Will the Rally Cat launch the Cardinals into October?

The St. Louis Cardinals have had a reverse in fortune over the past week. Most of the year they have been floating around .500, and it didn’t seem apparent that they would be able to catch the Brewers or the Cubs. This especially seemed to be the case after they lost a pivotal series in Milwaukee and have scuffled prior to this week.

Since a loss to Cincinnati last Friday, the Cardinals have won every game they have played. In that five day span, they have scored a staggering 54 runs and find themselves just a game back of the Chicago Cubs. Now, it is important to stay close to Earth in these kind of situations. It would be crazy to say that the Cardinals have found themselves and are going to steamroll their way to the postseason. However, it isn’t so crazy when there is a rally cat involved.

The rally cat strikes

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of NBC Sports

On Wednesday night, the Cardinals found themselves down to the Royals 5-4 in the sixth inning. Yadier Molina, who has had a very hot bat since the All-Star break, was at the plate with the bases loaded with Peter Moylan pitching.

After a first pitch ball, Molina pointed his bat to the outfield to let everyone know that there was a stray cat running around. After a groundskeeper wrangled the cat and everyone had gotten their laughs in, there was a very important at-bat that still needed to happen.

The very next pitch that Moylan tossed was sent for a ride by Yadier Molina. Everyone in the park knew the moment it came off the bat that it was a goner. That moment was without a doubt the most exciting moment in an otherwise mediocre Cardinals season.

The rally squirrel

Surprisingly enough this story deserves a bit of backstory. One might ask,”what possible backstory could there be for a cat running on the field?” Well, for the Cardinals, it is a pretty good one.

On Oct. 5, 2011, the Cardinals were playing the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLDS. Philadelphia was up 2-1 in the series and had won 102 games that season which was best in the majors. The Cardinals, on the other hand, barely snuck into the postseason thanks to a very good September for them and the demise of the Atlanta Braves.

It was the fifth inning of the game and the Cardinals were up 3-2. With Skip Schumaker at the plate, a squirrel ran across home plate and Roy Oswalt threw a ball. Oswalt went on to contest the call saying that the pitch should have been called off since he was distracted.

However, that was not what happened. The Cardinals went on to win the game, followed by a stellar Game 5 win that pushed them to the NLCS. The Cardinals were not stopped as they kept on going and won the World Series in dramatic fashion.

Many fans in St. Louis like to point to the rally squirrel as the unofficial mascot of the Cardinals. It was a season full of twists and turns, and every time the Cardinals seemed out of it, they would fight right back into it. This is why the rally cat from Wednesday may have jolted some excitement into St. Louis.

Yadi and the Cardinals’ offense is rolling

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of STL Today

We can’t give all the credit for the Cardinals’ success to the rally cat. Credit needs to be given where credit is due, and Yadier Molina has been excellent since the All-Star Break.

Since the break, Molina has a slash line of .325/.364/.554 with five home runs. It is hard to believe that with the mileage on Yadi and the fact he turned 35 during the break, that he has been able to keep up these numbers.

Don’t tell him you doubt him though. He will fire back which is evident with his manager, Mike Matheny. Matheny called Yadi tired in late July, and since then he has been firing on all cylinders.

Yadi was not the only one that got called out though for his play. The team has been starting to feel pressure as a whole. Tommy Pham, the Cardinals best offensive performer this season, called out the team for its lackluster offense last weekend. Since that happened, the Cardinals have won five in a row and the offense is playing as well as any team in the league.

Were the comments made by Pham and Matheny the kick start the Cardinals needed? Well, it certainly may be a big part of it. The team has needed a jolt for the past few months and it finally seems to be here for St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs are slipping

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

All season, experts have been saying that the Cubs are just a step away from separating themselves from the rest of the pack in the Central. The Cubs have yet to take that step though. In fact, they have been backsliding the past week and a half.

Chicago has lost six of its last eight games and are now only one game in front of the Cardinals and  two in front of the Brewers. Worst of all, they may have lost their star catcher for an extended period of time.

Wilson Contreras has been the Cubs’ best player since the break and went down with a hamstring injury against the Giants on the 9th. The Cubs have not released a timetable yet for when Contreras may be back, but it may be an extended period of time per multiple reports.

The Cubs will need to pick it up without Contreras in the meantime. They traded for Alex Avila at the deadline so he may be a serviceable replacement during Contreras’ absence. There have also been rumors floating around of Kyle Schwarber taking the helm behind the plate. Either way, the Cubs will miss Contreras and his absence will have an impact on the division race.

Will the Cardinals be able to keep it up?

St. Louis is in the middle of a hot streak. They will not be able to keep up the offensive production that they have had over the past week. However, this stretch may be signs of the team coming together as a whole. The Cardinals have had stellar starting pitching success, so it may all be coming together now.

The team has realized that they were not playing to their full potential and the motivation from their outfielder and manager may have sparked a new hope in the team.

Heck, maybe a cat is what this team needed to reach its potential.

 

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Cooperstown

Five active MLB players destined for Cooperstown

There has been a lot of Hall of Fame talk as of late after Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines all were inducted into Cooperstown last weekend. On top of that, Adrian Beltre had his 3,000th hit in Texas. All this talk has had me thinking about what major league ballplayers are a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame when they are eligible.

The criteria for this list is that to be on it, a player has to have a current resume that would be worthy of a Hall of Fame induction. Here are the players in the MLB that have proven they belong in the hall.

Ichiro Suzuki

Seasons: 17 | Career WAR: 59.5 | Hits: 3060 | Accolades: 10x All-Star, 10x Gold Glove Award, 2x Batting Titles, 1x AL MVP, 2001 ROY

Cooperstown

Ichiro has had one of the more storied MLB careers (MLB.com)

It is hard to believe that Ichiro actually played eight seasons for Orix Blue Wave before coming to America to play baseball. He had a very respectable career in Japan and has totaled over 4,000 hits in his career if you combine his Japanese career with the MLB.

Ichiro came bursting onto the scene in 2001 where he broke the single-season hit record with 262 hits. He also set the record for most consecutive 200-hit seasons with 10 in a row. He helped lead the Mariners to an MLB-record 116 wins that season as well. That is not all however, as he has the most hits by a foreign-born player in MLB history.

Ichiro has superstar status in Japan and the United States. He should be considered one of the greatest ballplayers to ever play and it would be hard to argue why he shouldn’t be enshrined in Cooperstown. Although he does not have a World Series championship under his belt, it should not bring down his illustrious career.

It will is hard to imagine him not getting in on his first ballot.

Albert Pujols

Seasons: 17 | Career WAR: 100.2 | Home Runs: 608 | Accolades: 10x All-Star, 3x NL MVP, 2x World Series Champion, 2001 NL ROY

Cooperstown

Albert Pujols’ Hall of Fame career was highlighted in St. Louis (USA Today)

Albert Pujols came onto the scene in 2001, the same year as Ichiro. He was not expected to be as good as he has been or even close to it. He was drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB Draft. You could say that the Cardinals got a pretty good return on him.

Pujols may have had the best 10-year start to a career with 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a .300 average in every one of his first 10 seasons in the majors. He also won three National League MVP awards and won a World Series championship with the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011.

He also was the keystone piece in the Cardinals’ “MV3” which featured Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds from 2002-2007. They were the core of the Cardinals who won made it to the NLCS four times during that seven year span.

Albert Pujols also has been able to flash some leather at first base. He has won the Gold Glove in two seasons. Pujols also has an excellent baseball IQ. His knowledge of the game is a big asset to his team around him. The Pujols Family Foundation also highlights his work off the field with children with autism and improving living conditions for families in the Dominican Republic.

Pujols signed a monstrous contract with the Angels after the 2011 championship season with the Cardinals, leaving at the same time as his manager for his whole career, Tony La Russa. Pujols has not even been the best player on his team since joining the Angels thanks to Mike Trout. However, the first 10 years of his career is enough to warrant a first ballot Hall of Fame induction.

Miguel Cabrera

Seasons: 15 | Career WAR: 69.8 | Home Runs: 459 | Accolades: 11x All-Star, 2x AL MVP, 2012 AL Triple Crown, 2003 WS Champion

Cooperstown

Cabrera is one of the best all-around hitters in recent memory (Getty Images)

In 2012, Miguel Cabrera became the first player in 45 years to win the AL triple crown. This achievement is a testament to Cabrera’s all-around ability at the plate. He is currently sitting at 2,602 hits, so he will most likely reach 3,000 at his current rate. Seeing that he is 34 years old now, he may not be around long enough to reach the elusive 600 home runs.

Miguel Cabrera is a career .318 hitter, so much like Pujols he is not just a masher. This guy knows how to hit. He has also been to the World Series on three occasions, but has only won one.

Cabrera has been rather quiet this year. He is not hitting at the same rate that he usually does with his average sitting around .250. However, his resume is already at the point where he is worthy for getting the nod into Cooperstown. He might not be able to have sustained success in the twilight of his career, but that should not affect his status.

Miggy may not get in on his first ballot but it should not be long before he is enshrined in Cooperstown.

Adrian Beltre

Seasons: 20 | Career WAR: 92.4 | Hits: 3,001 | Accolades: 4x All-Star, 5x Gold Glove Award, 2x Platinum Glove Award

Cooperstown

Beltre tips his helmet to the fans after hit #3000 (New York Times)

Beltre does not have the same sort of resume that Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols or Ichiro Suzuki have. He was a bit of a late bloomer. Beltre is one of those rare cases where he actually got better with age.

Beltre’s 3,000th hit came over last weekend and it was a good one. Now there have been talks about how he is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. He is the first Dominican-born player to get 3,000 hits (Pujols will reach the mark soon as well), and has been one of the best to man the hot corner.

The only players to not be in the Hall of Fame that have reached 3,000 hits are Pete Rose, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki and Rafael Palmeiro. As you can see the only reason that they are not in the hall is because there are scandals surrounding them or they are not eligible to be voted on yet. Because of this, it will be hard to imagine Beltre not getting voted in since his character matches his excellence on the field.

Clayton Kershaw

Seasons: 10 | Career WAR: 57.2 | Career ERA: 2.34 | Accolades: 7x All-Star, 3x NL Cy Young, 1x NL MVP, 2011 Pitching Triple Crown

Cooperstown

Kershaw is making a case to be one of the greatest pitchers of all-time (Baseball Essential)

Clayton Kershaw has by far the least amount of service in the MLB on this list. That speaks to how good he is though. He has been the most dominant pitcher in the majors since coming to the big leagues in 2008. Kershaw also is one of only 10 pitchers to claim the MVP and Cy Young in a single season.

The one downfall of Kershaw’s is his postseason performance. The Dodgers have not been to the World Series since 1988, so he does not have a ton of postseason experience deep in October.

When he does pitch though he has not been his sharpest. His career postseason ERA is 4.55 which is over two whole runs above his career ERA in the regular season. The Dodgers are expected to make a run this year though, and if Kershaw is able to make an impact despite his back injury, it will be a milestone in his career.

Besides his injury this year, Kershaw has shown no real signs of slowing down. With the way he pitches as well, he may a long time away from retirement. It would be hard to argue why he shouldn’t be in the hall even if he retired today.

Honorable Mentions

These honorable mentions are players that will make it on the ballot. The issue is their resume may not be complete, or not have enough time in the MLB.

Yadier Molina

Molina is one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time. He also is one of the greatest to call a game behind the plate. The only issue is that he may not reach 2,000 hits in his career. No hitter has ever been enshrined in Cooperstown with under 2,000 hits.

Mike Trout

Mike Trout may be the most well-rounded baseball player we have seen since Willie Mays. If he keeps up his current pace, he should be a sure thing for the hall. He just can’t be a guarantee for Cooperstown yet because he has not played long enough.

Joey Votto

Votto has won an MVP and may be one of the best disciplined hitters in recent memory. He may need five more productive years in order to get a spot in Cooperstown though.

Bryce Harper

Much like Trout, Harper is a once in a generation type player. He also just needs more time to prove himself.

Jon Lester

Lester has been a stellar postseason pitcher in his career. He has won three World Series championships and his playoff performance is a big reason for that. He is still a bit of a stretch to get into the Hall of Fame though.

Buster Posey

Buster Posey is the most productive hitting catcher in the league today. He also has brought three championships to the San Francisco Bay. If he keeps up his current pace then he may have a shot for Cooperstown.

Robinson Cano

If Cano is able to reach the 3,000-hit mark, he will have a good shot at making the hall. The only problem is that he is 34 and has 700 hits to go. If he doesn’t reach the mark, he will be right on the border line.

 

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MLB second half performances

Best MLB second half performances of 2016

With the second half of the 2017 MLB season in course, it’s time to assess the best MLB second half performances of 2016. The players are organized in groups according to whether they were an All-Star, veteran, breakout performer or rookie.

All-Stars 

Jon Lester, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

2016 First Half Stats 18 GS 9-4 W-L 3.01 ERA 1.08 WHIP 8.8 K/9 110.2 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 14 GS 10-1 W-L 1.76 ERA 0.94 WHIP 8.7 K/9 92 IP
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Jon Lester finished second in the NL Cy Young vote after a miraculous second half. (Photo by dailyherald.com)

In his 11th major league season, Lester ended the year with 19 wins and a 2.44 ERA. He finished second in the National League Cy Young vote and was a key part of the Chicago Cubs’ championship run.

In his 14 second half starts, Lester was nearly unhittable. He had a record of 10-1 with a 1.76 ERA and .189 batting average against, or BAA.

His home run to fly ball rate, or HR/FB, dropped from 16.2 percent in the first half to 6.8 percent in the second. This, along with the fact that his left on base percentage, or LOB%, rose from 83.7 percent to 86.4 percent, made him arguably the most successful pitcher in the second half of the 2016 MLB season.

 

 

 

 

 

Miguel Cabrera, First Baseman, Detroit Tigers

2016 First Half Stats 86 GS 18 HR 53 RBI 49 R .293/.370/.507 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 70 GS 20 HR 55 RBI 43 R .346/.423/.653 BA/OBP/SLG

The future first ballot Hall of Famer had an incredible second half. Cabrera batted .346 with 20 home runs, 55 RBIs and 43 runs scored in 70 games.

The largest analytical differences between Cabrera’s first and second halves included his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, rose from .314 to .366, as well as his weighted on-base average, or wOBA, rose from .368 to .438.

The 33-year-old’s second half of 2016 is a prime example of why he is one of the greatest hitters of this generation.

Veterans

Justin Verlander, Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers

2016 First Half Stats 18 GS 8-6 W-L 4.07 ERA 1.13 WHIP 9.2 K/9 117.1 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 16 GS 8-3 W-L 1.96 ERA 0.86 WHIP 10.9 K/9 110.1 IP
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Justin Verlander’s 2016 campaign was a success due to his incredible second half. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander managed to finish 2016 as the American League Cy Young runner-up even after failing to make the AL All-Star team. How is this possible you ask? Well, it may have something to do with his poor 4.07 ERA in the first half.

His astonishing second half resulted in a 1.96 ERA, .180 BAA and 134 strikeouts in 110.1 innings. The 33-year-old’s success could be attributed to his ability to limit walks and strand runners on base. His strikeout to walk ratio, or K/BB, was an incredible 5.58, while his LOB% was an astronomical 90.6 percent.

Many people argue that Verlander was snubbed of the 2016 AL Cy Young award, and for good reason, as his mind-blowing second half lead to a 16-9 record, 3.04 ERA, .204 BAA and a league leading 1.00 WHIP and 254 strikeouts.

 

 

 

 

Joey Votto, First Baseman, Cincinnati Reds

2016 First Half Stats 84 GS 14 HR 42 RBI 48 R .252/.386/.446 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 71 GS 15 HR 55 RBI 53 R .408/.490/.668 BA/OBP/SLG

Votto managed to continue the lore of being one of the greatest second half hitters of all time, as he slashes .327/.440/.569 on his career after the All-Star break.

His 2016 campaign resulted in a .326 average, 29 home runs and 97 RBIs. In the second half alone, Votto managed to bat .408 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs in 72 games. The major changes in his analytics included his strikeout rate, which decreased from 24.2 percent to 10.2 percent, his BABIP, which rose from .308 to .418 and his wOBA, which rose from .357 to .478.

Votto’s 2016 second half will go down as one of the most dominant in baseball history.

Yadier Molina, Catcher, St. Louis Cardinals

2016 First Half Stats 78 GS 2 HR 28 RBI 30 R .259/.329/.341 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 65 GS 6 HR 30 RBI 26 R .365/.398/.529 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Yadier Molina batted .365 in the second half of his MVP caliber 2016 campaign. (Photo by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the greatest catchers of his era, Molina has been a National League MVP candidate on five separate occasions, while also winning eight Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger award. His 2016 second half helped him re-enter the MVP conversation for the first time since 2013, where he finished third in the NL MVP vote.

His first half in 2016 was quite abysmal, as the 33-year-old batted only .259, which was well below his career batting average of .284. Although in the second half, Molina batted a phenomenal .365.

The major analytical difference between Molina first and second half was his BABIP, as it rose from .291 in the first half to .388 in the second.

Molina has always been a more productive player after the break, but he had never taken his production to levels like this.

 

 

 

Breakout performers

Kyle Hendricks, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

2016 First Half Stats 16 GS 7-6 W-L 2.55 ERA 1.03 WHIP 7.8 K/9 98.2 IP
2016 Second Half Stats 14 GS 9-2 W-L 1.68 ERA 0.92 WHIP 8.3 K/9 91.1 IP

Hendricks finished third in the NL Cy Young vote and 23rd in the NL MVP vote in 2016. The 26-year-old led the league in ERA and ERA+, which exemplifies his utter dominance over the entirety of the season. Although he was great all year, his overall success was majorly due to his impeccable second half.

Hendricks managed to finish the second half with a 9-2 record, 1.68 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. One major analytical difference between halves was his ability to strand runners on base, as his LOB% rose from 74.1 percent in the first half to 90.7 percent in the second.

The interesting thing with the rest of Hendricks’ splits include that his BABIP and hard contact rates both rose from the first half to the second, which would suggest he got luckier in the first half, even though he was more successful in the second.

D.J. LeMahieu, Second Baseman, Colorado Rockies

2016 First Half Stats 78 GS 5 HR 32 RBI 53 R 7 SB .334/.398/.490 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 66 GS 6 HR 34 RBI 53 R 4 SB .363/.437/.500 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

D.J. LeMahieu had a fantastic year in 2016, although he was that much more special in the second half. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

After being snubbed in the NL All-Star vote, LeMahieu had an exorbitant second half that landed him 15th in the NL MVP vote.

His BABIP rose from .379 in the first half to an even better .397 in the second, which kept his batting average well above .300. LeMahieu finished the year with a league leading .348 batting average, although it was his .363 batting average in the second half that blew fans away.

The 27-year-old had almost identical contact rates from one half to the other, although the direction of the contact had changed drastically. His pull percentage decreased from 24 percent to 19 percent, while his opposite field percentage rose from 35 percent to 41 percent. LeMahieu was able to spray the ball across the diamond while sustaining contact rates, which makes his 2016 second half even more impressive.

 

 

Rookies

Trea Turner, Second Baseman/Outfielder, Washington Nationals

2016 First Half Stats 3 GS 0 HR 0 RBI 0 R 0 SB .429/.500/.571 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 67 GS 13 HR 40 RBI 53 R 33 SB .340/.367/.567 BA/OBP/SLG

The 13th overall pick in 2014 exploded onto the scene in the second half of last season. Turner batted .340 with 13 home runs, 53 runs, 40 RBIs and 33 stolen bases in 67 starts, which resulted in a runner-up finish for the NL Rookie of the Year (Corey Seager).

His second-half success can be attributed to his .387 BABIP, which positively impacted Turner as 44 percent of his batted balls went for ground balls. His contact rates were also great, as he made over 80 percent medium and hard contact on all balls batted in play.

Turner showed glimpses of what could be an elite fantasy asset, as he displayed contact, power, production, speed and consistency atop the Washington Nationals’ star-studded lineup.

Jose Peraza, Shortstop/Second Baseman/Outfielder, Cincinnati Reds

2016 First Half Stats 15 GS 0 HR 4 RBI 6 R 9 SB .246/.278/.246 BA/OBP/SLG
2016 Second Half Stats 41 GS 3 HR 21 RBI 19 R 12 SB .355/.380/.477 BA/OBP/SLG
Best MLB second half performances 2016

Jose Peraza exploded onto the scene during the second half of 2016. (Photo by WKRC)

Peraza was called up in May of 2016 for his first extended stint in the majors, as he made his major league debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015.

After struggling in his first 15 games last season, he finished the year with a .324 batting average, 25 runs scored, 25 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 56 starts.

The 22-year-old put together an amazing second half, where he batted .355 with 19 runs scored, 21 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 41 starts.

Peraza’s second-half success can be attributed to multiple things, including his .389 BABIP, his ability to make 83 percent medium or hard contact and his ability to spray the ball over 29 percent of the time to each field.

His ability to make solid contact and spray to all fields helped propel him to having one of MLB’s best second halves in 2016.

 

 

 

Featured image by ESPN.com

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks: Veterans to Keep Your Eye On in 2017

I present you with my fantasy baseball tips and tricks: veterans to keep your eye on in 2017.

Veterans commonly go overlooked in fantasy baseball. They are assumed to have undergone regression from the previous year. Multiple veterans disproved this theory last year, including David Ortiz, Justin Verlander and Adrian Beltre.

Ortiz astounded baseball fans around the world with arguably his best season since 2005. His 38 home runs and 127 RBIs helped crown the Boston Red Sox as the best offensive team in baseball. The 40-year-old finished sixth in AL MVP voting and received his seventh Silver Slugger award to validate him as an elite player.

Verlander underwent some struggles in 2014, sporting a 4.54 ERA and a career low strikeout rate of 6.9. He hoped for a bounce-back season in 2015, but only made 20 starts after being sidelined by a tricep injury.

Many people lost faith in the former Cy Young winner and MVP. However, the 33-year-old proved everyone wrong. He finished with 16 wins, a 3.04 ERA and a league high 254 strikeouts. Verlander finished second in the AL Cy Young voting and 17th in AL MVP voting.

The first ballot Hall-of-Famer, Adrian Beltre, also entered 2016 with some question marks. He was a 37-year-old who had failed to play 150 games and hit 20 home runs since 2013. The four-time Silver Slugger went to work and batted .300 with 32 home runs and 104 RBIs. Beltre subsequently finishing seventh in AL MVP voting.

Many veterans slide down the board on draft day, but the following old-timers should stay on your radar come 2017.

 

The following players are all 34 years of age or above and are being selected out of the top 100 players according to fantasypros.com average draft positions (ADP’s). Players are listed in order of ADP, with their age, position, team and composite 2017 projections following.

 

Position Players

 

Albert Pujols, 37, First Base, Los Angeles Angels (128)

  • 536 AB, 72 R, 29 HR, 91 RBI, .265 AVG, .792 OPS

Pujols has dealt with nagging foot injuries over the course of his last four seasons. However, he has still managed to play 150 or more games in his last three. The 37-year-old remains a staple of power and production. He will continue to bat behind Mike Trout, making him a 100-plus RBI threat until he retires. Injuries will remain threat to his success, but his ADP makes him well worth the risk.

 

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

Adrian Gonzalez has quietly been one of the leagues most consistent players. (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

Adrian Gonzalez, 34, First Base, Los Angeles Dodgers (146)

  • 539 AB, 69 R, 22 HR, 84 RBI, .273, .790 OPS

Gonzalez has remained one of the most consistent big leaguers of the last decade. He has amassed 90 or more RBIs in 10 consecutive seasons. The 34-year-old will continue to be a cornerstone of the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup that is bound to improve. Young stars Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig will continue to grow.

The first overall pick in 2000 has a career .290 batting average, which makes him a very safe selection as your first basemen in 2017.

 

Carlos Beltran, 39, Outfield, Houston Astros, (190)

  • 499 AB, 62 R, 21 HR, 72 RBI, .271 AVG, .783 OPS

Beltran will jump from one AL West team to another, leaving the Texas Rangers to join the Houston Astros. The 39-year-old had begun to fall off in 2014, although his 2016 campaign began a resurgence. Beltran smashed 29 home runs, which is something he hadn’t done since 2012.

If Beltran can find consistent at bats as an Astro, then there is no reason that he cannot be a top-20 outfielder once again in 2017.

 

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

Victor Martinez is still a cornerstone of the Detroit Tigers offense at 38 years old. (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

Victor Martinez, 38, Designated Hitter, Detroit Tigers (192)

  • 514 AB, 61 R, 21 HR, 76 RBI, .278 AVG, .785 OPS

The former catcher has found a home at designated hitter. He has been able to manage at least 150 games in three of his last four seasons.  Martinez’s career batting average of .301 makes him a great late-round pick who can boost your average.

If the Detroit Tigers are successful this season, it will be in part because of this 38-year-old’s production. He has amounted 100 RBIs five times in his career, which is not out of the realm of possibility if he can stay healthy once again.

 

 

Yadier Molina, 34, Catcher, St. Louis Cardinals (195)

  • 434 AB, 43 R, 7 HR, 48 RBI, .286 AVG, .733 OPS

Molina is a future Hall-of-Famer because of his glove. However, he batted .307 last season while finishing 23rd in NL MVP voting. Molina may be a 34-year-old catcher who hasn’t surpassed 150 games played ever in his career, but he remains one of the safest choices you can make late in the draft. The Cardinals will only go as far as Molina, Carpenter and Piscotty will take them.

 

Starting and Relief Pitchers

 

Rich Hill, 37, Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers (122)

  • 132 IP, 10 W, 3.07 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 143 K

Hill inked a three-year, $48 million deal after finishing 2016 with 110.1 innings pitched, 12 wins, a 2.12 ERA and 129 K’s. The 37-year-old will remain a staple in the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation for years to come. If he were to come close to 200 innings, he is a sure-fire top-25 starting pitcher. Hill is a late bloomer in the MLB and commonly sliding in drafts. However, should not be overlooked due to his incredible strikeout upside.

 

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

John Lackey has remained an innings eater for which ever team he suiting up for. (Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune)

John Lackey, 38, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs (142)

  • 182 IP, 11 W, 3.66 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 162 K

The Chicago Cubs veteran remains a consistent innings eater, reaching the 180-innings mark in four straight seasons. The 38-year-old will continue to pitch every five days for the Cubbies come 2017, which makes him extremely valuable in all formats. He is sure to win games, strike batters out and have respectable ratios.

 

J.A. Happ, 34, Starting Pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays (169)

  • 183 IP, 12 W, 3.93 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 156 K

Happ came out of nowhere in 2016 to win 20 games and finish sixth in AL Cy Young voting. Regression may be in store for the veteran. However, if he can match his 195-inning total last season, he is sure to be a solid fantasy pitcher in 2017. The 34-year-old will be pitching for an intriguing Blue Jays team that is sure to compete in the AL East as they have for the last few seasons.

 

Fantasy Baseball Tips and Tricks

Francisco Rodriguez will remain the closer to start 2017. (Courtesy of Blessyouboys.com)

Francisco Rodriguez, 35, Relief Pitcher, Detroit Tigers (143)

  • 58 IP, 35 SV, 3.57 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 55 K

Once arguably the greatest closer in the game, Rodriguez has since fallen off that pedestal. His strikeouts per nine innings has dropped in consecutive seasons since 2013, which is a bit disconcerting. However, the Detroit closer will continue to have the opportunity to be a premier closer in this league, as the Tigers will be a contender in 2017.

 

 

 

Fernando Rodney, 39, Relief Pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks (241)

  • 57 IP, 23 SV, 3.95 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 60 K

Rodney will make the move to the desert in 2017 and become the Arizona Diamondbacks’ closer to start the season. Rodney still has plenty of strikeout potential, and will be saving games for a Diamondbacks team that is sure to be better than they were in 2016. Rodney will make for a great late round pick for teams that need some cheap saves.

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

The catcher position is arguably the toughest and most important position on the diamond. Not only is catcher the most demanding position physically, but mentally as well. Catchers must know everything about everyone at all times.

The most important responsibilities of a catcher are on the defensive side of the ball. They need to block, pick, receive, call pitches and throw out runners, among other things. The importance of defense commonly results in catchers being worse offensively than other positions.

In fantasy terms, the catcher can be compared to the tight end in football. The tight end position is focused on blocking as much as it is receiving, resulting in them having a lower average fantasy value than other skill positions.

The top 25 catchers have been grouped into five tiers. The top and bottom catcher in each tier have been profiled below.

Exceptions include Matt Wieters, who is still an unsigned free agent and Wilson Ramos, who is recovering from a torn ACL, and should return to the Tampa Bay Rays as a designated hitter at some point in May.

Honorable mentions include: Jorge Alfaro (PHI), Nick Hundley (SF), Miguel Montero (CHC), Roberto Perez (CLE), Jeff Bandy (MIL), Tucker Barnhart (CIN), Carlos Ruiz (SEA), Tom Murphy (COL), and Tyler Flowers (ATL).

Tier 1

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings

Buster Posey could retire right now and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. (Courtesy of MLBtraderumors.com)

Catchers in this tier are elite fantasy options. They will play every day, whether it is behind the plate or at first base, and have offered consistently great offensive value in the past.

1. Buster Posey SF

2. Jonathan Lucroy TEX

Buster Posey has been the standard of excellence at catcher for the past five seasons. The former MVP is coming off of his worst career season (disregarding his 2011 campaign). An off year for Posey included batting .288 with 14 home runs and 80 RBIs. He managed to be top-15 MVP finalist, win his first Gold Glove and was named an All-Star for the fourth time.

The 29-year-old will remain the three-hole hitter for the always competitive San Francisco Giants, and should be selected as the first catcher off the board in 2017.

A two time All-Star, Jonathan Lucroy, will play his first full season for the Texas Rangers in 2017. He projects to bat sixth in a deep Rangers lineup that features young stud stars Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara, as well as veterans Carlos Gomez, Adrain Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo and recently acquired Mike Napoli.

Lucroy led the league in doubles while finishing fourth in MVP voting in 2014. His 2015 season was cut short to a broken toe and concussion. In 2016, Lucroy rebounded, reaching career high in home runs, walks and slugging percentage. After being traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Rangers in 2016, He managed to mash 11 home runs in 47 games. Lucroy is guaranteed to be a top catcher in 2017.

Tier 2

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings.

Gary Sanchez is no longer the future of the New York Yankees, but rather the present. (Courtesy of NJ.com)

This tier consists of catchers who will play nearly every day, hit in the heart of the order, and offer great offensive value.

3. Gary Sanchez NYY

4. Willson Contreras CHC

5. Yasmani Grandal LAD

Everybody remembers Gary Sanchez for hitting 20 home runs in 53 games in 2016, but they forget that he batted .225 in September and October. Sanchez has huge upside as he will bat third for a sneaky talented Yankees lineup featuring veteran speedsters Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.

With the 24-year-old batting third, Sanchez is in a prime spot to rack up RBIs if he can continue to put the bat on the ball. The Sanchise should not be overlooked because of his great opportunity in 2017.

Yasmani Grandal had his best career year in 2016, finishing 22nd in MVP voting. He hit 27 bombs while slashing .228/.339/.477 in 126 games. The Dodger’s everyday catcher will bat fifth behind Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner and Corey Seager, which will give him ample RBI opportunities.

Grandal will be a great fantasy asset in 2017.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Rankings

Russell Martin’s continued success is remarkable at 34-years-old. (Courtesy of www.whatproswear.com)

Catchers in this tier offer above average fantasy value as they will play nearly every day, hit in productive spots in the order, and have proven their worth in the past.

6. Russell Martin

7. Brian McCann

8. Salvador Perez

9. Yadier Molina

10. Wellington Castillo

11. Stephen Vogt

Russell Martin, the MLB’s journey man, has found success everywhere he goes. He has reached the 20 home run, 60 run, 70 RBI plateau in his last two consecutive seasons. The 34-year-old will be entering his 12th season as the everyday catcher and six hitter of the Toronto Blue Jays.

He will have the same opportunity he has had in the past two seasons to be a key contributor in the Blue Jays offense.

Stephen Vogt has finished his second consecutive season of 500 plate appearances and over a .250 average. He has hit a total of 32 home runs in his last two seasons, suggesting that he has above average power for a catcher. The 32-year-old will be the Oakland Athletics primary catcher and two-hitter in 2017, which will give him plenty of opportunities to produce runs.

The two-time All-Star will continue to have the chance to shine as a key part of the Athletics roster.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Where does Evan Gattis fit into the Houston Astros puzzle? (Courtesy of The Houston Chronicle)

Players in this tier will come at a cheap price, but will provide above average value.

12. Evan Gattis

13. J.T. Realmuto

14. Mike Zunino

15. Austin Hedges

16. Francisco Cervelli

17. Derek Norris

Evan Gattis, the former janitor, has managed to amass 20 or more home runs in all four of his MLB seasons while averaging only 122 games per season. Gattis will play a utility role for the Houston Astros in 2017, who have signed Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann this offseason.

Gattis will find time behind home plate when veteran McCann’s legs need a rest, at designated hitter when Beltran starts in the outfield or is out of the lineup, and at first base when Yulieski Gurriel sits or struggles.

The 30-year-old has too much talent to not be in the lineup, and will be a cheap source of power in the middle or late rounds of your draft.

Derek Norris, who batted .186 in 2016, was traded to the Washington Nationals in December of 2016 for a minor-league pitcher. He will hold the primary catchers position relinquishing the occasional at bat to Jose Lobaton. The 28-year-old will bat at the bottom of a loaded Nationals lineup, giving him more RBI opportunities than the average eight hitter. A lot of people forget that Derek Norris batted .250 in 2015, and .270 in 2014, showing that he has the potential to be a valuable fantasy asset for a cheap price.

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Travis d’Arnaud looks forward to a healthy 2017. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

These catchers all offer average levels of production but will be playing in platoon roles, so playing time may be staggered until injuries or performance dictate otherwise.

18. Travis d’Arnaud

19. Sandy Leon

20. Devin Mesoraco

21. Yan Gomes

22. Cameron Rupp

23. Tony Wolters

24. James McCann

25. Jason Castro

Travis d’Arnaud will be the primary catcher for the New York Mets, occasionally relinquishing at-bats to backups Rene Rivera and Kevin Plawecki. Although he has only totaled 100 games played once in his career (108 games played in 2014), he is healthy and confident heading into 2017.

The Mets have also hired Glenn Sherlock as their new third base coach and catching instructor which will help d’Arnaud maintain his confidence behind the plate and at the dish. He offers average value for low cost, as he is commonly going undrafted.

Jason Castro, also going undrafted, will be the starting catcher for the Minnesota Twins after signing a three year, $24.5 million contract. He will bat at the bottom of a young Twins lineup that is sure to produce its fair share of runs in 2017. Castro batted .210 with 11 home runs in 2016, although it was only four seasons ago when the 29-year-old was an All-Star who batted .270 with 18 home runs. Castro is a good sleeper for deep or two catcher leagues.

 

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World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool D

In this final review of the WBC teams, Pool D will take center stage. Playing in Jalisco, Mexico, these teams will be battling for the final spot to move on to round two. If you missed any of our previous pool reviews, you can find them below.

1.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool A

2.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool B

3.World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool C

Italy

World Baseball Classic

Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli will represent his home country in the WBC (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Italy is not known for its baseball history, but they’re set to start making some in this year’s WBC. After making a surprising run to the second round in 2013, Italy will look to build on their success.

 

Most of the lineup from 2013’s squad will make a return in 2017, as Italy has a host of major league talent. On the mound, one of the game’s most interesting pitchers will suit up for his mother country.

Pat Venditte, the switch-pitching reliever, gives Italy a whole new dimension in the bullpen. Venditte can pitch left and right handed in the same inning. He will also be joined by journeyman reliever Tommy Layne.

In the field, Italy has as much talent as any other team in Pool D. The pitching staff will be handled by veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli. After seven seasons as a part-time starter in the Bronx, Cervelli has performed well after earning the starting job in Pittsburgh.

Another position player of note is Chris Colabello. After having a break out year in 2015, Colabello was suspended for PEDs in 2016 and had a -36 OPS+. It remains to be seen what Colabello will contribute. Brandon Nimmo and Daniel Descalso will also play the field for Italy.

With a good amount of talent both on the mound and the field, team Italia is set to compete in the WBC. Italy will have a tough road to the second round in a competitive pool.

Mexico

World Baseball Classic

Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez returns for team Mexico (Christian Petersen/Getty Images).

As the host country, Mexico will have home field advantage. With a dominant pitching staff to rely on, Mexico won’t need much offense to stay competitive. That’s good news for team Mexico.

With a rotation of five major league starters, Mexico has plenty of starters to choose from. Pitchers Julio Urias, Marco Estrada and Jaime Garcia will lead the staff. They will be joined by Jorge De La Rosa and Yovani Gallardo to round out the starters for Mexico.

With that strong rotation also comes a strong bullpen. The bullpen is as deep as the rotation, with Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna headlining the pen. Osuna will be joined by Oliver Perez, Joakim Soria and Sergio Romo to form a dominant bullpen.

Off the mound, Mexico is sorely lacking. Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez will lead the position players. After hitting 18 homers and driving in 90 RBIs in 2016, Gonzalez is poised to perform well in the WBC.

He will be joined in the lineup by A’s slugger Khris Davis. The 29-year-old outfielder hit 42 homers in 2016, finding his power as he put up a 126 OPS+. While Mexico is lacking on position player talent, Gonzalez and Davis are some of the best at their respective positions.

As Mexico will rely on it’s dominant pitching, it will be hard to muster much runs. Gonzalez and Davis will have to be on top of their games to help propel team Mexico out of the first round.

Puerto Rico

World Baseball Classic

After winning the Caribbean Series, Puerto Rico will rely on Carlos Beltran to lead them (J. Meric/Getty Images North America).

With an ample amount of talent in the majors, Puerto Rico is still overlooked. The island is small compared to other nations in the tournament, but their amount of talent certainly is not.

 

Puerto Rico is coming off an inspiring championship victory in the Caribbean Series and will use that momentum to drive their WBC run.

Top pitching prospects Jose De Leon of the Rays and Jose Berrios of the Twins will be led by veteran starter Hector Santiago. Santiago is their most accomplished starter, with a 3.84 ERA in five major league seasons. Their position players far exceed their pitchers.

As their pitchers try to limit runs, these players will try to score them. They will be lead by all-star outfielder Carlos Beltran. The Puerto Rico native is a legend both in his native land and the states, as he has hit 421 career homers and stolen 312 bases.

He will be joined in the outfield by veterans Angel Pagan and Eddie Rosario. The infield will be manned by young stars Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and Javier Baez. Lindor and Correa are some of baseball’s greatest shortstops, and Baez has crazy power potential.

Behind the dish will be none other than Yadier Molina. One of the best defensive catchers in history, Molina is a vital asset for Puerto Rico.

Just because Puerto Rico may be lacking in terms of major league talent doesn’t mean they won’t be able to compete. A limited pitching staff does hinder Puerto Rico, who will have to rely heavily on its big bats.

Venezuela

World Baseball Classic

Felix Hernandez returns to the WBC for Venezuela (Doug Benc/Getty Images North America).

As Venezuela keeps churning out major league talent, you would think they would have at least one WBC championship to their name. After being knocked out in the first round in 2013’s WBC, Venezuela will be more determined than ever to bring home the title.

On the mound is one of the game’s greats. Felix Hernandez has been nothing short of dominant since he set foot into the majors. With a career 3.16 ERA and 8.4 K/9, Hernandez will be a force in Pool D.

He will be joined by major league veterans Jhoulys Chacin and Martin Perez for a solid rotation. The bullpen will be a bit lacking, with only Bruce Rondon and Hector Rondon as the notable relievers.

There will be plenty of firepower in the lineup. All-around great catcher Salvador Perez will handle the pitching staff. As Hernandez and company know, having a great catcher is critical. With multiple gold gloves, Perez is one of the best in the tournament.

He will be joined by all-star sluggers Jose Altuve and Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is arguably the best pure hitter in the WBC, able to hit for both power and average. Altuve is no slouch either, winning the AL batting title in 2016. Rockies right fielder Carlos Gonzalez will lead the outfield, as well as slotting in the lineup behind Cabrera. With massive raw power from the right side of the plate, Gonzalez is poised to feast on opponent’s pitching.

Venezuela is a dark horse in the WBC, being overshadowed by behemoths like the Dominican Republic and the USA. As a strong club overall, Venezuela will be a tough competitor in Pool D.

Verdict

Pool D has one of the best collections of overall talent in the WBC. With parity throughout, it is hard to pick a favorite. Italy will have the toughest time advancing from Pool D, but don’t be surprised if they pull off an upset or two. Mexico is limited offensively, and will have to rely on its dominant pitching staff.

The top two teams in Pool D have a good mix of both batting and pitching. Puerto Rico will rely on young arms and a mix of veteran and up-and-coming position players to carry them. They will be a tough out, but not too tough for the favorite: Venezuela. Any team with Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve and Felix Hernandez has to be a favorite. With multiple other big league names on their roster, Venezuela should advance out of Pool D and make a run for the championship.

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