While streaming my awesome-binge-watch show of choice during some downtime yesterday afternoon (I’m now on to season 3 of The Wire after finishing Breaking Bad a couple of weeks ago), one particular internet pop-up caught my eye. This site wasn’t as sinister as it may at first sound – I only noticed it because it pictured Tony Parker hypothetically rising up for a dunk (I know, never going to happen right…). It was in fact, an advert for the Bovada Sportsbook.
Anyhow, this illicit prompt triggered a memory of a gambling-related post I wrote way back in Spring Training whilst March Madness was taking place, ‘Busted Bracket? Try some baseball betting!’, a piece in which I unfortunately expressed the following sentiment:
I love, love, LOVE me some Rays action this year… I’ll be taking them to win the whole darn thing. With David Price still leading a loaded pitching staff, Wil Myers’ mighty presence in the offense all year, and Joe Maddon’s usual defense/matchup innovation, at +1500 on sportsbook.com, Tampa Bay represent a terrific value to go all the way.
Sound logic at the time, but boy… just yikes. With the benefit of hindsight (well, about a third of a seasons worth of results anyway), it’s clear there are plenty of rough calls in that piece (hey Prince Fielder: HR Champ!), but that one truly sticks out. Rather than live up to the hype that infected not just I, but numerous other baseball prognosticators too, the Rays have been truly abysmal so far in 2014, and are showing little signs of turning things around (they’re currently on a 6-game losing streak). What has changed then, for the Rays to so suddenly fall off the wagon?
Jonah Keri did a great job of breaking the Ray’s slow start back on May 14th in a piece asking pretty much the same question, ‘Why Do the Preseason Darling Rays Suddenly Look Like the Devil Rays?’. At that point, they were 16-23, and only 4½ games out of first place in the AL East. In other words, there was still some hope, and Keri managed to find some silver linings (I will not plumb the pun depths for ‘Rays of hope’). Since then however, things have continued on in the wrong direction; the Rays are now 23-34, and 4 games back of fourth place, let alone the 10.5 games behind Toronto in first. Their chances of reaching the playoffs now sit at a paltry 5.3%.
The rash of pitching injuries that Keri cited, decimating the starting rotation, remain the inherent problem. Matt Moore is of course out for the year after undergoing tommy John surgery, while Jeremy Hellickson is still yet to make his debut after starting the season on the disabled list. Alex Cobb, after missing time with an oblique strain, is back at least, but his helpful return (I liked him as a good dark horse at 33/1 to win the AL Cy Young award), hasn’t been enough to offset the combination of bad luck and below-par performance currently afflicted David Price; the nominal ace of the Rays staff has a 4.27 ERA after 12 starts, but a 3.24 FIP.
Price hasn’t been alone in his struggles – young starters Chris Archer (4.00 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) and Jake Odorizzi (5.13 and 1.54 in the same categories) have been remained healthy, but have failed to live up to expectations. Combined with their relative ineffectiveness (Tampa as a whole has only 19 quality starts this year, last in the majors), throw in the lack of stamina of Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos, the other two pitchers to have started for the Rays this year, and the bullpen has been taxed – hard. Grant Balfour and Joel Peralta, previously excellent high-leverage relievers, both sport horrendous numbers. Josh Lueke remains horrid, on and off the field. Only Jake McGee has really excelled in the usual Tampa Bay reliever fashion.
But the Rays haven’t been much better on offense either. After securing AL ROY honors last year, Wil Myers was expected to play Robin to Evan Longoria‘s Batman. Instead, Myers has experienced a brutal sophomore slump (not in his bat-flip game mind you), and was hitting only just .227 with a .666 OPS before he was placed on the DL with an ailing wrist over the weekend. Longoria meanwhile, with 5 home runs and a 98 OPS+ mark, has been anonymous as one of the Joker’s masked henchmen, and unable to buoy an offense anchored by the worst catching production in the majors thus far; for all of Jose Molina‘s and Ryan Hanigan‘s framing abilities, a combined .182/.254/.257 triple slash line with terrible base running should be unacceptable.
As Keri pointed out too, there’s not much help on the way; in addition to drafting terribly over the past few years, and graduating a lot of the prospects who did in fact make it (Price, Desmond Jennings, Moore, Myers kind of etc.), the Rays are tapped out financially. Team GM Andrew Friedman acknowledged as such after a winter in which management gave out multiyear deals to the aforementioned Balfour, Hanigan, and James Loney, and then made an expensive mistake on Heath Bell; at over $80 million, this years payroll is a franchise record, and unsustainable in the long-term.
With Toronto streaking away, Baltimore’s free-agency commitment to winning now, Boston turning it around, and New York looking capable of an above .500 season, contending for the AL East in 2014 is already looking out of the question for the Rays. Besot by injuries, bad luck, and bad form, the trades might soon be coming in order to address that depleted talent pool and over-extended budget, David Price being the obvious candidate to be moved. The rebuild could be well and truly on by October, when by my prediction, they should have been playing for a championship.
The Rays are now +3500 to win it all. And it’s no longer even a decent value play.
As previously detailed in my ROY cases for Noah Syndergaard and Xander Bogaerts, and MVP picks of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, I’ll occasionally be interspersing my usual content with my (probably misguided) award predictions for the upcoming season. Today marks the next installment pertaining to my poor judgement – it’s time to choose some Cy Young award winners. Fair warning, I’m not exactly going out on a limb with my picks.
Entering last season, you could make a justifiable case that either Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez was the best pitcher in baseball, marginally ahead of Clayton Kershaw. 12 months later though, there’s no disputing the Dodgers’ ace is the best in the game.
Still just 26 (his birthday was last Wednesday), Kershaw has already racked up two Cy Young awards and three consecutive ERA titles, while his numbers over the last four years – 2.37 ERA, 2.70 FIP, and 1.02 WHIP – all rank as best in the league. Coming off a 2013 season in which he went 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA, and had 17 games of at least 6.2 innings pitched and allowing one or fewer earned runs, the Texas native is somehow getting even better too; his walk rate has decreased from the 9-13% range he put up earlier in his career to an extremely frugal 5-7% during the past couple of seasons, and whilst doing so, the southpaw with the hammer curve has also maintained at least a 25.0% strikeout rate. Given that he furthermore possesses the power to re-write the BABIP laws (his .270 average is significantly below the typical league-wide .290-.300 range), the seven year, $215 million extension that Los Angeles signed their stud to this past winter could end up being a bargain should Kershaw keep up his current rate of performance – as speculated by Grantland’s Jonah Keri.
After providing yet another example of how Spring Training statistics don’t matter (he had a 9.20 ERA across 14.2 IP), Kershaw is already off to another dominant start – fanning 7 Arizona batters with his typically filthy array of curveballs and sliders over 6.2 innings in the opening game of the 2014 season. Though he finally gave up his first Opening Day earned run in his fourth such start, it’s shaping up to be yet another season in which the normally-charitable Kershaw makes even the sport’s best hitters look helpless – stranding them alone on an unforgiving island of pitching cruelty up in the batter’s box.
Unfortunately for the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez, barring voter fatigue, or God help us all, injury, the NL Cy Young hardware should be Kershaw’s for years to come should he simply stay on track. Get ready to clear some more room on the mantelpiece Clayton, you’ve got my (unrecognized) vote already.
The field of possible contenders among the American League is much wider; Yu Darvish, King Felix, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander all figure to be in the mix, but, as mentioned in yesterday’s gambling related post (when I wasn’t making fun Fernando Rodney actually having odds for the award), I’m picking David Price – he who has averaged 208 innings and a 78 ERA- over the past four years – to pick up his second Cy.
Having won the award in 2012, Price’s offseason regiment back at his alma mater Vanderbilt was disrupted by the bump in publicity he subsequently received. Unable to work out fully with his old Commodores Coach Tim Corbin, the Rays’ ace came out the gate slowly in 2013, allowing eight home runs and an opponent’s triple slash line of .294/.340/.471 in his first 55 innings pitched. By the time he came out of May 15 outing against the Boston Red Sox (in which lasted just 2.1 innings, allowing four runs) with a triceps injury, Price was sitting on a 5.24 ERA with a 1-4 record. He’d be out for six weeks, but would return with a vengeance.
Making 18 starts over the rest of the season (including Game 163 in Texas), Price would author a 2.53 ERA (37 ER/131.2 IP), allowing only 113 hits en route to a 9-4 record. Even more impressive though, was his immaculate control; after returning, the lefty’s velocity was down, but he still struck out 102 batters while only issuing 13 walks. By seasons end, Price paced the Junior Circuit in complete games (4), fewest walks per nine innings (1.3 BB/9), and also had the highest strikeout to walk ratio (5.59) – officially returning to the form that captured him the 2012 award, even despite a velocity drop (he didn’t throw one pitch of at least 97mph in 2013, after throwing more than 250 such pitches in 2012, though his average still sat at a very respectable 93.5mph).
At only 28, manager Joe Maddon believes his no. 1 to be entering “that era of five or six years of the best pitching” of his career, but 2014 will almost certainly be the last year Price spends in a Rays uniform; it was quite the industry surprise that Tampa didn’t move him during December’s Winter Meetings, and instead picked up his arbitration tab for the upcoming year. Consider this season the ultimate trade showcase then, as I expect Price to pick up exactly where he left off in 2013 and then, trophy in hand, be moved next winter in exchange for a veritable bounty. It might be another two years until he’s paid like the ace he is then, but hopefully a second Cy Young for the meantime will be sufficient consolation for Price.
Happy baseball everybody! By the time this has posted, the 2014 MLB season will be one game old, and the Dodgers and Diamondbacks might already have sparked an international incident by taking their ongoing feud to foreign soil; one Yasiel Puig bat flip and the Australian public could have a brawl on their hands. Anyway… With everyone already gambling on March Madness (my two brackets are already busted – S/O to Duke!), what better time to lay some additional baseball-related bets? As a responsible 22-year-old, I’ve picked out a few of my favorite props for the upcoming season – some of which are informed value plays, others simply hunches. Feel free to consider/ignore them at your leisure.
I love, love, LOVE me some Rays action this year. Perennially underrated by the bookmakers in regard to their over/under regular season wins total, Vegas finally seems to have caught on to the fact these guys are routinely good; the over has been a solid bet for the past couple of seasons, but their newly jacked line and stiff AL East competition have me staying away from laying anything on it this year. Instead, I’ll be taking them to win the whole darn thing. With David Price still leading a loaded pitching staff, Wil Myers’ mighty presence in the offense all year, and Joe Maddon’s usual defense/matchup innovation, at +1500 on sportsbook.com, Tampa Bay represent a terrific value to go all the way – especially given how fellow contenders Detroit, Texas, and Oakland have all suffered rough Spring Trainings. I’d also very happily take them over the defending champion Red Sox, who at +1200, somehow have longer odds than the Yankees (+1000).
If I was strictly taking a winner from the NL, I’d pick the St. Louis Cardinals, whose price of +900 trails only the Dodgers (+600) in lowest possible gains. This considered, I’d much rather have the Washington Nationals at +1200, a team much like the Rays in that they boast great pitching (both in terms of talent and depth), complemented by an above-average offense. Their division looks to be a cakewalk, so wagering a few dollars on the Nats to win the NL East wouldn’t be a bad move, just one with little potential. Similar to the AL teams, there are a few curious odds for Senior Circuit teams; the Giants for instance (at +3000), are twice as likely to win than the Diamondbacks (+6000), and also have lower odds than the Reds (+4000). I know it’s an even numbered year again, but c’mon man, the Giants?!
On to individual player props then, and a few which especially stood out. Though I despise the win statistic’s weight when it come to judging pitchers, betting the over on Sonny Gray’s 12.5 line is one of the few props that will net you more than your original stake (+105). My logic on this one, aside from the value offered, is that Gray’s a potential stud on a good team, and with the recent injuries of staff ace Jarrod Parker and rotation mate A.J. Griffin, will be leaned upon more than ever – eradicating any innings limit fears that might have limited his opportunity to hit the over.
I’m less bullish on Matt Cain. He has the same 12.5 line as Gray, and at even money, playing his under could be a strong move. As I may have given away above, I’m really not sold on this Giants team’s capacity to finish above .500, especially in a division featuring the Dodgers, much improved Padres, and forever #gritty Diamondbacks. Though he rebounded nicely after a couple of disastrous innings during the first half of the season, I’m sufficiently worried about Cain to lay money on a poor 2014 win-loss record.
Equally, I’m not in love with Chris Davis’ (no, not the Khris Davis I focused on yesterday) chances of crushing 50+ HRs once more. Understandably though, he’s favored to repeat as the long ball champ; even factoring in some regression, his awesome power should get him to at least 35. If you’re looking for a dark-horse candidate, Prince Fielder at +1800 offers a nice play. After enduring a rough year off the field during 2013, I’m hoping he’ll respond in a big way in 2014. Additionally, his winter move to the Rangers and the very homer-friendly Globe Life Park in Arlington can only be considered another cause for optimism concerning Fielder’s revival.
When it came to odds for awards, I turned to the Bovada sportsbook. I’ve documented my love for Mike Trout, believing his candidacy for AL MVP this year to be little more than a slam dunk; at 5/1 he has the least profitable odds – even over two-time defending winner Miguel Cabrera – but hey, when can you turn down free money? On the NL side of things, although I advocated for Bryce Harper as part of my ongoing award predictions, I also cited Yadier Molina as a strong figure of opposition. At 12/1, Harper isn’t a bad play, but the 16/1 odds you’ll receive on Yadi make him a more appealing prospect. As the heart and soul of perhaps the best team in the NL, should he manage to stay healthy all season long, Molina will have himself a strong case to take home the hardware.
Choosing between potential Cy Young award winners was slightly more difficult. In the NL, I plumped for Stephen Strasburg’s 8/1 number over the heavily favored Clayton Kershaw, but there weren’t really any good value plays – a problem which carried over into the AL. Given my Rays affection, it’s probably not surprising I like David Price to win the Junior Circuit trophy, but the guy is legitimately incredible; after returning from the DL last season, the lefty pitched 131.2 innings, in which he racked up 102 strikeouts while allowing only 13 walks, good for a 2.53 ERA, and a .233/.253/.337 opponents’ line. Price is only 9/1 though, just behind Yu Darvish, so isn’t an especially sexy choice. His teammate Alex Cobb on the other hand, at 33/1 is an attractive outside shot, much more so than fellow rotation member Matt Moore, who is 12/1.
There are so many bets out there that you can always find value in some place. Just remember to observe the only two rules of baseball gambling: 1) Clear your internet history so you don’t look like a complete degenerate. 2) Never, ever, pick Fernando Rodney to win AL Cy Young (66/1). With that in mind, Happy baseball (betting) everybody!
Since arriving in the Majors in May 2012, the Millville Meteor has been the most valuable player in baseball, posting consecutive 10+ WAR seasons in his age 20 and 21 campaigns. He has robbed home runs in spectacular fashion, playing center field with all the grace of a gazelle – a gazelle with a crazy vertical leap. On the basepaths, he’s a terror, using the speed that routinely turns grounders into infield hits to pose a constant threat when on base – which by the way, he generally is. At the dish, he’s been one of the five best hitters in the game, combining a patient approach (he was third in the majors with 110 walks last year), with both a plus hit tool (hitting .326 and .323 in the past two years respectively) and surprising power (he already has 62 home runs). Furthermore, he owns Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez, the two pitchers he has faced most often so far in his young career, with Darvish recently admitting he has no idea how to pitch to him – high praise indeed, given his position as reigning AL strikeout king. By all measures, Trout is the most valuable player in the sport (hence why his upcoming contract terms are being widely, and wildly, debated). That Miguel Cabrera has beaten him to the official hardware in both the past two years is merely indicative of a voting class that still favors RBI(zzzzzz) over metrics that also take into account fielding and base running – y’know, crucial elements of the sport.
I’m not here to argue about Cabrera stealing Trout’s shine though; as Jonah Keri put it so wonderfully, “Criticizing Cabrera or Trout is like whining about the mole on Kate Upton’s upper lip.” Despite his lack of formal acknowledgment, when it comes to who’s most valuable, we know. The Angels are lucky to have him, and should hold on to their young superstar for as long as humanly possible. Things could have been very different after all…
In making Mark Teixeira a very rich man – signing the prize position player of the 2008 free agency class to a eight year, $180M contract – the Yankees sacrificed their first round pick in 2009’s MLB amateur draft to his former employer, the Angels, as compensation (Los Angeles would also receive a supplemental pick in the deal). Of course, in a rare turn of bad luck for the Yanks, that sacrificed pick later turned out to be a certain high school kid from from South Jersey (the supplemental pick too, if you were interested, was Tyler Skaggs). In an alternate world, Mike Trout would now be in pinstripes – and a whole heck of other things would probably be different too. Let the butterfly flap it’s wings.
Having extended an eight year offer of their own during the Winter Meetings, lets say Teixeira, having enjoyed his three month spell in SoCal so much, turns down the overtures of not only New York, Boston, Baltimore, and the Nationals, and instead re-ups with the Angels.
Having missed out on Teixeira, but already spent a cool $243.5M in bringing aboard CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the Yankees opt to sign the still-available Manny Ramirez to a two year pact. Though Teixeira amasses 3.0 additional WAR than Ramirez during the season, hitting .292/.383/.565 and finishing second in AL MVP voting, he performs miserably in the postseason, hitting just .180/.282/.311 in what begins a trend of disappointing playoff performances. The Angels fall to the Yankees in the ALCS, who (like in reality) go on to win the World Series over Philadelphia, Ramirez batting a serviceable .281/.324/.469 along the way. With the World Series title in their back pockets, the Yanks also head into 2009 armed with two first round picks, and one very specific target.
At an introductory press conference, New York’s scouting director Damon Oppenheimer speaks first: “He was the second guy on our overall board. It was (Stephen) Strasburg and then Trout.” With the 25th pick in the 2009 draft, the Yankees have of course, snagged Mike Trout, who had fallen into their laps after scouts didn’t pay enough attention to his Northeast high school. Additionally, with Trout already in the bag, the Evil Empire pass on picking up another high school outfielder, Slade Heathcott, and instead select Tyler Skaggs just four picks later. Not even Alex Rodriguez’s and Manny Ramirez’s joint PED admission later in the season can bring down the Yankees, though they eventually fall in the playoffs.
Fast forward to the winter of 2011. With Teixeira in Anaheim, free agent first baseman Albrt Pujols turns instead to his biggest offer, signing for ten years and $275M to be the face of the new Miami Marlins franchise, swallowing his request for a no-trade clause to be included in the deal. With no money left to spend, Miami can’t afford their other free agent target Jose Reyes, who agrees to fill the void at shortstop for the Cardinals. Prince Fielder remains available until January, when Texas finally step up and sign him in an pseudo arms race with the Angels for the most bloated 1B contract in the AL West (and yes, the use of “bloated” was very intentional).
The 2012 season begins, and Trout is called up by the Yankees in May. He does Mike-Trout things, posting a rookie season for the ages in which he hits 326/.399/.564 with an 168 OPS+, his play both inspiring comparison to ‘True Yankee’ Mickey Mantle, and John Sterling to come up with two incredibly annoying home run calls by June (I’m thinking “No Doubt! Mike Trout!” or “That one’s Troutta here!”). Quickly realizing the next franchise cornerstone is in the fold, Derek Jeter steps away from the game graciously after the season, having suffered a gruesome broken ankle in the postseason; in his retirement press conference, he speaks of recognizing how his body can’t do it everyday anymore, and jokes about how he’s been overmatched at shortstop for years anyhow. Rebuffing questions about whether he’d have preferred a retirement tour, Jeter says he wouldn’t want to detract from Trout – who will be the next Yankee captain.
After an amazing sophomore campaign, Trout is unanimously regarded as the best player in baseball. His cheap contract too, means that the Yankees have money to burn elsewhere, and instead of signing Jacoby Ellsbury, re-sign Robinson Cano – GM Brian Cashman dismissively amused that the Yankees would ever not lock in the game’s best player at the keystone for the rest of his career. Having signed Yu Darvish in 2011 with the money they saved not signing Teixeira (and the Rangers’ hands tied by the enormous Fielder contract), they augment their staff further with the addition of Masahiro Tanaka, and swing Tyler Skaggs along with a host of other top prospects to Tampa for a one year rental of David Price. With such formidable pitching depth, and Trout and Cano leading the offense, no one even cares about Rodriguez’s season-long suspension for his part in the Biogenesis scandal; the Yankees romp to the 2014 title regardless.
Mike Trout is named the 2014 AL MVP, just as he will be back in reality.
Many internet prognosticators figured it would be at least 12 months before Robinson Cano voiced his displeasure concerning Seattle’s roster construction, projecting a full season of disappointment before any public outcry. Instead, it has taken only 90 days as a member of the Mariners for the star second baseman to provide the front office with some pointers. Though the speed of his ‘advice’ hasn’t earned him much in terms of popularity amongst his new fanbase, it would be wrong to instantly dub Cano and his contract off the mark, and begin the what seems inevitable process of his becoming a financial albatross to the team. He’s probably actually right.
Cano’s signing with the Mariners started the clock of contention ticking for Seattle, a situation succinctly explained by Mike Curto: “The mix of Cano’s age (31) and the financial commitment speeds up the Mariners’ calendar. The team is now pressured to win in the next few years, before Cano’s skills severely decline.” With a clear window of serviceable Cano years to operate in, and armed with an impending $2 billion thanks to a new long-term agreement with DirecTV, the M’s promised to be aggressive on the free-agent market in building a team around their prize in order to immediately contend in a loaded AL West division. What actually happened however… well, they struck out – as my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series detailed. Entering the season, the Mariners are projected to have Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager batting ahead of Cano, with Corey Hart in line for clean-up duty. That’s a problem, one Cano had no issue with immediately highlighting in an interview with CBSSports.com earlier this week:
“I’m not going to lie. We need an extra bat, especially a right-handed bat. We have many left-handed hitters. We need at least one more righty. You don’t want to face a lefty pitcher with a lineup of seven left-handed hitters.”
When Cano signed his 10-year, $240 million contract in December, it was clear he was leaving a bad offense behind in New York; as Baseball Prospectus pointed out in their fantastic annual, “The second baseman accounted for 68 percent of the Yankees’ BWARP” in 2013. At age 31, he quite rightly jumped at Seattle’s offer – purportedly $65 million more than the next-highest bidder – and GM Jack Zduriencik’s promise to build a contender around him during the remainder of his prime. The problem there being that Cano’s prime may already be over – and Zduriencik has so far done nothing.
Mike Bates of SB Nation studied the 20 most valuable players who spent more than half of their careers at second base through age 30 since 1900; his results showed that the group average fell from a cumulative 47.3 WAR through their age 31 seasons, to just 22.3 WAR after. So while Cano has been remarkably durable so far in his cumulating a career 45.1 WAR (he’s currently in the midst of a seven season streak of at least 159 games played), and consistently great at both the plate and in the field, every historical indicator points to those days of healthy performance soon ending. In his study of the unsightly aging curve of offense-minded second basemen, Fangraphs writer Tony Blengino wrote the following about Seattle’s splashy acquisition:
History says that Cano will ride out the end of his peak period in 2014, begin a solid decline phase with some .300ish, 18-20 HR seasons, than begin a deeper secondary decline phase during which he accumulate hits — and outs. By age 35, there will likely be a severe disconnect between Cano’s salary and his production.
Paging Jack Z – 2014 is this year! It has always been acknowledged that the back end of the Dominican native’s contract would be an overpay, but the obliviousness of the Mariners front office to the obvious decline on the horizon is a little frightening for a long-suffering Seattle fan base. Father Time catches up with even the best players in the end – just ask Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels.
All of which is why Cano’s recent lobbying for help (including for the still-available Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales) makes sense; if he is only going to be able to provide front-loaded production, the team should go out and get help now. Per Cot’s Contracts, the Seattle payroll is currently sat at around $74 million, with just Cano and Felix Hernandez as the only large contracts, yet with the benefit of their upcoming TV deal they neither seriously pursued Nelson Cruz or Ubaldo Jimenez in free agency, nor made an aggressive push for a David Price deal despite possessing a suitable return piece in Taijuan Walker (who is now injured, naturally). Cano’s addition alone will not be enough to in one year turn around completely an offense that in 2013 finished 12th in the Junior Circuit with 624 runs scored and ranked 10th in the AL in team OPS (.695), let alone push a 91 loss team to the peak of the AL West and into the playoffs – baseball is the most individual ‘team sport’ after all. One man can only do so much, and that one man is due to decline; (the admittedly conservative) PECOTA has him projected to hit .297/.352/.482 with a .307 TAv and 21 HR in 2014 – and his numbers are only going in one direction from there.
Cano probably knows it. Seattle apparently, does not. Keep talking Robbie, I don’t blame you. If the M’s are serious about contending, maybe they’ll start listening too.
Yesterday I put my life on the line, shredding Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik’s misguided winter effort to deflect attention from front office dysfunction by improving the product on the field. All very well and good, except he didn’t. I’m sure Seattle fans will let me live when I visit Safeco in May (on what’s effectively a Mike Trout pilgrimage) though – they still have the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks after all. Anyhow, my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series today rolls on to perhaps the most well-managed team of all 30 – the Tampa Bay Rays. From GM Andrew Friedman on down, year after year it seems, the Rays somehow get the most out of the least. Continually they unearth talent from the unlikeliest sources, RHP Chris Archer being a prime example.
It’s easy to love Chris Archer. Beyond his excellent Twitter feed and commendable off-field work, he’s a treat to watch play baseball – something perhaps ESPN’s Michael Baumann put best in creating his All–MLB Network Team for Grantland last summer:
What makes Archer so fun to watch is not what he does but how he does it. Archer paces around the mound like a leopard in a cage that’s too small to be comfortable. He isn’t the only pitcher who points up whenever he gives up a fly ball, but nobody does it with such enthusiasm. On a ground ball, Archer not only turns around to see the result of the play, but he turns his body to face whichever fielder is handling the ball at the moment. With his socks and stirrups pulled all the way up (a style that looks excellent in Tampa’s striped socks) and his hat slightly crooked, Archer looks and moves like the oldest kid on the Little League team.
He’s basically the anti-John Lackey on the mound; his theatrics indicative of raw enthusiasm rather than anything malicious. Pay another attention though, and you’ll notice something else about the 25 year old beyond his remarkable affectations – he’s actually pretty darn good.
Unlike his first experience of The Show, Archer’s road to the majors was hardly smooth sailing. Raised by his grandparents after being abandoned by his biological parents, Archer failed to make the baseball team in middle school. Instead of quitting however, the North Carolina native improved enough via recreation ball to make the high school squad, and would sign a letter of intent to attend the University of Miami. Things changed suddenly in the summer of 2006 though, when the young righty was selected in the fifth round of the draft by the Cleveland Indians. Traded to the Cubs in 2008 as part of a package for Mark DeRosa, he was named the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010 and installed on the 40 man roster only to be again packaged off – this time to Tampa – in exchange for Matt Garza. It would be another relatively rocky couple of years in the minors – mixed with flashes of brilliance and too many walks – but when David Price went down last year, Archer would finally get an extended chance to stick in the big leagues.
After compiling a bored-looking 3.96 ERA in 10 starts with Triple A affiliate the Durham Bulls, the excitable righty was called up on June 1, and would start out brilliantly. Predominantly riding his fastball (which topped out at 97mph) and sharp-breaking slider combination, Archer proceeded to give up no more than 3 runs in any of his first 10 starts, including a ridiculous four game stretch in which he gave up just one run and threw two complete-game shutouts. Though he faded down the stretch, Archer eventually compiled a ERA of 3.22 and 1.13 WHIP (with opposing batters hitting just .223 against him) across his 23 starts – good for third in AL ROY voting, and a 2.2 WAR value.
His impactful success can be mostly attributed to improved command (though slightly lucky peripheral numbers such as a .253 BABIP and a 78.8 LOB% certainly didn’t hurt). Sacrificing strikeouts slightly, Archer posted a career low 2.7 BB/9, his previously wild ways disappearing from his pitching if not his actions on the mound. Throwing 59.8% fastballs, 33% sliders, and 7.2% changeups according to Fangraphs, there’s certainly room for Archer to now expand his repertoire too in order to counter the inevitable adjustments of hitters in his sophomore campaign; Brett Talley actually rates his changeup as his best ‘out’ pitch, and its continued development will be key to Archer’s avoiding regression towards his 2013 SIERA (3.95).
Don’t count on the 25 year old’s performance falling off though; the competitive fire that fuels his mound manners has similarly pushed the former fifth-rounder to ramp up his offseason training in a determined attempt to follow up his strong rookie showing. And if Archer has made any additional improvements, then placing him alongside David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Jake Odorizzi in a once again loaded Rays rotation will be just plain unfair on the rest of the AL East in 2014.
At the very least, Chris Archer will be must watch TV.
With Superbowl XLVIII in the rearview mirror and the dog days of the NBA fast approaching, what makes more sense than to look ahead to the upcoming baseball season. Accordingly, I’m going to be breaking down some of the players, teams, and story lines which I deem most relevant/engaging/amusingly-bloggable leading up to Opening Day 2014. Or actually just until the week before Opening Day – I’ll be in Nicaragua for the 8 days preceding the first pitch… Anyhow, by virtue of their alphabetical rank, I present my person of interest relating to the 2014 incarnation of the Arizona Diamondbacks; Archie Bradley.
If you want the quick and dirty 140 character scouting report of Archie Bradley, I refer you simply to Ben Badler’s tweet from last year’s Futures Game in which Bradley threw a perfect inning, inducing two groundouts and an easy fly out;
Archie Bradley with an overpowering 96-98 mph fastball and a low-80s hammer with power and depth. Filthy.
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) July 14, 2013
Nothing Badler says in those few words is false – Bradley is simply so good that ‘Filthy’ sums his overpowering stuff up quite sufficiently. Drafted in the 1st round (7th overall) back in 2011 – the same draft in which the Diamondbacks also took the since-traded Trevor Bauer with the 3rd overall pick – the 6-4, 225lb Bradley looks set to crack the Arizona rotation at some point this year, if not straight from Spring Training, having spent his age 20 season dominating the minors. Boasting a fastball that consistently sits 94-96 mph, in addition to the aforementioned “hammer” curve (80-82 mph), Bradley possesses two plus-plus pitches, and while his changeup clearly profiles as his third pitch, it still projects to be comfortably above average. In combination with his above average control, and improving command, Bradley was simply too good for the lower levels in 2013, posting a 1.97 ERA over 152 innings across High A and AA ball, impressively striking out 162 in that span. His dominant year only served to confirm the high esteem in which scouts held him – Bradley could well be the future no. 1 of a big-league rotation, the ace which the Diamondbacks have been trying to acquire all winter long.
The Diamondbacks have clearly been shopping for their frontline answer to the riches possessed by NL West rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers. In an attempt to bolster a starting rotation that was a large part of an underwhelming .500 2013 campaign that saw those Dodgers celebrate the capture of the division in their home pool, Arizona fell short in the bidding for Masahiro Tanaka, and rightly weren’t willing to include Bradley in any deal for David Price. For a team built upon the depth of it’s pitching more so than offense, the performance of Kirk Gibson’s staff was far from the ‘gritty’ pre-season expectations conferred upon it; though lefty starter Patrick Corbin posted an All-Star worthy first half, his performance fell off after the break, while sophomore Wade Miley (predictably) regressed from his surprising rookie campaign. Ian Kennedy, who entered the season as the staff’s leader only a season removed from winning 21 games himself, also struggled, generating more press for his plunking of Yasiel Puig and Zack Greinke than for his performance on the mound, before being dealt to the Padres in July. Following him out of the organizational door, last year’s top prospect Tyler Skaggs was sold low on in the winter trade that netted Mark Trumbo (from the Arizona perspective, the less said about this entire deal the better).
With Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, and Randall Delgado joining Corbin and Miley in the projected 2014 rotation (barring injury), Bradley figures to be on the outside looking in, at least to begin the season. But the Diamondbacks pitching quantity shouldn’t long obstruct his quality; if Bradley meets expectations, it wouldn’t be completely out of the equation for him to succeed from the jump, á la fellow 2011 draftee José Fernández in 2013. With GM Kevin Towers reportedly considering an 175/180 innings limit for his top prospect, the path of the 1st overall pick in that draft, Gerrit Cole, might be more relevant in regards to how much we see of Bradley in the majors next year; called up on June 11th, the Pirates not only suppressed Cole’s service time but still managed to wring 117.1 big-league innings out of him, and snuck into the postseason in the process.
The 2014 Diamondbacks can only hope to rebound from last year’s disappointment, and follow Pittsburgh’s lead into the playoffs. The performance of Bradley will be a huge factor in determining if they do so or not.