Winners and Losers: My 2016 Year End Awards

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November is a great month to be a baseball fan; there is the afterglow of the World Series, Hot Stove season gears up and we all get to take a glance back and venture back into just how great this past baseball season has been. This of course means that the award winners are announced by not only the BBWAA, but by a group I am proud to be a member of, the IBWAA. Being a member allows me to vote on the year-end awards and for the third straight year, have done just that. If you want to check out my past ballots, here they are: 2014 and 2015. It is an honor for me to be allowed the opportunity to vote and I take it very seriously. With that said, here are my picks for this past 2016 season.

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American League MVP: Mike Trout

For the second consecutive year, my vote was for the best player in the game, Mike Trout. This actually has been a very heated debate over the last few months, as even back in August I was saying Trout should be given heavy consideration for this award. The sentimental pick is Jose Altuve and the ‘my team made the playoffs’ pick is Mookie Betts. I instead went with the ‘his numbers are ultimately better’ pick in Trout. All Trout did this year was lead the league in runs, walks, on-base percentage, OPS+, bWAR, fWAR, oWAR, runs created, adjusted batting runs, win probability added for an offensive player and RE24. Oh, he also got better this year, in case anyone didn’t notice. Trout walked more, struck out less, stole three times more bases this year than last, and hit for a higher average, while his other stats were on par with last year. The argument against Trout was…well, it was that his team sucked. But that is really not his fault and in fact you can say the Angels might have been way worse if it was not for Trout. His WPA sat at 6.5, which factors in how he helped his team change the outcome of the game. The next closest batter in the American League was Josh Donaldson…who was at 4.3 WPA, over 2 wins less than Trout. At some point, baseball should view Trout for what he is: the game’s best player no matter whether or not his team is losing. Considering the MVP award is an individual award, not a team one, I give the nod to the player who had the best season and that would be Trout…and it’s not really even close.

My Top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Mookie Better, 3-Jose Altuve

IBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

BBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

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National League MVP: Kris Bryant

In this space just last year, Kris Bryant was the easy choice for NL Rookie of the Year. Just one year later, he is my choice for NL MVP in just his second season in the big leagues. Bryant led the league in bWAR, fWAR, oWAR, and runs scored while finishing second in WPA/LI and third in five other categories. While finishing second in home runs and third in runs created is very nice, there was two very big numbers that swayed me to Bryant. For one, Bryant was third in RE24, which factors in runs added in a resulting play by either a batter or baserunner. Considering he was also fourth in both adjusted batting runs and adjusted batting wins, this would tell me that Bryant contributed greatly from both his bat and his baserunning. The other big factor for me was Bryant’s defense, or more precisely the factor of his value all over the field. While Bryant posted a dWAR this year of 0.8, what makes it even more impressive is just how many positions he would play and not hurt his defensive stats. Kris would start games at 3B, 1B, LF, RF in 2016, and would also make appearances for an inning at both CF and SS for a game. So here is a guy who would play all over the diamond this year, producing MVP offensive numbers and above average defensive numbers. While Daniel Murphy, Freddie Freeman and Corey Seager were all worthy candidates, only one player was an all-around choice for this award, and his name is Kris Bryant.

My Top 3: 1-Bryant, 2-Corey Seager, 3-Freddie Freeman

IBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

BBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

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American League Cy Young Award: Chris Sale

This was easily the hardest category to make a decision on and I can honestly say I’m still not 100% comfortable with my pick. To me, there were positives and negatives to almost all of the candidates for this award and after digesting the numbers I felt like Chris Sale was the most deserving pitcher for this award. That being said, no one pitcher stood out of the bunch and that is why you are seeing such discourse when it comes to this award. Let’s start with my choice, Sale. He was tied for first in fWAR, first in complete games, 2nd in strike outs, 3rd in FIP, innings pitched, K/BB ratio, and WHIP and fourth in hits per 9 innings and walks per 9, all while facing the second most batters in the league. This is why this was such a hard pick: Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander also led in a number of categories and were on par with Sale’s performance this year. So what about Rick Porcello? He had a good year, but I had a hard time going with a guy who got the best run support in baseball (6.61) and much of his case was dictated on his win total. Zach Britton? I considered him for the award, but I had a few issues with his case (which we will go into later in this article) and even felt that Andrew Miller had a better season than he did. So I went with Sale, although if you told me that Kluber or Verlander were more deserving, I probably wouldn’t put up much of a fight. This was the year where no clear winner was defined.

My Top 3: 1-Sale, 2- Corey Kluber, 3-Justin Verlander

IBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber

BBWAA Winner: Rick Porcello

Clayton Kershaw

National League Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw

Remember how I wrote above how I had considered Zach Britton for the AL Cy Young? A lot of the Britton argument was based on ignoring his innings pitched and focus on how tremendous his numbers were in 2016. So if we are considering Britton,  then shouldn’t we have to look at Clayton Kershaw as a worthy candidate in the National League? I believe so and I will take it a step further by saying that Kershaw’s season was so spectacular that even with only 149 innings tossed, he was my pick for NL Cy Young. Follow me on this one, if you will: despite Kershaw’s low innings total, he was still 2nd in bWAR and first in fWAR, stats that are normally driven up as the season progresses. Read that again; in 33 less innings than Noah Syndergaard of the Mets (the fWAR runner-up), Kershaw accumulated more WAR than any other pitcher in the National League. If he had been qualified, Kershaw would have led the NL in ERA, WHIP, hits per 9, walks per 9, strikeouts to bases on balls ratio, ERA+,  and FIP…and if he had stayed on par with what he had done to that point it wouldn’t have even been close! Kershaw did lead the league in shutouts, WPA/LI, REW, and adjusted pitching wins, 3rd in complete games and win probability added and 2nd in adjusted pitching runs and RE24. All in just 149 innings.To put it another way, Kershaw was on course for an absolutely record-breaking season if it were not for being sidelined for a couple of months over the summer. To me, it was worth enough to win him the Cy Young. This wasn’t a knock on Kyle Hendricks, Max Scherzer, Syndergaard or Jon Lester. It was more that Kershaw was absolutely dominating when healthy…and it wasn’t even close. We really saw an absolutely amazing season from a probable future Hall of Famer in Clayton Kershaw.

My Top 3: 1-Kershaw, 2-Noah Syndergaard, 3-Jose Fernandez

IBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

BBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

MLB: MAY 21 Rays at Tigers

American League Rookie of the Year: Michael Fulmer

There was a small debate late in the season for this award, as Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez made a late push, but in the end this was Michael Fulmer’s prize to win. Fulmer compiled a great rookie season in Detroit, racking up 159 innings over 26 starts, a 135 ERA+, 3.76 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.119. Fulmer also put together a 33.1 inning scoreless streak early in the season, that was put to bed on June 18 in Kansas City. Fulmer was a great addition to the Detroit rotation but late in the year he did receive some competition from Sanchez, who was able to piece together a 3.0 bWAR season in just 53 games. Fulmer was still able to beat him out with 4.9 bWAR and for the honor of being the best rookie in the American League. All this from a pitcher acquired the year before from the Mets for Yoenis Cespedes, a deal that could be paying off in Detroit for a long time.

My Top 3: 1-Fulmer, 2-Gary Sanchez, 3-Tyler Naquin

IBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

BBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

MLB: OCT 09 NLDS - Game 1 - Mets at Dodgers

National League Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

This was another slam dunk pick and one that many (like myself) predicted before the season began. Seager blew away the rookie competition this year and even forced himself into the NL MVP race this year. Seager led all National League rookies in fWAR, bWAR, RBI’s, runs, and was second in home runs and wRC+. Overall, he was 5th in bWAR and runs scored, 2nd in oWAR, 1oth in slugging percentage and runs created, 4th in total bases, 7th in doubles,  and 8th in RE24. The Dodgers struggled quite a bit offensively in 2016, but Seager was solid the entire year, never posting an on-base percentage below .311 in any month. Seager’s rookie season was almost record-breaking as well, as he had the 6th best rookie campaign according to fWAR this year, sitting at 7.5, and has the second best rookie season in the modern era (1988-today). So while Trea Turner, Trevor Story and Jon Gray had good to great first seasons, none were quite as good as the Dodgers starting shortstop.

My Top 3: 1-Seager, 2-Jon Gray, 3-Trea Turner

IBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

BBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

MLB: OCT 11 ALDS - Game 3 - Blue Jays at Rangers

American League Manager of the Year: Jeff Banister

Banister was last year’s pick in both the IBWAA and the BBWAA, and I had him a close second to Minnesota’s Paul Molitor. But this year, my pick went to Banister. The Texas Rangers dealt with a number of issues this past year,most notably when it came to injuries. The team lost portions of their rotation throughout the year, whether it was Yu Darvish, Derek Holland or Colby Lewis. Shin-Soo Choo was in and out of the lineup most of the year and Josh Hamilton never even got going. Throw in the ineffectiveness and injuries for Carlos Gomez and the career-ending neck injury to Prince Fielder and you have a team that could have been a mess. Instead, Banister led his team to the best record in the American League and found a number of working parts to fill any holes he had. While Terry Francona and Buck Showalter were both excellent choices, to me Jeff Banister overcame a ton of obstacles and did the best managing job in the American League this year.

My Top 3: 1-Banister, 2-Terry Francona, 3-Buck Showalter

IBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

BBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

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National League Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts

Managing in the big leagues isn’t always an easy job. For a first-time manager, it can be twice as daunting. So while Dave Roberts walked into a solid roster when he inherited the Dodgers as manager, he also had his work cut out for him. Not only was he going to have to juggle a roster that was littered with veterans, but he also fell into a rotation that be dealt a number of injuries and the whole Yasiel Puig situation. There was also an offense that lingered in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories in 2016 but did manage to accumulate the 3rd highest fWAR in the NL. Oh, he also had to deal with losing the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, for about two months of the season. Throw in those struggles of a first year manager that we mentioned earlier and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Los Angeles didn’t even capture a playoff spot. Instead, Roberts steered his team to a division title and took them all the way to Game 6 of the NLCS before being ousted. To me, that wins you NL Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Roberts, 2-Dusty Baker, 3-Joe Maddon

IBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon

BBWAA Winner: Dave Roberts

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American League Reliever of the Year: Andrew Miller

Someone right now just said “He misspelled Zach Britton”. No, I didn’t. I know this will shock some, but despite Britton’s fantastic 2016, I viewed Andrew Miller’s season in a much brighter light. Let’s go ahead and break down some numbers to get a better view of where I am coming from. First, I won’t squabble over innings pitched. Miller only threw 7 more innings than Britton this year, which means very little. Miller led Britton in K/9 (14.89 to 9.94), BB/9 (1.09 to 2.42), LOB% (95.7 to 89.7), HR/FB ratio (20 to 7.1), FIP (1.68 to 1.94), xFIP (1.18 to 2.09) and possibly most importantly, fWAR (2.9 to 2.5). Yes, Britton had a better HR/9 ratio (0.13 to 0.97) and a much lower ERA (0.54 to 1.45) but to me that wasn’t enough to say Britton was better. Yes, despite Britton’s insane WPA (6.14 to Miller’s 4.79), it still felt to me that Miller was the better reliever this year. One final number tipped me to Miller’s side over Britton. In Britton’s 69 appearances, he pitched only 6 games of more than 1 inning and 11 games where he pitched less than 1 inning. In Miller’s 70 games, he threw 11 games of more than 1 inning and 8 games of less than 1 inning. It’s not a giant gap, but it does show Miller was used in longer stretches in the game than Britton, and it might have been even more if he had been pitching in Cleveland all year. For all the talk about Britton this year, there should have been a lot more talk about Andrew Miller’s 2016. For me, the choice is easy. Miller was the best reliever in the American League this past year.

My top 3: 1-Miller, 2-Zach Britton, 3-Dellin Betances

IBWAA Winner: Zach Britton

AP METS CUBS BASEBALL S BBN USA IL

National League Reliever of the Year: Jeurys Familia

This was another tough battle and while I thought Kenley Jansen had a great year, I felt like Familia’s was just slightly better. Jansen did beat Familia in a number of categories: K/9, BB/9, ERA, FIP, ERA+ and fWAR. All solid categories and I don’t discount any of them. Familia did pitch in about 7 more games, while throwing about 9 more innings. Familia also had a better HR/9 rate and it wasn’t even very close (0.12 to 0.52). Where I liked Familia a bit more was WPA, Win Probability Added. Familia had a WPA of 1.82 to Jansen’s 1.77 while his WPA+ was much higher than Jansen’s, 11.54 to 7.32. These numbers tell me that Familia seemed to pitch in more high leverage situations, which is a bit more valuable. The Clutch stat also leans a bit toward Familia, 0.27 to 0.95. So in the end I voted for Familia, although a vote for Jansen isn’t a bad one either. If I was being 100% honest, looking at everything right now, I might have changed my vote for Jansen if I could do it again. Either way, both had great seasons with Familia getting the very slight edge in this battle.

My Top 3: 1-Jeurys Familia, 2-Kenley Jansen, 3-Tyler Thornburg

IBWAA Winner: Kenley Jansen

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So there you go, my votes for this 2016 season. I’m sure some of you will disagree, but that is part of the fun of these picks. It is a great honor that I get to vote every year like this and I can only hope I do a respectable part to show the value of an organization like the IBWAA. This is a game we all love and while we might squabble here and there on numbers, it really comes down to what you value. I can only hope 2017 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

 

 

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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.

Problem Child

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On Tuesday evening, the insecure part of Yordano Ventura got the best of him. After Manny Machado had some words for Ventura in the 2nd inning for pitching inside, Ventura’s pride got the best of him during Machado’s next at bat, as Yordano drilled him in the back with a 99 MPH fastball, his fastest pitch of the evening. To say it illicited a response is a bit of an understatement:

Most everyone felt like Yordano was past this, after the numerous encounters he had last year that got him in trouble. Instead, once again he allowed his emotions to run the show. This leaves the Royals in a bit of a pickle, since management, coaches and even players are tired of his behavior. So the question has to be asked: What do the Royals do with Yordano Ventura moving forward?

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Since the circus that Ventura created spun out of control last night, there have been rumors that the Royals had talked to other front office executives about Ventura in possible trade talks. In my opinion, Ventura will not get traded any time soon. For one, his value has never been lower. It would make no sense for Kansas City to trade an arm like Ventura at his lowest value. Second, the Royals are having issues currently with their starting rotation so it would make no sense to trade away the starter with the highest potential out of their current crop of starters, especially with no relief to be seen down in the minors. So if Venura was to get traded, it probably wouldn’t be until the offseason or even next season.

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

So if Ventura is staying, the Royals need him to perform much better than he has this year. Through 12 starts this season, Yordano has issued the most walks in the American League, while posting the lowest strikeout rate of his career(6 strikeouts per 9). His ground ball percentage is down(44%) while his fly ball rate has rocketed(39.4%, up from 27.2% last year), which has also seen his home runs per 9 to go up as well. Basically, Ventura is getting hit harder than ever before and is way above the league average when it comes to the exit velocity off of his pitches:

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2016 is his third season in the big leagues and the advances that the Royals have expected from him just are not happening. There are still glimpses of the “ace” the Royals think he can be, but those become fewer and farther between each start. After Tuesday’s start, Ventura’s ERA rose to 5.32 while his FIP elevated to 5.29. Normally this would force him to the bullpen or even down to AAA, but the Royals just don’t have the starting pitching to let that happen. Instead, they need him to get his head on straight and at least produce like a league average pitcher.

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So do the Royals at least have some options with Ventura? If you mean ‘can he be sent to the minors’ the answer is yes. He still has options left, so a trip to Omaha isn’t completely out of the question. In fact, I would think that Ventura is on a short leash with the coaching staff and if they feel he needs to work on something in the minors, then he will be sent down. One comment made after the game on Tuesday I did find interesting, especially when it comes to what Ventura has been told by the coaching staff. Here is Orioles manager Buck Showalter who said this:

 

“No, I don’t like when any of my guys are put in harm’s way, especially a guy throwing that hard and having some problems with his command tonight. But [its] not the first time. Obviously, it must be something that’s OK because he continues to do it. It must be condoned. I don’t know.”

Now, I take umbrage with this. No way does the Kansas City organization approve of what Ventura did. That implication by Showalter just isn’t true:

The Royals had squashed that “bad boy image” from last year and the team had moved on from those problems. Ventura has been the only one who still seems to think that reacting in this manner is appropriate. So much bad could have come from this, whether it meant another player getting hurt(and lets be honest, the Royals already have enough players injured), or starting a feud that would distract from focusing on the main goal, which is winning games and eventually, returning to the playoffs. There is no way to know for sure, but I would guess Ventura spent Tuesday night and Wednesday in meetings with teammates, the coaching staff and possibly even upper management. Ventura is at a point in his career where he needs to fix his mentality. I made a comment on Tuesday night about how Ventura’s problem was not his arm, but what is in between his ears. Adam Jones of Baltimore might have said it better than I did:

Yordano has to fix his mental approach during the game. It could be learning yoga, or talking with a therapist or even Jason Kendall’s ‘Tough Love’ approach, but a change has to happen. If it doesn’t, he will have more to worry about than just being dropped from the Royals rotation.

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There are many reasons for the Royals to not give up on Yordano; he just turned 25, he has a team friendly contract that runs through 2019 and he has an electric arm that can be dominate when he wants to. But that is the thing-when he wants to, not all the time or even most of the time. Many young pitchers, especially those with dynamite stuff, struggle early in their career because they believe it is all about the velocity and not as much about the location or changing speeds. Ventura mentally seems younger than his age when it comes to maturity and hasn’t figured out how to deal with adversity. For Ventura to be a part of the Royals future, he has to learn how to let adversity roll off his back and learn from it. Otherwise, he will just be another in a long line of starters the Royals have failed to develop. This is the fork in the road; it’s time for Yordano to figure out which path he wants to take.

And the Winner is…

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The 2014 Major League Baseball season has come to an end, which also means that all ballots have been turned in to decide the winners in the awards to be announced this week. I was fortunate to turn in my first ballot as a member of the IBWAA, the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, this year and realized a few things. One, this isn’t as easy as one thinks it is. I spent a lot of time thinking about who I really felt should win these awards and who truly should be honored. I also realized that it is MY vote, and though I am positive some will disagree with it, it is just one man’s opinion. I also should stress this: I turned in my ballot about two weeks before the end of the season. In hindsight, I probably should have waited, but that is a lesson learned and will prepare better for 2015. So without any further ado, here are my winners for the 2014 season…

American League MVP: Alex Gordon, Kansas City

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We can probably all agree that Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels had the best numbers for a player in the American League this year. I don’t argue that, nor am I trying to take that away from him. But my vote was based more on who was more valuable to his team this year in the league, and in my opinion that man is Alex Gordon. Not too long ago I made Gordon’s case for MVP, as I felt he shouldn’t be overlooked when it came time for the voting. I know I am a bit biased, if for no other reason than the fact that I watch the large majority of Royals games during the season. The thing about Gordon is his numbers don’t tell the whole story; he is the leader of this Royals team in so many facets of the game. Obviously his defense is of another caliber, as most know. His WAR numbers get a nice bump from his defensive metrics, as he finished the year 7th in the AL in bWAR with 6.6 and 5th in fWAR with 6.1. You could also add in the 27 defensive runs he saved this year on defense, 1st in the league with Josh Donaldson far behind in 2nd place with 20 DRS. Gordon is also an excellent base runner, and was most valuable when the Royals needed him to be. Gordon basically carried the team on his back in August, a month where the Royals made one of their biggest pushes for a playoff spot. Gordon had a slash line of .292/.356/.585 with 9 home runs and 16 RBI’s. Alex was what the Royals needed when they needed it this year to help propel them to the playoffs. This Royals team doesn’t go on the run they went on in the playoffs if not for Gordon being a leader during the regular season. In fact, without him this Royals team doesn’t even get to October. For that, my most valuable player vote goes to Alex Gordon.

National League MVP & Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles

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What else can be said about Clayton Kershaw’s season that hasn’t already been said? Kershaw had a season for the ages, one that was so good that the comparison’s toward all-time great Sandy Koufax don’t really feel far-fetched anymore. Kershaw lead the league in Wins(if you like that sort of thing), Win-Loss Percentage, ERA, Complete Games, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, Strikeouts per 9 inn., Strikeout to Walk Ratio and was an All-Star as well. Oh, and he threw his first career no-hitter, a game so dominant that only one other pitcher(Kerry Wood) has thrown a better game, and that was just a piddly 20-strikeout game. All this while missing the entire month of April(after throwing the season opener in Australia)! Kershaw was so dominate this season that I also felt like he was the MVP of the National League, which some folks in baseball(hello, Tommy Lasorda) feel a pitcher shouldn’t win the award for Most Valuable Player. But when a pitcher has a season like this (and no other major candidate really sticks out) it throws that pitcher into the MVP conversation. I had seriously considered both Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh and Giancarlo Stanton of Miami for the award, but alas I felt Kershaw was more valuable to the Dodgers success than either of those two were for their teams. Kershaw winning MVP isn’t like Willie Hernandez winning American League MVP back in 1984; Kershaw is not only an elite pitcher at the moment but if he continues on the path he is going he could be an all-time great. So as preposterous as some believe a pitcher winning MVP is, just remember it in the proper context; Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball and it isn’t even close.

American League Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle  

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Out of all the votes I had to place, this was easily the toughest decision to make. It came down to Hernandez and Corey Kluber of Cleveland and honestly, a pick either way didn’t feel like a bad one. As someone who watches close to every Royals game during the season I had seen Kluber several times and saw just how dominant he was for the Indians this year and in some ways that almost swayed my vote. Obviously in a close vote you compare numbers and once again, they were pretty damn even. David Schoenfield goes into great detail about just how close this race was and why really neither pitcher was a bad choice. My only hope is no one voted for Kluber just based off of win totals; that would just seem silly. I think the biggest argument for Hernandez(at least in my eyes) was his streak of 16 starts of at least 7 innings giving up 2 runs or less which he held this year until August 17th. The previous mark was set all the way back in 1971 by Tom Seaver as he set the mark of 13 starts. In this day in age, where most starters have a rough time going more than 6 innings a start and where teams employ lockdown bullpens as part of their strategy, the fact a starting pitcher could accomplish this feat is borderline amazing. The fact that Hernandez was able to accomplish this really swayed my vote and was enough to warrant his second Cy Young award. The real point of this is that if I would have gone with Kluber it wouldn’t have been a bad choice either; there was no bad choices. Just two pitchers who had excellent seasons and both deserved consideration for this award.

American League Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu, Chicago   

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox

This was about as easy a choice as possible. From almost day one Abreu showed he was the real deal, which is never a certainty with any talent from Cuba. But Abreu made sure it was known early he was as advertised, hitting 29 home runs, a slash line of .292/.342/.630 and an sOPS+ of 169 in the first half of the season. His power numbers went down in the second half, hitting only 7 home runs while producing a slugging percentage of .513 and raising his batting average and sOPS+. I’m sure the longer season wore on Abreu, but all in all he put in a rookie season that should be praised for years to come. It’s a bit unfortunate that Abreu ran away with this award, as the American League put together a nice crop of rookies in 2014, from New York Yankees Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Bettances to Kansas City’s flame-throwing hurler Yordano Ventura. All had really solid opening campaigns but none matched Abreu who should be a solid bat in Chicago’s batting order for years to come.

National League Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati

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This race was much closer than it’s AL counterpart, as it came down to New York Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom and Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton. Honestly, an argument for either rookie is valid and a part of me almost voted for DeGrom. But I liked all the different area’s of the game that Hamilton helped the Reds this year. Everyone knows of Hamilton’s speed, he of the 56 steals this year. But he also produced 200 total bases only grounded into 1 double play this year and 39 extra bases. There was a small downside to his year; Hamilton struck out a ridiculous amount for a top of the order guy, 117 times, and was caught stealing 23 times. Both of these facets will need to be improved upon in 2015 for him elevate his game. Defensively Hamilton was more than solid; 14 defensive runs saved in 2014, 10 assists and an 1.8 dWAR. Overall a more than solid rookie campaign for Billy Hamilton(and likewise for DeGrom) and for the Reds sake(especially if they want to contend in 2015) hopefully he can grow on it.

American League Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin, Oakland 

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I mentioned earlier that I should have waited and locked in my votes during the last week of the season and this selection is a big reason why. Do I think Bob Melvin did a fabulous job managing the A’s in 2014? Of course. This was a team that was one of the elite in baseball for a large chunk of the season, a team of no superstars, compiled together and platooned–yet they still reached the playoffs. But just barely and Oakland’s second half collapse almost cost them that postseason spot, one they didn’t clinch until the last weekend and left them in Kansas City for the one game “battle to the death” Wild Card game. For that reason I feel like I should have waited to vote, as Buck Showalter deserved high praise for this honor and very well might have been my vote. Hell, throw Mike Scioscia’s hat into this argument as well, as the Angels came from behind to not only win the American League West but put together the best record in the league. Lesson learned by me, but I still think Melvin should get a ton of credit. No way does Oakland even sniff the playoffs if an average manager is in charge of this team. Melvin maneuvered and coddled this roster and got top notch performance out of his team. Something has to be said for being able to get the most out of the talent you have, especially when your talent doesn’t always match up with the best teams in baseball.

National League Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh 

MLB: NL Wild Card-Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates

The easy thing is to say Hurdle deserved this honor more in 2013. That year he guided Pittsburgh to their first playoff spot in over 20 years and helped the Pirates slay some demons. But for all the love Hurdle got in 2013, he deserves even more for his managerial work in 2014. Hurdle helped the Pirates reach the playoffs again this past season and did it without their ace from 2013(A.J. Burnett), their closer fizzled out and was eventually traded(Jason Grilli), they lost their star(Andrew McCutchen) for a few weeks and lost their future ace(Gerrit Cole) multiple times to the disabled list. Despite all of this the Pirates made back to back appearances into the postseason and although that only lasted one game(thanks to Brandon Crawford and Madison Bumgarner) it just showed the great job Hurdle did as manager this season. Honorable mention should go out to both Matt Williams of Washington and Mike Redmond of Miami. Both did a great job with their team this past year and that was not lost on me. It just felt like Hurdle accomplished the insurmountable and continued to show that he has been one of the best Pittsburgh acquisitions the last few years.

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So there you go, my picks for the 2014 IBWAA end of season awards. This was a great learning experience and makes me even more pumped for my next ballot, the upcoming Hall of Fame vote. Voting seems like an easy chore from the outside looking in, yet there is a decent amount of pressure if you take them seriously. I have a feeling that the next vote will go a bit smoother. The great thing about the voting process is that they inspire endless debate. One man’s vote is another man’s worst nightmare…that was mainly meant for anyone who voted Ned Yost ‘Manager of the Year’. So you might not agree with my vote’s, just know that can go both ways. It is all just a matter of opinion at the end of the day.

No Baseball Makes Me Crazy!

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This happens every year. Some time in January, I start to get “baseball antsy”. What that means(since I just coined the term) is I get to a point where not even Hot Stove talk keeps me satisfied. I get to a point where the only thing that can keep me from going completely out of my mind(or crazy insane, got no brain) is for Spring Training to get here…or for me to create baseball stories to keep me occupied. Now, I’m not saying this is healthy. In fact, I can feel them sizing me up for a straightjacket. But it keeps me even keeled and able to function like a normal human being, not as a baseball junkie who is frothing at the mouth and needs his fix. Hey, just because I daydream of Tim Kurkjian being my best friend doesn’t mean I have a problem!

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Okay, I have a problem. Anyway, here is my delusional baseball dreams that have kept my mind occupied the last couple of weeks. I promise none have Tim Kurkjian playing doctor. That even disturbs me.

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Puig is My Surfing Buddy

Yasiel Puig is misunderstood. Sure, he seems cocky and one of the few people in the world to pull off pink jorts. The jorts make me think that he is probably a great surfer. I’ve never surfed, but I have a feeling Puig can do everything at least fairly good(once again, pink jorts). I picture him teaching me the way of the ocean, where I learn to listen to her and connect with my inner chi. Not only would I learn how to surf, but we would have long discussions about the true meaning of life and why Jack Johnson is just misunderstood as a musician. I would probably ruin it by saying that Bo Jackson was a better athlete than him, but before that we would start a Beach Boys cover band with less Brian Wilson substance(you can take that either way; they both fit in this scenario). All in all, it would be a great five days on the beach. I’m going to go practice saying ‘Puig’ like Vin Scully now…

Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod Was Framed 

Most of us are pretty sure that Alex Rodriguez wasn’t framed and that he probably had this coming at some point, karma and all. But what if this was all an elaborate setup like we see on the fifty gajillion crime shows on television? Here we go: baseball Commissioner Allan Huber Selig is fed up with Rodriguez’s great play and his ability to serenade a mirror. The last straw is Rodriguez stealing Selig’s supermodel wife away from him because she isn’t fond of Wisconsin as a whole. Selig plots to get A-Rod banned from the game that he loves. He starts by getting the media to believe that Rodriguez is fake and the least genuine person you have ever met. After that seed is placed, he uses water torture to get A-Rod to admit to steroid use during his time with the Texas Rangers. When that doesn’t get him to retire, Selig hatches his grand finale. He hires a comedic actor to play Tony Bosch. I’m picturing someone with range like Dom DeLuise. At first no one believes this Bosch character, but then Selig schedules a 60 Minutes interview for Bosch and himself the day after having Rodriguez suspended for the 2014 season. In the interview, “Bosch” pulls off a great performance and have people actually believing that A-Rod was a big time substance abuser.  Selig  makes an appearance as well and makes it sound like Rodriguez is the worst person he has ever meet, just because the supermodel doesn’t find six different kinds of cheese fascinating. Selig even pays off A-Rod’s lawyer to be even shadier than he usually is, so now everyone thinks Alex is worse than Hitler. Of course this means a sleuth detective needs to get on the case and try to clear A-Rod’s good name. What is Monk up to these days?

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Baseball Celebrates First Cyborg Player

It was easy to wonder why Chris Davis had such a breakout season in 2013. For years Davis was a mild mannered, free-swinging giant of a man that could crush the ball whenever he wasn’t helping out the breeze around the ballpark. What looked to be hard work and better plate discipline turns out to be that the ‘Real’ Chris Davis died a few years ago and Cyborg Davis took his place. Half-man, half-machine, Davis is now a power hitting threat with no real emotion at the plate. Machines aren’t perfect, which explains the 199 strikeouts, and he sometimes needs oiled when out on defense. Since baseball rules say nothing about Cyborg’s being against the rules, Davis will be allowed to play again in 2014 with opposing pitchers now knowing his weakness against the knuckle-ball and bad accents. He’s also playing for the perfect manager, Buck Showalter, who is also part robot. Expect the Orioles expenses to go up this year, as they have to add WD-40 to their team rider.  Time will only tell is Davis ends up taking his real name, F630Z.

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Wilson Gets Off-Season Job 

Years and years ago, most baseball players had to get a job in the off-season. Back then players didn’t get paid as much so they needed some extra scratch to get them through the entire year. Lou Brock operated a flower shop. Paul Splittorff used to work in a dairy. Davey Lopes was a teacher. Nowadays this doesn’t happen as much, but it didn’t stop Brian Wilson from working kid’s birthday parties as a clown. It really isn’t hard to picture Wilson putting on a rubber red nose and the big floppy shoes. Actually, he’s been close before-

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Granted, that’s a bit more “selling men’s aftershave” than “clown for kid’s birthday party”, but you can tell he loves dressing up. I’m sure the kids would love the crazy baseball player who can tell them not only about pitching in the World Series but taking Big Foot to an awards show as well-

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Kids will love him, dammit! If anything, this gives Brian something to fall back on once his arm finally falls off and the beard just doesn’t amuse us anymore. Now, he needs to see just how many people he can get into his car at once…

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Hunting With Neddy 

It really wouldn’t be a successful off-season unless you get to go hunting with Royals manager Ned Yost. Neddaniel normally goes with pal Jeff Foxworthy, but I tend to think I would run him off. I can only imagine that Yost is a better hunter than baseball manager, so I could learn a thing or two while out in the rough with Yosty. For one, he only has focus on one main thing instead of a bunch of small things. You also wouldn’t need to bunt while in the wilderness. I also wouldn’t have to talk baseball with him, which will save me from losing my mind. Just focus on the hunting and we can be simpatico. Even better, Neddy wouldn’t have to deal with the media.  Nope, the only issue would be him naming the deer as they frolic by. I will have a hard time keeping my trap shut when he refers to a deer as ‘Wil Myers’. On the plus side of that, I would look forward to shooting the deer named ‘Frenchy’. Good to see Yost spends his off-season not thinking about baseball. It’s not like there is any pressure on this upcoming season or anything. On second thought, the best part of this trip might be if I just pull a ‘Dick Cheney’. It wouldn’t be the first time Dale Sveum was asked to step in for ‘The Man They Call Yost’.

Streaker  Photo by Rick Giase

Okay baseball, time to come back. I’m already having dreams of doing bad things to Ned Yost. That’s a sign that I need a distraction. How about you come back here in a few weeks and we can discuss how everyone is in ‘The best shape of his life’. Or how Carl Pavano will get hurt this year. Or how Luke Hochevar is ‘just about to turn the corner’. Baseball, you are my sanity…

Moose’s Warning Track(s)

Mike Moustakas,  George Brett

Dayton Moore strikes again this off-season, pulling off a trade of role players today with the acquisition of Danny Valencia from Baltimore for outfielder David Lough. On first glance, it looks as if Moore traded a player who didn’t really fit into the Royals plans in 2014, and turned him around for a guy who could be a backup infielder. But it goes a bit deeper than that.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Baltimore Orioles

Valencia was once a prospect for the Minnesota Twins back in the day, but it didn’t take long for him to wear out his welcome. The Twins, after figuring out that Trevor Plouffe(PLOUFFE) could put up even better numbers than Valencia, traded Danny to Boston in August of 2012. Valencia was then traded to Baltimore just a few months later, where Buck Showalter figured out that he was a better role player than a regular. In fact, throughout his career, Valencia has struggled against righties but flat out massacred lefties:

Split            G GS  PA  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
vs RHP as RHB      31  68     64 13  0  1  4  10  0  0  4 18 .203 .250 .422  .672 27   3   0  0  0   0   0  .214    51    91
vs LHP as RHB      43 102     97 36 14  0  4  13  0  2  4 15 .371 .392 .639 1.031 62   2   0  0  1   0   1  .405   133   175
vs LH Starter   30 30 116 111 15 39 14  0  5  14  0  1  4 20 .351 .371 .613  .983 68   2   0  0  1   0   1  .391   122   172
vs RH Starter   22 11  54  50  5 10  0  1  3   9  0  1  4 13 .200 .259 .420  .679 21   3   0  0  0   0   0  .206    53    88

When used in the proper context, Valencia’s value shot way up. In fact, this would probably be why the Royals were so interested in him.

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Mike Moustakas struggled in 2013. Like, “Jeff Francoeur is batting better than me” struggles. Moose’s first half last year was downright putrid. After coming off of a pretty good sophomore year in 2012, things seemed to be looking up for Moustakas. Sure, he suffered through a knee injury late that year, but he was healed and looked to grow on 2012. Instead, the bottom fell out. Every know and then we would see a glimmer of the Moustakas we thought he could be, but then he would fall back into another slump. He hit so many pop-ups last year that I started making up distance totals of all of them to determine just how much distance was accumulated and if it would wrap around ‘The K’. To make matters worse, Moose never got the hang of it against lefties:

Split             G  GS  PA  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
vs RHP as LHB       128 396    365 89 22  0 10  32  2  2 23 60 .244 .295 .386 .682 141  11   5  0  3   1   1  .265   109    83
vs LHP as LHB        66 118    107 21  4  0  2  10  0  2  9 23 .196 .256 .290 .546  31   2   0  1  1   0   0  .229    69    70
vs LH Starter    34  24 109 104  3 20  2  0  1   8  1  2  4 20 .192 .220 .240 .461  25   3   0  0  1   0   0  .226    43    30
vs RH Starter   102 102 405 368 39 90 24  0 11  34  1  2 28 63 .245 .304 .399 .704 147  10   5  1  3   1   1  .266   116    96

To put it bluntly, Moustakas stunk in 2013, and it only seemed apparent that the long leash the team gave him last season wouldn’t carry over to 2014. It only seemed to make sense to give him some competition.

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That would be where Valencia slides in. Moose can’t hit lefties. Valencia can’t seem to hit righties. Literally, this is a perfect platoon, and there is a good chance that is what will happen. But this is also a wake up call to Moose. Moustakas up to this point has probably been given the benefit of the doubt thanks to him being a first round draft pick. Most teams, and especially the Royals, give their top draft picks a longer leash than a normal pick. The Royals were also in a position to where they weren’t winning, so taking your time with letting a player grow wasn’t a problem. But the Royals are now in a position where they can be a contender, which means they can’t afford to have a third baseman that has an OPS of .651. So this trade is what you think it is; a message to Moose that if he falters next year, they already have his replacement handy. Will there be a battle for the position in Spring Training? Possible. If I had to guess though, it is Mike’s job to lose. Unless he just downright stinks up the joint come spring, I would bet he is in the starting lineup come Opening Day. The Royals are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. But if he struggles like he did this past season, Valencia can step in.

David Lough

So what about David Lough? Well, there was a good chance that Lough wasn’t in the Royals plans in 2014. The outfield is set with Gordon, Cain and Aoki, and the Royals like having Jarrod Dyson on the bench.  Lough is out of options, and doesn’t have the power bat that Justin Maxwell possesses. So with that in mind, it made sense for Dayton Moore to see what Lough’s value was and see if he could swing a deal to bring someone in that would help the team more in 2014. With that, Dayton accomplished his goal. Look, I like Lough. I think he would be a great fourth outfielder, and he showed last year that he can play all over the outfield and was a good spot starter. But he will be 28 next month and most guys who don’t see regular playing time in the majors until late in their 20’s don’t have great careers. In all honesty, there is a good chance 2013 will be his peak. Even if not, the Royals had no spot for him, and Baltimore had a need. I hope Lough gets a chance to play quite a bit for the O’s, and I’ll be rooting for him. It’s sad to see him go, but baseball wise it makes sense.

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It’s hard for me to say this, but Moore has pulled off another good trade. This off-season he has realized how to recognize the strengths the Royals have and trade from that to pick up pieces for next year’s team. Valencia should be a solid bat off the bench, and a probable starter at third base against southpaws. The real value in the trade will be determined on how Moustakas reacts to a little bit of competition. If it causes him to step up his game, it is a win-win. Moose will have earned his keep at third while having Valencia be a solid bat with some pop. If Moose continues to struggle, the Royals at least have a guy who can fill the role and not be completely lost. But I have a feeling if Valencia accumulates more than 450 at bats, we have a problem. Time will tell, but looking at this deal right now I only see the Royals getting stronger. One more solid starter( maybe a #2) and this team can be a serious playoff contender. Work still needs to be done, Dayton, but things are looking up.

2013 Predictions That Will Probably Be Wrong By June

openind day 13Spring Training has started and before you know the 2013 baseball season will be underway. Spring might be the best time for most teams, as everyone is filled with hope and think their team could be THE team. Yes, even some Houston Astros fans. Or not. Hope springs eternal and Spring gives team eternal hope, even when they maybe should be more realistic. With the season only six weeks away, I will go ahead and try to guess how the season will unfold. Just remember when June rolls around to not point out my bad predictions(or bad guesses, however you want to word it) and realize that very few so called “experts” can predict what will happen. That’s part of what makes baseball so great. So without further ado, here are my division predictions for 2013.

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AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

1.Tampa Bay

2.Toronto

3. New York

4. Baltimore

5. Boston

This might be the hardest division to handicap. I literally could rotate most of these teams in any slot and wouldn’t really argue too much with the results. Tampa almost seems like the safe bet, since Joe Maddon and company always find a way to win and probably have the best rotation in the American League. I like what Toronto has done this offseason, especially with how their rotation will shape up. Dickey, Morrow, Buerhle, Johnson and Romero? If everyone stays healthy, that could be a lethal round of arms. The Blue Jays could also turn out like the Marlins did last year, so they might be interesting to follow. I hate putting the Yankees in third place, especially since they did nothing major this offseason and in fact lost talent, but they still have some good arms, and they are the Yankees. Unfortunately. Baltimore will slip, as no team can keep up the amount of luck this team had last year(especially in extra innings), but they still won’t be a bad team. Buck Showalter is too good of a manager for that. Boston is at the bottom of my list, but I do think they will be better than they were last year. Farrell will do fine in his first year in Beantown, but this team still doesn’t have the firepower they have had in the past. All in all, this division will be a fun one to watch, and might have the most depth of the bunch.

Royals-Walk-Off-Celebration-436x350AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

1. Detroit

2. Cleveland

3. Chicago

4. Kansas City

5. Minnesota

This pains me more than you will ever know. Let’s start at the top, with the Tigers. Detroit won the Central late last year, after Chicago held the top start for a good chunk of 2012. Not only did the Tigers get to the World Series, they have IMPROVED since last year. Detroit now gets Anibal Sanchez for a full season, Victor Martinez returns from injury and they added Torii Hunter to the team, which will help them offensively, defensively and in the clubhouse. No reason to think the Motor City will be giving up the reigns on the division anytime soon. I’m going ahead and taking Cleveland second, although you should be able to flip flop them and Chicago in all honesty. I really like the moves that the Indians have made this offseason and the biggest acquisition has to be manager Terry Francona. Francona alone makes that team better in 2013 and when you add in Swisher, Bourn, Stubbs, and Bauer, and the offense looks tons better than they did last year. The real question with Cleveland will be their pitching and whether or not they can get Ubaldo Jimenez back to being the guy who made NL batters look dumb. Chicago ran out of gas late last year, but they have a lot of quality young arms and somehow GM Kenny Williams always makes it work. It’s easy to say they will fall a bit this year, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t. I’ve got Kansas City sitting in fourth place and I will go into more detail obviously when the season gets closer. To shorten up my thoughts, the Royals have a lot of ‘ifs’ going into this year and they are counting on a lot of things that didn’t work in 2012 to work in 2013. That is really expecting some major changes, when not as much has changed with this team as they have people thinking. Just saying, you might want to hold off on purchasing those playoff tickets, my Royal Blue brethren. Minnesota takes up the bottom of the league, but I have to believe they will be better than they were last year. If the Twins play this year like they did last year, I think Ron Gardenhire might blow a gasket and up and quit before the season is over. A part of me is leery to count out the Twinkies. They are THAT team, the one who never truly goes away. Just ask the Royals about that. I know everyone thinks the Central is the worse division in baseball, and they might be right. But it is already way better than it was this time last year.

2013 al westAMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

1. Los Angeles

2. Texas

3. Oakland

4. Seattle

5. Houston

Another good division, with a number of teams that could contend for a playoff spot. It is also a division with one extra team this year, as the Astros move over to the American League and join the West. Granted, they were kind of held at gunpoint to move and really didn’t want to, but they are there now and a number of NL Central teams are a lot sadder because of it. Let’s start at the top with the Angels. I’ve got them in first, and will freely admit that it is partially because they are my second favorite team. Year two of the Pujols Project should help the team way more than last year, and they’ve even added that Hamilton guy to take some of the load off of Albert’s back. Oh yeah, and there is that Trout guy as well. I’ve heard he’s pretty good. Texas is slotted in second, but they just as easily could get first. One wonders if their early exit out of the playoffs will motivate them or let it linger as the season begins. Even though the Rangers have lost some key players(Hamilton, Young, etc.) I love the young talent that is shooting up the pipeline for the Rangers and think they will be just as lethal as they were before. Oakland is in third, but it is hard to bet against Bob Melvin and company. This team has no stars, and yet had over 90 wins last year. They still have the good pitching that guided them to the playoffs last year and an offense that buys into what Melvin and Billy Beane are selling. If the team makes a push at the traded deadline they could once again win the West in 2013. The Mariners are booked for fourth place and I want to like this team more. I think they have a some really good young talent, but I totally don’t know what they are thinking with the offseason acquisitions. I mean, does the team really need 253 outfielders/first basemen/designated hitters? They do realize that those three areas only cover 5 spots in the order, right? It just doesn’t make much sense. Lastly, the Astros will take up the cellar of the West. This team is completely rebuilding, and as much as they should be credited for it, it will make for a very, very long season in Houston. Good luck, Astros fans. You are going to need it.

NL-East-Batting-Practice-featuredNATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

1. Washington

2. Atlanta

3. New York

4. Philadelphia

5. Miami

The top of this division will probably have a couple of the best teams in the league. They also might have a couple of the worst. Washington looks to once again see October baseball this year, as they have both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper for a full season. This is just a really, really good team with lots of great talent and depth. Yes, depth will win you games, especially come postseason. Atlanta looks at a possible second place finish, although anyone who thinks they win the division might not be too far off. Great pitching, great offense, great defense and this team will probably be a wild card team when it is all said and done. The Upton boys will get a full season playing together and even with the loss of Chipper Jones might not slow down Atlanta as much as originally thought. I’ve got the Mets in third place, as this team seems on the verge of some really good seasons. It is a young bunch, but one with some great up and comers. I think they will be way better than anyone gives them credit for. Philadelphia takes up fourth place, and I am aware the team still has Halladay and Lee. But they also have a group of aging veterans(Utley, Rollins, Howard) and players who are bloated and overpaid(Delmon Young, Yuniesky Betancourt). Phillies fans, a lull is in your future. Embrace it. As much doom and gloom as the Phillies seem to be, the Marlins are in worse shape. Another rebuilding year. A rookie manager. A bunch of new, young faces. Don’t embrace this, Marlins fans. You deserve better.

pittsbNATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

1. Cincinnati

2. St. Louis

3. Pittsburgh

4. Milwaukee

5. Chicago

The National League Central hosts one less team this year. Unfortunately for the other five teams, they won’t have the Astros to feast on anymore. Let’s start with the Reds, who sit atop the perch of this division. Dusty Baker’s team was right on the verge of getting to the NLCS this past fall, but those pesky Giants took that dream away from them. It was kind of San Francisco’s thing this past year. Back to the Reds. They are basically bringing back the same team, and with it probably the NL Central title. If I had to find something that worried me, it would be the switch of Aroldis Chapman to the rotation. I don’t get it, but we’ll see how it goes. The Cardinals will make it interesting for Cincy, but the loss of Chris Carpenter for the year could cause the Cards to go out and pick up another starter, although using someone like Shelby Miller might do just as good a job. I totally think this is the year Pittsburgh FINALLY gets a winning season, even if it is just a few games over .500. The baseball Gods have to be looking out for those faithful fans that have stuck by that team for so long. With Andrew McCutchen leading the charge, I see good things in the Pirates future. Milwaukee takes up fourth, as it seems the team just doesn’t have the pitching to keep it in the hunt. Rounding out the division is the Cubs. Now, I completely think Chicago will be better this year, especially with the great offseason they had acquiring pitching. But the team is still fairly young and will go through some growing pains. Stay strong, Cubs fans. Your time is coming soon.

San Francisco Giants v Colorado RockiesNATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

1. San Francisco

2. Los Angeles

3. Arizona

4. San Diego

5. Colorado

What a hot mess this division could turn out to be? Almost any of the last four teams could collapse and make for a rough season for their ballclubs. Or they could go on a hot streak and give San Francisco a run for their money. The Giants are not only the defending World Champions, but with their team basically kept in tact, could be a favorite for another world title. Their pitching alone should have the other teams in their league worried. The Dodgers have the chance of giving their rivals a run for their money, but it could go the other way. A lot of money spent does not guarantee one a playoff spot. Ask the Red Sox about that. There is a part of me that can’t wait until Zack Greinke implodes in LA, but how soon that happens is anyone’s guess. There is a good chance it won’t be this year. The Dodgers could be interesting to follow, just to see how the team chemistry is in that clubhouse. Also in the conversation is Arizona, but they also had a major upheaval. The team got rid of their best player, and got rid of any players who don’t live by manager Kirk Gibson’s hard nosed style. This will either be a team who is fun to watch, or one that has to scrap to score runs. San Diego will get a reprieve again from last place, mainly because Bud Black is really good at his managing job. I hope the Padres are paying attention, since that guy deserves a more competitive team. Last once again looks like it will be Colorado. Some changes have been made, and one is curious to see how first year manager Walt Weiss does. I have to believe that if Troy Tulowitzki is healthy, this could be a much better team. But like all things in this game, that is a big if.

So there you go, my predictions for 2013. I’m sure I will be forced to eat my words within a few months and you’ll want to point out where I was wrong. You’re right; I should have just gone with a Cubs/Red Sox World Series! I’m sure Major League baseball and the Fox Network would just love that. Now….LET’S PLAY BALL!

Cheering for the New Kids

If one thing stands out when it comes to the teams looking to make the playoffs this season, it would be a new batch of younger, hungry teams look to be October bound. There is nothing like rooting for the underdog come the playoffs, hoping they can knock off a team like the Yankees. Three teams stand out to me this year as teams to root for in the postseason.

1) Washington Nationals

No one is surprised that the Nationals are making their first trip to the playoffs. What is a surprise is that it came this early. Washington is a team that did it the right way. Most of the Nationals talent are homegrown, from Stephen Strasburg to Bryce Harper. Sprinkle in some veteran pitchers(Gio Gonzalez), some cast-offs(Mike Morse), and one big free agent signing(Jayson Werth) and you have a team that could be a regular in the playoffs for years to come. Credit Gm Mike Rizzo for piecing this team together, and credit Manager Davey Johnson for getting them to gel. They will be interesting to follow, since Strasburg has been shut down, but this is a talented team that can go a ways just on their pitching. My guess? A NLCS appearance, before being knocked off in six or seven games.

2)Oakland A’s

In my On Deck Circle last week(which is weekly on kvoe.com), I discussed just how this team has been winning. If ever there was a team of nobodies that are surprising baseball, this is the team. Not only that, they are doing it in a rough division, which has the Rangers, Angels and Felix Hernandez. The fact they have gotten this far should be a sign of the great work of Billy Beane and Bob Melvin. But it is also a sign of what young talent can do, especially young pitching. Don’t expect any name players, or any stars to step up and dominate for this team. The concept of team is vital for this ragtag bunch, and so far it is guiding them to October. The A’s will probably be one of the wild card teams, so it’s a 50/50 shot of where they will end up. Either one and done, or going on to the ALDS. I wouldn’t expect them to go much farther, but so far they aren’t following convention. So if they go farther, don’t be surprised.

3) Baltimore Orioles

Now, here is a team I can get behind! The Baltimore Orioles are having one of those miracle seasons that are just amazing to watch. This is another team built around youth and veterans, and the mixture is working so far. Buck Showalter continues his career trajectory of turning every team around that he touches, as the Orioles are poised to make their first playoff appearance since 1997. There are stars on this team, like Adam Jones, and there are some great young talent like Manny Machado. Throw in some Jim Thome, a dash of Mark Reynolds, and a pinch of Nate McLouth and you have a recipe for a resurgent Baltimore franchise. This team has gotten by this year thanks to great relief work, clutch hitting and late inning heroics. Those are actually all great qualities for a playoff team, so don’t be surprised if this team makes a big run. World Series, possibly? Possibly. Yes, it seems crazy, but there is no reason to doubt them now. This team has been winning when they need to all year, so another rush of wins isn’t out of the question. If not, it is still a great story to follow. What was once a storied franchise could now make a case to add to their legacy…and we gain by watching it!

So there you go. Three teams to watch in the playoffs this year that can fill your heart with shock and awe. October can be a kooky month, so don’t be surprised if one of these teams makes a late appearance. Before you snicker and say no, who had the St. Louis Cardinals as the World Series Champions a week before the end of the 2011 season? Didn’t think so. So get ready folks, the playoffs are coming and don’t expect to see it coming. Trust me, it will be worth it.

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