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 10! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- San Francisco Giants (4-2 last week, 40-21 overall) → As Buster Olney proffered on the Baseball Tonight podcast earliest this week, the Giants are official ridiculous. At 40-21 overall, they’re on pace for a 106-win season, and unsurprisingly have the best playoff odds of any NL team (95.7%). And while they’ve largely done it with pitching (they rank 3rd amongst all ML teams in ERA and BAA, and second in WHIP), their offense has kicked it up a notch of late too. Pablo Sandoval, who was hitting .171 heading into a May 10th game against the Dodgers, has been on fire ever since, batting .340 with six homers and a .932 OPS in a 105 plate appearance sample size. Buster Posey meanwhile, looks to be finally getting back to his MVP-level usual at the dish; his two-run homer (his eighth of the year) off reliever Carlos Torres broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning yesterday, not only gave the Giants the lead for good, but extended his hitting streak to five games and concluded his second three-hit effort in less than a week. Every single everyday player in fact, now has an OPS+ over 100 (league average). The moral as always: beware the Bay in an even-numbered year.
- Washington Nationals (5-1, 31-28) ↑ Doug Fister‘s stats in the five games he has started since his disastrous Nationals debut: 32.1 innings pitched, 25 hits allowed, 2 walks permitted, opposing batters line of .212/.236/.347, 2.23 era, 5-0 record. Hold on, I’m busy getting flashbacks of my feelings circa 2010 about the robbery of Pau Gasol by the Lakers. What a steal.
- Los Angeles Dodgers (3-3, 32-30) → Jonah Keri did a fantastic job yesterday breaking down the Matt Kemp quandary, and the Dodger’s unenviable outfield problem: in Keri’s words, “They have four outfielders making too much to sit on the bench, and, despite the seemingly impossible math, Kemp is the fifth-best option.” And that doesn’t even factor in the team’s top prospect, Joc Pederson, who is raking at Triple-A at the moment and would immediately be their best defensive center fielder if he were to be called up to the majors. The Giants are now 8 games ahead in the NL West by the way.
- Atlanta Braves (3-2, 32-27) → Congratulations to Craig Kimbrel, who at the tender age of 26, yesterday surpassed John Smoltz as the Braves’ all-time leader in saves, notching no. 155 in a 5-2 win over Arizona. Since debuting in 2010, his 43.1% strikeout rate leads all relievers, as does his 1.41 ERA. During that span, he’s been worth 10.3 WAR (the next highest is Greg Holland at 8.4), and blown just 17 save opportunities. Without question, the best closer in baseball.
- Milwaukee Brewers (3-4, 36-26) →
- St. Louis Cardinals (2-4, 31-31) ↓
- Miami Marlins (4-3, 32-29) ↑
- Colorado Rockies (0-6, 28-32) ↓ Did I, or did I not say regarding Eddie Butler‘s debut, “He’ll be going up against Hyun-Jin Ryu and the Dodgers when he makes his debut at Coors Field on Friday, so perhaps don’t rush out to add him in your fantasy leagues just yet.” 5.1 Innings, 13 base runners, and 6 earned runs later, you can’t say you weren’t warned. The Rockies are in the mire right now, and looking at their upcoming schedule (they’re facing Greinke and Kershaw this weekend, before series vs. Atlanta, at San Francisco, at L.A., vs. MIL, vs. STL, at MIL, at WASH, vs L.A.) there’s not much relief on the horizon. Oh well, Colorado: Contenders, was fun while it lasted.
- New York Mets (3-4, 28-33) →
- Pittsburgh Pirates (4-2, 29-31) ↑ Cannonball coming! Since losing the first game of a doubleheader to the Yankees back on May 18th, the Bucs have walked away victorious in 12 of their last 18 outings. Josh Harrison has been a minor revelation in that time, batting .325/.366.519 while playing some nice defense out in right field, putting some pressure on Starling Marte out in left. Though an excellent defender, Marte has batted just .234 with a .665 OPS this year, and has been banished to the bench by Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle for the Pirates’ last three games. With Gregory Polanco presumably on the way in the very near future, could it in fact be Marte most at risk of losing playing time? Just two games behind the Cardinals for second place in the NL Central, and with an extremely favorable schedule over the next month, the Pirates have a real chance to make a push for the postseason at the moment. Playing their best guys would be a good idea (#FreePolanco!).
- Cincinnati Reds (3-3, 27-32) ↓ I’d have laid big money on Johnny Cueto notching another shutout against the hapless Phillies offense yesterday. Instead, it was the Reds who were anemic on O, and Cueto gave up four runs on six hits, walking one and striking out five over five innings in the 8-0 loss. Can we tie this Cincinnati season in a bag, weight it down, and toss it overboard yet? Please?
- San Diego Padres (2-4, 27-34) →
- Philadelphia Phillies (1-6, 25-34) → As much as I like Aaron Nola as a pitching prospect, I’m still struggling to figure out why the Phillies popped him at no. 7 overall in the 2014 Amateur Draft. The LSU junior projects to have one of the quickest progressions to the majors, á la Michael Wacha, which would make sense if the Phillies were in the pennant race this year and needed immediate back-end rotation help, or expected to contend in 2015. Unfortunately, Philadelphia are neither, and having gone 5-12 in their last 17 games, are in imminent danger of being surpassed by the Diamondbacks in these rankings.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (3-3, 26-37) →
- Chicago Cubs (5-1, 24-34) → After the selection of Kyle Schwarber, a catcher at Indiana, but likely left fielder or first baseman in the majors, as the no. 4 overall pick on Thursday, a trade of some of the Cubs’ ultra-stocked position player crop for some young pitching talent (or perhaps, David Price) has to be on the horizon right?
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 10!
As the season progresses (and sadly, as more and more starters succumb to Tommy John surgery), many a young pitcher will be called up to make his ML debut. To introduce some of the more intriguing first-time starters then, I’ve a priming segment: On The Bump. Consider these posts your cliff notes, a cheat sheet if you will, for looking good at the local sports bar in front of your friends, annoying your significant other at home, or purely for feeling smug whilst sneakily watching MLB.tv on your iPhone at work. Whatever floats your boat, you’ll be prepared at least.
Who is this guy? Timothy Edward Butler, that’s who! No wonder he goes by Eddie… Anyhow, Butler is a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher who grew up in Chesapeake, Virginia, and attended Greenbrier Christian Academy. The Texas Rangers selected him in the 35th round of the 2009 draft straight out of high school, but Butler opted instead to take his talents to Radford University. Three years later, he was a (supplemental) first round pick, this time drafted 46th overall by the Colorado Rockies, and received a $1 million signing bonus. Probably the right choice to stay in school then.
What has he done? Immediately sent to the Pioneer League after signing in 2012, Butler promptly went 7–1 with a 2.13 earned run average (ERA) and 55 strikeouts, leading the league in ERA, WHIP (1.06) and opponents’ average (.230) in his short pro debut. Not a bad start. His 2013 campaign though, would be even more impressive. Beginning the season with the Low-A Asheville Tourists, Butler would make only 9 dominant starts (1.66 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) in the South Atlantic League before being moved up to the Modesto Nuts of the California League. There we would again impress, posting a 2.39 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. After pitching one inning of scoreless ball in the All-Star Futures Game, the then 22-year-old was promoted once again, this time to the Double-A Tulsa Drillers, where he would make six starts to conclude the season. Allowing just two runs in his time at Double-A, Butler would finish the season with a cumulative 1.80 ERA, and strike out 143 batters in 149.2 innings (28 starts), and land on Top 100 rankings released by Baseball America (#24), Baseball Prospectus (#26), and MLB.com (#41). So far in 2014, he’s made 11 starts at Tulsa, throwing 68.2 IP with a 2.49 ERA and 1.180 WHIP, whilst forming one of the scariest one-two combinations in the minor leagues with Jon Gray.
How has he done it? Well, according to Fangraphs writer Marc Hulet’s scouting report when he ranked Butler as the rockies’ no. 1 prospect prior to the 2014 season, “Butler made huge strides with his secondary stuff in 2013 and projects to now have three solid weapons with his mid-to-upper-90s fastball, changeup and slider — all of which feature a lot of movement. He also has a curveball that lags behind his other offerings. Along with swing-and-miss stuff, Butler’s ground-ball tendencies make him an ideal pitcher for Colorado.” Here’s his changeup making Xander Bogaerts, you know, the guy currently hitting .297 with a 133 OPS+ who won a World Series ring with the Boston ‘freakin Red Sox last year and is a whole year younger than me, look particularly foolish during the Futures Game last summer:
With a pretty low arm slot (which helps him get so much late break on his secondary stuff, particularly that upper 80s slider), you’d have thought Butler would be susceptible to large platoon splits. Not the case; left-handed hitters hit just .202/.278/.300 against Butler in 355 plate appearances last year, compared to a .192/.250/.262 line in 512 plate appearances for righties. Though his K/9 rate has dropped off significantly so far in 2014 to just 5.24, it’s not too much of a worry at this point. Just re-watch the gif a few times – he’ll be fine. (For a more complete breakdown of his stuff, I’d recommend Baseball Prospectus’ ‘The Call-Up’ feature, though it’s available to subscribers only).
Why is he pitching in the majors? How about this? Because Franklin Morales is stinking up the joint. Pressed into starting duty after, surprise surprise, Brett Anderson of all people, was injured (who saw that coming?!), Morales has posted a 6.03 ERA in 62.2 innings of work, which is somehow the third-most innings anyone on the Rockies staff has pitched this year. Furthermore, those numbers are not simply bad luck, as evidence by his nauseating 5.77 FIP.
Meanwhile, after starting the season ridiculously hot, the Rockies have cooled significantly of late; since May 20, Colorado has won just two games and lost ten (including being drubbed 16-8 by Arizona last night) to fall two games below .500 and 9 1/2 games behind the division-leading Giants. In that stretch their staff has a 5.58 ERA, the second-worst such mark in the majors, and seen their offense further diminished by the losses of Nolan Arenado (broken finger, May 24th) and Carlos Gonzalez (finger, sent to the 15-day DL today). Throw in Jordan Lyles breaking his glove hand last night, and the Rockies are in addition to suddenly swooning, banged up too, and in need of some help to stay in the NL West race.
What they’re saying: “The time is right… Eddie has been very dominant at times over the last couple of seasons. We knew he was a big-leaguer, it was just a matter of time. We feel like we could use some help in the rotation and he’s a very talented young pitcher.” Thanks for making my job easy Walt Weiss. Much better than Troy Tulowitzi’s offering anyway – “I hope he comes in and pitches well enough to give us a chance to win.” Great insight there Troy.
Worth a follow on Twitter? Err, maybe? Here are a few samples:
8am class.. this sucks…
Blake shelton !!!! Whoooo! Awsome.
— Eddie Butler (@Butler4Life) June 25, 2012
On the bus to Rome. New bus driver. Working bus. Gonna be a good road trip
— Eddie Butler (@Butler4Life) May 16, 2013
Perhaps not actually.
Anything else? He’ll be going up against Hyun-Jin Ryu and the Dodgers when he makes his debut at Coors Field on Friday, so perhaps don’t rush out to add him in your fantasy leagues just yet. Keep an eye out for his Double-A running mate Gray too; with Lyles’ injury, he could soon be arriving in Colorado to partner Butler once again in the very near future.
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!
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 5! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- Milwaukee Brewers (4-3 last week, 21-9 overall) ↑ As so succinctly put by Jonah Keri, “The lineup the Milwaukee Brewers fielded against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night looked like it belonged in a split-squad spring training game.” Everyone’s favorite Canadian wasn’t wrong either – behind Joey Votto‘s All-Star nemesis (Carlos Gomez) in the leadoff spot, the Brew Crew trotted out the following order; Elian Herrera (1 career HR), Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis (.257 OBP this year), Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds (both of whom are first basemen, and could well be playing in Japan), Jeff Bianchi (career backup, .222 hitter), and Martin Maldonado (a part-time pitcher now). Naturally, they won – and now stand a full 6 games clear of the Cardinals in the NL Central race. With Ryan Braun now on the DL and their paper-thin lineup already exposed, the load will continue to be on their pitching staff to keep up the pace, but with a surprisingly stocked rotation, and shutdown relief corps, I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if they did. It’s shaping up to be just that kind of year in Milwaukee*.
- San Francisco Giants (5-1, 18-11) ↑ Worryingly thin in terms of starting pitch depth by the end of last season, the Giants went out and grabbed the 38-year-old Tim Hudson from the injury scrapheap (a nasty fractured ankle had needed his 2013 season), signing the veteran to a two-year, $23 million contract in the hope of landing some solid back-end production. So far, the move is looking like a steal; after completing his first month in the Giants’ rotation with a 2.17 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 31:2 K:BB across 45.2 innings, Hudson clearly has plenty left in the tank, and has already contributed 1.1 WAR to the club. He’ll unfortunately miss pitching against his former Atlanta mates this weekend, but will have a nice opportunity to bump his stats further on Tuesday, when he is scheduled to face the anemic Pirates. An NL West showdown with the Dodgers will round out the week.
- Atlanta Braves (2-4, 17-11) ↓ After being swept by a combined score of 23-7 this week, Aaron Harang and manager Fredi Gonzalez hilariously voiced suspicion that the Marlins’ offensive explosion could only have been caused by them stealing signs. Sure, it’s a tad odd that after striking out 11 times against him last week, Miami this time touched up Harang for 10 hits and a career-high nine runs, but how about this: it’s not cameras, the bullpen, or sneaky men lingering around the center-field sculpture in red hats – Harang, who entered the game with the best ERA in the major leagues at 0.85, but the owned a career mark of 4.28, simply (finally) turned back into a pumpkin. Or an orangutan, whatever. The April shine is off either way.
- Los Angeles Dodgers (4-2, 17-13) →
- Washington Nationals (4-1, 17-12) ↑ Bryce Harper hustles his way to third, tears the UCL in his thumb, and is now out until July. I wonder how #smrtbaseball proponent Matt Williams feels about this outcome, after sitting his star 21-year-old, one of the most intense players in recent memory, for his effort in a what looked like misguiding attempt to establish some new managerial authority.
- St. Louis Cardinals (2-4, 15-15) ↓
- Colorado Rockies (5-2, 18-13) ↑ Meet the major leagues’ best offense. Ranking first in runs (174), batting average (.297), slugging percentage (.484), and second in on-base percentage (.346), the Rox offense and their 115 OPS+ are legit. Troy Tulowitzki has been his usual top-five-player-in-baseball-when-not-injured self (1.217 OPS), and big contributions from Justin Morneau and Charlie Blackmon have more than made up for Carlos Gonzalez‘s sluggish start (CarGo is apparently battling a finger injury), but it’s perhaps been the continued emergence of Nolan Arenado in his second year that has most impacted Colorado’s early season success. As per usual, the California native has been an absolute vacuum at the hot corner (teaming up with defensive player of the month Tulowitzki to form the most impenetrable left side of an infield in the bigs), but has also stood out at the dish in so far in 2014; the 23-year-old is working on a 22-game hitting streak, and is hitting .309 with four home runs and 16 RBI entering today’s games. Though he still can’t take a walk (having an 86% contact rate does offset the problem somewhat), if Arenado can continue to give Colorado the production of a third offensive star, perhaps we’ll see Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray a little sooner than expected, as the Rockies push for the playoffs.
- Cincinnati Reds (2-4, 13-16) ↓ Aroldis Chapman reportedly clocked in at 101mph during his first minor league rehab start. I won’t say anything too positive though, after I apparently cursed Billy Hamilton on Thursday.
- New York Mets (2-3, 15-13) →
- Miami Marlins (5-1, 15-14) ↑ It’s incredible how different this team is at home compared to on the road. In front of approximately no one, the Marlins are 13-4, and have scored 105 runs while allowing only 54. Meanwhile, on the road, the Fish are 2-10, and have a -26 run differential.
- Philadelphia Phillies (2-2, 13-14) → For one glorious moment this week, the entire NL East were all above .500. Of course, the Phillies had to go and wreck the feel-good story by dropping their next two games, but still… who would have seen that statistic coming at the start of the season in a division that featured the Mets, Marlins, and a team employing Ryan Howard?
- Pittsburgh Pirates (2-3, 11-18) ↓
- San Diego Padres (2-4, 13-17) ↓ If you ever wondered what happens when the league’s worst offense meets the worst defense, well, you got your depressing answer on Friday night: San Diego (70 OPS+**) fell to Arizona (72 ERA+) 2-0, notching only three hits against Bronson Arroyo. After many (including this guy) thought the Friars would challenge for a Wild-Card berth this season, their woeful offense looks set to doom them to yet another disappointing year; the club ranks last among Senior Circuit teams in all three traditional slash line categories – batting average (.213), on-base percentage (.266), and slugging (.320) – and have managed to score 20 fewer runs (77) than the 14th-ranked Braves despite playing two more games. Literally no one is hitting; Jedd Gyorko is bordering on unplayable (.155/.222/.216), Will Venable has predictably regressed after his unsustainable FB/HR rate of last year (.190/.229/.260, with no homers), Yonder Alonso has failed to build upon any of the positive signs he once offered (.172/.202/.232, -0.7 WAR in 103 PAs)… The list goes on and on. Maybe the imminent return of Carlos Quentin will boost the floundering offe… Ha.
- Chicago Cubs (3-2, 10-17) ↑ Hired with an aim to resurrect the careers of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, Rick Renteria has done just that. Rizzo is currently hitting .295/.419/.495 and Castro .306/.336/.463 (the latter being on pace for a 198-hit season). As the only two projected holdovers of this team when the top prospects eventually arrive, the Cubs long-term plan is looking good right now.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (2-4, 10-22) ↓ I’m so sick of these guys.
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 5!
* For more on the Brewers, I have to recommend Thursday’s excellent Effectively Wild Podcast from Baseball Prospectus, in which Ben and Sam speak with J.P. Breen about Milwaukee’s hot start.
** OPS+ is adjusted for ballparks too, so the Padres can’t even blame their struggles on the admittedly pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
It’s an annual tradition at this point. With two weeks of Spring Training in the books, the exciting young prospects are mostly cut, the superstars are going through the motions, and most everyone just wants the regular season to get underway. With little else to focus on then, the number of stories focusing on potential breakout performers increases exponentially, most of which are based off a ridiculously impressive, but ridiculously small sample size of Spring Training statistics. Deciphering which ones are for real (think Giancarlo Stanton’s 2010 showing, Evan Longoria in 2008, or even Yasiel Puig just last spring), and identifying the frauds masquerading momentarily at the top of the statistical leaderboards (Jake Fox being the classic example, with Aaron Hicks running him close in 2013) is therefore always a fun game to play in the dog days of March – and something I’ll be engaging in over the weekend. Today, I’ve looked at this Spring Training’s batting leaders (as of 2PM PST at least), in which I found a few names of interest; can any of them actually make much of an impact in the regular season though?
Guess what you guys? Mike Moustakas is hammering Spring Training pitching! The former No. 2 overall draft pick must finally be ready to live up to the promise that led Baseball America to rank him the 9th best prospect in all of baseball! Let’s go Royals!
If only it were as simple as such a #HotSportsTake… Yes, the man known as Moose is crushing right now – leading the Cactus League with 4 home runs and batting .500/.559/1.036 – but the Royals third baseman did exactly the same last spring, not that it led to anything close to a breakout; after smoking 13 extra-base hits on his way to a .394 average (and 16 RBIzzzz), the once-heralded prospect had himself a stinker of a season, struggling to a .233/.287/.364 line – good(?) for not only a 77 OPS+, but a ton of speculation regarding his future with the Royals.
His statistics so far are undeniably a small sample mirage, but there are encouraging signs beyond the numbers. After swallowing his pride and going to Venezuela in order to play under Kansas City’s hitting coach Pedro Grifol at the Cardenales de Lara club, the 25-year old has radically altered his approach; not only has Moustakas widened his batting stance, but according to Royals legend George Brett, has finally realized (after being one of the most shifted-against players last year) that purely being a pull hitter won’t bring him the success necessary to keep his job. As such, he’s made a concerted effort to hit the ball to all fields so far this spring. Perhaps more importantly so far though, the left-hander has an even strikeout to walk ratio, suggesting that maybe in 2014, we’ll finally see a more mature Moustakas flourish. With recent signing Danny Valencia breathing down his neck for playing time should he falter, the Royals’ leash is certainly shorter on Moustakas should he again fail to translate his spring success into regular season production.
Placing not far behind Moustakas in Spring Training OPS (1.257) is a career journeyman by the name of Miguel Cabrera. Horrible by defensive metrics, Cabrera will need to continue eating pitchers for breakfast to stick with Detro… Of course, I’m kidding. Does this guy ever not hit though, like, just for a game or two, strictly for fun, sometime?
Ranked as the No. 23 prospect in the San Diego Padres organization according to the Baseball America Prospect Handbook for 2014, 25-year old Tommy Medica is making a strong case to start the year in the Padres lineup. After hitting .296/.372/.582 with 18 homers in 280 at-bats for Double-A San Antonio in 2013, Medica put up a .290/.380/.449 slash line in his 69 at-bat September cameo with the Padres, and so far hasn’t let up his assault this spring; through 35 at-bats, Medica has crushed at a .429/.459/.686 clip, a performance leading Bleacher Report to dub him the Padres’ “Next Face of the Franchise.” Somewhere out there, Austin Hedges just cussed out the internet.
The fact is that despite all his hitting, the Padres have nowhere to currently play the defensively-fringy Medica; at his preferred first base, there’s already Yonder Alonso, whom barring injury should remain at the position. With Cameron Maybin out, the Padres are experimenting with Medica at a corner outfield spot just to get him in the lineup – despite already having Will Venable, Carlos Quentin, Chris Denorfia and Seth Smith duking it out for the two available spots. Additionally, it will take much more significant time than occasional Spring Training play for the former catcher to adequately adjust to roaming Petco Park’s spacious ground. So while his sustained performance may warrant a space on the San Diego 25 man roster, Medica will likely end up in Triple-A in order to accrue some outfield reps. Frankly, I’d be surprised if he becomes more than a bench player this year – still, not bad for a system’s No. 23 prospect.
Staying in the Cactus League, Colorado have quite the battle on their hands for the outfield spot vacated by Dexter Fowler this past offseason. With Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer occupying two of three outfield slots, Brandon Barnes, Drew Stubbs, Charlie Blackmon, and Corey Dickerson are all fighting for the final role – with varying amounts of success.
The favorite for the job, Stubbs, is a known commodity at this point, no matter what his spring .333 average and .391 OBP say; he’s a career .239 hitter, while his on-base percentage continues to barely scrape over .300 year after year – as a long-time Reds fan, I can tell you now the Rockies will be looking to be rid of him by June – leaving the other three contenders.
After being tripped up by the Spring Training hurdle for the last couple of years, Charlie Blackmon has again faltered so far – at least in comparison to his positional competition. Brandon Barnes, acquired from Houston in the Fowler trade, currently ranks 6th in batting average (.414) and can boast a .934 OPS, while Corey Dickerson can point to a similarly impressive .355/.364/.581 slash line. Barnes, who had a 69 OPS+ in a season and change with the Astros is no doubt a fraud. Dickerson’s performance on the other hand, after he hit .371 with an OPS of 1.046 in Colorado Springs last year, should be considered more bonafide than Bonifacio. He might begin the season in the Minors again, but given both Stubbs’ propensity to underwhelm, and the fragility of both CarGo and Cuddyer, could quickly become a fixture at Coors Field. At just 24-years old too, his impressive Spring Training display could actually be indicative of a breakout to come.
In between watching Oregon take on USC, tomorrow I’ll be writing more of the same. Check back soon for more regarding the leading hitters of spring!
You know the feeling. We’ve all done it. You’re putting off reading about race and gender in nineteenth-century coastal Ecuador by just casually clicking through Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, or whichever other site your baseball fandom dictates. It was a five minute break twenty minutes ago, when suddenly a certain statistic just sticks out so glaringly it disrupts your deep dive. Now admittedly, my trawling wasn’t particularly intense today – I was feeling vaguely on the ball when it came to my schoolwork – but Michael Cuddyer won the NL batting title last year?!
As a career .277 hitter, and someone who had never hit above .284 coming into 2013, Cuddyer’s mark of .331 was not only hugely surprising, but blew away the competition; the 34 year old’s clip was a full 10 points ahead of his nearest competitor (Chris Johnson), and left perennial batting average contenders like Yadier Molina, Joey Votto, and teammate Troy Tulowitzki in the dust. Throw in his 20 HRs, 84 RBIs, and 10 steals, and Cuddyer probably swung more than a few fantasy leagues in his second year as a Rockie. Alas! Fantasy baseball is not real, nor is the idea that Cuddyer will put up a good fight in defending his average crown; his deal with the baseball Gods is likely over.
Quite simply, the regression monster is coming – and in a big way; the former Minnesota man’s 2013 batting average success was all smoke, mirrors, and good ol’ luck on batted balls in play. Trailing only the aforementioned Johnson and former Twin’s teammate Joe Mauer, Cuddyer’s 2013 BABIP of .382 was a full 70 points higher than his career rate, and more than 16 percent higher than his previous career high of .328 all the way back in 2006. And while both Johnson and Mauer were also among the leaders in line drive percentage (27.0% and 27.7% respectively), Cuddyer only managed a rate of 20.2% – only his fourth highest percentage in a season in which he stepped to the plate at least 250 times; based on such a number, Cuddyer’s BABIP should have been at .295, making his average .264. Which y’know, would put him right in line with his 2012 season, in which the then-33 year old slashed .260/.317/.489 thanks to a .287 BABIP and was a 1.5 WAR player – the sort of normal figures that restore my faith in baseball reality.
My aim in pointing out his inflated average is not to rag on Cuddyer, or suggest he is a bad player who simply got by last year by faking it – far from it. In fact, the Virginia native has recently been remarkably consistent, his peripheral numbers remaining mostly the same despite his advancing age and a change in home ballpark. But as fantasy draft season rapidly approaches, such knowledge of obvious regression candidates should be deemed absolutely necessary – kind of like a buyer’s beware PSA. The 16-20 HR power? Legit. Plenty of RBI opportunities batting behind Carlos Gonzalez and Tulo? Assured. 10 steal potential? Sure. A DL stint and a final total of around 140 games played? Inevitable. Terrible defense in right field guaranteed for another year because the Rockies went out and signed Justin Morneau to play first this year? Lock it in.
The batting average though? I’ll let you work that one out.
After a self-restrained post in which I came clean about my hometown bias towards the Cincinnati Reds and gleefully looked forward to the base-stealing exploits of Billy Hamilton, my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series continues in earnest today with a look at the newest member of the Colorado Rockies’ rotation – Brett Anderson. Can he stay on the mound long enough to crack the Coors problem?
When the Colorado Rockies acquired Brett Anderson from the Oakland A’s, sending Drew Pomeranz the other way to primarily make it a swap of 25 year-old left handed starters (the A’s also sent $2 million; the Rockies included Class-A RHP prospect Chris Jensen), I’d be willing to bet that Colorado management had the following graph in mind;
In their ongoing crusade against the mile-high air and spacious outfield gaps of their home, Coors Field, Colorado has quietly built it’s defense upon inducing the groundball and then fielding it proficiently – taking the elements out of the equation. Backed up by plus infielders Nolan Arenado, Troy Tulowitzki, and DJ LeMahieu, Colorado converted the sixth-highest percentage of ground balls put in play among MLB clubs in 2013. Furthermore, their only minus regular infielder, 1B Todd Helton, retired this past offseason. Meanwhile the club’s starters checked in at 3rd in ground ball percentage, their rate of 48% trailing only the Pirates and Cardinals. Leading the Rockies in the category was Tyler Chatwood, who in 111.1 innings of work posted a GB rate of 58.5%, good for 6th in the majors (with the qualification of a minimum of 20 IP).
Top of that list? Brett Anderson. As demonstrated by the above graph, Anderson has seen his GB% climb successively for the past 5 seasons, a trend which culminated in the ridiculous 64.4% mark that led the majors last year. How does he do it? Along with a low 90s fastball, Anderson leans heavily on a wipeout slider (fifth-ranked in usage at 33.2% from 2009-2013) to generate weak contact, and more importantly, keep the baseball out of the air. As a result, over his five years in the majors, Anderson has ranked 18th in GB/FB ratio (1.90), while leading the league in line-drive rate (16.7%). Perfectly suited for Colorado’s assault of the infield grass then, why does his acquisition suit the term ‘a roll of the dice’?
As so eloquently put by Mike Petriello, “the giant, gimpy elephant on crutches in the room is Anderson’s near-total inability to stay healthy.” After breaking into the majors in 2009 aged 21, and throwing 175.1 innings on his way to generating an ERA+ mark of 108, Anderson looked like Oakland’s ace-in-waiting heading into his sophomore season. A sore elbow limited him to just 112.1 innings. The next year, 2011, saw Anderson undergo the dreaded Tommy John surgery, as he threw just 83.1. He made it back in time for the latter half of the 2012 season, appearing in 6 games before straining his oblique. A badly sprained right ankle then cost the lefty a further 4 months of his 2013 season. In total, Anderson has pitched 450.2 innings in total since he broke into the majors, and hasn’t cracked he 100-inning mark since 2010. While some would call his injury history incredibly bad luck, pointing to the non-recurrence of any specific ailment, others view it as simply indicative of a body that can’t withstand the physical demands of pitching. The Rockies are betting on the former.
Colorado has effectively traded for a lottery ticket. Anderson is owed $8 million in salary this year – minus the $2 million the A’s kicked in as part of the trade – but with a single win now judged to be worth $6 million on the open market, any semblance of a return to form will therefore be a good investment by the club (There is also a team-friendly option for 2015 worth $12.5 million should Anderson’s 2014 showing prove worthy of keeping him around). And though the injury risk with Anderson is more than significant, this kind of high-upside deal is exactly one the Rockies should be making; with their lack of free agent pull and current pitching needs, a bet on a potentially above-average starter is one worth making. As noted by Billy Beane, Oakland’s GM, at the time of the trade “this is the time to get him, because the cost of acquisition a couple of years ago on Brett, well there really wasn’t one. He was an untouchable.”
That the pre-injury version of Brett Anderson still exists is the uncomplicated roll of the dice Colorado is taking. If so, they’ve found themselves a gem of a pitcher perfectly suited to their ballpark at incredible value over the next two years. If not? Well, it only cost them Drew Pomeranz…