From the Bleachers: Walk-Off Thoughts

kc1

It’s never a dull week in Major League Baseball and last week was ready to bring the excitement. With that said, lets start with an exciting finish for the Rockies on Sunday…

kc2

The Walk-Off Cycle

There is nothing quite as exciting in baseball like a walk-off home run, but a walk-off to complete hitting for the cycle does take it up a notch. That is exactly what Nolan Arenado of Colorado did on Sunday, the first Rockie to do that since his teammate Carlos Gonzalez in 2010.

It was a great moment for a Rockies team that currently sits in first place in the National League West and has been one of the bigger surprises so far this year. Even better was how it showcased one of the best players in the game in Arenado. Arenado is having another stellar season, near the top of the league in RBI’s, Slugging Percentage, Win Probability Added and fWAR. Arenado is still only 26 years old and while continuing to get more attention year by year, is still flying under the radar a bit while playing in Colorado. Hopefully this shines a bit of a brighter light on one of the best players in the game. Speaking of flying under the radar…

kc3

Good as Goldy

There might not be a more underrated player in baseball than Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt continues to go out, put up MVP type numbers while not getting the media attention that a Rizzo or Harper normally gets. So far in 2017, Goldy is in the top ten of the NL in RBI’s, Walk rate, Slugging Percentage, wOBA, wRC+ while leading the league in On-Base Percentage and fWAR. Oh, and he sits in 11th place in home runs. Goldschmidt is not only a great hitter, but is above-average defensively and holds his own on the base paths as well. In many ways, he reminds me of former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, and we all know how his career turned out. Playing in Arizona seems to keep him out of the limelight but I also feel like his personality does as well. He appears to be very low-key with a workman’s attitude when it comes to taking care of business and doing what needs to get done on the field. The glitz and glamour aren’t there for Paul, but mark my words, barring an injury, he will continue to be in the MVP discussion when September rolls around later this year.

kc4

Elite Company

While I have long been in the camp of #TeamTrout when it comes to the Harper/Trout discussion, it’s hard not to notice what Bryce is doing this year that feels very similar to 2015. In fact, at this pace Harper could be joining some elite company:

Back at the end of 2015, I really broke down how big of a season that Harper had just compiled. Here is an excerpt from my year-end awards column:

The one stat that blows my mind more than any is his OPS+, a staggering 195(remember, 100 is average). His season is the 71st best in baseball history, which seems great but not out of this world stupendous. If you take out all the players in the ‘Dead-Ball Era’, Harper’s season is the 50th best of all-time. I decided to go a step further, going off of seasons since 1950. Taking that into effect, Harper had the 24th best season by a batter in the last 65 years!

The interesting part is that Harper currently doesn’t lead in any of the major offensive categories and teammate Ryan Zimmerman is in the lead when it comes to slugging, wOBA and wRC+ in the NL. There is no doubt that Harper is a legitimate star and a key part of Washington’s team…when he is healthy. There was quite a bit of scuttlebutt that he spent most of last year hurt and if that was the case, it is easy to see why his numbers took such a dive in 2016. I’m interested to see where his numbers are in a couple of months, as the season wears on and the Nationals make a run at another playoff appearance.

kc5

The Weight of it All

I am always on the lookout for a new stat to dive into and figure out how it breaks down a players value. To me, there is never enough learning I can do. Recently, I’ve been enamored with wOBA, or Weighted On-Base Average. Here is a bit lengthy description of its definition:

wOBA is based on a simple concept: Not all hits are created equal. Batting average assumes that they are. On-base percentage does too, but does one better by including other ways of reaching base such as walking or being hit by a pitch. Slugging percentage weights hits, but not accurately (Is a double worth twice as much as a single? In short, no) and again ignores other ways of reaching base. On-base plus slugging (OPS) does attempt to combine the different aspects of hitting into one metric, but it assumes that one percentage point of SLG is the same as that of OBP. In reality, a handy estimate is that OBP is around twice as valuable than SLG (the exact ratio is x1.8). In short, OPS is asking the right question, but we can arrive at a more accurate number quite easily.

Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. While batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage fall short in accuracy and scope, wOBA measures and captures offensive value more accurately and comprehensively.

Now, for some that is going to feel a bit heavy. But here is the cliff notes version: wOBA entails a hitters entire offensive value. The one thing it does not do is take into the park effects, so a hitter that plays his home games in a hitter friendly park would probably see his wOBA a bit more inflated. Keeping that in mind, here are the top five hitters in baseball according to wOBA:

  1. Aaron Judge-.468
  2. Ryan Zimmerman-.433
  3. Paul Goldschmidt-.430
  4. Bryce Harper-.422
  5. Joey Votto-.420

There is no shock here, as a power hitter like Judge will get a higher number due to the amount of extra base hits he accumulates, plus he hits in a hitters park, Yankee Stadium. I do find it interesting that four of the top five hitters in on-base percentage this year are on this list, with Buster Posey the lone player left off, coming in at number seven. It shows getting on base in general is a plus, no matter which way it happens (hit, walk, hit by pitch, etc.). It does value extra base hits more, which makes sense to me. The more extra base hits, the more runs scored and more to the point, the more opportunities to score runs. A single wouldn’t hold the same weight as a home run, as we as fans don’t even view them the same way. It would only make sense to make a home run worth more than every other hit, with a triple and double following a bit behind. If a team is looking for someone who creates runs, a stat like wOBA is a good place to start. It obviously leans more toward the power hitters, but the overall context of getting on base helps just as much in the long run. I will probably still tend to lean more toward a stat like wRC+ for overall value, but wOBA can be a nice side item. So use it, get acquainted with it and hope your team has a number of guys near the top of the leaderboard. Unfortunately, my Royals don’t have anyone until the 51st spot, as Eric Hosmer has a .357 wOBA. Alas, hitting in Kauffman Stadium will do that to a hitter.

kc6

Putting the Fun Back in the Game

Finally, I was elated with the news last week that Major League Baseball is allowing the players to have a ‘Player’s Weekend’ on August 25-27. What will this entail?

 This season from August 25 to August 27, the MLB will allow players to wear nicknames on the back of their jerseys for the one-of-a-kind Players’ Weekend.

Players will be limited to one nickname on their jerseys, and the names cannot be inappropriate or offensive. The personalized patches — which will feature names of inspirations — are to be used as a tribute to an individual or organization instrumental in each player’s development.

To say I like this idea is an understatement. In truth, I LOVE the idea. One of the big issues I have had with the hierarchy of baseball has been the lack of flavor allowed to be shown on the field. To me, this stifles the individuality of the players and has made the game appear not as fun to fans who are just casual bystanders of the game we love. Allowing guys to not only put a nickname on the back of their jerseys but also personalized patches really will let them have a bit more fun and allow the fans to appreciate these players even more. I have long felt like MLB does NOT market their players well and wish they would allow a bit more flair into the game. You see a lot of it during the World Baseball Classic, but there is more ground that can be covered. How about make this every weekend instead of just one weekend out of the year? Maybe let the players celebrate after doing something exciting, rather than expecting retaliation if another guy feels like they are being ‘showed up’? The sooner the game embraces the fun aspects of the sport, the sooner fewer people say this game is ‘boring’. Now, if we can just get rid of those damn unwritten rules…

 

An Angelic Sweep

kc1

We all knew the Kansas City Royals wouldn’t stay down all season long. It was just a matter of time until the team would rattle off a nice little winning streak to bring them up to .500 ball, and the series against the Los Angeles Angels ended up doing the trick. The funny thing is, it’s not like the Royals offense awoke from their slumber and became the 1927 New York Yankees; in fact, Kansas City only scored 5 runs in this series. But what they did get was some outstanding starting pitching.

Angels Royals Baseball

While most of us expected the starting pitching to be better in 2017, so far it has outperformed even the most optimistic of us Royals fans, and the trio of Danny Duffy, Nate Karns and Ian Kennedy were spectacular this weekend. Duffy threw 7 innings of one run ball on Friday night (Game Score of 71), Karns threw 6 innings and gave up just one run (Game Score of 61) and Kennedy threw the real jewel, 8 innings of shutout baseball (Game Score of 86) on Sunday. The Royals starting pitching lead the American League in ERA (2.31), FIP (3.15), Home Runs per 9 (0.49) and tied for the best WAR (1.6 with Baltimore). Now, none of us expect them to be this stellar for the entirety of the season, but even if they keep things above league average, most of us would consider that a win for this ballclub. But as good as the starting pitching has been, the team won’t be allowed to lean on it all year, as at some point the Royals offense is going to have to produce.

Angels Royals Baseball

If you are a Royals fan, you have seen this song and dance before from the offense. For whatever reason, the Royals offense struggles in the early months of each season, or they at least have for a number of years now. Remember when Kansas City had to replace their hitting coaches two May’s in a row a few years back? This Royals offense is fully capable of being above league average (or at least AT league average) but they are also a streaky bunch. So far in 2017, the Royals are last in on-base percentage and next to last in runs, RBI’s, wRC+ and WAR, with only the woeful Blue Jays worst than them. Probably the most surprising is the slugging percentage, which is also next to last in the American League, despite being 8th in the AL in home runs hit. The Royals are hitting home runs, but very little else. In fact, what a perfect time for ‘Fun with Numbers’:

Mike Moustakas-.683 slugging percentage

Lorenzo Cain-.490 on-base percentage, 21.6% walk rate

Brandon Moss- 3 hits (2 home runs) and 6 walks

Eric Hosmer-62.2% ground ball rate

Moustakas seems to have turned a corner, as a hitter who has figured out what pitches he can drive and which ones to go with. Moose is pulling the ball 46.9% of the time and while the preference is a hitter who can use all parts of the field, so far his pull heavy results are turning up positive. On the other side of the spectrum is Hosmer. It feels like I have beaten that horse to death, so the only thing I will mention is that Craig Brown of Baseball Prospectus Kansas City wrote a great piece on Hos and his struggles, which pretty much sums up how I feel about him, just without all the cursing.

kc4

Once again, the defense was front and center this past weekend. Top of the list is this great grab by Raul Mondesi:

Lorenzo Cain made a great grab on Easter Sunday:

and even Eric Hosmer got into the action:

While the starting pitching has been spectacular, this Royals team is built around their defense and they continue to excel. There has been some speculation on how long the Royals will go with Mondesi at second base, but a big part of why he got the job was because of his defense. As long as he makes big plays to help the pitching, he will get the chance to improve on his hitting.

kc5

While the Angels aren’t world-beaters, they can be a dangerous offensive team and the Royals held them in check. A couple of notes to think about this week as the Giants return to Kansas City for the first time since the 2014 World Series (yes, Bumgarner is scheduled to pitch on Wednesday; boo accordingly). One, Joakim Soria has been lights out, not allowing a run in 6 innings of work so far in 2017; look for his role to increase moving forward. Two, Buster Posey was activated today and will be in the lineup for the Giants. Three, let’s see how the Royals do with runners in scoring position. So far this year, they are hitting .158 with RISP and .065 with RISP and 2 outs. Kansas City needs to improve on that if they want to stay above .500. With the temperatures picking up, it’s time for the Royals bats to start heating up as well. If not, the ground they made up this week was all for naught.

 

 

Rooting Problems

kc1

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.

kc2

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%

kc3

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%

kc4

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%

kc5

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%

kc7

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%

kc9

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%

kc10

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%

kc11

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%

kc12

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%

kc14

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!

 

 

 

Salvy Power

kc1

Salvador Perez holds many roles for the Kansas City Royals; clubhouse leader, Lorenzo Cain’s BFF, backup broadcaster, leader of the pitching staff and middle of the order power threat. In 2015, Perez would hit 21 home runs, a new high for a Kansas City catcher. Despite this career high, Salvy’s other numbers weren’t as impressive. Walk rate was the lowest of his career. Strike out rate was the highest it had ever been. Hard hit rate was the lowest it had been since his rookie campaign. Line drive rate was one of the lowest of his career. Most importantly, his wRC+(which weighs runs per plate appearance while being park and league adjusted) was the lowest of his career, at 87(league average is 100). It really appeared as if Perez’s numbers were already starting to skew downwards, which was not good for a player coming into his age 26 season. Most Royals fans are well aware of Salvy’s lack of patience at the plate and most don’t expect him to walk much, but would prefer he became a bit more selective at the plate. All this information makes it even more impressive when discussing what Perez has done so far in 2016.

kc2

Over the last month Perez has been the hottest hitting Royal, putting up a line of .411/.436/.689 with 6 home runs, 14 RBI’s and an OPS of 1.125. Perez, a notorious free-swinger, is still swinging at a lot of pitches(in fact he is pretty much on par with his totals for the last two seasons), but there is a slight change in his approach. Last year, Perez was making contact with pitches outside the strike zone about 73% of the time; so far this year he is at 62%. Meanwhile, pitches inside the strike zone he is actually making a bit more contact, up to 91.4% from 90.7%. This tells me that he is laying off the pitches outside the strike zone a bit more this year while focusing more of his attention on pitches within the meat of the plate. The funny part to all of this is that Salvy’s strikeout rate is up by quite a bit(22%, up from 14% last year) while his contact rate is also down, to 78% from last year’s 83%. You would think that a guy who is making less contact would not see his numbers go up, but they have. In fact, Salvy has been a beast in the power department so far this year.

kc3

The power numbers are where Perez is really stepping up his game. His hard hit rate is significantly up this year, 36% from last year’s 24%, and his fly ball rate has also soared, 48.8% from 37.4%. Of course because of this, Perez has a higher home run to fly ball ratio(14.3%) and a lower ground ball rate(26.7% from last year’s 41.9%). To me this all screams of someone driving the ball much more and realizing he can do more damage on pitches closer to the middle of the plate. This is even more evident when looking at Salvy’s exit velocity:

chart

As you can tell, outside of a brief dip the week of April 24th, Perez has been not only above league average, but even close to averaging 100MPH on hit balls for a few weeks. Now, while his approach with pitches outside the zone has changed, he is still a very pull-heavy hitter, as he is pulling the ball the most he has since 2014. Slugging, On Base Plus Slugging, Isolated Power and Weighted on Base Average have all gone way up so far in 2016. Hell, Salvy’s BAbip over the last month is a ridiculous .508! These numbers speak of a player on track for a career year.

Salvador Perez
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Speaking of career highs, at his current rate, Perez is on track to have career highs in doubles, home runs, RBI’s, batting average, on base percentage, slugging and with a little luck, possibly even WAR. He also already has 11 walks this year, only 6 behind last year’s total. His career high for free passes is 24, which I’m not quite ready to say he could topple, although if he keeps hitting like this he will surely see his intentional walks go up. I know there was an increased effort this year for Perez to be more patient at the plate. To me, being more patient at the plate doesn’t always mean more walks as much as waiting for a good pitch to hit and drive. I’ve long felt that Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum has been teaching these guys to look for a pitch to drive and because of that we have seen higher power numbers from Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. I’m starting to think the same philosophy is being soaked up from Salvy and it is paying off in spades.

kc5

So do I believe he will be able to keep this up all season? Perez is a very streaky hitter and I would assume at some point we are going to start seeing a lull in his numbers. That being said, I think even with that he can still keep himself with numbers higher than what he accumulated last year. Is he going to hit .300 all year? Probably not, but the power numbers could be here to stay. The bigger concern for Kansas City is to keep Perez rested and make sure they are not over-working him behind the plate. The Royals have a solid backup receiver in Drew Butera and with Kendrys Morales slumping much of this season, it seems like a solid idea to give Salvy’s knees a rest and start him at DH occasionally. More than anything, Kansas City needs Salvy to stay healthy the rest of the year for them to stay in contention in the American League Central. Perez has long been regarded as one of the top defensive catchers in the game and rightfully so; but now, outside of a Jonathan Lucroy or Buster Posey, he is making the case as one of the best all-around catchers, period. Perez is as special as they get and I really hope Kansas City fans are savoring what they have with him. If he keeps this up, the hardware won’t be stopping anytime soon.

 

Guesstimate: My 2016 MLB Predictions

kc1

Here we are: we are in the section of Spring Training where you can see the upcoming regular season on the horizon, but it is still far enough away that you just wish you could fast forward to games that actually count. Luckily, this also means we are close enough to camps heading north that we have a decent idea of how most team’s rosters will look. Every year I take my stab at how I think the season unfold, mostly with comical results. Here is my 2014 and 2015 predictions if you are looking for a good laugh(although I did guess fairly well on the playoff teams in 2014). I do want to reiterate one nugget of information that I’ve been preaching about the last few years: predictions are just guesses. This is just simply a fun little exercise I do before the season starts for me to look back on in October and see how far off I was. It is purely fun and that is how it should be taken. So here we go; my guesstimation of the 2016 season!

kc2

American League East

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

Last year I felt like no one AL East team stood out from the rest and any one of those teams could step up and win the division. There is still a feeling of an openness, but with a little more division in the way of talent. The Blue Jays look to be the team to beat, as they are returning a large portion of their division winning team and have a top-notch offense to carry their team. While Boston returns most of their roster that struggled in 2015, there is a belief that there is no way they are as bad this year…especially now that Hanley Ramirez is not in the outfield and they have David Price anchoring the rotation. The Yankees could make a run again, as they have one of the deepest bullpens in baseball. My main issue with them is the aging stars(Beltran, Sabathia, A-Rod, etc.) holding back the rest of the team. Tampa has some great pitching but what will they be able to do offensively? Then there is Baltimore. I want to root for the Orioles to surprise everyone this year, but I’m not for sure it will happen. Sure, Chris Davis is back(which I think is good) but not much has been added to the roster. Pedro Alvarez and Mark Trumbo might add some needed pop, but what will Baltimore lose if/when either plays on defense? Yovanni Gallardo will give the team innings, but how efficient will he be? As you can see, there seems to be more questions than answers with Baltimore, and that scares me.

kc3

American League Central

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

This is always my hardest division to pick, as I am a lifelong Royals fan. Saying that, the last two years I have not picked the Royals to get to the playoffs and both years they made it to the World Series. So why pick them now? In all honesty, I really believe they have the most talent of any team in the division, thus my pick to sit on top of the AL Central. Behind them I see a cat fight for second between the Twins and Indians. I’ve gone back and forth on who should be where, but alas I went with Minny in second and Cleveland third, as I really like(fear?) the talent accumulated in the ‘Twin Cities’. Detroit and Chicago bring up the back of this division in my mind, as Detroit still feels really old to me(even with the acquisitions of  Upton and Zimmermann) and despite Chicago overhauling their offense, they still don’t feel like a playoff caliber team. The interesting part here is that I could easily see a scenario where this division could be a dog fight, with five teams within 5-8 games of each other. Right now though, until someone knocks off the Royals, they have to be the favorites.

kc4

American League West

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

The West should be a fun division this year, if for no other reason than to see if it is competitive or if the Astros and Rangers dominate the division. Houston has to be the favorite this year, as they not only will try to build off their playoff run in ’15, but also will have Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers(once he returns from injury) from day one of the season. I really like what the Rangers management has done with this team and tend to believe they will be a serious contender this year, especially if Yu Darvish is able to return to his old form. Jerry DiPoto has done an admirable job trying to fix the Mariners roster, but it feels like an uphill battle for the team this year, with success more likely in the future. What can you say about the Angels and A’s? I would probably have the Angels in last if not for Mike Trout and his ability to carry this team on his back. But Angel’s management is a mess  and only slightly worse than their farm system. The A’s seem to just be biding time until their next wave of prospects can start infiltrating the major league roster. Oakland might not be as bad as they were last year, but I can’t see them being serious contenders in 2016.

MLB: New York Mets at Cincinnati Reds
(Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY)

National League East

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

Last year was supposed to be the Nationals’ year, as many(myself included) figured they would end up in the World Series. Instead, a late season collapse left them on the outside looking in and costing Matt Williams his job. Now Washington has retooled their roster while adding known players’ manager Dusty Baker to the fold. While Baker is about as old school as they come, players love him and I tend to think he will make a big difference in that locker room this year while losing some of the team’s tension. The Mets will be right on their tail and look to repeat as National League Champions this year. The Mets pitching will take them far, but the offense will be the real deciding factor in New York. Miami has added a new manager(Don Mattingly) and a new hitting coach(Barry Bonds) to shake up a young and talented Miami team. One has to be curious as to how lethal the Marlins could be if they can get a full season out of Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton. Atlanta stocked up on prospects this winter and are left with Freddie Freeman and a cast of other players for the Braves this year. They might not make much noise this season, but the Braves are looking good in the next couple of years. The Phillies? Well, they won’t be very good but a few steps were taken to improve on a dreadful 2015. So there is that.

kc6

National League Central

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

2015 saw the NL Central send three teams to the playoffs. I have to believe that won’t happen two years in a row, which might leave the Cardinals missing the playoffs this year. The Cubs are the early on favorites not only to win the Central, but also to win the World Series. One has to think Chicago will grow on their stellar 2015 and are looking to win their first world championships since 1908. The Pirates will look to be hot on the Cubs heels and it’s hard to argue with the success this team has had the last couple of seasons. My guess is that Pittsburgh will join Chicago in the playoffs comes October. That would leave the Cardinals on the outside looking in, as they lost more than they gained this past offseason and are betting on a number of veterans like Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina to bounce back this year and stay healthy for the Cardinals to be real contenders. That being said, I find it hard to count St. Louis out. The Brewers won’t be horrible but they won’t be great and the Reds from the outside look to have a few good pieces but are multiple players away from being contenders.

kc7

National League West

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

The West could be a lot of fun this summer and I could envision a scenario where the top three teams in the league could be shuffled in any order. My pick is for the Giants to come out on top, as they bolstered their starting pitching with the acquisitions of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and adding Denard Span to help the defense. Throw in their main nucleus of Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Madison Bumgarner, and give them a future Hall of Fame manager(Bruce Bochy), and you have the makings of a division title. Oh, and the Giants win in even years; there is that too. The Dodgers look to be in the discussion as they have Kenta Maeda replace Zack Greinke in the rotation while their best pick up this winter being manager Dave Roberts. The Dodgers will be in the running but chemistry is a big part of their story yet again this year. Arizona went out this offseason and made some good transactions(Greinke) and some head-scratchers(Jean Segura??). How far the Diamondbacks go this year will be determined by how the younger talents like AJ Pollock and Patrick Corbin perform. At this point San Diego and Colorado are afterthoughts. Neither seem to have much direction nor a captain to steer them away from rocky weather. It could be a long season for fans of both.

Awards 

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles
(Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY)

American League

MVP: Manny Machado

Cy Young: Chris Archer

Rookie of the Year: Byron Buxton

kc8

National League

MVP: Giancarlo Stanton

Cy Young: Jacob deGrom

Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

Playoff Teams

Luke Gregerson
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

American League

Toronto, Kansas City, Houston, Texas, Minnesota

kc11

National League

Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, New York

kc12

So there are my guesses on the upcoming 2016 campaign. I look forward to revisiting this come October and laughing about how far off I was. One of the great things about baseball is every spring we make our predictions on how we think things will evolve, yet we rarely guess correctly. I love the fact that they play six months of games to determine who plays in the final month and what happens in April doesn’t always dictate what occurs in October. The season is a grind and much like a good book it will have a ton of twists and turns to question just where your team ends up. There is a reason they play the games; what would be the fun of the season being decided by guesses? The drama of baseball is what keeps bringing us back and keeps us on our toes. I love this damn game and can’t wait to see how this season unfolds. I can promise you this; you won’t see it coming. Play ball!

Outdated and Irrelevant

kc1

Baseball, like any other sport, is a constantly evolving game, one that is a reminder of one’s youth while also parading the youth of today. It is also a game that’s history holds more weight than any other sport, a history that seeps into almost every baseball conversation as the players of today look to stamp their name in the annals of history with the likes of baseball immortals. There is always a former player who will comment on the changes in the game, mostly just fondly remembering the game and how it was in their day. But sometimes a legend steps over the proverbial line in the sand, taking aim at not only the game but individual players who they feel don’t hold up to the standards of yesteday. Goose Gossage went on a tirade on Thursday that will forever change how he is viewed by everyone in and out of baseball, and not in a positive way.

kc2

Let’s start with the interview in question. You can check it out here in all of it’s glory. If you aren’t a fan of salty language you might want to bypass on clicking on the link. Gossage’s main beef was with Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista and more accurately his bat flip in Game 5 of the ALDS:

“Bautista is a f—ing disgrace to the game,” Gossage told ESPN. “He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. [Yoenis] Cespedes, same thing.” 

If you have read this blog before you will know I am not the biggest Bautista fan in the world. Great player, a needed cog in the middle of that Toronto order, but not a great leader for the younger Blue Jays’ players. But to say he is a disgrace to the game is a bit much. All this because of a bat flip? There is an argument to be made that pitchers are allowed to pump a fist here and there and celebrate after getting a big strikeout. The batter’s equivalent is the bat flip, and none were bigger than at that point in the ALDS. I’m sure that Gossage, as a former pitcher, is of the thinking that a batter should never get to celebrate any big play, no matter the circumstance. It’s even worse when you factor in that he is ’embarrassing to all latin players, whoever played before him’. I’m not going to point a finger and say ‘racist’, but it would have been just as easy to say ‘all players who came before him’. Singling out the latin players wasn’t a smart move on Gossage’s part. Luckily, Bautista took the high road on Goose’s comments:

“He’s a great ambassador for the game,” Bautista told ESPN after being informed of Gossage’s comments. “I don’t agree with him. I’m disappointed that he made those comments, but I’m not going to get into it with him. I would never say anything about him, no matter what he said about me. I have too much good stuff to worry about his comments. Today is my first game [of the spring], getting ready for a new season; hopefully, we will whoop some more ass.”

Kudos to Joey Bats for not taking a shot back. Although, it didn’t stop him from getting a bit cheeky:

Bautista 1, Gossage 0. It does appear as if Gossage speaks for a number of old school players who would prefer players not show excitement or to be exuberant whenever they accomplish something big during a game. This is something that needs to change.

kc3

For the longest time baseball has been so tied to tradition that the fun aspect of the sport is sometimes thrown in the corner and not allowed to be a part of the game. This has caused generations of kids to decide to go play other sports, sports that allow more personality from their players and allow them more freedom. Bryce Harper of the Nationals, the reigning NL MVP, has taken baseball to task for just that, claiming baseball is “a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do. I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair.” Harper continued: “If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I’m going to go: ‘Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time.’ That’s what makes the game fun.” In a sport where salaries are larger than anywhere else, it is sad to see young fans gravitate to other sports, when sometimes all it would take is a little leniency in some of the rules. This is especially true for the unwritten rules of baseball, which are mostly nonsensical, out of date and interpreted in different manners from different players. Sometimes it is good to remember that this is a kid’s game, played by adults who get to make a healthy living off of it. Harper is right and old school players like Gossage should want more kids to love baseball the way they do, which means allowing looser rules on celebrations and discarding the majority of baseball’s unwritten rules.

MLB: Florida Marlins at San Francisco Giants
(Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE)

Sorry for the detour; back to Gossage. Goose would go on to complain about the sabermetric community and their affect on baseball:

“It is a joke,” Gossage said. “The game is becoming a freaking joke because of the nerds who are running it. I’ll tell you what has happened, these guys played rotisserie baseball at Harvard or wherever the f— they went, and they thought they figured the f—ing game out. They don’t know s—. A bunch of f—ing nerds running the game. You can’t slide into second base. You can’t take out the f—ing catcher because [Buster] Posey was in the wrong position and they are going to change all the rules. You can’t pitch inside anymore. I’d like to knock some of these f—ers on their ass and see how they would do against pitchers in the old days.”

My first instinct when reading this was to laugh. Yes, that is how serious I took these comments. As someone who loves stats, loves advanced metrics and believes they have just as much of a place on the game as a solid hit and run, I find it comical that Gossage feels he needs to blame “nerds” for ruining the game. Maybe it’s just me, but what advanced metrics gives you is a deeper look at the game, especially when it comes to the true value of a player. What is even more laughable about his comment is that if sabermetrics had been around when he was playing, he would probably be a guy the SABR community would applaud. If you look deeper at his words, it sounds more and more like Goose wished baseball was played more like a game called “Beanball”, where if anyone steps out of line or does something that the opposing player doesn’t like, then you must hurt him. I guess Gossage just wishes the game was more violent. Maybe he would be appeased with gladiator fights in the Roman Colosseum. Honestly, it really shows ignorance on his part to act like more players getting injured and unable to play is the better direction for baseball to go. To say Gossage is out of touch would be an understatement.

kc5

The most discerning part of Gossage’s comments are the fact they come across as bitter. Bitter because of change. Bitter because he doesn’t understand how the game has evolved. Bitter that he isn’t at the forefront of anything anymore. I am as big a proponent of “old school” as there is. I think players should know the history of the game and understand how the game was played before them. If a former player wants to give advice to the current crop of youngsters, I feel like they should listen and take note of the life lessons they are being taught. I honestly believe there is a place in the game for former players and they can help enhance the development process of many a young player in the game of baseball. But there is no place in the game for the ignorance spewed by Rich Gossage. The only thing to learn from what Gossage spit out is what not to do. There is a place for Gossage in this game(especially as a Hall of Famer), but not if this behavior is what he brings to the table. Unfortunately, there is a chance this will be what he is remembered for. Or this:

But I will remember him for this:

kc6

Sorry, Goose. The game will evolve, with or without you. It’s up to you to make a choice whether you want to be a positive or negative part of the past, present and future.

 

 

Driving It Home

kc1

The debate has already begun as Major League Baseball has instituted a new rule to help cut down on home plate collisions and help prevent major injuries. This has already been about as hotly debated as any of the other changes baseball has added to the game over the past few years(replay, extra wild card, etc.). One of the main things discussed has been how MLB didn’t go far enough with the rule, or enough to protect the baserunner in these situations. Let’s dissect the rule.

kc2

Now, what really brought us to this point was the Buster Posey incident a few years back. If you haven’t seen the play, here it is:

I’m not going to get into how Posey didn’t get himself set up well, which I feel like made this play even worse than it should have been. Scott Cousins of the Marlins caught a lot of flak for plowing into Posey here, and you can look at this one of two ways. One, Posey was blocking the plate, making it hard for Cousins to go around him. Or two, that Cousins could have slid around him, taking the possibility of an injury out of the equation. Watching the footage a number of times again, I can see both arguments. Look, if the catcher is blocking the plate, it takes away one of the options for the runner. I don’t think Cousins ran into Posey to hurt him; that was just instinct to get to home plate and score. Now, Cousins could have possibly went around him and attempted to slide. Posey had set up in front of the dish to where Cousins had some room to get around him. But part of this issue is instinct.

kc3

For years baserunners have been told that if the catcher is blocking the plate, lower your shoulder and barrel in. You can’t blame a runner for this; he is going in there with no extra equipment on while the guy he is set to run into has a full set of body armor on. I am all for cutting back on injuries and especially for curbing someone from getting a concussion. But with the way the rule is set up now, you are asking for more injuries. Bruce Jenkins takes a good look at this, discussing how players seem to be more open to injuries than before. Many of these guys don’t think about it before they head to home plate; they don’t think, they react. What do you think will happen now? There is a good chance many players will start thinking about it, and force them to either injure themselves or the catcher(or both). Do we want this to happen? Of course not, but putting the rule into play right before Spring Training leaves very little room to really practice for this situation. But let’s stay that teams work on the play religiously this spring and everyone feels like they are set and ready in case they are thrown into that situation. If you are the runner, this doesn’t seem like this new rule will benefit you.

kc4

It’s mentioned in the Jenkins article I posted in the last paragraph, but this new rule seems to leave the runner in a vulnerable position. Here is a quick rundown of the rule:

• A runner may not run out of a direct line to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher, or any player, covering the plate. If he does, the umpire can call him out even if the player taking the throw loses possession of the ball.

• The catcher may not block the pathway of a runner attempting to score unless he has possession of the ball. If the catcher blocks the runner before he has the ball, the umpire may call the runner safe.

• All calls will be based on the umpire’s judgment. The umpire will consider such factors as whether the runner made an effort to touch the plate and whether he lowered his shoulder or used his hands, elbows or arms when approaching the catcher.

• Runners are not required to slide, and catchers in possession of the ball are allowed to block the plate. However, runners who do slide and catchers who provide the runner with a lane will never be found in violation of the rule.

• The expanded instant replay rules, which also go into effect this season, will be available to review potential violations of Rule 7.13.

The part that has many worried is how the catcher can still block the plate while the runner isn’t allowed to lower his shoulder. Former big leaguer Eric Byrnes has been very adamant about how this makes things worse for the runner and feels like no change to the rule would have been better than what they did:

Byrnes’ argument holds even more weight with this statement:

“You’re coming in at full speed, all of a sudden the catcher has the ball, and I can’t lower my shoulder or push off?” said the retired Eric Byrnes. “What do you want me to do, torpedo in with my head and get paralyzed? You’re leaving the runners in no-man’s land. We’re worse off than we were before.”

So leaving the rule open to allowing the catcher to still block the plate while not wanting the runner to defend himself seems like a recipe for disaster. It is very apparent that if they were smart, most teams would go to the swipe tag at home plate. The Giants have already taken that route, putting that into play once Posey returned to action. This is probably where it is headed anyway, so why not go ahead and enforce it, rather than use the new rule as an “experiment”? This doesn’t seem like a play you want to “dip your toes into the water” to test the temperature.

kc6

Above you see maybe the most famous home plate collision in baseball history. In the 1970 All-Star game, Ray Fosse blocked home plate while Pete Rose barreled into him. Fosse was injured by this collision, an injury which wouldn’t be noticed until the following year and was forced to heal incorrectly. Fosse would continue to play throughout the 70’s but was never the player he was before ‘Charlie Hustle’ ran him over.  Fosse is proof of what home plate collisions can do to your career. The point of the new rule is to protect players from injuries, but it brings up more questions than answers. There is a feeling that the rule was kind of thrown together and a rule focused on catchers not blocking the plate would seem to be the direction they will eventually go. They already do that in the college game, so for most players drafted from this point forward it wouldn’t be a drastic change. The main thing that needs to happen is for a rule to be instituted that protects both catcher and baserunner. Concussions are a serious matter and baseball is moving in the right direction to remedy the problem. The sooner they eliminate the catcher blocking the plate, the better. It’s the best thing for the game.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑