Vote For Change: My 2018 Year End Awards

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Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The World Series is in the rear-view mirror and free agency has officially begun. That also means we are engulfed in award season, as the BBWAA has unveiled their winners throughout the last week. Meanwhile, my fellow writers in the IBWAA have also chosen their triumphant few and to the victor go the spoils. For the fifth year, I was able to vote as part of this illustrious group and decide on who was truly worthy. If you want to check out my voting record over the years, you just have a few clicks to adhere to: 201420152016 and 2017. As always, it is a true honor to have this opportunity to vote and I always vote with the utmost respect. With that being said, here are my picks to win awards in 2018:

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American League MVP: Mookie Betts

Every year, I plan to pencil in Mike Trout for this award and most years that is how the vote ends up happening. Even last year, despite missing noticeable time due to an injury (or an upgrade, for those that believe Trout is a cyborg) he was my choice for MVP because of the sheer level of production he was putting up. But this year, Trout’s banner year just wasn’t quite enough to topple the year Mookie Betts had. 

Bett’s numbers speak of a new level for him: .346/.438/.640, 32 home runs, 80 RBI’s, an OPS+ of 186, 10.9 bWAR and 10.4 fWAR. Betts lead the American League in runs, batting average, slugging percentage and WAR all while helping lead the charge for the Red Sox to procure another world championship. 

But it wasn’t just the core numbers that won Betts this award. Mookie posted the highest extra base hit % of his career (13.7%), a great AB/HR ratio (16.3%), all while raising his walk rate to 13.2%, the highest of his career.

But what truly sealed the deal for me was his Win Probability Added, which lead the American League. Betts posted a 6.0 WPA according to Baseball-reference and a 5.77 for Fangraphs. The other candidates, most notably Trout and teammate JD Martinez are far enough away that this is a no-contest for me. Betts not only tore up the rest of the league, but was the most vital cog of the Red Sox’s arsenal.  

With Betts posting another great year offensively and defensively (and the third consecutive above six wins a season) it will be interesting to see if the conversation starts of his place on the hierarchy of baseball’s elite. Trout has held the mantle for years, but if Betts keeps up at this pace, we could have to start inserting him into the conversation of ‘Best Player in Baseball’ sooner rather than later.

My Top 3: 1-Betts, 2-Martinez, 3-Trout

IBWAA Winner: Mookie Betts

BBWAA Winner: Mookie Betts

National League MVP: Christian Yelich

When the season began for the Milwaukee Brewers, their big offseason acquisition was former Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain. But the other pick-up turned out to be even more notable, as the team went and acquired Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins. While Cain had a great season, Yelich performed out of this world and garnered himself an MVP trophy.

Yelich has always had the talent to make himself an elite producer and in 2018 he elevated his game to a new stratosphere. By the time the season had wrapped up, Yelich led the NL in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, total bases and WAR (both bWAR and fWAR) among position players in the league.

What really pushed Yelich over the edge was the second half of the season:

Down the stretch, Yelich was a monster as he hit a robust .370/.508/.804 in the final month of the season, not only cementing this award but also wrapping up a playoff spot for the Brewers.

The biggest change in his game was the elevation of the ball. The funny thing is, Yelich actually saw his fly ball rate go down (23.5%) from last year (25.2%), but he also saw his ground ball rate drop as well (down to 51.8% from last year’s 55.4%). But the increase happened in his line drive rate, which soared to 24.7%, up from 19.4% in 2017. Yelich was making better contact on the ball and it showed in his final numbers.

The cherry on top of the sundae for Yelich is his WPA, which lead in the NL for position players at 6.02. In fact, next on the list is Paul Goldschmidt, who posted a 4.66 WPA. That huge gap (as well as stellar defense) not only helped the Brewers but showed that Christian Yelich is far and away the winner of the National League Most Valuable Player award.

My Top 3: 1-Yelich, 2-Cain, 3-Carpenter

IBWAA Winner: Christian Yelich

BBWAA Winner: Christian Yelich

Credit: 
Brian Blanco/Getty Images

 American League Cy Young Award: Blake Snell

This was easily the hardest vote for me and one that took me awhile to be comfortable with. Snell and Justin Verlander both put up stellar performances in 2018 but only one man can win, and my vote went to Snell despite a few issues that in years past would probably cost him an opportunity to win this award.

Let’s start with the “dark print”, or where Snell lead the league. Snell was first in ERA (1.89), ERA+ (219) and hits per 9 (5.6). There were two more categories that Snell lead in, which I want to focus on a bit deeper. First is RE24 (Run Expectancy, or for pitchers Runs Saved), where Snell lead with 48.4. To give you an idea of just how impressive that number is, the only pitcher better than Snell this past year was Jacob deGrom, who had an absolutely amazing year for the Mets. Also, Snell’s previous high in this category was 1.6…seriously.

The other stat Snell lead in was wins at 21, and I found this a bit amusing. Over the last few years, there has been a progressive movement to “Kill the Win”, with MLB analyst Brian Kenny leading the charge. The reasoning being that there are so many factors involved in a pitcher getting a “W” that doesn’t even involve the pitcher that it feels like an empty statistic. If we are being honest, I never look at a pitcher’s win total anymore. The only time I am even aware of it is if it is mentioned in a broadcast or in an article. The win to me doesn’t factor into how I vote, so I don’t even give it a second thought.

That being said, the other numbers did enough to help his case. But he did receive some stiff competition from Verlander, who lead in strike outs, WHIP, strike out to walk ratio and pitchers WAR. The most notable difference between the two pitchers was innings pitched. Verlander threw an impressive 214 innings over his 34 starts this season, while Snell threw only 180.2 innings over 31 starts.

For some, that would be a deal-breaker. There is a case that can be made that the extra 33 innings thrown by Verlander should count for a bit more and I can see that argument. There aren’t many pitchers that toss 200+ innings in today’s game and having that kind of stallion to ride can be a difference maker.

But for me, the numbers just leaned too far to Snell’s side to get me to throw my vote to Verlander. It was a tough choice and I honestly believe either pitcher is worthy of the award, but at the end of the day I picked Snell, as did both the BBWAA and the IBWAA.

My Top 3: 1-Snell, 2-Verlander, 3-Kluber

IBWAA winner: Blake Snell

BBWAA winner: Blake Snell

National League Cy Young Award: Jacob deGrom

I don’t get to do this very often but…I predicted this at the beginning of the year. Yep, I took a big swing and actually connected for a change. Honestly, this felt like a natural progression for deGrom and it felt like at some point he would put everything all together. That year was 2018.

In fact deGrom absolutely dominated this year and pretty much ran away with this award. deGrom lead the NL in ERA, ERA+, FIP, HR/9, WPA, RE24 and WAR. Dominance isn’t always a given when it comes to pitchers but this year was truly the year of deGrom. 

To give you a deeper view of his dominance, let’s break down a few of the numbers. Batters hit .196/.244/.277 against deGrom, only taking him deep ten times this year. In fact, deGrom only gave up 40 total extra base hits this year over 217 innings. To give you a better view of how big a deal that is, the Anderson twins (Chase and Tyler, and yes, I am aware they aren’t actually twins) both gave up 30 home runs this year, or almost deGrom’s entire extra base total.

Want to go deeper? deGrom gave up 215 total bases. That number is actually pretty close to his 2016 number of 213 total bases. Oh, that was in 69 less innings then he accumulated this year. In other words, deGrom was a machine this year that no one could shut down.

There were even some analysts that felt deGrom was worthy of the NL MVP award this year, and it’s not too far of a reach.  deGrom posted an insane 9.6 bWAR and 8.8 fWAR this year, both fairly large numbers for a starting pitcher. Throw in the 5.85 WPA and you have an argument that determines the value of deGrom is possibly on par with any hitter in the league.

I’ve always viewed the MVP as a hitter’s award, unless there is a pitcher that blows away the rest of the competition. By that, I mean there are players who play every day who are having really, really good seasons but not quite great. If that happens and there is a pitcher who has being insanely dominate, I would vote for the pitcher. In this case, Yelich had an amazing season and because he is out on the field every day, 162 games a year, my vote went to him. 

I know that probably feels like I am slighting pitchers, but I am a firm believer in the mental aspect of the game and the wear and tear it has on position players. To say it is a grind would probably be an understatement. So while deGrom was out of this world this year, so was Yelich. 

Luckily for the Cy Young award, there is no argument. deGrom wins this hands down and can put his season up there with such greats as Gooden, Gibson and Kershaw. Jacob deGrom was the best pitcher in the National League this year, period.

My Top 3: 1-deGrom, 2-Scherzer, 3-Freeland

IBWAA Winner: Jacob deGrom

BBWAA Winner: Jacob deGrom

   

Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

American League Rookie of the Year: Shohei Ohtani

This felt like a slam-dunk for me and I was a bit surprised to hear some backlash from Yankees fans, but the best rookie in the American League this year was Shohei Ohtani. Sure, there were some great performances from Gleyber Torres, Brad Keller and Miguel Andujar, but none of them did what Ohtani did.

Let’s start there: Shohei Ohtani did things this year that hadn’t been done in a century. In. A. Century. Over the last 100+ years of baseball no one has achieved the feats that Ohtani did this year:   


Ohtani is also the first player since Ruth in 1919 to throw 50 innings and hit 15 doubles, or to throw 50 innings and draw 25 walks, or to throw 50 innings and drive in (or score) more than 35 runs, or to throw 50 innings and make 200 plate appearances. He’s also the first player since George Sisler in 1915 to throw 50 innings and steal more than eight bases. You get where I’m going with this. Even Ohtani’s abbreviated rookie run was something no one had seen since before the Black Sox scandal, and it happened in a league that’s vastly more talented and specialized than the one Ruth revolutionized.

You get where we are going with this. Ohtani broke down the norms of what is expected of a major league ballplayer. He was a successful pitcher and hitter in 2018 but that isn’t even all of it. He did all of this while playing in a different league than he was used to. He did all of this while playing in a completely different country than he was used to. If that wasn’t enough, he pretty much made it look easy.

.285/.361/.564 batting line. 22 home runs, 61 RBI’s. OPS+ of 152. 126 ERA+. 1.6 WPA. 29% K rate. All while shuffling in between being a hitter and a pitcher. In a new league. In a new country. If he would have just put up average stats and been an average performer it still would have been impressive. But the fact he made it look easy shows what a true talent he is.

So sure, Andujar, Torres and Keller had great seasons. Any other year it is a different conversation and even possibly a battle for the winner. But this is a no-contest. Ohtani is the Rookie of the Year and no one came close to what he did.

My Top 3: 1-Ohtani, 2-Torres, 3-Keller

IBWAA Winner: Shohei Ohtani

BBWAA Winner: Shohei Ohtani

Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

National League Rookie of the Year: Juan Soto

I mentioned earlier that the AL Cy Young was the toughest one to pick a winner, but a close second was this race. Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna were not only two rookies that shined in 2018, but they were pretty close to equals as well.

The two rookies tied for fWAR (3.7), were separated by four homers, 6 RBI’s, and .001 in batting average. Soto had a slightly higher OBP, while Acuna’s slugging was a bit higher. wRC+? Soto 146, Acuna 143. In other words, either player was worthy of being the best of 2018, but only one could win. 

In matters like this, where two competitors are so close that you would have to break a tie, I normally lean toward value. Looking at WPA, Soto had the sizable lead, 3.46 to Acuna’s 1.96. RE24 is a bit closer, but still a runaway for Soto (30.45 to 26.69). Finally, with the Clutch stat on Fangraphs, Soto wins again, 0.22 to -0.12. When it came down to helping their team and making sure they are put in winning situations, Soto came away with a lengthy lead.

So while you can see why I picked Soto, it’s not like Acuna wasn’t deserving. In fact, these two were so good this year that you almost forget all the other great rookies in the National League. Guys like Harrison Bader and Walker Buehler are rarely talked about despite putting up numbers that are very good for a first year player. With a NL class like this, you wonder who will break out and shrug off the ‘Sophomore Slump’ in 2019. If this year was any kind of barometer,  Soto and Acuna will soon be the cream of the crop of not just the NL, but the entire baseball world.

My Top 3: 1-Soto, 2-Acuna, 3-Buehler

IBWAA Winner: Ronald Acuna

BBWAA Winner: Ronald Acuna

    

Credit: AP Photo/Steve Nesius

American League Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash

This was another close race and one that could easily be a three-way tie. Bob Melvin of Oakland led his team of vagabonds and youngsters to a playoff spot despite starting the year with the lowest payroll in the game and 34-36 on June 15.  Alex Cora led the Red Sox to 108 wins (and eventually a world championship) in his rookie year as a manager and was able to turn away the playoff bound New York Yankees.

But what Kevin Cash did with the Tampa Bay Rays is some other level managing job. Cash propelled a team that was supposed to hang out in the basement of the American League East and led them to a 90 win season. Despite the team trading off some of their best players before the trade deadline, they went out and turned themselves into contenders. The funniest part of the whole deal is he did this almost from a survival standpoint.

The Rays lost a couple of their top pitching prospects (Jose De Leon and Brent Honeywell) before the season to injuries. Anthony Banda joined that list a few months into the season. After trading Chris Archer at the trade deadline, they were left with one actual starting pitcher. The lack of starters led Cash to use “The Opener”, where he would have a reliever start the game, pitch an inning or two and then hand the ball off to someone who could go deeper into the game.

This wasn’t done to be cute or try something new out as much as just a lack of starting pitching…and it worked. ‘The Opener’ became a regular part of their rotation and helped bridge the gap for a number of their younger pitchers.

The team focused on good pitching and defense and that helped get them to third place in the East, ten games behind the second place Yankees. Cash pushed the right buttons and his calm demeanor helped keep his team focused through a number of rough patches.

So while Melvin and Cora deserve a ton of praise, Kevin Cash deserves this award. If anything, Cash earned his managerial stripes in 2018 and has come out with a contract extension. It’s too bad he didn’t get some hardware to go with it. 

My Top 3: 1-Cash, 2-Melvin, 3-Cora

IBWAA Winner: Bob Melvin

BBWAA Winner: Bob Melvin

         

Credit: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

National League Manager of the Year: Brian Snitker

The story of Brian Snitker is one that easily could be made into a ‘feel good’ movie for Disney. Snitker is a guy who has been the loyal soldier, a guy who has been in the Atlanta organization since 1977, when he was a minor league player. He has managed for almost every one of their minor league teams and even spent a stint as the major league team’s third base coach from 2007 to 2013. Snitker has been there and done that when it comes to the Braves organization.

But in May of 2016, Snitker was promoted to manager for the Braves on an interim basis and he would get the job full-time in October of that year. So the path Brian took to this role was a long and lengthy one, but he didn’t really reach his stride until this past season.

What Snitker did in 2018 is something no one, not even the Atlanta front office, expected. He led the Braves to a 90 win season, a National League East title and their first playoff appearance since 2013. This from a team that wasn’t really supposed to contend until 2019.

But it shouldn’t be too surprising it came early. With a nice mix of veterans (Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis) and top-shelf prospects (Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna), the Braves took advantage of the Washington Nationals’ pratfall and dominated the NL East for most of the season. While the talent will get most of the credit, Snitker deserves some heavy praise for the culture he has fostered in Atlanta. Former Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur told a great story of Snitker that goes back years before:


One of Jeff Francoeur’s favorite stories occurred after he homered a few times for Double-A Mississippi and then got drilled in the ribs against Montgomery. Snitker instructed a reliever to retaliate. When the pitcher simply buzzed a batter, Snitker blasted the pitcher in the dugout and told him to get out of his sight.
When one of Mississippi’s pitchers retaliated the next inning, the benches cleared and the umpires halted the game.
“After we got back in the clubhouse, [Snitker] grabbed a beer and told us he had never been more proud of the way we came together as a team that day,” Francoeur said. “If you play for him, you know he’s always going to protect you and have your back.”

Probably one of the best ways to describe Snitker is hard but fair. It appears that his mentality is exactly what this Braves team needed. Craig Counsell and Bud Black did some great things for Milwaukee and Colorado, respectively, but Snitker’s accomplishment this year has earned my vote for NL Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Snitker, 2-Black, 3-Counsell

IBWAA Winner: Brian Snitker

BBWAA Winner: Brian Snitker

 

Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

American League Reliever of the Year: Blake Treinen

Blake Treinen of Oakland had a year for the ages in 2018. Before this year, Treinen was almost a stereotype for a reliever: Great stuff,  but not consistent enough with his location. Treinen could miss bats, but didn’t miss them as much as he needed them to.

That all changed this past year, as Treinen’s late break on his pitches helped increase his numbers across the board. He bumped up his strike out rate to 31.8% (previous high was 24%) and saw his walk rate take a dip. Hitters also went from hitting .271 against him in 2017 to .157 this year. 

Treinen posted an ERA of 0. 78 and a FIP of 1.82. An interesting look into his numbers show a guy who’s luck appeared to switch around in 2018. In 2017, batters posted a BABIP of .344 against him. Luck was not on his side. But in 2018, his BABIP was .230, .114 points lower. Whatever he changed this year made a huge difference in his results.

What’s interesting is there is a huge difference when it comes to pitch usage this past season. Treinen did use his slider a bit less (21% compared to 25.5% in 2017) but  his cutter was used 11.8%, up from 0.5%. His velocity also saw a slight uptick this year, but nothing that will blow the doors off. More than anything it appears he used his cutter slightly more and the extra movement made it harder to put the ball in play. 

Whatever he did, it appears to have elevated him to the top of the relief game in the American League. His dominance not only helped lift Oakland to a playoff spot, but also my nod for American League Reliever of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Treinen, 2-Diaz, 3-Leclerc

IBWAA Winner: Edwin Diaz

BBWAA Winner: Edwin Diaz

National League Reliever of the Year: Josh Hader

There was no reliever in the NL this last year that dominated quite like Josh Hader. Hader steamrolled through the league in his second season and left a litany of whiffs in his path. My comparison has been ‘Mitch Williams with control’ and in 2018 he proved to be a force to be reckoned with. 

Let’s begin with the numbers:  2.43 ERA, 2.23 FIP, 2.7 fWAR over 81 innings. Hader struck out batters at a 46.7% clip while posting a K-BB% of 36.9%. The best part is that he did this basically using two pitches: a fastball and a slider.

What Hader did was basically tell the hitter “here it is, now hit it” and most of the time the batter failed. Hader did allow nine homers this year, which equates to allowing one every nine innings. Hitters did make contact on Hader at almost a 70% clip when he put the ball in the strike zone. But this one blemish wasn’t enough to take away from his great year.

With Jeremy Jeffress still in the fold, it will be interesting to see if he continues to close or if Hader will get more opportunities in 2019. Hader did save 12 games and blow 5 (if you keep track of that stuff) and that number could see an increase in the next season. What Hader has done is put the rest of baseball on alert that he is one of the best relievers in all of the game, no matter what inning he is throwing in.

My Top 3: 1-Hader, 2-Jeffress, 3-Erlin

IBWAA Winner: Josh Hader

BBWAA Winner: Josh Hader

 

Credit: Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

So there you have it, another season officially wraps up as we reward those that reached the highest of achievements. 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 2019 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

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Lost Opportunities

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals

The other day Matthew LaMar wrote about Hunter Dozier and the unwillingness of the Kansas City Royals to give him an opportunity when a spot has become available on the roster. Matthew wrote up a number of reasons why the team might have passed him over and some of them might carry some weight, especially among those in the Royals front office or even their scouting department.

But Dozier is not the first prospect in the Kansas City farm system to be passed over despite not having anyone of actual value holding them back. In fact, over the years the team has found a way to not see what they have with their younger talent. There for a long time, the Royals were infamous for bypassing younger players for older ones with more big league experience.

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Justin Huber was one of the first names to pop in my mind when I thought of players not given a chance to perform. Huber was a highly touted prospect in the New York Mets system when they traded him to the Royals before the 2004 trade deadline for…Jose Bautista. Huber was initially a catcher, but after the trade he tore cartilage in his left knee and underwent surgery that would end his career behind the dish. The Royals would move him to first base and eventually shift him to the outfield later in his career.

Huber consistently was slugging in the .450-.475 range for most of his minor league years in New York and during his first season in the Kansas City organization hit .326/.417/.560 over 527 plate appearances. He would get a slight audition with the major league club that year, playing in 25 games while hitting just .218/.271/.256  over 85 plate appearances.

He would end up back in Omaha to start 2006 but would end up only getting 11 plate appearances that year. I specifically remember the team recalling him in May of that year for a series against Minnesota and he would only get one at bat, a pinch-hitting appearance on May 3rd.

At the time the Royals had Doug Mientkiewicz at first base and while he was a good hitter with a great glove, he also was in his age 32 season and was a one year solution at first. In layman’s terms, no one of major value was blocking Huber from getting playing time. Alas it was not to be, as Huber would play eight more games for the Royals in 2007 before being traded to San Diego in March of 2008.

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Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Speaking of first baseman, Kila Ka’aihue is another player who the Royals dragged their feet on. Ka’aihue put up a monster year in 2008, hitting .314/.456/.628 with 37 home runs and 100 RBI’s while splitting time in AA and AAA. The Royals gave him 24 plate appearances that September and he looked to at least be an option in 2009.

Instead, Ka’aihue would spend the entire 2009 season in Omaha, hitting .252/.392/.433 with 17 home runs and 57 RBI’s. Meanwhile, the Royals had a 1B/DH combo of Billy Butler and…Mike Jacobs. Jacobs was awful during his only season in Kansas City, hitting .228/.297/.401 with an OPS+ of 84. He would be released by Kansas City in December of that year.

Ka’aihue would get a bit of a chance in May of the following year, as he was recalled to Kansas City but would still see the majority of his playing time in Omaha. He finished the 2010 season on a bit of a hot streak with 8 home runs and 25 RBI’s.

But we knew what would happen next. Eric Hosmer was on the horizon and with Billy Butler firmly entrenched at DH, that left Ka’aihue without a spot. He would end his Kansas City career with only 326 plate appearances in a four-year span, hitting .216/.309/.375.

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Finally, there is the tale of Johnny Giavotella. Giavotella moved quickly through the Kansas City farm system and by the end of 2011 had posted wRC+ seasons of 123, 108, 139 and 118 and was easily the best second base prospect in the organization.

Giavotella was recalled in August of 2011 and two days after would hit his first major league home run off of Max Scherzer. Gio would spend the last two months in Kansas City, hitting .247/.273/.376 with a wRC+ of 72. He would spend 2012 bouncing back and forth between AAA and the majors, compiling 189 plate appearances and a wRC+ of 55.

At the time, “Mistake Free” Chris Getz was the Royals second baseman and while he was decent on defense, he was below average with the bat. The Royals liked Getz’s glove and Giavotella’s defense obviously hurt him in the Royals’ eyes. The fact he hadn’t hit during his short trials probably didn’t help matters either.

By the end of 2014 he was designated for assignment and would end his Royals career getting 465 plate appearances (over four years), hitting .238/.277/.334 and an OPS+ of 67. It always felt like Johnny was never given a prolonged look at the position to truly see what he was capable of and the question was always what would happen if he was just told to go out there and play on a day-to-day basis.

That is the issue with all of these players and what appears could happen to Dozier. None of the names I mentioned above were ever really truly given a chance to get comfortable and play on a consistent basis in Kansas City. The chances they were given were sporadic at best and it was frustrating to watch replacement level veterans filling spots on a number of Royals teams that, to be honest, just weren’t going anywhere.

That is the point of this whole thing. I’m not saying that Ka’aihue, Giavotella or Huber (or even someone like Jose Martinez years later) would have been top shelf offensive stars and would plant themselves in the Royals lineups for years and years. For all we know they would have produced exactly like they did in their short time with the team.

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Credit: MLB.com

But they should have been given the chance to see what they could do, especially since no one was blocking them. We saw Hosmer and Mike Moustakas struggle for years to reach a level of success in the big leagues and the organization allowed them that time to figure it out on a yearly basis.

The players mentioned weren’t afforded that same chance and because of that we are forever left with questions with what could have been. The Royals have an opportunity over the next couple of years to give a number of players the chance to prove their worth and the time to let them fail and pick themselves back up. Sure, not every prospect is going to succeed and a number of them won’t be keepers. But you never know unless you give them the opportunity.

Not allowing someone like Dozier or even someone like Ryan O’Hearn an opportunity after all the time that has been invested in them feels like a loss of resources. At least find out what these guys can and can’t do; if the Royals want to cut bait after that then they are perfectly within their rights. But don’t leave questions left unanswered.

Rock the Vote: My 2017 Year End Awards

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It’s been only a few weeks since the World Series ended and baseball came to a close for 2017. I’d like to say I’ve dealt with it in a fair manner, but I’ve been counting down the days until pitchers and catchers report (89 by my count) since the season ended. Luckily, the Hot Stove season will keep us seamheads occupied, as will this week’s award season. All throughout this week, the BBWAA has been unveiling their winners, as has my brethren in the IBWAA. As a member of the IBWAA, we vote just like the members in the BBWAA while not getting quite the fanfare (although if anyone wants to toot our horn, go for it!). I’ve been a member for a number of years, so you can go back and take a gander at my previous voting record: here is 20142015, and 2016. As always, it is a true honor to have this opportunity to vote and I always vote with the utmost respect. With that being said, here are my picks to win awards in 2017…

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Credit-Sports Illustrated

American League MVP: Mike Trout

While most have declared this a two-man race between Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge, I feel the true winner is Mr. Michael Nelson Trout. I’m sure at least one person is reading this, shaking their head at me; that’s fine, as I have zero issue with anyone picking Altuve and I at least understand the voters who picked Judge. But to me, Trout was head and shoulders above the rest this year, despite only playing in 114 games. If you want a real in-depth look at how and why I voted for Trout, go back to August when I wrote about Trout being amazing despite the 40 so games he missed in the first half of the season. I really broke down the how and why of this vote with that article, so let’s just recap some of the main points here. Trout led the league in On-base Percentage, Slugging, OPS, OPS+, and wRC+. This is all impressive considering the time he missed, but what really swayed my vote was Trout leading the AL hitters in Win Probability Added (WPA). Considering WPA is a stat that accumulates as the season wears on and factors in the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next. It’s all about the opportunities you get and what you do with them, and Trout did better than anyone else in this category. The interesting aspect of that is those games missed, which should mean he got fewer opportunities, and more than likely he did. What it really tells us is that Trout did the most with those chances, leading the league with a 5.58 WPA. The next closest player? Nelson Cruz at 3.90. Altuve was 4th in the league at 3.74. Think about that for a moment: In 40 fewer games, Trout was a bigger factor in his team’s victories than Altuve, who had a fantastic season…and it isn’t even close! FYI, Judge came in at 17th, with 2.38. We all juggle with what “Most Valuable” means in MVP, and for me it is the guy who is giving his team the best chance to win. Mike Trout did that in his limited time in 2017 and for that he received my vote.

My Top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Jose Altuve, 3-Aaron Judge

IBWAA Winner: Jose Altuve

BBWAA Winner: Jose Altuve

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National League MVP: Joey Votto

Over the years, there appears to be a divide when it comes to a person’s opinion of Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto. If you believe a middle of the order guy should drive in runs and hit for power, you probably are frustrated by Votto’s patience at the dish and focus on just getting on base. If you are of the opinion that it’s all about not getting out and making sure you extend the inning for your team, then you probably love the guy. I am in the latter position and nothing speaks volumes about Votto’s true value than what he did offensively in 2017. If you love the black ink that shows up in the statistic category (which means a player led the league in that category), then Votto should be your man. He led the NL this year in Walks, On-Base Percentage, OPS, OPS+ and wRC+. You can probably also tack on 36 home runs, 100 RBI’s, 323 total bases, a slugging percentage of .578 and 7.5 bWAR. Offensively, Votto was a beast in 2017 and to add the cherry on top of this offensive sundae, he lead the NL hitters in WPA, 4.96 to Giancarlo Stanton’s 4.84. Some will poo-pah that Votto wasn’t on a contending team; I would counter with this being an individual award, so what the other 24 players do should have no factor into the winner of MVP. While Stanton put up monster power numbers and Charlie Blackmon had an amazing season out of the leadoff spot (and easily baseball’s best mullet), the true Most Valuable Player was Joey Votto in my eyes.

My Top 3: 1-Votto, 2-Giancarlo Stanton, 3-Charlie Blackmon

IBWAA Winner: Giancarlo Stanton

BBWAA Winner: Giancarlo Stanton

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American League Cy Young Award: Corey Kluber

The debate the last two months of the season was the two-man race for the AL Cy Young: would it be Corey Kluber or Chris Sale? What once appeared to be Sale’s award to win turned into Kluber’s gain, as he absolutely shoved the last two months of the season. In those last two months, Kluber threw 89 innings and produced an ERA of 1.42 and a WPA of 3.07. Batters only hit .172 against him in that span with a paltry .290 slugging percentage. Those two months were just the nail in the coffin, as Kluber led the league in ERA, Complete Games, Shutouts, ERA+ and WHIP. Sale held his on, as he lead in Innings Pitched and strike outs, but the stats tell the true story. Kluber lead in ERA+, 202 to 157. WHIP was 0.869 to Sale’s 0.970. WPA? 4.9 to Sale’s 3.7. WAR? Kluber 8.0 to Sale’s 6.0. While Sale made three more starts than Kluber, the gap wasn’t so wide that it would diminish Kluber’s accomplishments. At the end of the day, Kluber proved he was worthy of yet another Cy Young Award.

My Top 3: 1-Kluber, 2-Chris Sale, 3-Luis Severino

IBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber

BBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber

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National League Cy Young Award: Max Scherzer

Over the last couple seasons, there hasn’t been much discussion about who the best pitcher in baseball is. Clayton Kershaw was pretty much hands down the best and very few were putting up a fight. But during that span, Max Scherzer followed behind, nipping at Kershaw’s heels. While the debate will continue, the one definite is that Scherzer has just as much of a claim to that title in 2017 as Kershaw and proved himself worthy of this award. Scherzer has the black ink for the year, leading the league in complete games, Strike Outs, WHIP and Hits per 9. Kershaw lead in ERA and ERA+. But while Kluber and Sale’s numbers felt pretty far apart, Scherzer and Kershaw felt neck and neck. Scherzer beat Kershaw in WHIP, 0.902 to 0.949, while Kershaw beat Scherzer in ERA+ by a margin of 180 to 177. So to dig further, Scherzer easily beat him in WAR, 7.3 to 4.6, but WPA was much closer, 4.6 to 4.3. One wonders if Kershaw hadn’t missed those starts in the middle of the season, if this race would have turned out a bit different. Instead, Scherzer proved once again why might be the closest thing to Kershaw’s equal and why these two seem to battle it out for this award every season. But in 2017, Max Scherzer was the better pitcher.

My Top 3: 1-Scherzer, 2-Stephen Strasburg, 3-Zack Greinke

IBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

BBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

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American League Rookie of the Year: Aaron Judge

This award felt like a ‘Gimme’, as Judge was a dominant force for a large chunk of his rookie campaign. It was hard to read an article or watch a video without mention of Judge and his accomplishments this season and for the most part they were very deserved. Judge led the league in Runs, Home Runs, Walks and Strike outs. Judge’s 52 home runs (a new single season record for a rookie, breaking Mark McGwire’s 49 HR’s back in 1987) and 114 RBI’s spoke of a force in the middle of the Yankees batting order, while the walks showed the ability to show patience at the plate. Judge was different from many rookies, as this year was his age 25 season, which would explain a maturity not seen by many a rookie. While his contact rate was a bit low (65.1%, with league average being 80%) and the strike outs were high, Judge is no different than most of the power hitters that fill up major league rosters in 2017. To me, the most telling stat of Judge’s worth is OPS+, which sits at 171, second in the AL behind Trout. Since OPS+ is a statistic that adjusts to league and park effects, it means that despite playing in a very hitter friendly park in Yankee Stadium, Judge still raked like an elite hitter. That to me speaks more of his skills than a home run total, to be honest. While the sky is the limit for Judge, I worry about all the attention that the media bestows on him. I’m not a big fan of all the hype that the baseball media granted to him this year, but I get it. Judge had one of the best rookie seasons in baseball history and New York has been starving for a young power bat for years now. Judge more than deserves the honor of AL Rookie of the year but…what will his sequel look like? It’s not going to be easy for him to match what he did throughout this magical first year.

My Top 3: 1-Judge, 2-Matt Chapman, 3-Andrew Benintendi

IBWAA Winner: Aaron Judge

BBWAA: Aaron Judge

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

National League Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger

If anything has been proven over the years, it is that the Los Angeles Dodgers might just have a ‘Rookie Tree’ near Chavez Ravine where they pluck healthy, fresh new talent from on a consistent basis. That tree continued to produce in 2017, as young first baseman Cody Bellinger came away with the NL Rookie of the Year award, the 18th Dodger to win that award. Bellinger now sits beside such notables like Seager, Valenzuela, Karros, Nomo, Sax, Mondesi, Newcombe, Sutcliffe, Howard, Piazza and the man who now has his name on the award, Jackie Robinson. Bellinger debuted on April 25th this year and from almost day one he punished baseballs. Cody hit 39 home runs (a new National League single season record for a rookie), 26 doubles and posted an OPS+ of 142. Bellinger lead the National League Champions in homers, RBI and slugging percentage while putting together a 4.2 bWAR season in his rookie campaign. Maybe the most impressive stat for him this season was a 4.3 WPA, good enough for 5th in the NL, ahead of MVP hopeful Charlie Blackmon and teammate Justin Turner. Bellinger had been a highly touted prospect for a few years now and he showed this year that there was a reason for the hype. Like Judge, Bellinger will now have to follow-up a splendid first season with the hope for even bigger numbers. Bellinger won’t turn 23 years old until next July but is already showing the patience and maturity of a 10 year veteran. It’s a lot of expectations for such a young player, but so far so good for Cody Bellinger.

My Top 3: 1-Bellinger, 2-Paul DeJong, 3-Austin Barnes

IBWAA Winner: Cody Bellinger

BBWAA Winner: Cody Bellinger

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

American League Reliever of the Year: Craig Kimbrel

When digesting the numbers for American League relievers in 2017, it became very apparent that there was no dominant force like in year’s past. No Zach Britton, no Andrew Miller, no Wade Davis. But while digging in the depths, it did appear that Craig Kimbrel of the Red Sox had put together a stellar season that had flown under the radar. Kimbrel threw 69 innings, striking out 126 batters while posting an ERA+ of 319, three times above the league average. His strike out rate (49.6%) was the highest it had been since 2012 while his walk rate (5.5%) was the lowest of his career. His WPA was also huge, posting a 4.5 Win Probability while his Run Expectancy (RE24), which calculates the runs he saved, was the highest of his career at 28.0. Kimbrel also had a 1.43 ERA, which is great but fairly normal for a reliever of his caliber, but I was interested to see how the runs he did give up (which were 11 over those 69 innings) were scattered about. In August he gave up the most runs in one month (4), while May was his best effort, giving up none. Over the last two months of the season, Kimbrel pitched 25.1 innings, giving up five runs while striking out 46….and that wasn’t even his best two month stretch! While Andrew Miller and Chad Green both had great seasons this year, Kimbrel showed why he has been an elite closer since 2011. For anyone calling for his demise in 2016, Kimbrel showed this year why his career isn’t dead yet.

My Top 3: 1-Kimbrel, 2-Andrew Miller, 3-Chad Green

IBWAA Winner: Craig Kimbrel

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Credit: USA Today

National League Reliever of the Year: Kenley Jansen

While the American League relievers felt like a closer race, in the National League on closer stood out over all the rest and his name is Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jansen was dominant in 2017: 68.1 innings, 1.32 ERA, 318 ERA+ with 109 strike outs. Jansen even posted a 2.9 bWAR this year, the highest of his career. But a couple other stats just blew me away for Jansen this year. Jansen allowed seven walks all year-long. Yes, 7…that is it. Which leads to another stat that blows my mind, which is his Strike out to Walk ratio: 15.57. Seriously, that number is just ridiculous. Finally, the most impressive statistic for Jansen in 2017 was his league leading WPA, 5.7. Not only did that number lead the NL, it lead all of baseball, even better than Mike Trout’s 5.58 in the AL. If there was ever any doubt that Los Angeles made the right move to re-sign Jansen last offseason, his spectacular 2017 warranted almost every dollar he earned. Those numbers speak as a dominant reason why Kenley Jansen is the NL Reliever of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Jansen, 2-Archie Bradley, 3-Pat Neshek

IBWAA Winner: Kenley Jansen

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American League Manager of the Year: Paul Molitor

While managers like Terry Francona and Joe Girardi guided their respective teams to the postseason this year, one man stood head and shoulders as the true manager of the year in the American League, and his name is Paul Molitor of the Minnesota Twins. The Twins came into the year trying to bounce back from a 100 loss season in 2016 and they more than bounced back. Despite having a pieced together rotation and an occasional spotty bullpen, Molitor was able to lead Minnesota to an 85 win season and a Wild Card spot in the AL. No one expected the Twins to reach .500, yet along wrap up a playoff spot but that is exactly what happened in the ‘Twin Cities’ this year. The team really took off in August, as the offense went on a tear and pushed the team to the upper section of the American League Central. Molitor was able to work around some of the team’s flaws and gave youngsters like Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco the playing time they needed to be comfortable in the big leagues. Two of the team’s big issues the year before was the defense and the pen, which both improved in 2017 with his use of mixing and matching. Sometimes he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but Molitor was able to lay out some strategies this year that appeared to pay off:

“He’s extremely baseball smart,” Twins catcher Chris Gimenez told reporters. “He’s in the Hall of Fame for a reason. Yeah, he was a great player, but you have to think the game to do what he did on the field. I see it constantly. He’s very much ahead of the game. Sometimes it hasn’t worked out necessarily the way you draw it up, but I think for the most part I’d take him any day of the week.”

I know some don’t feel that the Manager of the Year award should just go to a team that outperforms expectations, but I think that is exactly why someone like Molitor deserves this award. Once the Twins started to excel, teams began to pay more attention to them and it caused Minnesota to revert the course they had been on. The team you saw in April wasn’t the same team there in September and it was for the better. While Francona lead his Indians to an AL Central title, he did so with pretty much the same roster he took to the World Series the year before. Molitor’s roster was revamped and a large chunk of the credit of their turnaround should be given to Molitor. He did what few expected and that is why he is my choice for Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Molitor, 2-Terry Francona, 3-Joe Girardi

IBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

BBWAA Winner: Paul Molitor

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Credit: Getty Images

National League Manager of the Year: Torey Lovullo

Does anyone remember the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016? The best way to describe them is by just saying they were a mess. They only won 69 games last year and the team didn’t appear to have a set direction they were going in, other than down. GM Mike Hazen decided to restructure the roster, inserted Lovullo into his first big league managing spot and the team flourished. While all the attention was on the Dodgers, Lovullo kept Arizona just slightly off their pace while holding their ground on the Wild Card spot throughout the year. There was more attention paid to pitching strategy, defense and run prevention while he melded with his players:

Lovullo’s ability to incorporate analytics with his locker-room skills made him an instant success. He built a solid foundation in his first year and seems to have the Diamondbacks on track to compete for division titles and the World Series for the foreseeable future.

The Diamondbacks now look like a consistent contender in the NL West and with their young talent they shouldn’t have to make many major moves in the future. Lovullo changed the atmosphere in the desert and for that he is the best manager this year in the National League.

My Top 3: 1-Lovullo, 2-Bud Black, 3-Craig Counsell

IBWAA Winner: Torey Lovullo

BBWAA Winner: Torey Lovullo

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So there you have it, another season officially wraps up as we reward those that reached the highest of achievements. I did find it amusing that back in April when I made my season predictions  I guessed only one of these correctly (Bellinger as NL ROTY, which felt like a slam dunk). It goes to show how hard it is to really guess what will happen during the duration of a 162 game season. 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 2018 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Bleachers: Notes Around Baseball

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Here at Bleeding Royal Blue,  I spend a lot of time discussing my favorite team, the Kansas City Royals. But being a baseball fan in general means from time to time a little discussion around both leagues can do some good. So with that said, let’s kickoff the debut column, From the Bleachers!

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A Tight Race

Before the season started, most analysts picked the Cleveland Indians to runaway with the American League Central, with the Tigers, Royals, Twins and White Sox either floundering or fighting for a Wild Card spot. I even figured Kansas City and (maybe) Detroit would give them some competition. Instead, Minnesota still sits atop the Central (yes, I noticed, Pete!) with the White Sox holding up the rear, only six games behind. You read that correctly, only six games separate the top and bottom of the division. Minnesota should get some major props for their performance so far, as they improved their two main weaknesses from last year, the defense and bullpen, while getting All-Star contributions from Ervin Santana and Miguel Sano. The Indians sit 2.5 games back, Detroit 3.5 back and the Royals at 5.5 back. Will Cleveland eventually perform closer to their 2016 model and decide they’ve had enough of these silly games? Will Detroit decide if they are contenders or needing to rebuild? Will the Royals wake from their slumber and make one final run with their core group that led them to a championship? If we are basing this off of what has happened to this point, I don’t know if any of that will happen. If I had to use one word to describe this division to this point, the word ‘mediocre’ would seem fair; ‘eh’ would work as well. Maybe this pattern will continue over the next four months and my friends up in Minnesota will be super happy. No matter the result, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed by the Central over the last couple of months.

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The Machine and 600

This past week, Albert Pujols clubbed his 600th career home run, an achievement only nine players have reached in MLB history. The Pujols we have seen the last five seasons pales in comparison to the one who was probably the best player in baseball in his first decade in the league. Despite that, Pujols is still a productive hitter, one who has averaged an OPS+ of 111 during that span. Injuries have taken its toll on him, and it’s easy to forget just how dominate Pujols was in his prime. According to the website Hall of Stats (which I highly recommend when determining a player’s value, especially when the Hall of Fame voting comes around), Pujols has a Hall rating of 211, which ranks him as the 30th best player (statistically) all-time and the 3rd best first baseman. Yes, we are seeing his regression right now, which should be expected in his late 30’s. But there are still some major goals he could reach before he retires, as he still has four years left on his contract after the current season. Pujols is 122 hits away from 3,000 and 140 RBI’s away from 2,000 for his career. Let’s enjoy the last few years of his career, because we are nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career.

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Have a Day, Scooter

On Tuesday, Scooter Gennett of the Cincinnati Reds joined some elite company, hitting four home runs in one game, going 5-5 while driving in 10 runs. This, from a guy who before the season had hit 38 home runs in five big league seasons. Scooter doesn’t fit the profile of a guy who would club four in a game, not like the last guy to do it, Josh Hamilton. In fact, Gennett is only the 17th career player to reach this feat, a list that includes Hall of Famers like Mike Schmidt, Willie Mays and Lou Gehrig. This list also includes the like of Mark Whiten, Bob Horner and the infamous Bobby Lowe, he of 71 career homers. Safe to say Scooter will never have another night like this ever again, so I hope he soaks in all the adulation and enjoys his moment. His name alone will be a fun trivia question to bring up for many years to come.

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Scherzer Meets Kershaw

As the season is unfolding, an interesting occurrence has developed that few probably saw coming: Max Scherzer is making a run at being the best pitcher in baseball. Clayton Kershaw has held that title for close to five years now and while Scherzer has compiled two Cy Young Award’s in that time-span, he still has not performed close enough to even have that conversation. But so far in 2017, Kershaw has put up an ERA+ (which is adjusted to the pitcher’s ballpark) of 185, which leads the league. Scherzer is right on his tail at 181 while leading the league in strike outs, WHIP and hits per 9. On Tuesday, Scherzer was dominate, striking out 14, walking 2 and allowing 1 run (unearned) in his 7 innings of work. In fact, Scherzer has three straight starts of 10+ strike outs, 7+ innings and 1 run or less. It’s going to be interesting to see if Scherzer can keep this up (which I believe he is capable of) and if he can continue to go toe to toe with Kershaw. I love watching Kershaw pitch, but I am always up for some healthy competition between two elite pitchers at the top of their game.

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McCutchen Has a Pulse

Over the last two seasons, there has been a lot of discussion about the decline of Andrew McCutchen. Hitters normally start seeing a regression when they reach their early 30’s, but McCutchen didn’t turn 30 until last October and while injuries have been popping up for him the last couple seasons, it was hard to fathom that his decline would hit this badly, this early. Myself, like many other analysts, felt that McCutchen would bounce back this year and produce at a pace closer to his best years than his lackluster 2016. Instead, Cutch stumbled out the gate this year and as late as May 23 saw his batting average sitting at .200. But over the last 10 games, he has looked like the Cutch of old:

If McCutchen has finally found his groove, that is great timing for him and the Pirates. I am a big fan of not only McCutchen the player but also McCutchen the person. Baseball is stronger with him locked in.

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The Elbow and the Damage Done

Finally, another alarming Tommy John  Surgery stat came out this week worth noting:

I’ve spoken many times on this blog about the dreaded Tommy John Surgery and it amazes me that there isn’t more pressure to figure out a more worthwhile solution to this problem. While the new surgery that was done on Seth Maness cut his time out of action down considerably (down to 7 1/2 months), I still feel there should be more research done on a solution, not just a quicker remedy. If you are a believer that a pitcher’s arm has only so many bullets in it, it can’t help that many youngsters are throwing more pitches while their arm is still developing than ever before. If you are of the Nolan Ryan school of thought, you believe pitchers need to throw more, not less. An excerpt from a Ryan interview done in 2014:

 

Ryan said that in September of 1988 with Houston, he began experiencing pain in his elbow and paid a visit to Jobe in Los Angeles, who advised him to shut it down for the last couple of weeks of the season and resume throwing in December.

“There was a partial tear there,” he said. “It still hurt in December, but when I got to spring training, the pain began to dissipate until it was gone. Dr. Jobe said it had scarred over and that helped protect the elbow. I pitched with that tear the rest of my career.”

Ryan had two more 200-inning seasons and led the NL in strikeouts with 301 in ‘89 and 232 in ‘90.

While Tommy John agrees with Ryan, he also feels like I do, that kids today are throwing way too much, especially year round:

“First of all, one of the biggest reasons for all the arm injuries in baseball today is the way young kids are handled by their coaches in grade school and high school, pitching them year-round,” said John by phone from his home in Syracuse. “They’re told if they want to make it, they have to play travel ball — and that results in the over-use of their arms when they’re body is not fully developed. Travel ball has taken over the entire country and parents need to be educated about what this does to these kids’ arms.”

“I absolutely agree with Nolan that more is better,” John said. “Years ago, I’d have gone along with the thinking that there’s only so many bullets in your arm. But we’ve ‘dumbed down’ our thinking today to believing that pitch counts and innings limitations are the way to go to preserve arms. Starting in 1975 with the White Sox, when Johnny Sain was my pitching coach, I would throw six days a week out of seven and it was the best my arm ever felt. For the next 13 years, I never missed a start, except once when I had the flu. Sain believed in throwing between starts and it’s no coincidence that one of his disciples, Leo Mazzone, subscribed to that same philosophy, practicing and throwing every day, as pitching coach for the Braves. The Braves had the best pitching staffs in baseball in the ’90s and all guys like (Greg) Maddux and (Tom) Glavine did was pitch and win and never got hurt.”

So is the answer pitching less in your youth and more once your body has developed? And if that is the answer, how long will it take before travel league or high school coaches actually worry less about winning and more about their kid’s future health? I don’t know if this is completely the solution to the problem, but it doesn’t appear to be a bad place to start.

 

Winners and Losers: My 2016 Year End Awards

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

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American League MVP: Mike Trout

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

BBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

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National League MVP: Kris Bryant

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

BBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

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American League Cy Young Award: Chris Sale

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber

BBWAA Winner: Rick Porcello

Clayton Kershaw

National League Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

BBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

MLB: MAY 21 Rays at Tigers

American League Rookie of the Year: Michael Fulmer

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

BBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

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

National League Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

BBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

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

American League Manager of the Year: Jeff Banister

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

BBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

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National League Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon

BBWAA Winner: Dave Roberts

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American League Reliever of the Year: Andrew Miller

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Zach Britton

AP METS CUBS BASEBALL S BBN USA IL

National League Reliever of the Year: Jeurys Familia

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

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

IBWAA Winner: Kenley Jansen

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

 

 

Fall Surprises: 2016 Playoff Notes

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

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays

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

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

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

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

APTOPIX ALCS Indians Blue Jays Baseball

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

MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals

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

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

MLB: SEP 19 Pirates at Dodgers

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

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

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

Rooting Problems

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

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Boston Red Sox

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

Chance of Cheering: 25%

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Cleveland Indians

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

Chance of Cheering: 15%

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Texas Rangers

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

Chance of Cheering: 55%

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Toronto Blue Jays

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

Chance of Cheering: 0%

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

Baltimore Orioles

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

Chance of Cheering: 75%

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Washington Nationals

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

Chance of Cheering: 80%

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

Los Angeles Dodgers

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

Chance of Cheering: 50%

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San Francisco Giants

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

Chance of Cheering: 65%

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New York Mets

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

Chance of Cheering: 55%

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St. Louis Cardinals

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

Chance of Cheering: -1000%

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Chicago Cubs

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

Chance of Cheering: 100%

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

 

 

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

Wherever Shields May Roam

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Now that Nori Aoki has planted himself in San Francisco for this upcoming season, that leaves only one major Kansas City free agent left on the market in James Shields. It’s a bit surprising that Shields hasn’t chosen where he will play in 2015, as it seemed he would sign once Jon Lester decided on his destination. Lester chose the Cubs over a month ago and Shields is still being courted by several teams. The question now is which teams are in on the Shields sweepstakes?

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Arizona mentioned earlier last week they would like Shields to mentor their young pitchers if he ended up in the desert. Late in the week we also found out that the Tigers have had discussions with his agent, which makes sense since Max Scherzer won’t likely be returning to Motown. San Francisco, Boston, Toronto, Texas and Miami have all shown interest at one point or another for Big Game James but have all but said they no longer are interested, at least for the price he wants. A close source told ESPN’s Jonah Keri this past week that the Marlins have “zero chance” of signing Shields, which last I checked was as low as you can go. There was also word that a team had offered him $110 million (I’m assuming over 5 years) but that he didn’t want to sign with that team.

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So where will he land? Honestly, I have no clue. If you asked me this question before the season I would have told you big market teams like Boston, New York or Chicago would seem to be the frontrunners but the fact that we are sitting here in late January and there seems to be no clear winner, well, that tells me that this could go on a bit longer. As more and more time goes on, I’m glad the Royals aren’t wrapped up in these negotiations. Shields is 33 and wants a 5 year deal. I might not have enough fingers but by my math that would make him 38(almost 39) by the end of this deal. Add in his bumpy postseason performance and the amount of innings his arm has logged over his career and it makes one wonder if his regression is just around the corner.

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As much as I was initially against the trade with Tampa Bay that brought him to Kansas City, I can sit here now and say I was wrong. The trade did what it was supposed to do, which was get the Royals to the postseason. Shields was a big part of that and his work with fellow moundsmen Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura speaks volumes about how his value exceeded any numbers he accumulated on a scorecard. But at this point in his career I would say good luck to any team that signs him. Maybe Detroit wouldn’t be that bad of a destination for Shields. But with the way this winter has gone he will end up in Atlanta with no logical explanation.

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