Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 7, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 7! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Detroit Tigers (5-1 last week, 26-12 overall) → Over their last 17 games, the Tigers have just 3 losses, and have swept away both their closest AL Central challenger (Kansas City), and the AL East leader (Baltimore). If they extend their winning streak to six tonight at Fenway Park, you can add the defending World Series champions Boston to that list too. Cleveland and Texas better look out this week, because Detroit are rolling…
- Oakland Athletics (5-1, 27-16) → … as are the Athletics, who have now won 8 of their last 9, outscoring their opponents 58-15 during that time. 58-15! Given how they’re an unglamorous team that plays in a sewer bowl though, no one is watching the Athletics no matter how good they’ve been of late – only 10,120 fans went to their Monday game at O.co Coliseum against the White Sox. At least they’ll be used to a lack of crowd noise for when they travel to play in front of empty seats at Tampa Bay this week.
- Los Angeles Angels (5-2, 23-19) ↑ Mike Trout is ‘struggling’ in May, not that it stopped him from hitting a three-run, walk-off home run against the Rays, or 41,959 fans (including over 4000 from his hometown of Millville, NJ) coming out to see him in his first trip back to Philadelphia. He’s still second in the AL WAR standings too, with 2.8, trailing only Josh Donaldson (3.3), and remains on pace for a career high value. Must be real hard being Mike Trout right now eh?
- Baltimore Orioles (2-5, 22-19) ↓
- New York Yankees (3-3, 22-19) → Masahiro Tanaka notched his first shutout in the US on Wednesday against the Mets, and in the process moved to 30-0 since the beginning of 2013. That $155 million contract that Brian Cashman handed out to the 25-year-old Tanaka is looking like more and more of a steal with every start he makes.
- Toronto Blue Jays (5-2, 23-21) ↑ Hands up if you had Drew Hutchison throwing a three-hit shutout and out dueling Yu Darvish on Friday night? Liars… In other news, after injury marred 2012 and 2013 seasons, Jose Bautista appears to be back in vintage form. His .998 OPS thus far is actually marginally better than his 2010 mark, a season in which he famously hit 54 home runs, though he still has a little way to go to match his 2011 total (1.055). Either way, along with Edwin Encarnacion, a healthy Bautista gives Toronto one of the most fearsome middle-order duos in all of baseball – which should help whenever Hutchison’s deal with the baseball Gods expires.
- Boston Red Sox (2-4, 20-22) ↓
- Kansas City Royals (4-2, 21-21) ↑ Mike Moustakas apparently didn’t appreciate all the speculation regarding whether he should be demoted – if you haven’t yet heard the audio from his post game ‘interview’ after Wednesday’s game, I’d recommend giving Buster Olney’s Baseball Tonight podcast from Friday a listen (skip to the end for Moustakas’ incredibly childish non-response to questions). I’d have sent him down just for that.
- Seattle Mariners (1-5, 20-22) ↓ Is it selfish for me to be praying that Seattle somehow have their schedule messed up a bit this week so that either King Felix Hernandez or Hisashi Iwakuma gets pushed into starting against the Angels on Memorial Day? Otherwise it looks like I’ll be watching Chris Young pitch when I venture north to visit Safeco Field.
- Minnesota Twins (5-1, 21-20) ↑ After surprisingly jacking seven home runs and stealing seven bases during April, I can’t say I was expected Brian Dozier to get better. But improve even further he has, pasting a further 4 long balls and pilfering another 6 bags so far in May, and batting .318/.420/.545 after an April in which he hit just .226. Factor in his tremendous defense at second base, and fellow keystoner Jason Kipnis‘ 2014 campaign being limited by injury thus far, and Dozier may well find himself playing an additional game at Target Field later this summer.
- Tampa Bay Rays (3-4, 19-25) →
- Chicago White Sox (2-4, 21-23) ↑ Jose Abreu hits the disabled list with tendinitis in his left ankle, as some evil genius out there strives to take away every exciting young player in baseball during half a season.
- Texas Rangers (1-5, 20-23) ↓ After starting the season 4-0 with a 1.42 ERA, including a pair of 3-hit shutouts, it did seem odd that Martin Perez would suddenly allow 19 runs in the 13 1/3 innings that constituted his next three starts – almost as weird as how the San Diego Padres could abruptly pepper Jose Fernandez. Well, like Fernandez, an MRI showed that Texas’ 23-year-old sophomore also has a torn UCL, and will require Tommy John surgery. The season-ending procedure will be administered this Monday by team physician Dr. Keith Meister. In another devastating blow to the Ranger’s rotation, Matt Harrison may require career-threatening spinal-fusion surgery. After being limited by injury to just six starts over the 2013 and 2014 seasons combined, it unfortunately seems that we’ve likely seen the last of Harrison on the mound. Throw in Prince Fielder needing a nerve-root injection yesterday due to a herniated disk in his neck (ending his consecutive games streak at 547), and the deluge of injuries that first began in Spring Training has officially drowned Texas’ chances in 2014. A lost season if there ever was one, and it’s only May 18th – sorry Rangers fans.
- Cleveland Indians (2-4, 19-24) ↓ From jumping three levels of the Indians organization in 2013 and pitching in the Wild-Card game, to surrendering a a 5.53 ERA and barely lasting five innings a start to begin 2014, the Danny Salazar rollercoaster ride continued on this week with the 24-year-old being sent back to Triple-A Columbus. On the plus side of things, his demotion will mean we should get to see Trevor Bauer again this week, who has gone 4-1 with a 2.15 ERA in his seven starts so far down at Columbus. He’s slated to square off against Justin Verlander and Detroit on Tuesday though, so it won’t exactly be a cushy re-introduction back into major league competition.
- Houston Astros (4-2, 15-28) → Are my eyes deceiving me? Did the Astros just have a winning week? You betcha!
Every week throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 7! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- San Francisco Giants (4-3 last week, 27-16 overall) → Bruce Bochy‘s gang continue to quietly roll on atop the NL West, but the injury bug that they had mostly evaded for the first 6 weeks of the season has begun to bite; after losing Brandon Belt for six weeks after he underwent surgery to repair his fractured thumb, Tim Hudson missed his Friday start against the Marlins with a strained hip.The 38-year-old should be back in time for his next start, but probably won’t be too miffed if he’s held out again – he’ll otherwise be taking on the Rockies at Coors Field.
- Los Angeles Dodgers (4-2, 23-20) → Yasiel Puig so far in May: 67 plate appearances, .421/.507/.772 triple slash line, 10 walks, 12 strikeouts, and five home runs. The wild horse is loose, and bat-flipping like his life depended upon it.
- Milwaukee Brewers (5-1, 27-15) ↑ In his 152 plate appearances this year, Khris Davis has 3 walks, good (bad?) for a 2.0 BB%. In his 152 plate appearances this year, Khris Davis has 42 strikeouts, good (bad?) for a 27.6 K%. And yet by OPS+ (he has a disgusting mark of 73, 13th worst among Senior Circuit qualifiers) the artist formerly known as Khrush is by far Milwaukee’s best option to play left field. Dear Lord do the Brewers need a outfield bench upgrade from the pitiful trio of Logan Schafer, Elian Herrera and Kaleb Gindl.
- Colorado Rockies (2-3, 24-19) ↓
- Washington Nationals (3-3, 22-19) → Doug Fister‘s second start as a National went a lot better than his first, as he allowed just five hits over seven innings, striking out six and walking none, in Wednesday’s win. Then again, he was only facing the Diamondbacks.
- St. Louis Cardinals (4-2, 22-20) → After playing 26 of the first 38 games on the road, the Redbirds returned home to Busch Stadium on Monday and were promptly hammered 17-5 by the Cubs. They’ve won 3 straight since though, and remain the sleeping giants of the NL in my eyes. With Trevor Rosenthal struggling in the closer role of late, keep an eye on Jason Motte‘s imminent return in your fantasy leagues.
- Atlanta Braves (3-3, 22-18) ↑ The Braves released renderings for their new $672 million stadium in Cobb County this week. In other news, aside from Freddie Freeman and his dancing, Atlanta’s offense still stinks.
- Miami Marlins (2-4, 22-21) ↓ I’m still not ready to write about how I feel regarding Jose Fernandez‘s Tommy John surgery, but thankfully Bill Barnwell has moved on already. In his Friday post for Grantland, Barnwell astutely illustrated how Fernandez was the perfect prototype for aggressively calling up stud young pitchers – demonstrating how he was basically the same guy in High-A ball as he was in the major leagues. By promoting him straight from Class-A ball however, the Marlins extracted over 200 innings of Cy Young worthy pitching from Fernandez before his injury, while fellow heralded prospects Dylan Bundy and Jameson Taillon lingered in the minors before blowing out their arms. A great piece, and an interesting future strategy, though being labeling Fernandez a prototype rather than a cautionary tale does little to soften the blow of losing the most exciting pitcher in the game.
- Cincinnati Reds (3-3, 19-21) → I hate to think about where the Reds would be this year without Johnny Cueto; with Mat Latos yet to make a start, Homer Bailey scuffling, and Tony Cingrani ineffective, not to mention an offense already without Jay Bruce and perhaps now Joey Votto too, Cueto has been carrying Cincinnati almost single-handedly thus far in 2014. This week apparently, everyone else aside from Reds fans like me also caught on to how good he has been; amongst many other pieces, the Dominican Republic native was most notably given the spotlight treatment from Dave Schoenfield on the ESPN Sweetspot blog, and the subject of a brilliant PitchCraft feature from Shane Ryan on Grantland. Sam and Ben on the Effectively Wild Podcast too, noted how Cueto’s ERA+ since 2011 is second only to Clayton Kershaw amongst all qualified starters during that time. Knowing Cincinnati’s (lack of) injury luck this season though (the Reds are second only to the Rangers in DL assignments thus far), he’ll be down within the next week now.
- San Diego Padres (4-2, 20-23) ↑ With Carlos Quentin back from injury, the battle for outfield playing time is officially on. Considering how Seth Smith‘s recent tear will likely grant him a corner spot, that leaves 2 positions to be filled by either Quentin, Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, or Cameron Maybin. With the Padres ranking last among all teams in the majors in batting average (.219), on base percentage (.274), and slugging percentage (.342), you would have to think manager Bud Black will prioritize offense when filling out his lineup card.
- New York Mets (3-4, 19-22) ↓ Both Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom were more than solid in their big league debuts on the mound this week, limiting the Yankees to just four runs in 13 innings between them. They received absolutely zero run support though, the offense behind them tallying only 7 cumulative hits in those two games. deGrom however, did finally end the Mets pitchers’ streak of futility at the plate – the group are now 1-66 on the season.
- Pittsburgh Pirates (2-3, 17-23) ↓ Jason Grilli reckons he’s ready to return from the DL, and wants to step straight back in as closer. He probably will too given Mark Melancon‘s performance on Thursday; the 29-year-old failed to record an out, and allowed two hits and two walks en route to his second blown save in seven opportunities, bringing the Pirates’ blown save total to 10 already this season. After nailing down 55 of their 70 opportunities last year, Pittsburgh are currently on pace for the most blown saves ever, a record currently held by the 2004 Colorado Rockies (34).
- Philadelphia Phillies (1-4, 17-22) ↓
- Arizona Diamondbacks (3-3, 16-28) → Jonah Keri made the point here somewhat, but when will the Kevin Towers and the Diamondbacks accept their fate and start to sell off some of their few desirable players?
- Chicago Cubs (1-5, 13-27) → As good as he’s been so far this year, if the Cubs could get Jon Gray for Jeff Samardzija, as proposed by Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post here, they should pull the trigger in a millisecond. Sounds pretty darn unlikely though.
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 7!
Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 6, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 6! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Detroit Tigers (5-2 last week, 22-11 overall) → For the season, Victor Martinez has 8 home runs, 7 intentional walks, and just 5 strikeouts. Before Monday’s game against Houston, he’d gone 154 games without being called out on strikes (his streak went back to May 21st of last year, with Jarred Cosart finally getting him with a 94-mph fastball). That’s ridiculous. AT 35-years-old, V-Mart’s now batting .328/.381/.588, making his free-agency at the end of the year all the more interesting. The Tigers meanwhile, after facing a creampuff schedule last week, will be tested more sternly in the next seven days with trips to first Baltimore, and then Boston on the docket.
- Oakland Athletics (4-3, 22-15) →
- Baltimore Orioles (5-1, 20-14) ↑ A great week on the field for the Birds was only marred by the ongoing Matt Wieters injury saga. While it at first appeared they dodged a bullet when it was cleared up that Wieters would not need Tommy John to cure his right elbow ailment (the track history of the surgery on catchers is brutal), just maybe some rest days at DH rather than behind the plate, the 27-year-old was this morning placed on the DL. Perhaps it was due to him going 1-13 in his four games as the DH, a move which forced Nelson Cruz to play the field, but losing Wieters’ production at the dish (.308/.339/.500, 130 OPS+) for any longer than the 15 days his stint mandates will be a huge blow to Baltimore. The return of Chris Davis to the lineup today however (he’d been out with a strained oblique), should go some way to mask the loss of their All-Star catcher.
- Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 18-17) ↓
- New York Yankees (3-3, 19-16) → After being taken deep 3 times during his 5.1 innings against his former team Milwaukee yesterday, C.C. Sabathia was today banished to the DL with a mysterious ‘fluid in his right knee’ problem. The injury seems a little odd given how a MRI showed no meniscus tear (and Sabathia’s incredible weight loss), but if some rest gets him back on track, it will be well worth it for New York. In the meantime, their rotation is paper-thin all of a sudden; behind the excellent Masahiro Tanaka, with Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova out, Alfredo Aceves, David Phelps and Vidal Nuno have all been pushed into starting roles. Such rough starting pitching isn’t going to cut it for long in the AL East.
- Boston Red Sox (3-2, 18-18) →
- Texas Rangers (3-4, 19-18) → Despite their winning record, Texas have the second worst run differential among Junior circuit teams (-25), and lousy playoff odds (19.1%, 4th worst in the AL). Yu Darvish‘s one hitter was pretty darn impressive mind you, blown call and all.
- Seattle Mariners (6-2, 19-17) ↑
- Toronto Blue Jays (5-2, 18-19) ↑ After missing the first six weeks of the season due to a back injury that he originally suffered at the end of spring training, 32-year-old closer Casey Janssen was activated from the DL today. Hopefully for those north of the border, he’ll shore up the Toronto relief corps – entering Sunday, the pull pen had the fourth highest ERA in the majors, with a mark of 4.77.
- Kansas City Royals (3-4, 17-19) ↓ That the Royals are even close to .500 speaks to their crappy division and solid pitching, because their offense is truly abysmal. Twice in their last three games, they’ve scratched just four hits, shutout on Thursday by the combination of Hisashi Iwakuma and Fernando Rodney, and limited to just one run by Chris Young yesterday. Chris Young!
- Tampa Bay Rays ↓ (2-4, 16-21) For a team that prized itself on its organizational depth, and for years brought up non-heralded pitching prospects who achieved instant success, Tampa Bay are really struggling for decent innings right now.
With Matt Moore and Alex Cobb out, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer underwhelming, and David Price somewhat languishing, the Rays have only got 12 quality starts so far in 2014 – 28th in the majors. If things don’t pick up soon, which seems unlikely considering their tough upcoming schedule, the Rays are at risk of falling even further down these rankings.
- Cleveland Indians (4-3, 17-20) ↓ John Axford was removed as closer after Friday’s blowup in a move which came about a month later than I originally expected. On the bright side of things, Asdrubal Cabrera had himself an encouraging week, batting .321 over the last week – all nine hits coming in a three-game span. With Francisco Lindor presumably on track to take over the shortstop job next year, would it be a surprise to see Cabrera moved at some point this summer if he keeps on hitting? Does anyone even care about baseball in Cleveland anymore now they have Jonny Football?!
- Chicago White Sox (5-5, 19-19) ↑
- Minnesota Twins (3-4, 16-19) ↓ In absolutely terrifying news, top prospect Byron Buxton is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on his left wrist in the next few days after reinjuring it on a slide on Thursday. Considering the blah season the Twins are currently enduring, anymore bad news about their vaunted corral of prospects (Miguel Sano is already out having had TJ surgery remember) might just turn Minnesotans off baseball for the rest of the year.
- Houston Astros (1-6, 11-26) → Picking no. 1 overall in the upcoming draft is becoming more of an advantage by the day it seems; what with top amateur prospect Jeff Hoffman (East Carolina RHP) needing Tommy John surgery and UNC working LHP Carlos Rodon to disgusting pitch counts (former Tar Heel Matt Harvey‘s opinion on their ethics might be interesting), the number of potential top picks is dwindling. Unfortunately for fans of the rebuilding Astro’s though, Houston are on pace for their fourth consecutive 100-loss season and worst record yet. Even the promise of the first two #SpringerDingers of the year can’t mask the fact that Jeff Luhnow’s experimental tear-down job is taking a lot longer than originally thought.
Every week throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 6! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- San Francisco Giants (5-2 last week, 23-13 overall) ↑ I’ll leave this one to Tom the Intern.
- Los Angeles Dodgers (2-5, 19-18) ↑ Though the Giants may own them (they’re 2-6 against their NL West rivals this year, after going 8-11 in 2013), and they’re currently behind the Rockies, I’ve a lot of faith in the Dodgers eventually winning their division. Not exactly a bold prediction I know, it’s the freakin’ Dodgers and their immensely deep pockets after all, but I can’t imagine their listless play continuing much longer – especially considering how they’ve now got Clayton Kershaw back. Their lefty ace went seven innings strong in his return on Tuesday, striking out nine Nationals while throwing only 89 pitches, providing some welcome relief for an exhausted bullpen that began the day leading the majors in innings pitched. In other news, Yasiel Puig is still being Yasiel Puig, and it’s glorious.
- Colorado Rockies (4-3, 22-16) ↑ The Rockies are scoring 1.27 more runs per game than anyone else in the National League, and rank first in all of baseball in average (.303), on base percentage (.351), and slugging percentage (.499). Troy Tulowitzki meanwhile, has a 228 OPS+, has already amassed 3.9 WAR in just 35 games, and a heat map that Jonak Keri described as “a nuclear blast that’s threatening to wipe out Western civilization.” With so many crazy offensive stats to keep track of, perhaps it’s a good thing Nolan Arenado had his hit streak ended on Friday night.
- Miami Marlins (5-1, 20-17) ↑ After winning five straight, and nine of their last ten heading into Fridays game against the Padres, it was of great surprise that having sent staff ace Jose Fernandez to the mound the Marlins were crushed 10-1. Of course, this whole Miami season has been a surprise so far – who saw Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Casey McGehee and Derek Dietrich being valuable offensive contributors, or Tom Koehler being the top performer in a rotation containing the aforementioned Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez? You would have to think the wheels will fall off this week, with a trip out West to face the Dodgers and Giants on the slate, but these ain’t your normal Marlins anymore.
- Washington Nationals (2-4, 19-16) → Doug Fister finally made his debut against Oakland yesterday, but got shelled for 9 hits and five earned runs in just 4.1 innings as the Nats dropped the first meet of their three-game interleague series. Things will presumably get a little easier in the nation’s capital over the next even days – Washington have favorable matchups against Arizona and the Mets on the docket – but their season is beginning to feel a little 2013-ish; full of injury, unfulfilled promise, and eventual disappointment. New manager Matt Williams seems to have a cool head on his shoulders at least.
- St. Louis Cardinals (3-3, 18-18) →
- Milwaukee Brewers (1-5, 22-14) ↓ They might only be one game out of leading the entire Senior Circuit in record, but boy have things come back down to earth quickly in Milwaukee. Without Ryan Braun, the Brew Crew’s on-field performance has quickly regressed (since losing the Hebrew Hammer, they’re 4-8), each passing day he spends on the DL the club looking more and more like the average team their pythagorean win/loss expectation dictates. Thankfully for Milwaukee fans, Braun is due to return on Tuesday – whether he can singly lift them back to their lofty April perch however, remains dubious.
- Atlanta Braves (2-4, 19-15) ↓ Yes, the Braves have gone 2-8 over their last ten, but their schedule was brutal – a trip to Miami, followed by series against San Francisco and St. Louis at home? No thank you. What that ugly stretch did do was establish that the Braves are in a very similar position to that of the last two years; they’re a good team, but not a great one, and can certainly be pitched too. Predictably, the second base position has become a black hole offensively, with Dan Uggla‘s already tiny offensive value (his occasional power, and ability to draw a walk), completely falling off a cliff thus far in 2014, and Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky little better in relief. How soon will it be until Tommy La Stella‘s phone rings?
- Cincinnati Reds (3-2, 16-18) ↓ Literally hours after the discussion that he was too passive was rekindled (He has a .409 OBP thus far, but only a .262 average), Joey Votto belted a huge leadoff home run (437 feet apparently) on a 3-0 fastball from Boone Logan to lift Cincinnati to their second straight win over the Rockies. With Jay Bruce out for a month recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, the Reds will need their leader more than ever to carry them on offense if they’re to remain competitive in the NL Central; to wit, batting ahead of Votto yesterday were Skip Schumaker, Bryan Pena, and Brandon Philips – not exactly the ’27 Yankees. But hey, at least Todd Frazier has the longest home run of 2014 now, so there’s that at least.
- New York Mets (1-5, 16-18) ↓ Is it time to worry about David Wright? He’s generally been one of the most valuable players in the league when healthy, but in his age-31 season (in which he’s making a cool $20 million), he’s only been marginally better than average (he has a 103 OPS+, and 0.3 WAR value thus far). With only 1 home run, and an uncharacteristic .362 slugging mark, his power looks to have evaporated in the early going. Maybe he’s simply just injured, again, but the decline of their captain is not an encouraging line of thought for Mets fans to pursue.
- Pittsburgh Pirates (4-2, 15-20) ↑
- Philadelphia Phillies (3-4, 16-18) ↓ A.J Burnett had been utterly fantastic through his first seven starts as a Phillie, boasting a 2.06 ERA with his hernia and all. He’d been so good in fact, I even was beginning to come round on Ruben Amaro‘s incredulous decision to hand him such a large contract considering Philadelphia wouldn’t be contending. Naturally, he got blown up by the Blue Jays for six earned runs in his next start, and for hours afterwards I cursed myself for being even partially complementary of Amaro’s management.
- San Diego Padres (3-4, 16-21) → If he keeps up his current pace, Everth Cabrera is one day going to be a fascinating case study concerning the effects of PEDs on a person’s eyesight; after walking at a 9.5% clip between 2009-2013, then subsequently being busted, the 27-year-old shortstop has only drawn five free passes so far this season, good (bad?) for a 3.2% BB rate. Not-so-coincidentally, he’s only on pace for 39 stolen bases this season, after an per-162-game average of 89.5 the prior two campaigns. If I had some knowledge of Biology, I’d be heading the study, I swear.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (3-3, 13-25) ↑
- Chicago Cubs (2-5, 12-22) ↓ The Cubbies may have dropped 3 of 4 to their crosstown rival White Sox last week, but at least the Wrigley faithful had the pleasure of ESPN broadcasters Dan Shulman and John Kruk singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch while broadcasting from the bleachers on Sunday night.
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 6!
While you (along with most everyone in America) were watching the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft play out yesterday, some baseball was being played! Here’s a recap of some of the things you missed while making fun of the Jaguars and watching Jonny Football sit at a table for an extended period of time:
– It took until the 20th game, 84th plate appearance and 318th pitch of his major league career, but Houston’s much-heralded rookie George Springer finally hit his first home run as a big-leaguer, an opposite field shot off Tigers lefty Drew Smyly that got out to the right field bleachers in a hurry*. It would be the first of three runs scored by the Astros in the inning, and lift them to a 6-2 win over Detroit, snapping their seven-game winning streak in the process. He would also show off his athleticism in the field, laying out to rob Miguel Cabrera of a hit.
– Another home run milestone was also reached elsewhere in the AL, this time in Toronto. In a ‘rivalry’ game against the Phillies, Edwin Encarnacion launched the 200th, and then 201st home runs of his career, giving him four in the past three games, and capping off a four game sweep for the Jays in which they comprehensively outscored Philadelpia 31-11. Having endured a sluggish April at the Dish, the 31-year-old Encarnacion is now hitting .281 in May, and has only struck out 3 times in contrast to his five walks. Look out AL East, it looks like the guy who put up 36 jacks and a .904 OPS last year is back.
– Michael Brantley continued his sizzling start to the month too, nabbing three hits (including a double and a home run) in Cleveland’s 9-4 beatdown of AL Central mates Minnesota. Brantley is now hitting .400 this month, and leads the team in average, runs, RBI, and homers. In other Cleveland-related news, Jonny Manziel!!!
– Nolan Arenado extended his hit streak to 28 games with a third-inning single off of Texas starter Matt Harrison. It would be his only hit of the game (one of just five for the league-leading Colorado offense, who were shutout 5-0), but gave him the franchise record, beating the mark set by teammate Michael Cuddyer just last season. Halfway to Joe DiMaggio‘s all-time record, Arenado has now hit .360 (40-of-111) with four home runs, 10 doubles and 19 RBIs since his run began back on April 9th. Today though, he’ll face Johnny Cueto, who leads the Majors with a 1.31 ERA and a .132 opponent’s batting average, in the first of a three-game set at Cincinnati.
– Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 2 prospect in the Rangers’ farm system, left-handed second basemen Rougned Odor was called up after Donnie Murphy went on the disabled list with a strained neck and Josh Wilson was designated for assignment. After hitting .279 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 32 games at Frisco, the moved immediately into the Texas starting lineup, becoming the youngest to play in the majors so far this season at just 20 years and 94 days old. He promptly went 0-4.
– In another middle infield prospect promotion, right-handed shortstop Wilmer Flores was brought up by the New York Mets in an attempt to patch up their woeful offense (they had failed to score in 23 straight innings before getting a run in the first frame of yesterday’s tilt against the Nationals). Of course, like Odor, Flores also went 0-4 in his debut, but he has far less competition for the starting slot than his peer in Texas – who will presumably be pushed aside when Jurickson Profar returns off the DL.
— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) May 9, 2014
– Surpise, surprise, Giancarlo Stanton did something few else could: hit a humpback liner out to center field for a home run in 3.63 seconds, on an 0-2 pitch from Dale Thayer, at Petco Park no less! The two-out, two-run jack gave Miami the Marlins their first lead of the game in the 11th, and would secure only their third road win of the season. Additionally, Stanton’s 40 RBIs for the season lead the NL, and through 35 team games are the most in Marlins franchise history.
– Having conquered elbow inflammation during March, rehabbed from a strained lat muscle in April, and seen the prospect he was traded for (Robbie Ray) called up and make an immediate impression on the Tigers, Doug Fister will today finally debut as a Washington National. Expected to throw no more than 100 pitches, the big righty will square off against Tommy Milone in Oakland, as the Nats start a three-game inter league series at O.co Coliseum.
That’s it! Enjoy the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft today!
Max Scherzer is “mad”, apparently. “Mad” in the insane sense, for turning down the six-year, $144 million contract Dave Dombrowski and the Detroit Tigers offered to him before the season; for betting on himself to turn in an even better performance than his Cy Young showing in 2013, and get an even bigger payday in free agency this offseason; for doing so in an era when a new pitcher every week seems to need Tommy John surgery, and a year in which he’ll turn 30. More traditionally “mad” – angry, really – because Sports Illustrated brought up the topic of his contact in a recent cover story on him, “Mad Max’s $144 million bet,” a piece which they subtitled with the question “did he make a dumb wager on his future?”
“Mad” in another respect too though. “Mad” like the New York slang meaning – a term defined by the always-reputable Urban Dictionary as “an appropriate replacement for Northern California’s “hella” and Boston’s “wicked”. In the common vernacular, it translates into “a lot” or “extremely.” In that regard, Max Scherzer is most certainly “mad”; “mad” good.
We all know the events that occurred between Scherzer, his (super-)agent Scott Boras, and the Tigers organization during the winter/Spring Training period. Offered that aforementioned six-year, $144 million contract, a deal which would have put him on the same pay scale as Cole Hamels, but perhaps-crucially not as much as Detroit teammate Justin Verlander, Scherzer declined, dismissed the possibility of talks during the year, and thus seemed to clearly announce he would test the waters of free agency after 2014. At this point, things got a bit sour publicly between Boras, his client, and Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, as rumors about ‘who offered what exactly’ and mutual hurt feelings led to some sniping back and forth through the media. Meanwhile, several commentators panned Scherzer’s decision to turn down the money ($144 million!), figuring his value would never be higher. Matters weren’t helped by Miguel Cabrera receiving a massive extension the following week – presumably tying up Detroit’s future payroll.
You couldn’t exactly blame the doubters; since being selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, the University of Missouri product had been solid, if unspectacular, as a starter prior to 2013. His 108 ERA+ between 2010 and 2012 (and 9.2 K/9 rate over that same span) certainly made him a quality option on the bump for the Tigers, but he wasn’t dominant. His award-winning 2013 then, looked a tad out-of-place; while his superficial stats (2.90 ERA and league-leading 0.97 WHIP) made him worthy of Cy Young consideration, other pitchers were arguably better (both Yu Darvish and Anibal Sanchez had higher ERA+ marks, while Felix Hernandez also had a strong case). Scherzer’s case was almost certainly helped by an incredible amount of run support, a factor which propelled him to a 21-3 win/loss record. Whether he’d get such help again while simultaneously proving his improvement wasn’t a fluke and staying healthy, meant betting on himself during 2014 was a risky proposition.
So far though, Max Scherzer’s “$144 million bet” is looking good to pay out, and do so in a big way. After starting well in 2013 (he had a 13-1 record at the All-Star break), the 29-year-old has been hot out of the gate once again, compiling a 1.72 ERA through his first seven starts. More than simply that crude measure of performance though, Scherzer has either improved his peripherals further from their 2013 spike, or simply maintained their excellency – the difficulty in doing so being the very reason why many prognosticators (myself included) expected regression. A quick overview; his K/9 rate is up from 10.08 in 2013, to 11.49 this year; his walk rate has improved too, falling from 2.35 BB/9 to 2.30; mixing in his curveball just as much as last season, his opponent’s average allowed has effectively remained the same, currently resting at .195. After getting a little lucky with his FB/HR% a year ago, his rate has stabilized back to league average in 2014, which in addition to an increased ground ball rate has led to a career-best xFIP (2.43).
By every measure, be it tERA (2.75), SIERA (2.36), or the simple eye test, Scherzer has been even better in 2014 than when he won the Cy. With every start then, each outing being one less in which he could possibly incur injury, and a further reminder that he is a legitimate ace, his price tag is going up. Now it’s unlikely he challenges Clayton Kershaw‘s record a.a.v (Kershaw is three years younger after all, and has an even-better track record), but what would Scherzer command on the open market should he win two Cy Young awards in a row?
Scherzer’s future might not be in Detroit, but one thing’s looking certain about the righty this winter; that $144 million figure will undoubtedly be put in the rearview mirror – offers beyond $200 million will be the new benchmark. All he has to do is get there in one piece – the performance is no longer in question – and he’ll be getting paid, big-time.
Not a bad outcome for such a “dumb wager”.
I am a daily listener to ESPN’s Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast. Along with the B.S. Report, Freakonomics Radio, and good ol’ Kanye West, it’s my regular soundtrack at the rec center while I rehab my knee. Too much information about me, you’re not here for that – anyhow, the point is, that a standard segment of the FFB podcast involves Eric Karabell and Tristan Cockcroft playing what’s fondly known as America’s Favorite Game – ‘Bona fide, or Bonifacio’ (Olé!). Though it’s been a tad confused this season by a change in show hosts, the premise is basically thus; Player X gets off to an unexpectedly hot start. If Eric and Tristan believe his performance is legitimate, i.e. something has clicked, he’s going to enjoy a breakout, this is not just a fluke – Player X is bona fide. If they believe his play will regress on the other hand, or just generally don’t believe for some other reason (injury, opportunity etc.) – Player X is Bonifacio*.
Which (finally) brings me to Melky Cabrera.
Heading into 2014, there was little certainty surrounding Cabrera. After being a .280/.360/.391 hitter, and 2.7 WAR player in his first full season as a Yankee in 2006, he mixed underwhelming performance with injury for the next four years (3 of which he spent in New York, the other as an Atlanta Brave), accumulating just 1.8 WAR along the way. Suddenly though, in 2011 the Melk-man was good again; with the Kansas City Royals that year, the Dominican Republic native appeared in 155 games and hit .305/.339/.470, good for a 4.1 WAR value. Things would start even better the next year, this time in San Francisco. Cabrera would rake .346/.390/.516, win the All-Star MVP trophy, and garner 4.6 WAR before his season was abruptly ended after just 113 games. The reason for his shortened campaign – a 50-game PED suspension (and hilariously awful attempt to mask it with a fake website).
Left off of the Giants’ 2012 World Series team, Melky was controversially awarded a two-year, $16 million contract by a Toronto Blue Jays organization desperately hoping to rebound from a woeful 73-89 season (he signed just a week after the Jays pulled off the blockbuster trade with Miami that netted them Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and the then-valuable Josh Johnson). A putrid season followed, during which Cabrera played just 88 games, hit .279/.322/.360, and was a disaster defensively. His struggles were further amplified by a raging narrative – off the juice, Melky was nothing but an average ballplayer.
Subsequently, little was expected of 29-year-old both in terms of on-field and fantasy value this year; even with a spot in the Jays outfield alongside Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista pretty much guaranteed, as put by Chris Cwik of Fangraphs way back in February, “Unless Cabrera gets back to hitting for ridiculous averages, or rediscovers his power, he’s nothing more than a late-round flyer at a deep position.” Well, as it turns out, the leftie so far has hit for ridiculous average, .338 in fact. He has rediscovered his power, having hit 6 home runs already. That “late-round flyer at a deep position” is currently the 22nd ranked player in all of fantasy baseball per ESPN’s Player Rater. His 7.98 rating makes him the 8th best outfielder, and is tied with Mike Trout. By all measures, he’s been excellent for the Jays thus far, and a big part of the team’s early offensive success.**
Given his history however – the fluctuating performance, the drug suspension, the injuries – in combination with the small sample size, it seems more than fair to ask the question – is Melky Cabrera bona fide, or Bonifacio?
I’m inclined to lean bona fide, and mainly because of one factor: his health. Lost in the gruesome horror show that was the Blue Jays’ injury-marred 2014, Cabrera had perhaps the most serious ailment of all. As first written by Mike Petriello, “In Cabrera’s case, he didn’t injure a shoulder or a knee or a foot. He had a tumor in his back, and as unbelievable as it seems to say, somehow that seemed to fly completely under the radar.” Doctors legitimately wondered how he had been able to play at all, let alone appear in 88 games, and the subsequent coverage of his recovery illustrated just how affected Cabrera was. Robbed of all power in his lower half, Cabrera was not only a stiff in the field, but at the dish. Just look how painfully inflexible Cabrera looks batting here:
Ouch. Now compare that to a cut from earlier this season:
That’s Masahiro Tanaka pitching there, and that’s also a home run.
The difference in Cabrera’s approach when healthy is remarkable then. Able to turn on and drive the ball once again, it looks like he’s back in his 2011/2 form – and at just 29, is feasibly at his peak. Now, the power will almost certainly regress – his current HR/FB rate of 17.6 % is far above his career average of 7.3% – but thanks to his quick start, he’ll likely end up with around 16 (his previous career high is 18). His ability to hit for average however, isn’t going anywhere. Though he has a BABIP of .372, Cabrera is roping line drives 24.4 % of the time he puts the ball in play, and popping up just 5.9% of the time – good signs that he’ll be able to maintain such a high BABIP. Additionally, he’s done it before, back in 2012, when he had a .379 mark. Even with such an abbreviated season, that year Melky finished 15th among all outfielders on the Player Rater.
All of which is to say, that yes, you should believe. With an average draft position of 220.5, Cabrera looks set to become one of the biggest steals of the 2014 fantasy season, and will also present a conundrum for the Jays this offseason. In the last year of that original two-year pact, Cabrera’s current output is steadily increasing his winter price tag. He’ll be 30 then, and as detailed, not without baggage. His 2014 though, will have been bona fide.
* eponymously named after Emilio Bonifacio years ago after previous hosts Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz first debated the legitimacy of his April showing.
** Though the Jays stand fourth in the AL East at 16-17, they are only 1.5 games back for the division lead, and are the only team with a positive run differential (+4).