Did Yordano Ventura’s Tragic Death Slow Down the Royals Rebuild?

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

(Writers Note: The intention of this article is to see the effect that Yordano Ventura’s death had on the Kansas City Royals organization and the building of the roster. In no way, shape or form, is it trying to trivialize his passing. Hopefully you, the reader, see that he was a vital part of the Royals future and a beloved player within the Kansas City fanbase. This is purely a ‘What If’ article.)  

January 22, 2017 is a date that will always be a painful reminder of how fragile life can be, as that was the day that former Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura passed away. Ventura’s death was only four months after the passing of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and the similarities between the two pitchers was remarkable.

But maybe the biggest similarity was the effect both deaths had on their respective organizations. Both left a giant hole in not only their rotations but also the locker rooms. The loss of each not only forced their organizations to take a second look at their future, but also to reassess what path they were already on for 2017.

We’ve seen what it did for the Marlins. Miami finished 77-85 last year and they spent the winter dismantling their roster, as key players like Giancarlo Stanton and Christin Yelich were sent to greener pastures. The Marlins threw up the white flag and decided to begin what feels like the umpteenth million rebuild during their 25 year history.

Rangers Royals Baseball
Credit: Associated Press

But despite being told that Kansas City is in a “rebuild”, it sure doesn’t feel like it at times. The Royals have a very veteran heavy roster and while that could (should) very well change by August, as of now it feels like they are straddling a fence. Because of that I have to wonder: did Yordano Ventura’s passing slow down the Kansas City rebuild?

Before we head down this path I feel the need to clarify a couple of things. First, I won’t dabble in any possible deals the team could have made or should have made. Instead we will look at the pitching moves made since his passing and determine whether or not they would have still taken place.

Second, there is no way to determine how the Royals would have done with Ventura still on the team so that won’t be discussed as well. The honesty of this is that there is no surefire way to know how things would have developed with Yo'(unless you know something about time travel I don’t. If that’s the case, quit holding out on us!) so this is just an estimated guess based off of how the front office has acted over the last couple of years.

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Credit: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

Let’s start with the three moves made not that long after Ventura’s death last year. Brandon Moss was signed on February 1st, Jason Hammel on February 5th, and Travis Wood on February 13. It’s hard to tell if Moss’ signing was directly connected to Ventura, especially since the team had been looking for another bat throughout the winter. More than likely the Moss signing would have still happened, even without Ventura’s loss.

Hammel and Wood totally felt like a reaction to losing Yordano. The Royals rotation at that point looked set with Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Ventura, newly acquired Nate Karns and Jason Vargas. The team even had Chris Young, Matt Strahm and Jake Junis as backup options for the rotation, so there wasn’t any real need for Hammel or Wood at that time.

One could make the argument that the Royals might have had interest in Wood as a reliever, which is very possible considering that had been his role for the majority of the previous two seasons. But if not, then Kansas City would have never signed them and we could take their contracts off the books, not only for 2017 but 2018 as well.

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Credit: Associated Press

Let’s move to the winter and the Royals deal with the White Sox and Dodgers. In that trade, Scott Alexander would go to Los Angeles while Soria would eventually end up in Chicago. One has to wonder if Kansas City would have been compelled to deal either reliever if the team had never signed Hammel or Wood.

The crux of this trade was moving Soria’s contract, which might not have been as important without those signings. If that is the case, then the trade might have never happened and Alexander and Soria would have stayed in Kansas City.

We could easily see a scenario where Soria would have still been shopped, but even if that is the case I doubt they would have felt moving him was important enough to lose the club control that Alexander would have (which runs through the 2022 season). This would mean the Royals would have kept two big cogs in their bullpen and we might have not seen the likes of Tim Hill, Brad Keller and Burch Smith when the season began (which would have meant some tough decisions, considering Keller and Smith were Rule 5 draft picks).

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Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Then at the end of January, the Royals traded Moss and Ryan Buchter to Oakland for pitchers Jesse Hahn and Heath Fillmyer. This is a trade that feels like it would have happened no matter what. Moss had an awful season in 2017 (.207/.279/.428, -1.0 bWAR) and trading him would probably allow the Royals to move a portion of his salary commitment.

The interesting part of this becomes whether or not Buchter would have actually been a Royal. We all remember the ill-fated trade with San Diego but that trade happened for two reasons. One, the Royals needed pitching. Two, the Royals were still in the hunt for a playoff spot, 1.5 games out in the AL Central while holding down the second Wild Card.

I could see the Royals needing pitching, even with Yordano still in the picture. It’s very possible the deal could have gone down, but that is also trying to determine where Kansas City would have been in the standings. This is probably a good place to mention that Ventura finished 2016 with an ERA+ of 97 and a bWAR of 1.6. While some felt he was going to turn the corner in 2017, there was no guarantee that would happen.

So with that in mind, we’ll go with the San Diego trade still going down. Almost every team can use more pitching and it’s easy to see the Royals in a situation where they would need more arms. In other words, this is a deal that just reeks of fate.

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Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

So with all these moves out-of-the-way, we can start assessing whether or not the rebuild was slowed down by the passing of Ventura. With what we saw in 2017, it was very apparent the Royals were going to stick with the core group (Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, etc.) and give them every opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. So any idea that they would be dealt was probably slim and none from the very beginning.

It’s probably also safe to say that if Kansas City had somehow found their way to the playoffs last year with Ventura, that would be one more reason to not completely tear the whole thing down and start over. The Royals would have still had a nice nucleus together (Perez, Whit, Duffy, Ventura, etc.) and with the way the free agent market collapsed this winter it’s possible Dayton might have been even more aggressive than he was.

It also appears Moore has never been down with a real “rebuild”. Back in March Dayton had this to say about how competitive the team would be this season:

“I believe that we can put a strong, competitive team on the field each and every night and also develop in the minor leagues,” he said. “I believe we can build our farm system back to the level it was in 2010 and 2011, and maybe even do it better and still win games at the major-league level.

“You can’t just turn it on and turn it off. If you want a winning culture, you’ve got to do everything in your power each day to win.”

It just doesn’t feel like the front office has ever been behind a full rebuild with this club. In fact, it has sounded like they would be content with piecing together the roster as needed, letting the younger talent filter in when they were ready and letting them get comfortable at their own pace.

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So with all that in mind, my guess is that Yordano Ventura’s untimely passing didn’t slow down a Kansas City rebuild. As much as moves made after his passing felt like a knee-jerk reaction to his death, the team had already committed to being “all in” for 2017 and even taking on less payroll wouldn’t have deterred that frame of mind.

Unless…the Royals decided to deal Yordano. While in some circles that might sound crazy, it might not be as far-fetched as you think. In fact, in the winter before the 2017 campaign, the Houston Astros were rumored to have shown interest in Ventura:

Royals starters Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura are two of the pitchers on the Astros’ list of rotation targets, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.  The two K.C. arms join several other previously-known names (i.e. Jose QuintanaChris ArcherJake Odorizzi and other Tampa Bay’s starters) as potential trade fits for a Houston team looking to upgrade its starting pitching.

Now, showing interest isn’t the same thing as on the trading block. But if you are any team, you should probably be willing to listen to any offers on any player, just in case a team is willing to go way overboard just to acquire a player. While Ventura could have been under club control until 2021(with the help of club options), that might have been a selling point for Kansas City:

Their willingness to least listen to other clubs’ offers could be due to doubts about his personality, or it could just be due diligence, as Ventura’s years of control could net K.C. a nice return in a trade.

If a team was willing to offer a nice package of talent for Yordano, Moore would have to at least listen. One would think if a deal actually went down and the Royals were able to acquire young talent, it’s possible the rebuild could have sped up a bit.

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Credit: Royals.com

In fact, that might have been one of the few scenarios where guys like Hosmer and Cain would be dealt before the trade deadline. While it feels like a long shot, it could have very well happened considering in the last year the Astros have picked up both Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to improve their starting rotation.

While I highly doubt Kansas City would have dealt Ventura, it does show how one or two moves can sway a team in different directions. Ventura very well could have gone from a building block for the team to an asset to fill multiple holes on the roster.

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So while his death probably didn’t slow down the Royals rebuild, it definitely changed the fabric of the team and the organization. Ventura is that hole that hasn’t been filled and it could be generations before they have another pitcher with his potential.

While it would be nice to say losing one player was the cause for the lack of youth on this Royals roster, the answer is far deeper than that. Trades, injuries, bad judgment and bad luck all play a part in why the Royals aren’t rebuilding more than they are right now.

Maybe in a different dimension or a different universe (Earth 2 or even Earth 81) this is all different and the Royals are still a potent contender in the American League. But in this reality, they are a team trying to build themselves back up without many pieces. While Yordano’s death was tragic, it is not the cause of their current situation. It’s just not that simple.

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Yordano Ventura Remembered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

 

Celebrating Jose Fernandez

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The entire baseball community has been mourning the sudden death of Miami Marlins All-Star pitcher Jose Fernandez since the news of his passing on Sunday morning. I, like many others, was in a bit of a haze on Sunday, as it was hard to grasp that such a talent with his whole life in front of him was now gone. I’ve tossed around writing about Fernandez the last couple days, but in some ways felt I wouldn’t be able to do him justice nor say anything that hasn’t already been said by many others. Instead, I finally decided on doing something else to honor him; show you his greatness rather than talk about it. Actions speak louder than words, and with that in mind, here are some favorite Jose Fernandez moments to remember him by.

First, there is his first major league home run. Yes, it’s weird I started off with a batting highlight for a great pitcher,  but the joy he showed in this personified him to a ‘T’. Also, baseball’s unwritten rules are still stupid. There was zero reason for anyone to get mad at him for watching his first ever home run.

Speaking of firsts, here is Fernandez’s major league debut. At the beginning, glance at his minor league numbers. Twenty Seven total minor league games?? Crazy. It was known very early on that this kid was going to be special and he was.

Instincts. This is Fernandez at 21. I’m not so sure many veteran pitchers would have that kind of “game awareness”. A great play on defense.

Seriously, this speaks for itself. Folks, baseball is a kid’s game and no one understood that more than Jose Fernandez.

For the unaware, Fernandez was a very good pitcher. This highlight from back in July was not only a career-high in strikeouts, but also his 500th career strike out. When healthy, Fernandez was easily one of the best pitchers in the game and a treat to watch.

Cuba vs. Cuba. Fernandez vs. Puig. That smile. Fernandez just loved playing baseball and you could tell.

I feel like I am underselling it when I say he was a great pitcher. He was a great athlete. This, also from July, was Fernandez pinch-hitting in extra innings with a big pinch hit double. In some ways it made perfect sense that Fernandez was playing in the National League, where he could pitch and hit.

Seriously, Fernandez made Barry Bonds smile. That within itself should show how special Jose was. For me, a longtime Bonds fan, this is great to see. Barry and Jose, enjoying the game and having fun.

That reaction. I almost wish I was a Marlins fan. I celebrated after the Royals won the World Series last year…but not like that. Just fantastic.

This was Fernandez’s final start, a week ago against the Nationals. Fernandez threw 8 scoreless innings, striking out 12. In other words, he was making a push to be named the National League Cy Young award winner.

Vin Scully has a way with words. It only made sense to have him talk about Fernandez and relay a great story in the process.

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There is a big hole that is now missing in Major League Baseball. Fernandez was not just a once in a lifetime player that the game could use as a spokesman for as to why baseball is so great; Jose was a once in a lifetime person. Fernandez joins a list of players taken too soon from us, guys like Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson and Darryl Kile. The only difference is that those players were all veterans who had made their footprint in baseball for years; Fernandez was just getting started. As much as Jose will be missed, there will come a time that a new player will come along with great talent and unbelievable joy. There will be a player who just oozes happiness to be part of this grand game. When that happens, I hope it makes us all think about Fernandez. We will all miss watching him perform on the diamond, but I think I will miss that contagious smile more. Rest in Power, Jose.

Guesstimate: My 2016 MLB Predictions

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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National League

Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, New York

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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!

2015 Predictions: The Search for More Glory

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Last year I waited until the last minute to post my predictions for the 2014 season and ended up guessing 8 of the 10 playoff teams correctly. It was total luck but it also meant I didn’t sit around and hem and haw about what I thought would happen. I went with my gut and it was pretty darn close. So this year will be another short version for predictions. If anything, it will be fun in 6 months to come back here and see how far off I was. Without further ado, here are my 2015 predictions.

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American League East

1. Baltimore Orioles

2. Boston Red Sox

3. Tampa Bay Rays

4. New York Yankees

5. Toronto Blue Jays

If there was a division I would feel comfortable just flipping a coin to guess who would win, this would be it. No team stands out more than another and all have their flaws coming into this season. Baltimore had more subtraction than addition this winter, Boston has pitching questions, Tampa’s offense is meager to say the least, New York is old and Toronto has been bit by the injury bug. If in 6 months we come back here and the standings are completely flipped I wouldn’t be shocked. What was once a powerhouse division in the American League might now be the weakest.

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American League Central

1. Cleveland Indians

2. Detroit Tigers

3. Kansas City Royals

4. Chicago White Sox

5. Minnesota Twins

This is always the hardest division for me to pick, as I am heavily biased being a Kansas City Royals fan. That being said I didn’t pick them last year to make the playoffs(oops!) and believe they will fall just short this year. I have a full preview up here if you are interested. This division got a lot better this offseason and I look for it to be a race with 4 teams being in contention for a large chunk of the season. Even Minnesota could be a pain to deal with, although I don’t see them holding up for the entire season. I’m giving Cleveland the nod here, as they were right there near the end of last year and have improved their team going into this season. No matter what, expect a dogfight here in the Central.

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American League West

1. Seattle Mariners

2. Oakland A’s

3. Los Angeles Angels

4. Houston Astros

5. Texas Rangers

Speaking of good divisions, you could throw the AL West in as one of the better divisions in baseball. Seattle wasn’t eliminated from the playoff picture until the final weekend of the season and have added offense to their stellar pitching and solid defense. None of us have an idea what Oakland did this past offseason but I am not about to count them out and the Angels should be in the chase as well. The ‘surprise’ team of the American League could very well be Houston, as they’ve got a nice mix of veterans and youngsters that could be better sooner rather than later. All in all this looks like a division that could go down to the wire, unlike last year when Los Angeles ran away with the division.

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Wild Card Winners

Oakland and Detroit

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American League Championship Series

Cleveland over Baltimore

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American League Award Winners

MVP: Robinson Cano

Cy Young: Sonny Gray

Rookie of the Year: Carlos Rodon

Comeback Player of the Year: Shin-Soo Choo

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National League East

1. Washington Nationals

2. Miami Marlins

3. New York Mets

4. Atlanta Braves

5. Philadelphia Phillies

After acquiring Max Scherzer, it appears the Nationals have strengthened their rotation and made them almost a lock to win this division. I will say I am highly intrigued to see how Miami does this year, as they have a great group of young talent and are looking to get Jose Fernandez back at some point this year as well. The Mets look as if they could contend as well, especially if Matt Harvey is as good as he has looked this spring. At this point, the Braves and Phillies will round out the bottom of the East, and have a chance of having very forgettable seasons, unfortunately.

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National League Central

1. Pittsburgh Pirates

2. St. Louis Cardinals

3. Chicago Cubs

4. Cincinnati Reds

5. Milwaukee Brewers

This might finally be the year Pittsburgh wins the division and doesn’t have to endure another Wild Card game. The amount of young talent on this team makes it really hard not too root for them.  The Cardinals are still a force and the Cubs should be in contention this year, although I would expect 2016 to be the year Chicago management is eyeing as a better chance to be in the playoff hunt. Neither the Reds nor the Brewers are bad teams, but they aren’t at the level of the other 3 teams in the division. Like the American League Central, their National League counterparts should have another division fight on their hands here.

San Diego Padres Photo Day

National League West

1. San Diego Padres

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

4. San Francisco Giants

5. Colorado Rockies

This could be the year for the Padres, as they added some offense to their already good pitching. San Diego’s outfield defense could be questionable, although they also have more than enough defense on the bench to make up for it late in games. The Dodgers will be right there with the Padres, although I’m not for sure what they will get from new shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Arizona, Colorado and San Francisco all look to be on the outside looking in, although I like the D-Backs younger talent and think they could be a bigger pain than many think.

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Wild Card Winners

St. Louis and Los Angeles

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National League Championship Series

Washington over St. Louis

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National League Award Winners

MVP: Giancarlo Stanton

Cy Young: Jordan Zimmermann

Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant

Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Harvey

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World Series

Washington over Cleveland in 7 games

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So just like that I have thrown myself onto the fire and made my predictions for 2015. I’m sure a few of these we will laugh at in a few months, but the fun of this whole thing is to see just how close you can get. There is a reason that the games are played; if everything was predetermined the season wouldn’t be any fun. This whole thing can get weird in a moment; just as I started writing this Craig Kimbrel was traded to the Padres, which makes San Diego even more of a threat and Atlanta an afterthought. Just like that things can change and make the season even more unpredictable. All we know at this point is the next 6 months will be a blast following baseball’s every last move. I know I am always ready for this time of year. Now if we can just declare Opening Day an official holiday…

 

 

 

 

 

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