My 2017 MLB Predictions

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Ah, yes…Opening Day is upon us as we embark on a new Major League Baseball season. For the majority of teams, this is a time of hope and optimism. For a few, there is more of a glance to the future than the present. As baseball fans, every year we throw out our predictions, hoping by mid-season they aren’t a big colossal mass of hilarity. I don’t take my predictions super-serious, but I’m always hopeful that I am at least within the vicinity of reality. So without further ado, my predictions for the upcoming season.

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American League East

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. Toronto Blue Jays
  3. Tampa Bay Rays
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Baltimore Orioles

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American League Central

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Minnesota Twins
  5. Chicago White Sox

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American League West

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland A’s

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National League East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Philadelphia Phillies
  5. Atlanta Braves

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals

National League Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Cincinnati Reds
  5. Milwaukee Brewers

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Milwaukee Brewers

National League West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. San Francisco Giants
  3. Colorado Rockies
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks
  5. San Diego Padres

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Awards

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American League MVP: Carlos Correa, Houston

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American League Cy Young: Marcus Stroman, Toronto

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American League Rookie of the Year: Andrew Benintendi, Boston

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National League MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona

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National League Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles

Angels Dodgers Spring Baseball

National League Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles

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Playoff Teams 

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American League

Division Winners: Boston, Cleveland, Houston

Wild Cards: Toronto, Kansas City

American League Champions: Toronto

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National League

Division Winners: Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles

Wild Cards: New York, San Francisco

National League Champions: Washington

USP MLB: ALDS-TEXAS RANGERS AT TORONTO BLUE JAYS S BBA CAN ON

Am I super confident about my picks? Nope. Baseball is a funny thing, largely because of the length of the season. There are so many twists and turns that there is no way to truly predict how it will all shake down. What I can say with confidence is that another fun, memorable season is getting ready to start and I can’t wait. The best part about baseball is the storyline that it revolves around. I can’t wait to see how this whole thing unfolds. Last October, we had a great Cleveland/Chicago World Series; what do the baseball God’s have in store for us this year? Truly, only time will tell.

 

Royals Add Rotation Arm, Sign Hammel

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Ever since the untimely death of Yordano Ventura, the general feeling was that the Kansas City Royals were going to have to go out and acquire another starting pitcher. Names like Doug Fister and Travis Wood, but the name that was mentioned multiple times was Jason Hammel, the best available arm still on the free agent market. Royals GM Dayton Moore can be a sneaky dealer, and while most were zoned in on the Super Bowl, Moore made his move:

The Royals got their man in Hammel, locking him up for two years, $16 million dollars with a mutual option (of course Dayton gave him a mutual option!!) for a third year. As of this writing the breakdown of the financials have not been released (I would tend to think the annual salary will be higher in 2018 than this year) but even without that knowledge the Royals seemed to have locked down a solid mid-rotation starter at a fairly cheap rate.

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So what kind of production should Kansas City expect from his signing? Hammel pitched for the Cubs in 2016, racking up 166 innings with a 3.83 ERA, 4.48 FIP and an ERA+ of 105. Hammel raised his ground ball rate last year, posting at 42%, his highest percentage since 2012 in Baltimore. He’s not a big strike out guy, but he did put up a 13.2% strike out to walk ratio, and both his strike out and walk rates in 2016 were about league average. He does throw his slider quite a bit, in fact he threw it 35% last year, the 4th highest percentage of sliders for qualified pitchers. Hammel did improve his left on base percentage last year bumping up to 76% while his batting average on balls in play also took a step downward. A very positive sign for Hammel in 2016, especially where it concerns not only Kansas City but pitching at Kauffman Stadium, was how hard the ball was hit off of him. His line drive saw a dip this past year while his ground ball rate saw an increase. Hammel really didn’t see a major shift in hard hit rate or soft hit rate and his exit velocity is interesting:

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While Hammel was up and down when it comes to exit velocity, this is actually fairly accurate throughout his career. His velocity also didn’t see a big change in 2016:

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The chart above has Hammel’s velocity for both 2015 and 2016. What was very noticeable, especially with his changeup and slider, was the consistency in 2016 compared to 2015. It really seemed that Hammel was able to not vary much month to month, which is a positive considering some of the rumors that were floated out there this winter.

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One of the reasons Hammel was still available this late in the winter was because of a feeling that he was hurt late in the 2016 season:

If you looked at the exit velocity chart above, Hammel appeared to not pitch after the middle of September and he wasn’t on any of the Cubs postseason rosters. The Cubs also declined his club option for 2017 after the season, which was fairly reasonable at $12 million. All this led to many teams assuming that he was hurt and probably hurt his chances out on the market this winter. Normally, pitchers who are injured show a decrease in velocity, which is normally an indicator that he is injured. If you look at the velocity charts above, they are pretty steady. That shows me that any injury concerns can probably be put to bed, unless a major decrease shows up when games start in Spring Training.

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Financially, Hammel’s signing appears to be a steal for the Royals. Even if his contract calls for a split of $8 million a year (and once again, I’m expecting us to find out it is lower than that for year one of the deal), that puts Kansas City’s payroll just a bit higher than what Owner David Glass was wanting, but not too far off. Considering Hammel has averaged 161 innings a season over the last 8 years, this is a great deal and once again shows what a fantastic job Dayton Moore has done this winter while working under financial restrictions. In fact, Hammel’s deal looks fantastic in comparison with former Royal Edinson Volquez’s contract he got from Miami:

Steamer projections are expecting Hammel to produce 1.3 WAR this year, while 2.0 for Volquez. But if you go more off of last year, Hammel produced 1.4 WAR while Volquez compiled 1.5. The two pitchers are fairly similar with Hammel about a year older in age. If you asked me which pitcher I would want going into 2017, I would take Hammel. Hammel produced a lower walks per 9 and hits per 9 than Volquez, and over their respective careers, Hammel has shown more consistency. In many ways, Hammel is a perfect replacement for Volquez, even if it feels like he is in Kansas City now because of what happened to Yordano Ventura.

USP MLB: CHICAGO CUBS AT MILWAUKEE BREWERS S BBN USA WI

With pitchers and catchers reporting in about a week, it’s good to see that the Royals are now set and ready to go all across the diamond. Hammel is the final piece of the rotation puzzle and should be a steadying veteran force in the middle of what is looking more and more like a good group of starting pitchers. The Royals should expect consistency more than anything else from Hammel this year and that is a strength that some take more lightly than they should. It’s unfortunate the circumstances that brought Hammel to Kansas City (and I do feel the Royals don’t sign him if Ventura is still with the team) but he is now ready to wear Royal blue and represent Kansas City. It’s another good acquisition from the Royals front office and they should be applauded for their work this winter. One thing I ask of Royals fans this year: don’t bring up the Wild Card game to Hammel. I’m sure he will hear enough about it when he shows up to Arizona this spring. I can already hear Salvy joking with him about his game winning hit…trust me, Hammel will take it much better coming from Perez. I mean, who could hate Salvy?

Yordano Ventura Remembered

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You often hear that “baseball is a kid’s game”, a phrase that bears a ton of truth. For many fans, they fall in love with the game at a young age and never lose that youthful exuberance when at the ballpark. Players are no different, as many play as if they are still ten years old, kicking dirt on a backfield while playing a pick up game with friends. The realities of life sometimes slip away during the span of a baseball game, as all the daily worries seem to slide into a separate filter, only to be untapped at a later date. Last year, baseball lost a grown up kid in Jose Fernandez, an elite pitcher who’s life was taken all too soon. On Sunday, Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, just 25, fell to the same fate, dying from a traffic crash in the Dominican Republic. Ventura was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from his vehicle after losing control of it on the highway. Apparently there was some thick fog when the accident happened. For a guy who only pitched three full seasons in the majors, there are a ton of memories for Royals fans to remember him by.

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Ventura first started showing up on most Royals fan’s radar in late 2012, a season where he fanned 130 batters in 109 minor league innings. His ascension in the Royals farm system continued in 2013, where he struck out 155 hitters in just 134 innings and was a September call-up that year, starting three games while throwing just 15 innings and producing an ERA+ of 120. The report back then was pretty simple; lanky righthander with a power arm that would sometimes allow too many baserunners. He was already getting comparisons with Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, as there were even questions on whether or not his frame could hold up to a full major league season. That would be put to the test in 2014, as Ventura made the team out of Spring Training, throwing 183 innings, posting an ERA+ of 123, a FIP of 3.60 and a strike out to walk ratio of 2.30. Ventura would end up 6th in the Amiercan League Rookie of the Year voting. He was already cementing his spot in the Kansas City rotation and would further that even more in October.

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It’s funny looking back at it now, but Ventura would make his playoff debut in the 2014 Wild Card game against Oakland, in a very controversial outing at the time. Ventura would be brought in from the bullpen after the 6th inning had started, and would face only three batters; one would single,Brandon Moss would hit a home run, and he would get one batter out.

After the homer, the Royals would be down 6-2 at that point and even to this day, it felt like a weird move to make. Why would you bring in a rookie, who had started all but one game all season, in the middle of the inning with a runner on base rather than bring him in during a clean inning? It seemed like a move that could have cost manager Ned Yost his job. Luckily for Yost, the Royals would come back and win the game in extra innings and moving forward we would only see Ventura start in the postseason.

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In fact, it was during that postseason that he would pitch the greatest game of his career. In Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, with the Royals on the edge of elimination, Ventura would pitch in honor of his friend Oscar Tavares (a Cardinals prospect who had five days earlier passed away from a car accident) and throw a gem against the San Francisco Giants, pitching seven shutout innings, striking out 4 while only allowing 3 hits.

It was hard at that point not imagining Ventura being the future of the Royals starting rotation and putting together a string of memorable outings. Over the years, Kansas City had a number of excellent pitchers to hang their hat on: Saberhagen, Busby, Leonard, Cone and Greinke just to name a few. At this point it felt like we would be able to add Ventura to the list. But that wasn’t how things played out.

MLB: World Series-San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals

While the Royals were better in 2015, Ventura seemed to fall down a peg. Ventura would throw 20 less innings in 2015, while his ERA+ was right around league average (103) and his bWAR fell (3.2 to 1.9), his strike out to walk ratio and FIP would slightly improve. 2016 wasn’t any better, as his ERA+ fell below league average (98), while his FIP and WHIP both rose to career highs.His strike out to walk ratio also fell, as his strike out total fell while his walk total increased. It was obvious to some at this point that Ventura’s real battle was going to be harnessing his emotions while on the mound.

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The first bout of his emotions getting the better of him occurred in 2015, as early in the season Ventura would get upset at a Mike Trout single that breezed by his head. It was chalked up to just being a heat of the moment type thing, at least until the incident against Oakland later in the month. After some bad feelings on Friday night (thanks to an aggressive Brett Lawrie slide), Ventura would give up a home run to Josh Reddick in what to that point had been a rocky outing for the young flamethrower. Ventura would follow by plunking Lawrie with a 100 mph fastball and the benches would empty. I was at the ballpark for that game (which I was super excited about since it was the first Yordano game I was getting to see in person) and was disappointed with Ventura’s obvious decision to get himself taken out of the game. Ventura would get ejected again in his next start, as Adam Eaton of Chicago would get under his skin and start a melee. A reputation would be earned at this point for Ventura, that of being a hot-head, and other teams would try to take advantage of this by trying to get him riled up and off his game. That reputation would hit an apex in June of last year as he would tussle with Manny Machado of the Orioles, hitting him and causing everyone to question Ventura’s mental stability on the mound.

But was this really who Yordano Ventura was? The answer, like most things, was more complicated than that.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals

For all the posturing and cockiness, there was a guy with a big heart inside of Ventura. Many of the Royals players, while frustrated with his shenanigans on the mound, considered him their “younger brother”, disappointed with his actions but supporting him all the same, knowing he was still young and finding his way. They saw the kid who would get upset after a tough loss, feeling like he let the team down with his performance on the field and hoping to work better. For every outburst, there were just as many (if not more) days where you could see a smiling Ventura, loving where he was at considering where he came from. While the Royals had become disappointed with his behavior sometimes, they saw the kid who was watching tape, listening to what his coaches were telling him and who was one of the hardest working guys on the team. Ventura was human, like most of us and with that comes the good and the bad.

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As a fan, most of us were equal parts enthralled and impatient with him. For every outing where he struggled to keep his cool, there was one that gave you hope that the ceiling was starting to be reached. For every emotional outburst there was a perfect setup of a batter, luring the batters in with the heat before finishing them off with the nastiest of curveballs. For a team that has struggled producing quality starting pitching, Ventura was that hope that the Royals had finally found their Marichal, their Martinez, their Fernandez. He was the scrawny kid from the Dominican Republic who was signed at 16 years old, throwing in the mid 80’s, hoping he would grow to be something more. He had grown to be something more…but unfortunately we will never find out just how much more.

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No human being should meet their fate at the age of 25, let alone an athlete who hasn’t reached the peak of their career yet. There was so much more life to live, so much more for Ventura to give and I don’t even mean on the mound. What most people will remember from Yordano Ventura won’t be the fastball, or the fights or the swagger. No, most people will remember that smile, a smile that was infectious and was a little kid’s smile in a grown man’s body. Even at 25, Ventura was just a little kid getting to throw a baseball for a living. That will stay with me much longer than individual accomplishments or frustration I had with him as a player. Ventura was that sign of hope that all of us look for in our baseball team’s, that hope that tomorrow will be a brighter day. While today was a dark one for baseball fans, I promise tomorrow will be brighter. As fans, our days were brighter with the hope that Yordano Ventura’s arm and smile brought us.

My 2017 Hall of Fame Ballot

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There is no greater honor in any sport than getting a plaque in the baseball Hall of Fame. I’m sure someone who believes the NFL or NBA is a greater honor will debate me on this, but there is never the sort of debate toward their hall’s as there is in baseball. That debate has grown into a fervor amongst baseball fans, writers and even players, as every one seems to have an opinion on this topic. What has made it even more intense is what we should do with players who were “suspected” of enhancement thanks to steroids and other performance enhancement drugs, and whether or not they deserve a spot in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown or left on the outside looking in. In some ways, the people who vote on this honor are the judge, jury and executioner, as testing was not done during this period so for many of the players of that era there is no definite of what they did or did not do. As a member of the IBWAA, this will be my third year of voting for ‘the Hall’ and as I have said in years past, I have no issue voting for anyone suspected for PED use, since I feel those players played within the parameters of the rules allowed at that time. I’ve long considered the Hall of Fame a museum of the game, not a church, and because of this I vote based on performance alone. Now, there are a few differences between us in the IBWAA & our brethren in the BBWAA, one of which is the players we have already inducted. Last year we inducted Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez, and in years past we had already voted in Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines, so none of those players showed up on our ballots this year. Also, we are allowed to vote for up to 15 players, where as the BBWAA can only vote for 10. Before we get to my actual votes, you can read my previous votes: Here is 20142015, and 2016. Also, follow Ryan Thibodaux on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before the big announcement on January 18th. Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot.

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Barry Bonds

I have voted for Bonds every year and will continue to until he is finally elected. In my eyes, this is a no-brainer, as Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players ever, not just of his era. I could rattle off all the numbers that show how great he was, but I think the best way to explain it is this way: before there was any whispers about suspected steroid use, Bonds was a 5 tool player who could literally do anything on the baseball field…and then he became an offensive juggernaut that could not be contained. The all-time home run king took that whole era to another level and it wasn’t even close. You might not like him or what he had to do to elevate his game, but I am not concerned about any of that when it comes to voting. To me, Bonds is a slam dunk pick and should already be in the Hall of Fame.

 

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Roger Clemens

Like Bonds, Clemens is an easy pick, the greatest pitcher of his era and one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. Clemens won the Cy Young Award 7 times throughout his career, and is on top of a plethora of statistics that garner him near the top of almost all pitching leaderboards. Both Bonds and Clemens seem to be garnering more support, as the election of former Commissioner Bud Selig to the Hall seems to have allowed some voters to start putting an ‘x’ in the box next to their names. At one time it appeared both men would have to wait until they showed up on the Veteran’s Committee ballot before they would get elected; now we could see that wall busted through in the next couple of years.

 

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Vladimir Guerrero

Guerrero is the first debut on my ballot this year and appears on the surface to be a borderline pick for the Hall, but digging deeper shows you a guy who should be more of an easy pick for voters. Most will remember Guerrero as a hitter who never saw a pitch he didn’t like (as he was a notorious bad-ball hitter), but he was also a very good hitter, which those two things normally clash if put together. Instead, Guerrero posted a career .318/.379/.553 line with 449 home runs and 2,590 hits during his 16 year career, with a career contact rate of 79.9%. The accolades are there with this guy: 2004 AL MVP, 9 time All-Star, 8 time Silver Slugger award winner and 2010 Edgar Martinez award winner. All that should entice a voter’s view of Vlad, but what really takes the cake is his place in history when it comes to his offensive stats. Guerrero’s all-time rank is staggering: 56th all-time in batting average, 24th in slugging percentage, 34th in OPS, 49th in total bases, 85th in doubles, 38th in home runs, 57th in RBI’s, 79th in OPS+, 64th in runs created, 56th in adjusted batting runs, 61st in adjusted batting wins, 45th in extra base hits, 5th all time in intentional bases on balls, 45th in power-speed #, 59th in RE24, and 50th in Win Probability Added. Most people could tell you that he was a really good player, but it isn’t until the numbers slap you in the face that you see just how great he was, not just really good. The cherry on top of his offensive numbers is this fun little fact that Graham Womack found: Guerrero’s career batting average, home runs and hits are only topped in baseball history by five players. Those five? Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial and Lou Gehrig. Yes, all five are Hall of Famers and yes, Vladimir Guerrero should be as well. If not this year, hopefully Vlad will get in the Hall in the very near future.

 

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Trevor Hoffman

For the second consecutive season, I voted for Trevor Hoffman. There has been plenty of debate on whether or not closers should be judged on a different criteria than most other positions and to a small degree I get some of the trepidation. Closers today don’t always face the strongest part of the lineup and it seems odd to have your best bullpen arm only throw an inning or less an outing. The thing to remember though is that “the closer” is still a position and if you excel at it for 16 seasons, you should be rewarded justly. In some ways, the Hoffman argument is very similar to Tim Raines; Raines was the second best leadoff hitter of his time, behind another Hall of Famer in Rickey Henderson. Hoffman was the second best closer of his, behind future Hall honoree Mariano Rivera. Hoffman not only shouldn’t be punished for not being Rivera, but was about as consistent as one can be. During his career, Hoffman posted 15 consecutive seasons of 20+ saves (and I hate the save stat, but this is still very impressive) and had an 88.8% save conversion rate, which within itself is almost insane when you consider the amount of save opportunities he received in his career.Throw in his lethal change-up that was almost as deadly as Rivera’s cutter, and you have a one of the best relievers of all-time. He might be no Mariano Rivera, but then again who is? What Hoffman is though is a Hall of Fame closer.

 

Mike Mussina

Mike Mussina

When thinking about Mike Mussina, what is the first thing that springs to mind? Is it his start in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS? Or maybe his use of the knuckle-curve, which was his out pitch? Or does nothing specific pop into your mind when hearing Mussina’s name? I sometimes wonder if those of us on the Mussina bandwagon would have to praise his career if he had been even just a tad bit flashier.What I end up realizing is that part of what made him so great was that he wasn’t flashy and just went out for 18 seasons and performed as a top of the rotation starter in that span. There are no Cy Young awards on his mantle, but there are numbers that back up his greatness. Mussina has the 24th best bWAR for pitchers, 19th in strikeouts, 22nd best strikeout to walk ratio, 17th best adjusted pitching runs, 21st best adjusted pitching wins, 9th best RE24, and 10th best Win Probability Added. Mussina was that guy who you could count on for a big win or just to go out and save the bullpen from being overused. Mussina jumped up to 43% of the ballots in 2016 and one can only hope he inches closer to the 75% he needs to reach the Hall. One of the pitchers that Mussina’s stats are comparable to is another former Oriole, Jim Palmer. While Palmer might have the accolades that Mussina does not have, the one thing in common is that both pitchers deserve to be in the baseball Hall of Fame.

 

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Manny Ramirez

Manny makes his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot and with that comes a bee-hive of debate. Many voters have said the difference to them between Bonds or a Clemens and Palmeiro or Ramirez is that the latter tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was justly suspended. In fact, when I started filling out my ballot, I paused on Ramirez and had to really stop and think of which direction I wanted to go. Like I have said, my voting is performance based but an actual suspension (and for Manny it was multiple suspensions) muddies the water a bit. After much contemplation, I went ahead and voted for Manny since he had put up Hall of Fame numbers before the suspensions. While Ramirez wasn’t a stellar defender (and that is evidenced by his career bWAR of 69.2), offensively he was a juggernaut. Manny posted a career line of .312/.411/.585 with 555 career home runs, and an OPS+ of 154. I firmly believe he could hit blindfolded and still produce league average numbers, as he was that good of a hitter. Manny also contributed during the playoffs, where he hit .285/.394/.544 with 29 home runs and 78 RBI’s over 111 postseason games, all fairly on pace to his regular season averages. The awards are all there for him as he was a 12 time All-Star, 2 time Hank Aaron award winner, 2002 AL batting title, 2004 World Series MVP, and 9 time Silver Slugger award winner. If that isn’t impressive enough, the numbers are quite gaudy: 32nd all-time in oWAR, 32nd in On-Base Percentage, 8th in Slugging Percentage, 8th in OPS, 29th in total bases, 31st in doubles, 15th in home runs, 18th in RBI’s, 28th in OPS+, 21st in runs created, 17th in Adjusted Batting Runs, 20th in Adjusted Batting Wins, 16th in extra base hits, 11th in RE24,  and 23rd in Win Probability Added. Those are Hall of Fame numbers and most of that accumulated before he tested positive for anything. Would I hold it against anyone for not voting for him because of the suspensions? Nope. I get it.But for me, Ramirez has long been a Hall of Famer; the only thing those suspensions did was tarnish the perception of him, which is unfortunate. Instead of people remembering Manny for his child-like antics or immense hitting, he will be branded a cheater. He has no one else to blame for that, but I still felt like he had earned my vote, scarlet letter and all.

 

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Ivan Rodriguez

This will be “Pudge’s” first time on the ballot and for most accounts should be an easy, first ballot inductee. The problem is that like many of that era, he has been rumored to have used PED’s, as former teammate Jose Canseco (a bastion of trust) said he shot Rodriguez up during their time together on the Rangers. Since it just speculation at this point, he got my vote, as he is easily one of the best catchers in baseball history. Over a 21 year career, Pudge would hit .296/.334/.464 with 311 career home runs, 1,332 RBI’s, an OPS+ of 106 and a bWAR of 68.4. Rodriguez was the 1999 AL MVP, 2003 NL NLCS MVP, 13 time Gold Glove winner, 7 time Silver Slugger award winner,  and 14 time All-Star, including this little honor he gets all to himself:

His numbers are somewhat mind-boggling for a catcher, a position that has been very hard for most to excel on both offense and defense. Rodriguez is 9th all-time in career defensive WAR, 48th in hits, 54th in total bases, 26th in doubles, 97th in RBI’s, 58th in extra base hits, 13th in Total Zone Runs, 1st in defensive games as a catcher, 1st in career putouts as a catcher, 23rd in assists at catcher, 5th in double plays turned at catcher, 78th in caught stealing percentage, and 1st in Total Zone Runs as a catcher. In some ways, Rodriguez re-invented the catcher position, as he was a hybrid of speed, guile, power, and  nimble defense with a cannon of an arm. According to JAWS (which is a ranking system created by Jay Jaffe that is of great use to help determine Hall of Fame worthiness),  is the third best catcher of all-time, just behind Johnny Bench and Gary Carter. When you factor in his comparable players (Carlton Fisk, Ted Simmons, Carter and Yogi Berra) it is easy to see why Rodriguez should be a first ballot HOFer. So far, he is polling at 79.9% of the ballots, which is probably a good sign that he will either get in this year or come up just short, which would be a good sign for 2018. In my eyes, there is no debate here: Pudge is one the greats of the game.

 

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Curt Schilling

There might not be a bigger lightning rod on the Hall of Fame ballot than Schilling, who has caught quite a bit of scorn for his behavior on social media within the last year. While I might not agree with his politics, I do realize it has nothing to do with his candidacy in the Hall and justly had no qualms in voting for him yet again this year. Schilling’s numbers speak of a top notch starter: 26th all-time in pitchers bWAR, 15th in strikeouts, 3rd best strikeout to walk ratio, 18th best Win Probability Added and 46th best ERA+. Those are just his regular season numbers; toss in the postseason and you have a surefire Hall of Famer. Schilling has rubbed many a writer the wrong way (and by no means do I feel sorry for Curt; he would probably be better off learning when to keep quiet) and because of that his vote totals have gone down this year, but so far he is polling exactly where he finished last year, at 52%. I might not like Schilling the person, but the baseball player was one hell of a pitcher out on the diamond. For that, he has my vote.

 

Hall of Fame Baseball

Billy Wagner

This year is the first that I voted for Wagner, although I came very (very) close to voting for him in 2016. Since I was so close last year to marking an ‘X’ next to his name, I decided to dig deeper into his numbers and compare them to some of his peers. Wagner was a 7 time All-Star, twice was in the top ten of the NL Cy Young award and took home the 1999 NL Rolaids Relief Award. While he sits in 6th place all-time in saves, that doesn’t mean as much to me as his 86% conversion rate, which is close to Trevor Hoffman’s 88.8%. What does interest me is some of the deeper numbers when compared to fellow relievers. Wagner is 5th all-time for relievers in ERA+, 14th for relievers in bWAR (in fact, just under Hoffman), 4th in strikeouts for a reliever, 86th in Adjusted Pitching Runs, 93rd in Adjusted Pitching Wins, 55th in RE24, and 36th in Win Probability Added. All this was done in less than 1,000 innings, which for some is a hindrance rather than a positive. I get that relievers today aren’t used in the same scenarios as their forefathers, and because of that their innings totals will seem meek in comparison. But that is also what the role calls for nowadays and there is something to be said for compiling numbers like this in a much shorter amount of time. For Wagner, it was more about the efficiency than the longevity; Wagner came in, shut down the opposing team and was done. In some ways, Wagner and Hoffman are linked in that they both pitched about the same amount of time, in the same period and were very equally efficient. Both were top of the food chain for their position and in my eyes, both should be in Cooperstown.

 

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Larry Walker

Much like Wagner, this was the first year I voted for Walker and my take on him seemed to be a bit different than a lot of folks. For many, the fact that Walker played a large chunk of his home games in Coors Field (Walker was a Rockie from 1995 to 2004) seemed to deter voters from placing a vote for him; I had no issue with that, since I knew he hit on the road almost as well as he did  at home. No, my issue with him was injuries, as he had 7 seasons of less than 130 games, 12 of less than 140. Walker’s issue wasn’t the ‘Rocky Mountain High’s’ as much as the ability to stay on the field and play. The numbers speak volumes: .313/.400/.565 career slash line, 141 career OPS+, 5 time All-Star, 1997 NL MVP, 3 batting titles, and 7 time Gold Glove winner. So what changed for me when it comes to Walker? His place in history. According to JAWS, Walker is the 10th best right fielder of all-time. All-Time! Just seeing who he is better than sounds like a who’s-who of right fielders: Shoeless Joe Jackson, Tony Gwynn, Ichiro Suzuki, Dwight Evans, Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero, Willie Keeler, Paul Waner and Enos Slaughter, just to name a few. Walker is 86th all-time in bWAR, 56th in bWAR for position players, 55th in on base percentage, 12th in slugging percentage, 14th in OPS, 31st in power-speed #, 38th in RE24, and 36th in Win Probability Added. Those numbers are just a sliver of what he could do; there are 7 other categories where Walker is in the Top 100 of all-time. What makes me curious is the voting for Walker during the first six years on the ballot; He peaked in 2012 at 22% and last year bumped up a bit to 15%. One has to wonder if the voters viewpoint of him would change if he hadn’t played so many games in Colorado. It took me awhile to recognize it, but Walker deserves to be with the other elite right fielders in Cooperstown.

 

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So those were my picks for this year’s class of the Hall of Fame. There are always those players we struggle with, the ones that we hem and haw about before deciding yay or nay. Here are a few of those and why I didn’t vote them:

Jeff Kent-While being one of the best offensive second baseman of all-time, his defense hurts him a ton. 19th all-time in bWAR for second sackers, 27th in WAR (which factors in a players best 7 seasons). Even just factoring in hitting, he is 18th amongst his position in OPS+. Close, but not quite.

Fred McGriff-Also close, but just misses the cut for me. Number-wise he is in the “very good but not quite great” category.

Gary Sheffield-I go back and forth on him every year, mainly because I love his offensive numbers and where they stand in baseball history. But his defense…he has a career bWAR of 60.3; just imagine if he was even just an average defender? Sheff is a close call for me and could very well win me over next year.

Lee Smith-Longevity seems to be his main catch but nothing much really stands out for me. Nice strikeout ratio and ERA+, but outside of that he would seem to fit in the “good not great” category.

Sammy Sosa-Sosa always felt like a one-dimensional player: home runs and not much more. In fact, when you consider he hit over 600 home runs, you would think his bWAR would be higher than just 58.4.Below average defender, struck out a lot, and only cracks the Top 100 of all-time in six offensive categories. Not a Hall of Famer in my eyes.

I always love writing these Hall of Fame articles, as there is a ton of research to gloss over. Every year I feel like I receive a greater perception of the bigger picture and every year I feel like I left someone off that maybe deserved a deeper look into their case. Some of these you will agree with, some you won’t, as each person’s definition of a Hall of Famer seems to be different. What I can say that in my eyes these are the best of the best and earned the honor.

Firing Up The Royals Rumor Mill

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We are halfway through December and the Kansas City Royals’ hot stove is lukewarm at best. So far this offseason Kansas City has re-signed Drew Butera, traded Wade Davis for Jorge Soler, and have said goodbye to Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales and Tim Collins (who signed a minor league contract with the Nationals this past week). So we have seen a very uneventful  winter so far and the likelihood of something happening around the holiday season is very slim at best. That being said, a number of Royals have been linked in trade rumors so far, which makes sense as the Royals don’t look to be major players in the free agent market. So which Royals could be dealt and where? Let’s dive in and break down these rumors.

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Let’s start with the most recent rumor, which is that the Houston Astros are looking at upgrading their rotation and have placed Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy on their targeted list. I tend to feel like the chances of Duffy being dealt are slim or none, especially considering the Royals have opened talks with him on a contract extension. So if we take Duffy out of the equation (for now), then that leaves 25 year old Ventura, who has been a lightning rod throughout his early career. Most know Ventura has electric stuff, as he can reach 100 MPH on the radar gun and an equally as nasty curveball. The issue with him has been bouts of inconsistency and maturity, which continues to rear it’s ugly head. The potential of Ventura, plus his age, makes him a salivating target for GM’s around baseball, and when you add in the fact that he still is under team control for another three seasons (plus two more years of team options), you can see why a team like Houston would be interested. With all of that factored in, I can see a scenario where a Ventura trade could happen, but only if Kansas City got a healthy haul from their trading partner. Kansas City doesn’t have one of the best rotations in baseball, so if they dealt a Ventura, they would have to get at least one more arm in return that could fill his spot on the team. I actually believe Kansas City should look deep into a deal with someone like Houston, since they have a stocked farm system and could help bring them a couple of players in return to help replenish the Royals main roster and/or farm system. It would be hard to deal a player with the potential of Ventura, but one has to wonder if he will ever grasp the mental aspect of the game, which would elevate his game to the level of his potential. I think this is a deal worth exploring if you are the Royals front office.

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One trade that has been rumored that I believe will happen at some point is the Royals dealing Jarrod Dyson, who is entering the final year of his contract. Dyson so far this winter has been linked to Baltimore, Texas, St. Louis and most notably Oakland, who was talking to Kansas City during the Winter Meetings about Dyson. Dyson is an affordable (he made $3.45 million last year), versatile outfielder who brings plus defense and baserunning, especially as a secret weapon off the bench as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Dyson’s value has never been higher and is coming off a season where he led the Royals in bWAR (3.1). It only makes sense to deal Dyson, especially with Billy Burns on the Kansas City roster, a player who essentially is a younger, cheaper version of Dyson. I would expect before the winter is out that Dyson is elsewhere and hopefully the Royals can get a solid trade piece in return, like a plus arm for the rotation or bullpen.

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Another trade possibility is Kansas City centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, who is also entering the last year of his contract in 2017. Cain is coming off an injury plagued season that saw him appear in only 103 games for the Royals.So far this winter the Rangers, Cardinals and Dodgers have all inquired about Cain and at one point they had discussed him in  multi-player trades involving Wade Davis, before Davis was dealt to Chicago. When healthy, Cain has become a force in the Kansas City lineup, a third place MVP finalist back in 2015. But that health is the issue and probably why Kansas City won’t look too deep into extending him past 2017. Cain has only played in more than 140 games once in his career (2015) and has been a regular visitor to the disabled list throughout his seven year career. Add in that he is entering his age 31 season and has been rumored to want at least a four year deal when the Royals had discussed extensions a couple of years ago. I don’t believe there is a very high chance of Cain being traded, but it might not be the worst thing for Kansas City to listen to any offers that teams have for Lorenzo. Cain could probably get a couple of solid big league players and teams would be drawn to his defense and postseason experience. I’m not expecting him to get dealt, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if it happened.

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A player I see getting traded even less than those mentioned above (and in fact I would say the chances are about as slim as they come with him) is Mike Moustakas. Now, I haven’t really seen his name mentioned, but his name had at least been tossed out there:

Moustakas is also entering the final year of his contract but he is coming off of an ACL injury that sidelined him for the final four months of the 2016 season. While I doubt Moose will get traded, the Royals do have a surplus of third basemen in Moustakas, Cheslor Cuthbert and Hunter Dozier (who the Royals have moved to the outfield but a team could still be interested in him at the hot corner). While the Royals have mentioned moving Cuthbert and Dozier around to other positions, with the right offer I could see Kansas City dealing one of these three. While the Royals would love to keep all three (especially with Moose possibly gone after 2017), there is always value in trading from a strength and right now Kansas City has one at third base. Like I said, I’m not counting on any of these three being dealt, but never say never, not with the position that the Royals are in right now.

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The Royals are in a tight situation that makes this offseason different than the last few. They are entering the final year of their contending window, as they have a number of players who will become free agents at the end of the 2017 campaign, so it would appear that the team should be pushing all their chips in on another playoff run. Unfortunately, owner David Glass is refusing to increase payroll, leaving the Royals front office in a position where they have to improve the team by making trades and essentially ignoring the free agent market. Because of this, the dealing probably isn’t done and at least one or two more deals appear to be on the horizon. Dayton Moore has spent much of his time in Kansas City working around small market limitations, but this might be the most creative he has ever had to be. How do you stay a contender by not increasing payroll and not having any major prospects on the immediate horizon? Hunker down Royals fans, because a player you are probably attached to emotionally could be gone within the next couple of months. Contending can still be done; but the Royals are being forced to shift the pieces on the board more by subtraction than addition. It can be done, but the makeup of this team is about to change. Time will tell if it is for the better or worse.

 

Fall Surprises: 2016 Playoff Notes

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Here we are again, on the verge of another World Series. As much as I love Spring and the beginning of the baseball season, October is still the best time to be a fan of the sport. Like most ‘seamheads’, I have been spending the last few weeks enjoying postseason baseball and all the intrigue and drama that surrounds it. Since I’ve been fairly silent this month (mostly due to other responsibilities), I thought I would pass along some of my thoughts from the playoffs so far, as we get ready for one long-standing streak to fall once the Fall Classic is over, as either the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians eviscerate a drought that has been going on before even some of our parents were born. So what’s been on my mind this October? All of what is to follow and more…

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays

  • Weeks later and I still have a hard time figuring out how Buck Showalter went the entire American League Wild Card game without bringing in stud closer Zach Britton. Look, I get that most managers like to wait (especially on the road) till the very end of the game to bring in their closer, but when the playoffs are involved, you don’t chance it the way Buck did. There has been a movement for managers to use their closers in a different manner than most are accustomed to; not waiting for a save situation and using your best pitcher in the most high leverage situation possible. Showalter, who I consider to be one of the best managers in the game and one who isn’t shackled to conventional thinking, seemed to fall back into a frame of mind that is actually fairly normal in today’s game and it might have cost his team the chance to advance to the ALDS. The hope is that Showalter’s mistake (and yes, it was a mistake) might shine a light on reliever usage and force managers to use their closers in better situations than just the 9th inning.

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  • On the other end of that spectrum is Terry Francona’s use of Andrew Miller this postseason. Miller, the ALCS MVP, has been used as early as the 5th inning during the playoffs, many times for multiple innings. It might be considered unorthodox by some, but it has done nothing but garner success for Francona and the Indians. One has to wonder if teams will be on the lookout for relievers like Miller, someone with electrifying stuff and the ability to be used for more than just one inning at a time. While the argument could be made that you can’t use your bullpen during the regular season the way most teams do in October (and there is at least some truth to that), it doesn’t mean that you won’t see more managers trash the old, antiquated system and start using some relievers the way Miller is used. While Showalter was the example of what not to do with your closer, Francona is the example that managers around the game should be trying to copy when 2017 rolls around.

USP MLB: ALDS-TORONTO BLUE JAYS AT TEXAS RANGERS S BBA USA TX

  • The Texas Rangers collapse in pitching took me by surprise this month. I figured with the front two of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish and a bullpen that had been racking up a 35 inning plus scoreless streak, this team could be a dangerous one in the playoffs. Instead, Rangers pitching gave up 22 runs in three games and the team from Arlington limped out of the playoffs. While some of the credit should go to Toronto’s offense, the Rangers pitching should get more of the credit for the Blue Jay’s sweep than anything else. One would have to think that Texas will spend the offseason fortifying the rotation and making sure it is stronger headed into the next season.

APTOPIX ALCS Indians Blue Jays Baseball

  • Speaking of the Blue Jays, their exit from the playoffs couldn’t have come in a more appropriate manner. For a baseball fan outside Toronto, this is a hard team to like. While they are not short on talent, over the last few years we have seen the Blue Jays main hitters continuously whine and complain about one thing or another. Front and center has been Jose Bautista, a man who will never be confused with a golden gloves boxer. Bautista claimed that Toronto were victims of “circumstances” in this series and that was why their offense had gone south. Edwin Encarnacion also had to be escorted away from the home plate umpire one game, with Toronto just hopeful he wouldn’t be ejected. While there were a few pitches called strikes against the Blue Jays that might have been balls, that is a fairly common aspect of today’s game and not really something worth blaming their four games to one loss in the ALCS. In fact, Cleveland only scored 12 runs in the five games, with Toronto posting 8 runs. All the way around, it was a low scoring series. The real “circumstances” that Bautista talked about was Cleveland’s pitching  and their dominance against Toronto’s bats. Kluber, Merritt, and Tomlin all silenced the Blue Jays and when you tack on their lockdown bullpen, it was easy to see why Cleveland is headed to the World Series. A big part of Toronto’s issues lie in their leadership and their tendency to make excuses rather than owning up to their own struggles. The Blue Jays temperament just isn’t one of a championship team, and it showed in the ALCS.

MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals

  • Has there been a more disappointing team in the postseason the last few years than the Washington Nationals? The sky seemed the limit a few years back with their blend of youngsters and veterans and two of the most intriguing players in the game (Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg). Instead, since 2012 the Nationals have lost in the NLDS three times. What very well could have been a dynasty has left this organization with more questions than answers. If you are Washington’s braintrust, what should you think? If you saw a team with Harper, Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Tanner Roark, you would have to think at the least they would have made the NLCS at least once. Instead, this team now has to regroup and wonder what the missing piece is. Last year, the belief was getting rid of Matt Williams and hiring Dusty Baker would fill that needed puzzle piece. Is it the manager? Does the team need another bat? Another stud starter? Or do they need a clubhouse veteran to be this team’s glue? It will be an interesting offseason in Washington and one that might define this team’s immediate and long-term future.

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  • There is no better story in the playoffs this year than the Chicago Cubs. You’ve all heard the numbers on the years of futility; their last world championship was 1908, last trip to the World Series was in 1945. Last month I mentioned I was rooting for the Cubs but even if I didn’t have the emotional connection from my youth, I would probably still want to see the Cubbies rack up their first world title of the century. It’s not just the years of bad luck and bad teams, not just the old lovable stadium or long history of the franchise in general. It is a change in the culture in Chicago, brought forth by both Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon. Maddon might be one of the great motivating managers of the last 30 years, if for no reason than how loose he keeps that clubhouse. Add in the mix of exciting youngsters and grizzled veterans and you have a recipe for not only a championship but also possibly a dynasty. I found it ironic that Chicago bounced the Dodgers from the playoffs, since the Cubs should probably thank Los Angeles for putting them in this position in the first place. If not for LA prying Andrew Friedman from the Rays, the Cubs would not have been able to get Maddon to manage this team. Maddon had a clause in his contract that allowed him to “look elsewhere for employment” if Friedman left the organization, which he took advantage of when Andrew left Tampa for Los Angeles. The Cubs swooped in, procured the services of Maddon and as they say, “the rest is history”. There are many a reason to root for Cleveland as well (The Revenge of Willie Mays Hayes?), but more than anything, this Cubs team just feels like a team of destiny. I know there will be Chicago fans who will be waiting for the other shoe to drop but…but what if there is no other shoe?

MLB: SEP 19 Pirates at Dodgers

  • Finally, one has to feel for Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw, easily the best pitcher in baseball, was the victim of Chicago’s clinching win on Saturday night in Game 6 of the NLCS and because of it the narrative will be pushed again that Kershaw is not a “big game” pitcher. The funny thing is while Kershaw has had a couple of clunkers over the years (I’m looking at you, Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS), he hasn’t been nearly as bad as some would have you believe. In his 14 playoff starts, Kershaw has 8 quality starts while he has five starts of giving up 5 runs or more. Just looking at the last two years, Kershaw has thrown 38 playoff innings, compiling a 3.79 ERA while striking out 48 and allowing a .218 batting average over that span. Sure, he isn’t Madison Bumgarner or Curt Schilling in the postseason, but he isn’t worthless in the playoffs either. Even with that being said, this year in particular should not be a determining factor on how Kershaw performs in October. He would return from a back injury that kept him out for over two months on September 9th and would allow 4 earned runs the rest of the year. So obviously Kershaw was putting up Kershaw numbers, but was he 100% healthy? I didn’t feel like he was at all this October and apparently I wasn’t alone:

That comment was from Saturday after the Dodgers loss to the Cubs to wrap up the NLCS. This also tells me that even 80-85% of Kershaw is probably better than most pitchers alive today. So the narrative for him will live on in some minds, but it probably shouldn’t. Clayton Kershaw is still the same pitcher in October that he is the other months of the year; he’s just not perfect like some would expect from him.

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So here we are, just a day away from the World Series. It is also our reminder that at the most, we have only seven games left in this 2016 season before baseball takes a few months off (at least on the field). It has once again been a fun October, even without my Royals in the playoffs. In fact, it has been stress-free without my team to cheer on in the playoffs. No matter the outcome of the World Series, one team will slay a beast of a streak, one that sits at 68 years while the other one sits at 108 years. It should be a fun series, as we should see some stellar pitching and some clutch hitting. I always hope for a seven game series, so we get not only the greatest amount of baseball but also some high drama. We should get both and yes, I do believe this series could go all seven. So my prediction? The Cubs in seven. Sure, they won’t be able to clinch at Wrigley Field, but a win is a win. I look forward to the next week of action and what will ensue. No matter what, we the fans are the true winners. Thank you, baseball.

Rooting Problems

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For the first time in 3 years I have no idea of who to root for when the Major League Baseball playoff’s start in a few weeks. As a Kansas City Royals fan, this is the first year since 2013 that our “Boys in Blue” haven’t been a part of the postseason and during that span I appear to have forgotten how to pick a team to cheer for come October. Since I need to figure out the team I am pulling for, I figured I would break down each team that will probably end up in postseason play and see which one I should be cheering for. Yes, this seems like a perfect scientific approach to this issue…said no one ever. I have no idea where this will lead me, folks; I guess we are going to find out together.

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Boston Red Sox

Boston is an interesting start to this experiment. For one, I really appreciate the fact that a big part of this team’s core was built from within, as up and comers like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are homegrown talent. It’s hard to dislike second baseman Dustin Pedroia and I can appreciate this team’s offensive approach. But the team’s pitching could be an issue, although the starters have held their own this year for the most part. The bullpen doesn’t seem as strong and we all know how important the pen is during the postseason. But more than anything, I am tired of the David Ortiz narrative that has been spewed this season. I am officially sick of the adulation and instantly shut my ears down once he is being discussed. With the expectation being that the Ortiz talk will only intensify as the team progresses, I can’t condone cheering for this team. I won’t put myself through that kind of mental hell. So Boston probably won’t be my team.

Chance of Cheering: 25%

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Cleveland Indians

The Indians have some big positives going on. For one, the starting pitching has been a force all year for them, although they are now down a Danny Salazar and a Carlos Carrasco, which might not bode well for them(sounds like more Trevor Bauer to me). I have always felt Terry Francona is one of the better managers in the game and knew it was a matter of time till he got this team on the same page. In some ways, this team reminds of those late 90’s Indians teams that were a young bunch of players blossoming at the same time. But…they are in the Royals division and despite the fact I don’t hate them like I hate the White Sox, I just can’t, in good conscious, root for a team in the same division as “my team”. There’s also that whole bad luck thing with Cleveland over the years. So the Indians are a no-go, no matter how many positives there are on this team. I. Just. Can’t.

Chance of Cheering: 15%

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Texas Rangers

The Rangers are the best team in the American League and it is easy to see how they have gotten here. For one, they have an electric offense, built around Adrian Beltre and Ian Desmond and have a great bunch of complimentary players. Hey, they get votes from me just for having Roughned Odor on their roster; anyone who punches Jose Bautista in the face is a friend in my eyes. They have also gotten a good season out of Cole Hamels, but the pitching is a bit worrisome. Starters are in the bottom fifth of the league while their relievers are in the bottom third, with neither posting the greatest of numbers. But I kind of like this team, and they have never won a World Series before, which makes them a bit more intriguing. I’m not completely ready to buy in, but my interest is piqued with Texas.

Chance of Cheering: 55%

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Toronto Blue Jays

No. Just no. Look, I have no issue with Blue Jays fans. I love Canada. But…all I can think of is Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista complaining about pitchers throwing inside, while wearing enough body armor that they could be considered part of King Arthur’s ‘Knights of the Round Table’. Or Bautista throwing Ryan Goins under the bus in last year’s playoffs. Or really anything Bautista says. Look, I’m sure there are reasons to root for this team. I just don’t see any of them and instead might be rooting against them. Sorry, Toronto.

Chance of Cheering: 0%

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Baltimore Orioles
Credit: Tommy Gilligan (USA TODAY)

Baltimore Orioles

Alright, now we have the first team that I feel like I can really get behind. I’m not the biggest fan of teams known for their propensity for slugging the ball, but watching a player of Manny Machado’s caliber can change a man’s mind. Add in the likes of Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo and you have an offense that could rival Boston’s if given the chance. Baltimore’s starting pitching isn’t going to blow anyone away, but their bullpen is a different story. The pen is lead by Zach Britton, who has had a phenomenal season and could get a number of first place votes for the American League Cy Young award. Not many expected the Orioles to be where they are today, and for that I could easily see myself cheering for them.

Chance of Cheering: 75%

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Washington Nationals

Washington is another team I can see myself rooting for. I like their young core of players like Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon and enjoy watching guys like Stephen Strasburg (who hopefully will be healthy soon) and Max Scherzer in their element. This Nationals team seems like a perfect fit to make a deep run in the playoffs this year and should be a serious World Series contender. Will Daniel Murphy put on a playoff tear like he did last year for New York? Will Scherzer dominate like he does in the regular season? Will Jayson Werth cuss in a postgame interview again? The Nationals could be a fun team to follow this October and would be a good choice to cheer on.

Chance of Cheering: 80%

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres
(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are an interesting team, as they are a weird hybrid of talent and dysfunction, and I’m not just talking about Yasiel Puig. Is this the year the Dodgers get over the hump and return to the World Series? Is this the year Clayton Kershaw dominates in the postseason? Hey, it could happen to worse teams. I would love to see Kershaw strap the rest of the team on his back as he leads them to the ‘Fall Classic’. This is a very talented team but definitely one that has their flaws. I could see me rooting for them, but a few other teams would have to fall to the waste-side for that to happen.

Chance of Cheering: 50%

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San Francisco Giants

We’ve all made the joke; The Giants have won the World Series the last 3 even years, so of course they will be accepting the trophy again this year, right? Hey, I might be inclined to tell you this team is different and could have some big obstacles in front of them if/when they reach October. But the other part of me knows that this is a team that has ‘been there and done that’ and should never be counted out. They still have Buster Posey. They still have Madison Bumgarner. They still have future HOF manager Bruce Bochy. So yeah, the odds might be stacked against this team, but they seem to like it that way. Sound familiar, Royals fans? Add in the quirkiness of Hunter Pence and Johnny Cueto and I can’t say I won’t root for them. They just don’t feel like my first choice, that is all.

Chance of Cheering: 65%

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New York Mets

Yep, these guys are back. In many a way, they feel a lot like last year’s team; great pitching, weaker hitting. I am not opposed to watching the Mets young fireballers throw shade in the postseason, in fact that seems like it would be fun. I would LOVE to see Bartolo Colon hit a walk-off home run to win Game 7 of the World Series, because “Big Sexy” is capable of anything. There really isn’t much with this team that I dislike, but there really isn’t a ton that compels me either. In other words, the Mets probably aren’t my ‘October Team’. Plus, I still hold it against Mr. Met for almost knocking me over at Kauffman Stadium at the All-Star Game in 2012. But that is another story for another time…

Chance of Cheering: 55%

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St. Louis Cardinals

As a self-respecting Kansas City Royals fan, I can in no way, shape or form, root for the Cardinals. It is against everything I stand for and everything I believe in. Plus, every ounce of my body hates them. Sorry, this ain’t happening!

Chance of Cheering: -1000%

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Chicago Cubs

…and we have our winner! Sure, a few of you would assume I am cheering for the Cubs since they are the odds on favorites to win the World Series. Nope, that’s not it. Hey, could it be wanting the team who hasn’t won the whole thing in over 100 years to finally come out on top? Nope, try again. It’s not even because one of my favorite players (Ben Zobrist) plays on this team, or my fondness for Joe Maddon. All these reasons, while solid, aren’t the real reason that I will be rooting for the Cubs this October. No, the real reason is simpler than all of that. As a kid, I loved baseball. By the age of ten, I was fully engulfed in baseball fever. It became the obsession it still is today. Back in those days, we didn’t always get to watch my favorite team, the Royals, as they only aired them maybe once or twice a week, at best. But what team was on almost every single afternoon, and especially when I came home from school? The Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were shown on WGN on a daily basis and in my thirst for baseball I would sit and watch an insane amount of games…or at least watch them until I decided to go outside and actually play baseball! So because of this, I still have a deep affinity for the Cubbies. They are a part of my youth, and I will always hold them in a higher regard than a lot of teams because of it. Yes, I want the curse to be broken and I want all those Cubs fans to have some of the joy that us Royals fans got to wrap ourselves around these last few seasons. They have earned it. Because of this, I’m rooting for the Cubs to break through and get their third world championship. You can think it’s me jumping on a bandwagon, but it’s me acknowledging that this franchise was a big part of my love of baseball over the years. I’m just looking to give some of that back.

Chance of Cheering: 100%

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So there you go; I guess I should have seen where this was going but it was still a fun little experiment. It will be weird this October to not see the Royals in the playoffs, but it will be a lot less stressful. Here’s to hoping your team is one of the teams I mentioned  and that they have a deep run in the postseason. It’s a month of excitement, great performances and unbelievable results. It is the best reason to love baseball…and it is almost upon us!

 

 

 

Race For The Prize

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Over the last couple months, there has been quite a flurry of discussion about Houston’s Jose Altuve and him being the front-runner for the American League MVP award with the magnificent season he is having. Boston’s Mookie Betts has also moved himself into the conversation, posting amazing numbers in his age 23 season. Both players have been producing at an elite level this year and it could be a battle down to the wire for the MVP award. Only issue is that there should be a third member in this discussion, someone who has been here before and has also posted stellar numbers this year. His name shouldn’t be a shock; it’s Mike Trout.

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The numbers for all three are worthy of the American League’s biggest prize. Altuve is hitting .363/.425/.575 with 20 home runs, 83 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 173. Altuve is leading the league in batting average, hits and OPS+. Betts numbers are a bit lower, but comparable: .313/.353/.555 with 28 home runs, 89 RBI’s and an OPS+of 133. Betts leads the league in at bats, runs and total bases. Trout’s numbers? .309/.427/.543 with 23 home runs, 77 RBI’s and OPS+ of 167. Trout is leading the league in walks and on base percentage. Just perusing these numbers it would appear Altuve probably has the best overall statistics, but a case could be made for both Betts and Trout. In fact, Trout’s numbers, while slightly below Altuve’s, match up quite well with Jose’s so far this year. It would only make sense for us to take a deeper look at the numbers to see just how close Trout, Betts and Altuve really compare.

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(Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY)

No conversation is fully complete without a deeper, sabermetric slant to it. Looking at fWAR, Trout has a very slight edge over Altuve, 6.9 to 6.8. Betts is fourth in the American League with 5.9, with Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson sitting in third place at 6.4. Trout has the highest walk % and strike out % of the three, while Betts has the higher ISO(isolated power). Looking at their hard hit rate, Trout is second in the league with 41.2%, Betts at 35.2% and Altuve is sitting at 34.4%. Not a big surprise, considering Altuve is leading the league in singles(119) and those are normally of the softer hit variety. I decided to delve a bit deeper, since I wanted to see just what type of category each of these hitters fit into. Altuve had the highest O-Contact %(percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with when swinging outside the strike zone) with 78.3%, 5th best in the league. Trout was at 71.1% and Betts clocked in at 69.2%. When it comes to Z-Contact %(percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with when swinging inside the strike zone), Betts is 2nd in the league with 95.3%, Altuve at 91.4% and Trout at 85.9%. To me, this made total sense; Altuve has long been known as a hitter who likes to swing at pitches outside the strike zone and is infamous for dunking a single to the opposite field by slapping a pitch outside the strike zone away from defenders. Betts has the highest contact rate of the three (86.9%) and is actually fifth in the league when it comes to making contact. His numbers tell me that once he sees a pitch within the strike zone, he is swinging and making contact. He also has the lowest walk % of the three, walking only 6% of the time. It also made sense that Trout would be making the least amount of contact, as he has the highest strike out rate of the three, plus the highest walk rate. That tells me he is the most patient of the three and that can lead to both walks and strike outs. These numbers all tell an interesting story, but there is one more stat that needs special attention.

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A statistic that has been making a lot of noise is WPA, or Win Probability Added. The case has been made the last few weeks for Zach Britton of Baltimore, one of the best relievers in the game, to win the Cy Young Award and much of the case hinges on his league leading WPA of 4.29. To get a better idea of what this means, here is the definition given on Fangraphs:

Win Probability Added (WPA) captures the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next and credits or debits the player based on how much their action increased their team’s odds of winning. Most sabermetric statistics are context neutral — they do not consider the situation of a particular event or how some plays are more crucial to a win than others.  

Alright, so how you feel about this stat depends on how much weight you want to put into a single play, from inning to inning. I lean toward it having stock, but there are so many variables to it and is purely a context driven statistic that it wouldn’t ever be my “end all, be all”. That being said, it does determine importance, so it does help in this argument on the importance of each player in their team’s success. No shock to me, Trout is tops in the American League at 5.03. The Angels have struggled throughout 2016 and any success they do have in many ways can be attributed to the “Best Player in the Game”. Altuve is 5th in the league, with a WPA of 2.91, while Betts is 14th with 2.24. Hey, all three are in the top 15 of the league, so it is quite easy to see their value. But Trout thumps the competition in this category, 2.12 higher than the runner-up Altuve.

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(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

So after this, who is your front-runner for AL MVP? Altuve is going to be the popular vote at this point and the numbers show someone who is worthy. Like everyone else, I love watching him play and as a short guy myself, I can’t help but root for him. That being said, I think there is an argument for Mike Trout, and in fact I might lean a bit more toward him. Just because he is playing on a losing team doesn’t mean he is unworthy of being the league’s MVP. In some ways, one has to wonder just where the Angels would be without Trout. There is over a month before votes have to be turned in, and as I learned a couple years ago, making a pick weeks in advance is a silly mistake. This race could go right down to the wire and very well could be a pier six brawl for the MVP trophy. Much like in 2012 when both Trout and Miguel Cabrera were worthy winners, this year looks to be much the same. There might not be a wrong choice, but more than likely there will be a better choice. Right now, it looks to be Mike Trout.

 

Royals Selling, But Who’s Buying?

Edinson Volquez
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

With the trade deadline a few days away(Monday afternoon at 3pm CT, to be exact), there has been much discussion about what the Kansas City Royals are going to do, especially since it now appears they will be selling rather than buying. It’s hard to imagine the defending World Champions being in this position when the season started but the team has been littered with issues in the starting rotation and more than anything else, a litany of injuries. So who might the Royals ship off before Monday? There are a few candidates for Kansas City to deal and it starts with a key part of the rotation.

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Volquez has had a very up and down 2016 so far, compiling a 4.56 ERA in 124 innings, with an ERA+ of 98, a FIP of 4.11 and a SO/W ratio of 2.00, all numbers below what he racked up last year but above his career marks. The starting pitching market is fairly weak this deadline and a known commodity like Volquez should garner a couple of very solid prospects. Or…maybe more:

Alright, so maybe we should make that 3-4 prospects. The Royals are in a position where they need to re-stock the arms in their minor league system and dealing Eddie would be a good first start for this to happen. There is a bit of immediacy when it comes to starting pitching(last in the American League in innings pitched, WAR, FIP…yes, the list goes on) and if Kansas City can gain a few major league or close to major league ready arms from dealing Volquez than they should go for it. Volquez’s contract runs out after this season(there is a mutual option for 2017) and if Kansas City was really interested, they could look into re-signing Eddie during the off-season if they happen to deal him. There is a very good likelihood that Volquez is dealt before Monday afternoon(I would say probably an 85-90% chance for a trade) and there is a number of contending teams interested in him. So far, San Francisco, Texas and Los Angeles(Dodgers) have all inquired about him while Baltimore, Boston and Miami could also be options(although the Marlins picked up Andrew Cashner on Friday). No matter the team, there is probably a very good chance that Volquez will no longer be a Royal by Tuesday.

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Also on the trading block is Kendrys Morales. Morales’ numbers are down from last year(.246/.315/.431 with an OPS+ of 95 and -0.4 bWAR) but Morales had a great June and is still a viable power threat. Like Volquez, Morales is signed through this season with a mutual option for 2017(Dayton sure does love his mutual options). So if a team was interested in him, he would be just a two month rental. I can’t imagine many National League teams would be interested, as he is almost purely a DH at this point in his career and is a below average defender. This leaves the American League teams as an option and many of them wouldn’t have a set spot for him in the lineup. I could possibly see him as an option off the bench, but that would be an expensive bench player for most teams. One team that might consider Kendrys is the Rangers, as they found out this week that their high-priced DH, Prince Fielder, will be having season-ending neck surgery. Morales is a great fit in that Texas lineup and might see an uptick in offense at Globe Life Park in Arlington. That being said, the chances of the Royals finding a trade partner for Morales is probably in the 20-30% range, so I wouldn’t expect him to be leaving the confines of Kauffman Stadium by the deadline.

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Then there is the wild card of this bunch, Wade Davis. It’s not hard to see why so many teams are interested in Davis, as he has been one of the top(if not the very top) reliever in the game since 2014. Davis hasn’t been as dominating in 2016(1.60 ERA, 280 ERA+, 2.75 FIP, 8.6 Strike Outs per 9) but is still considered an elite closer. The interesting scenario with Wade is that he is under contract until the end of 2017, which means if he was dealt by Kansas City, whichever team acquired him would get him for the 2017 season. Because of this, the Royals are asking for a bigger haul for Davis than New York got from the Cubs for Aroldis Chapman, and rightly so because of the extra year of contract control. Since the Royals are asking for so much, they have also tried to pawn off the contract of Ian Kennedy onto anyone wanting Davis, like the Dodgers. Kennedy’s contract would be a lot for any team to take on, even one has wealthy as Los Angeles. The Royals know at this point they don’t have to deal Wade, as Kansas City is in a position where they could be contenders again in 2017. So the only way Davis is dealt is if a team totally overwhelms Dayton Moore to where he just can’t say no. I would say the chances of him being traded are in the 10-20% area, with Los Angeles, Washington and Cleveland as possible suitors(although I can’t imagine Moore trading Davis to a team within their division, so don’t hold your breathe on that one). I’m not expecting Wade to be dealt, but I also know it is not completely off the table.(Writers note: While working on this piece, it was found out that Davis definitely is NOT going to be traded:

The MRI is planning to be on his right elbow. Try not to think the worst, Royals fans, but with the way this season is going…)

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One name I initially did not plan on talking about in this space was Jarrod Dyson, but I’m now thinking he very well could be gone by Monday afternoon. Why the change of heart?

Let’s see if Burns sounds familiar; speedy guy, slightly above average defensively, doesn’t strike out much, makes contact but sometimes has trouble getting on base. Sounds a lot like Dyson, right? Burns was 5th last year in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, with 26 stolen bases and .334 OBP. He has struggled most of this year and was sent to AAA Omaha after the trade today. But with Burns now in the fold, and Dyson getting more expensive as he approaches free agency after the 2017 season, it appears as if the Royals might have acquired Dyson’s replacement if he was dealt. I don’t know what percentage chance he has of being traded, but it would seem weird to have two backup outfielders with pretty much the exact same talent set. Just saying.

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There is one more Royal that has been heavily mentioned in trade talk, and that is Luke Hochevar. Hochevar looked like almost a lock to be traded away before the deadline, that was until he was placed on the disabled list on Thursday. The news didn’t get better on Friday:

Hochevar and the Royals could not have gotten any worse news. For a guy who was an awful starter, to turn his career around out of the bullpen, AND THEN have Tommy John Surgery, that is some bad luck. To then return from surgery and less than two years later find out you have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, that will defeat anyone’s hopes:

That is a tough break and I don’t even mean that in the sense of Hochevar’s trade value. Sure, the Royals could have traded him and gotten 1-2 good players in return. But it’s even worse to have this surgery and be unsure about one’s future. Moving forward, Hochevar has a long road ahead of him.

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The frame of mind that the Kansas City front office should have right now is of a team that is close to contending but needs to upgrade some pieces for 2017. I am not 100% waving the white flag on this season, but it just doesn’t appear as if the postseason is in the cards for this team. If the Royals are able to swing a few trades, upgrade a few question marks and look ahead toward the future, they will be sitting in a good position next year, the last year for the main core on this Royals roster. I doubt there is a lot of movement by Kansas City but a few tweaks here and there are probable. Major League Baseball extended the trade deadline an extra day this year so that it wouldn’t fall on the weekend. The Royals have an extra day to get creative; the clock is ticking.

 

In Due Time:A First Half Look At The Royals

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When contemplating on just one word to describe the Kansas City Royals first half of the 2016 season, a number of words flooded my brain: struggle, streaky, battle, fluky and frustration all seemed fitting. But the one word that seems to fit more than any other is ‘adversity’, a word that has fit like a glove since before the season even started. Whether it has been the struggles of the starting rotation or the streaky offense, the Royals have not had the smooth sailing they were witness to for a large chunk of the 2015 season. Probably the biggest roadblock in front of them this season has been the litany of injuries that have occurred.

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The walking wounded actually began back in Spring Training, as Jarrod Dyson, who was in line to see a big increase in playing time in right field, came down with a strained oblique. In May, starters Kris Medlen and Chris Young would both venture to the disabled list, after struggling through their previous few starts. Late in May, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas would collide chasing a foul ball  in Chicago and the news was grim; Gordon would miss a month with a wrist injury while Moustakas would have a torn ACL and was expected to miss the rest of the season. A week after that collision, catcher Salvador Perez would incur a quad contusion after third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert would run into Salvy while chasing a pop fly. Luckily, Perez would sit out for a week but not have to make an appearance on the disabled list. The injury bug would return in June, with outfielder Brett Eibner(after only being recalled a few days earlier) going on the DL on June 1st with a left ankle sprain, returning after two weeks. Lorenzo Cain would make his first DL appearance in two years, pulling up lame and grabbing his hamstring after running out a ground ball just a few weeks ago. To cap it all off, closer Wade Davis, a man who some of us believe is actually a machine, would deal with a forearm strain and land on the DL with Cain just this past week. If you are taking notes at home, that is four Royals All-Stars that have seen time on the DL so far this season and that is just through 88 games. One of the biggest strengths for Kansas City the last two years was their health, as they were able to make two big playoff runs while dealing with very limited injuries to their main nucleus. The pendulum always swings back around and it appears the Royals dance with lady luck has ended on the injury front.

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Speaking of turbulence, the Royals starting pitching has been more than just rocky so far in 2016. Kansas City starting pitching is next to last in innings pitched, 3rd highest in walks per 9, 1st in home runs per 9, 4th highest ERA, highest FIP, and lowest WAR in the American League. The only area where the starting pitching is moderately succeeding is strikeouts per 9, which is the 3rd highest in the league. With these numbers it is easy to see why the Royals have struggled and are currently looking for upgrades on the trade market. Chris Young, who was a vital part of the Royals playoff run last year, has allowed the most home runs in the American League(26 in only 56 innings pitched) and has been banished to the bullpen. Ian Kennedy has been about what was expected from him; at times he has looked phenomenal and has shut down other teams, while others he has been a victim of the long-ball, allowing the second most home runs in the AL( 21). Yordano Ventura has not looked like the ace that he could be capable of, as he has struggled(including inciting a melee in Baltimore) and others he has put together some very quality starts(like just this past Friday). Edinson Volquez hasn’t been as consistent as he was in 2015, yo-yoing from start to start. The one shining light has been the re-emergence of Danny Duffy, who has looked like a pitcher who has figured something out. Duffy started the year in the  bullpen but was moved to the rotation in May and has been splendid ever since. He has thrown 81 innings to this point, striking out over 10 batters per 9, walking less than 2 per 9 and stranding runners at an 83% clip. Duffy’s numbers just jump out on the page: highest K-BB% in a Royals uniform, highest soft hit % of his career, and the fastest average fastball velocity of his career. If the Royals can get some more consistency from Volquez and Ventura, while picking up a cheap arm in a trade, they might be able to stabilize the rotation and improve on numbers that shouldn’t be hard to improve upon.

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While the starting pitching has been a major trouble area, the offense has been very bi-polar. Much like the last few years, the Kansas City offense is a very streaky bunch. As a team they are next to last in runs, last in RBI’s, home runs, walk %, isolated power, and 12th in wRC+. Most other offensive categories the Royals are around the middle of the pack, but the Royals also get their runs in a different manner than most other American League teams. Eric Hosmer has turned in a season worthy of his All-Star starting nod, hitting .299/.355/.476 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI’s. Salvador Perez has seen an increase in power this season and has turned into a serious threat in the middle of the lineup(writers note: he even hit a home run right after I typed this). Paulo Orlando has been a pleasant surprise this year, hitting .324/.347/.417, sacrificing some of the power we saw from him last year for a better on base percentage. Lorenzo Cain struggled in April, but came on like wildfire in May and was putting up good numbers before his injury this month. Kendrys Morales struggled through the first two months of the season, but looked like a completely different hitter in June, a month where he put up video game numbers. Even Mike Moustakas was putting up great power numbers before his injury in May. But the real surprise of the offense has been the call-ups Kansas City has been using to fill the holes for injured players.

MLB: Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY)

The great thing about this Royals team is not only the depth that they have compared to years past, but the amount of production we have seen from players that were not expected to contribute. Whit Merrifield has been a life-changer for Kansas City, posting a line of .291/.313/.407 with 1.4 bWar in just 46 games. Whit was originally supposed to fill the super utility role for Kansas City, but instead ended up taking the second base job from the now released Omar Infante. Cheslor Cuthbert, who saw some time in Kansas City last year, was recalled to take over at third base for Moustakas and struggled a bit the first few weeks of seeing regular playing time. Since May 27(right around the Moose injury), Cuthbert is hitting .293/.331/.471 with 7 home runs, 22 RBI’s and a BAbip of .343. Defensively, he is not quite the glovesman that Moustakas is, but he has proved to be more than capable, with an UZR of 6.2 and making 83% of plays that are considered unlikely(which are considered normally to be made 10-40% of the time). The man who has seen the least amount of time out of this group is Brett Eibner, as he has only played in 18 games. Eibner has been productive in that span, hitting .269/.333/.500 with a BAbip of .343 and a wRC+ of 116. Eibner has 8 extra base hits in his 18 games and is a bat that can supply the power the Royals heavily covet. All three players have stepped in when the Royals have needed them to and have produced in many a tight situation. It wasn’t expected for these three to be heavy contributors, but so far in 2016 they have probably helped this team stay in the pennant race.

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While this Royals team isn’t gliding into a postseason berth like they did last year, they are still very much in contention, even being 7 games out in the American League Central but only 4 1/2 games out of a wild card spot. The hope is that the Royals can stabilize the rotation while hitting a bit more consistently, which should increase their chances of a playoff spot. Injuries have hurt Kansas City so far this year but they haven’t crippled them and that has allowed them to stay in the race. We have seen over the last couple seasons that this is a team that strives on adversity. If that stays true to form, then we should be seeing a stellar second half from our ‘Boys in Blue’.

 

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