looked extremely impressive, going two innings and giving up only one hit.

Game 2 saw a Cy Young performance out of Corey Kluber, who went 7 innings maintaining a WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) below 1 and accrued 7 k’s. David Price, who has the third highest salary in all of baseball, just got shellacked by Indians hitters. The Indians won with small ball scoring and a 3-run homer from Lonnie Chisenhall, who has been annually on the cusp of the Indians lineup, but never truly cemented a secure starting spot on the team over the last couple of seasons. The best part, for the Indians, was that the Red Sox had to go to the bullpen constantly through the first two games. The Indians, on the other hand, got to rest both Andrew Miller and Cody Allen Game 2, making them fully rested for Game 3.

Game 3 utilized a similar recipe that Game 1 did to secure the Indians the series. Josh Tomlin got the start and gave up only 2 runs in the early going for the Tribe. By the time the 5th inning rolled around, Francona had already called in Andrew Miller from the bullpen, who combined with Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw to only give up one run over the final 4 1/3 innings of the game. Coco Crisp, acquired at the Waiver Trade Deadline (which I outlined previously here), went on to not only provide a crucial sacrifice bunt in fourth inning, but hit the go ahead two-run homerun in the 6th inning.

coco-crisp

Coco Crisp’s 2 run homerun in the top of the sixth provided all the run support the team needed to pull off the series sweep against the Red Sox. Gif courtesy of giphy.com and TBS

The Indians, though often referred to as the underdog by national press and TBS announcers, proved that the team is a force to be reckoned with. The team may not arguably have any premier hitters in the lineup, but the team wins thanks to a different player stepping up everyday. Combine that formula with a Cy Young pitcher in Corey Kluber, along with one of the best 1-2 punches in the bullpen with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, and the Indians look like they may have all the pieces necessary to continue to prove the doubters wrong and win one for Believeland.

 

Prediction

In the end, I think the Jays pull off the upset in six games. Progressive Field is one of the most hitter friendly ballparks in the MLB, which will play in favor to the Jays lineup. Kluber gives the Indians one true stud in their rotation, but question marks surround the consistency of Bauer and Tomlin, and an over reliance on the bullpen by Francona could hurt the team long term in the series. Even with the latest news that Danny Salazar, another young stud for the Indians, could return for the ALCS, he has not pitched well the second half of the season. Rushing him back could cost the Indians a game the team can’t afford to give up in the series.  I think most games will be high scoring affairs, but look to the hot hitting Blue Jays to outgun the Indians squad and secure the series in Game 6.

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