Throughout the season (minus last week, when I was vacationing at Safeco Field), 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 9, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 9! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Oakland Athletics (7-6 over the last fortnight, 33-22 overall) ↑ With a run differential of +112, the A’s are lapping the rest of the American League; the four other teams who can boast a positive differential – Detroit, Toronto, LA, and Seattle (Seattle?!) – when combined, have a +98 mark. I would highlight a single player, Josh Donaldson for example, and point to their individual success as fuel to the team’s fire, but everyone – Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, Yoenis Cespedes, even Kyle Blanks since being acquired from the Padres – has been getting it done of late. As usual, the A’s are winning without runaway star contributors, and as usual, no one is batting an eyelid.
- Detroit Tigers (5-9, 31-21) ↓
- Toronto Blue Jays (10-3, 33-24) ↑ Speaking of turning heads, I present the Toronto Blue Jays, and most particularly, Edwin Encarnacion, in the month of May. Perhaps inspired by the Raptors’ #WeTheNorth campaign, The Jays turned up in a big way over the past 31 days, going 21-9 in that span, including a 9-game stretch in which they consecutively swept Boston, Oakland, and Tampa Bay. Plenty has been made of Encarnacion, who in tying Mickey Mantle for the most home runs in the month of May by an AL player launched balls over a mile and a quarter, and the rest of the powerful Toronto offense (they’ve failed to hit a long ball in just two games over the past fortnight), but it will be pitching that will keep the Jays at the AL East summit. Even with Mark Buehrle continuing to defy the advanced metrics, and top prospect Marcus Stroman living up to the hype in his first start (the diminutive righty held the Royals to one run on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts over six innings yesterday), the club remain linked to Jeff Samardzija. One of just two teams not to make the postseason this millennium, and considering the current state of the AL East, pushing all their chips into middle by trading for Samardzija, might not be a bad idea for team GM Alex Anthopolous.
- Los Angeles Angels (7-6, 30-25) ↓ Mike Trout is out of the lineup today with back stiffness. Along with his OPS dropping to ‘just’ .929 this year, I’m beginning to think that maybe he isn’t a cyborg solely designed to break baseball records anymore, and might even have some human flaws.
- New York Yankees (7-6, 29-25) →
- Baltimore Orioles (5-8, 27-27) ↓ Nelson Cruz is being paid $8 million this year. Nelson Cruz has 20 home runs, a 186 OPS+, and a 2.2 WAR value. It’s the first day of June.
- Seattle Mariners (7-6, 27-28) ↑ After my Memorial Day visit, I officially love Safeco Field, which was made even better by the Mariners soundly beating the Angels. Seeing Chris Young throw five innings of no-hit ball was definitely unexpected, as was my mother taking a liking to Justin Smoak simply because of his name. The Mariners, even slow-footed Robinson Cano, victimizing poor Hank Conger on the basepaths for three stolen bases in one inning was pretty darn entertaining too.
- Boston Red Sox (6-7, 26-29) ↓ After enduring a brutal 10-game losing streak, the Red Sox have now amassed a six-game winning streak. In between a pair of walk-off wins, the continued war of words between David Ortiz and David Price, and Clay Buchholz‘s struggles though, perhaps most notably, some of the kids that Boston placed so much emphasis on prior to the season have finally started coming through; since the start of that dreadful losing streak, Xander Bogaerts has stormed his way to a .397/.465/.603 line, and Rubby De La Rosa, acquired in the Dodgers dump, impressively fired seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball yesterday, striking out 8 Rays along the way. Now, if only the Sox could get Jackie Bradley Jr. to improve his ghastly 66 OPS+ too…
- Texas Rangers (8-5, 28-28) ↑
- Chicago White Sox (7-6, 28-29) ↑
- Kansas City Royals (5-8, 26-29) ↓ Reading Rany Jazayerli’s Twitter rants, whether they be concerning Ned Yost‘s latest gaffe, Dayton Moore’s continued incompetence, Kansas City’s punchless offense, another hitting coach being fired, potential James Shields trades, or Mike Moustakas‘ quick demotion/promotion swing, never gets old. Being a fan of the Royals must get stale pretty quickly I’m guessing.
- Cleveland Indians (7-6, 26-30) ↑
- Minnesota Twins (4-8, 25-28) ↓ Struggling center fielder Aaron Hicks has abandoned switch-hitting, and will now bat exclusively from the right side. Sounds like a good idea in theory considering his awful offensive production, minus the fact that Hicks has actually been substantially better from the left side so far this year; the 24-year-old has a .250/.400/.325 line as a southpaw in 2014, compared to a brutal .154/.280/.205 line as a righty. The Byron Buxton Era can’t come soon enough up at Target Field.
- Tampa Bay Rays (4-8, 23-33) ↓ Does much more need to be said? I suppose it could be mentioned that Tampa are in the midst of a 5-game tailspin, and Wil Myers is now on the disabled list too.
- Houston Astros (9-5, 24-33) → Naturally, in the time I was on vacation, and thus not paying attention to my fantasy baseball teams, George Springer went off while slotted in one of my bench spots. In that May 24th to 29th span, in 34 plate appearances Springer had 6 home runs, walked more often than he struck out (5BBs to 4Ks), possessed a .417 average, and accrued a ridiculous 1.767 OPS mark. Even more ludicrously, the Astros went 6-0 and are now no longer the worst team (by record anyway) in the American League. Now excuse me while I go light myself on fire…
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. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 5, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 5! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Detroit Tigers (4-0 last week, 16-9 overall) ↑ You can only beat what’s put in front of you, and recently, Detroit have been doing just that. After playing just four games last week, bringing their season total to 25 (Seattle have played the next fewest in the AL, with 28), and handily winning them all, the Tigers finally have a full slate to look forward to over the next seven days. Considering how they’ll face Kansas City (once), Houston, and Minnesota, while being scheduled to send Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer to the mound twice apiece, Brad Ausmus‘ crew stand a good chance of remaining in single-digit losses by this time next Sunday.
- Oakland Athletics (3-3, 18-12) ↓ The A’s sure got their revenge on Texas by outscoring them 25-4 in their three-game sweep, but were comprehensively dealt with by Boston over the past couple of days. Having faced a pretty light schedule so far this season, today’s tilt at Fenway will serve as somewhat of a yardstick; are the A’s actually good enough to beat the cream of the crop, and compete all year with the likes of Boston and Detroit? With Sonny Gray on the bump to face John Lackey, the Oakland have a decent enough chance to prove they belong.
- Los Angeles Angels (4-2, 15-14) ↑ Scoring 5.38 runs per game, the Angels have by some distance the best offense in the AL thus far – not that much of a surprise considering Mike Trout‘s continued excellence (he once again leads the AL in WAR), Albert Pujols‘ solid bounce back, and Howie Kendrick‘s nice start at the plate (.314/.391/.441). Where Anaheim have stood out most so far though, has been on the mound, where they have allowed just 4.03 runs per game – the third best mark in the AL. C.J. Wilson, Tyler Skaggs and Jered Weaver have all been solid, but Garrett Richards has been the star so far; the 25-year-old Oklahoma product has struck out 40 and allowed an opponent’s batting average of just .184 in his first 38 innings (6 starts), posting a surprising 2.84 ERA. If the hard-throwing righty can get the walks under control (18 BB in the early going), the Angels might really have found something here.
- Baltimore Orioles (3-2, 15-13) ↑ Manny Machado returns, fielding nerds rejoice everywhere. Including me.
- New York Yankees (2-3, 16-13) ↓ With a -13 run differential, the Yankees are still somewhat getting by with a smoke and mirrors act. Visiting the Angels and Milwaukee for series this week, the Bombers will receive a stern test of their mettle – the Friday return of C.C. Sabathia to Miller Park should see a hero’s welcome from the Brewers fans however.
- Boston Red Sox (3-3, 15-16) →
- Texas Rangers (1-5, 16-14) ↓ I must have cursed Texas in this space last week; in likely their healthiest state since the start of the season, the Rangers were simply punted by AL West rivals Oakland and Los Angeles over the past seven days, with Martin Perez and Yu Darvish getting knocked about especially brutally. Things aren’t going to get much easier for the frontline pair this week either; Darvish is slated against the top-ranked Angels offense today, and will face Boston on Friday, whereas Perez will be tasked with stymying Colorado’s explosive offense during the days in between.
- Tampa Bay Rays (3-4, 14-17) → Heath Bell was finally DFA’d, but the equally terrible, yet much more despicable Josh Lueke remains on the team. Urgh.
- Kansas City Royals (3-3, 14-15) → Fun stat of the day: to start the season, the Royals are winless when scoring 3 or fewer runs (0-15) and unbeaten when scoring at least 4 runs (14-0). Bonus factoid: thanks to Billy Butler‘s first home run of the year on Friday, the Royals as a team are now one jack ahead (12) of Jose Abreu‘s individual bomb total (11).
- Toronto Blue Jays (2-4, 13-17) → Well, Dustin McGowan is starting again today, so I guess my Marcus Stroman love was a tad premature. With Brandon Morrow now out though, it can’t be long until the Jays call up the diminutive righty.
- Cleveland Indians (2-4, 13-17) → It’s probably not an encouraging sign for your team when Michael Brantley has been by far and away your best player. The 26-year-old is having a veritable breakout, hitting .271/.336/.458, while leading the team in HR (5), runs (15), and RBIzzzzz (23), but unless Carlos Santana starts mashing (he did hit .261 with 3 homers last week, though his average remains a ghastly .158), the Indians will be up against it with both Jason Kipnis (strained oblique) and Michael Bourn (hamstring/continued case of NL-to-AL-itis) out for the near future.
- Seattle Mariners (4-1, 13-15) ↑ Wouldn’t you know it, the Mariners become a somewhat frisky team when someone else along with Robinson Cano hits. Mike Zunino (1.071 OPS), Michael Saunders (1.033), and Kyle Seager (1.030) have been terrific over the past seven days, helping Seattle to an impressive 4-1 record over that time – the M’s taking two apiece from Texas and the Yankees. With no. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma making his return yesterday against the Astros too, it’s been a good week for Seattle. Shame they have to travel for a 4-game set against Oakland this week really then, a series which will likely set them back down the standings again.
- Minnesota Twins (1-4, 13-15) ↓
- Chicago White Sox (2-4, 14-17) ↓ Adam Eaton‘s hamstring strain lands him on the 15-day DL, and suddenly the offense that has kept the Pale Hose afloat so far becomes a little less potent. The Sox could badly do with their pitching picking up some of the slack – at 5.29 runs allowed per game, they are worst among Junior Circuit teams.
- Houston Astros (2-3, 10-20) → Through 66 plate appearances, the George Springer era has not got off to a good start. Known for his prodigious power/speed combination, the 24-year-old has yet to clear the fence, and has a 0 SBN number, all whilst batting just .180/.254/.213 and looking lost at the dish; even before his call-up there were worries about his plate discipline and contact rate – with 23 strikeouts to 5 walks, those concerns have been more than justified. Throw in his 5 errors in fifteen games out in right field, and its little wonder why Bo Porter dropped him from the lineup yesterday. On the bright side though, Collin McHugh!
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 4, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 4! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Oakland Athletics (3-4 last week, 15-9 overall) →
- Detroit Tigers (4-3, 12-9) → For a presumed powerhouse, Detroit have somewhat underwhelmed thus far. With their upcoming schedule consisting of trips to Minnesota, Kansas City, and Chicago (White Sox), and games at home against Houston and Minnesota (again) however, the Tigers have themselves a creampuff of a fortnight on the way. Against such an easy slate, you would think Brad Ausmus‘ squad should roll. If they don’t, well, perhaps then it will be time to worry.
- Texas Rangers (4-2, 15-9) ↑ The Rangers rode into the O.co Coliseum this past week to face the rolling A’s, and emerged unsullied (there’s a sewage joke to be made in there somewhere). Capping off the 3-game sweep*, Martin Perez threw his second straight compete-game shutout, extending his scoreless innings streak to 26 in the process. Throwing more strikes, generating ground balls, and letting his defense do the work, the 23-year-old lefty has thus far been sensational backing up Yu Darvish in the Texas rotation – a group which is about to get a further boost; Matt Harrison starts today for the first time after back problems sidelined him during Spring Training. The injury bug continued to riddle the Texas lineup, with Shin-Soo Choo (ankle sprain) and surprise contributor Kevin Kouzmanoff (back) both dinged up during the past seven days, but things are getting slight better in regards to health – star third baseman Adrian Beltre returned to have a key go-ahead hit in the ninth inning of Friday’s 6-5 loss in his first game back. Just imagine what they’ll be capable of when they all finally get healthy.
- New York Yankees (4-2, 14-10) ↑ Quite the news week in the Bronx, and it pretty much all centered around Michael Pineda‘s pine tar use. After being ejected on Wednesday for his stupidity (and inspiring humorous analogies for his error on Twitter), Pineda was suspended for 10 games by MLB the day after, but the debate over Sticky Fingers II and the use of gripping aids will likely continue on into the offseason. In the meantime, the Yanks will be somewhat short of starters until his return on May 5th – fellow rotation member Ivan Nova formally confirmed what we all feared last week; he’ll need Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the season.
- Boston Red Sox (4-3, 12-13) ↑
- Baltimore Orioles (4-3, 12-11) ↑ Getting Manny Machado back should offset the loss of Chris Davis to the DL with a strained oblique. Do the Birds sneakily have the AL’s best lineup?
- Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 11-12) ↑ Despite their losing record, the Angels have the second best run differential of the Junior Circuit (+30, trailing only Oakland), suggesting they’ve perhaps been a tad unlucky so far**. With Mike Trout still warming up (which sounds stupid considering his .977 OPS, but hey, it’s Mike ‘Freakin Trout we’re talking about), Albert Pujols has shouldered the offensive load over the last week; “The Machine” not only posted a 1.101 OPS, but slugged his way into the 500 Home Run Club with a two-homer night in Washington, becoming the 26th player to the mammoth landmark. After being plagued by injuries during his first two years in L.A., perhaps the Angels are finally getting the Old Albert Pujols rather than just the old Albert Pujols.
- Tampa Bay Rays (2-4, 11-13) ↓
- Kansas City Royals (2-5, 11-12) ↓ As if losing 5 of 7 wasn’t bad enough, Kansas City fans were dealt yet another gut punch by team manger Ned Yost on Saturday; after KC closer Greg Holland never left the bullpen in the Royals’ 3-2 loss in 10 innings to the Orioles, Yost told Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star that he would never use Holland in tied road game again. Asked why he did so against the Detroit Tigers back on March 31/Opening Day, Yost responded, “Because I really wanted to win that game Opening Day.” I’m so dreadfully sorry for all Royals fans out there that this man is in charge of your team. Really, I am.
- Toronto Blue Jays (1-5, 11-13) ↓ After a promising start, the Jays have dropped four straight to AL East rivals. Maybe they’re too busy watching the Raptors in the NBA playoffs #WeTheNorth!
- Cleveland Indians (4-3, 11-13) → With Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar struggling, down at Class AAA Columbus Trevor Bauer must be rubbing his hands with glee in anticipation of an extended shot at cracking the big league rotation. If they’re to make it back to the postseason, the Indians can’t afford to wallow in mediocrity much longer.
- Minnesota Twins (4-2, 12-11)↑ Go vote for your All-Stars everybody!
- Chicago White Sox (4-3, 12-13) →
- Seattle Mariners (2-4, 9-14) ↓ The Mariners offense remains putrid overall, but Robinson Cano rebounded from his slow start to hit .409 over the past seven days. Cano is heating up at an especially convenient time, for on Tuesday he’ll return to the short right field porch of Yankee Stadium for the first time since leaving the Evil Empire over the winter. If the over/under for his HR total in the 3-game series is 2.5, give me the over, as Jay Z’s client looks to stick it to his former mates.
- Houston Astros (3-4, 8-17) → After exhibiting a worrying dip in his pitching velocity during Spring Training and then putting up a 6.23 ERA in 13 innings of work at Class A Advanced Lancaster, Houston’s top pitching prospect Mark Appel was demoted on Friday to participate in extended spring training sessions in Florida. Jeff Luhnow is for now insistent upon last years 1:1 pick not being injured, but the big righty’s setback raises questions over the viability of the Astro’s four-man tandem Minor League rotations.
** In fact, they’re second by a huge margin of 25, with Minnesota (!) next highest at +5.
Throughout the year, I’ll be separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings won’t be dependent on record alone and will factor in such aspects as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Last week, in The Designated 15 – Week 1, I gave every team a comment in light of it being Opening Week. Week 2 sees a revert to my normal writing plan – 3-5 brief recaps for the most interesting teams of the week. After yesterday running down the NL then, today I present The Designated 15 – Week 2! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Detroit Tigers (4-0 last week) ↑ It wasn’t pretty at times, or especially pretty either, but after one week, the Detroit Tigers are the only unbeaten team remaining in the majors. Requiring consecutive walk-offs against the feisty Royals to begin the season, new manager Brad Ausmas has seen his squad initially slug their way to success; seven of his everyday regulars currently boast an OPS above .895, with Austin Jackson leading the pack so far (1.158). That Miguel Cabrera guy – if you were wondering – hasn’t been bad either, crushing a home run for the 2000th hit of his career. On the pitching side of things, neither Anibal Sanchez nor Justin Verlander looked their normal dominant selves, not that it really mattered; Max Scherzer however, continued his 2013 Cy Young form with eight scoreless innings (allowing only four hits too), while Rick Porcello similarly turned in an encouraging outing yesterday against the Orioles. A two-game jaunt to Chavez Ravine to face the Dodgers this week should be an early treat of powerhouses facing off.
- Tampa Bay Rays (4-2) ↓
- Boston Red Sox (2-3) ↓
- Kansas City Royals (2-2) ↑
- Seattle Mariners (4-1) ↑ If I had told you last week that this Sunday the Seattle Mariners would be tied for the AL lead in runs scored (31, with Tampa Bay) and atop the Junior Circuit in run differential (+19), you’d have scoffed and closed your browser. But after sweeping the Angels in Anaheim and splitting two games with Oakland (and even then, only losing on a Coco Crisp walk-off home run), here we are; the M’s are your early AL West leaders. Much heralded off-season addition Robinson Cano has transitioned seamlessly to his new team, hitting .421/.542/.474 so far, but – not to take anything away from the impressive first weeks for Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and the Mariners offense in general – it’s been the pitching which has propelled Seattle to the lofty perch they currently occupy. Felix Hernandez has been predictably brilliant, striking out 19 in his 14.1 innings of three run ball, while the club have also gotten valuable starts from Erasmo Ramirez, Roenis Elias, and James Paxton (Paxton looking particularly dominant in his seven shutout innings – an outing in which he spotted his fastball immaculately). They’ve currently a streak of five games holding their opponents to three runs or less; with more games against the Athletics and Angels on the slate this week, it will be worth watching whether the M’s can continue to keep their divisional opponents’ normally-capable offenses in check.
- Cleveland Indians (3-2) ↑
- Oakland Athletics (2-3) ↓ Does anyone ever have a true handle on Oakland? They seem impossible to predict – at least to me. In dropping three of their first five, the Athletics have gotten four quality starts and posted a 2.44 ERA (good for 6th in the ML), but have been scuppered by a lack of offensive contributions (star of 2013, Josh Donaldson, has only 2 hits) and a poor start from newly acquired ‘proven closer’ Jim Johnson (who is currently rocking a 22.50 ERA having allowed five hits and walked three in his first two innings of work in an Oakland uniform). Even more oddly though, the Athletics – y’know, a team which plays it’s home games in California – had two games postponed this week as their stadium woes continued; in addition to the ongoing sewage issues, they now have soggy infield problems too. Hopefully a trip to Minnesota this week will give the ground staff time to remedy things, and Oakland a chance to get their season on track on the road.
- Toronto Blue Jays (3-3) ↑
- Los Angeles Angels (2-3) ↓
- Texas Rangers (2-3) → The ‘Tanner Scheppers: Opening Day Starter’ experiment went rather as many expected – badly.
- Baltimore Orioles (1-4) ↓
- New York Yankees (2-3) ↓ Ooft – not a great first week for The Evil Empire. On Opening Day, C.C. Sabathia was immediately roughed up by the Houston (!) offense, and Derek Jeter was hit on the wrist in the bottom of the first – the Yanks would fall 6-2. The very next day, the ‘upgraded’ offense was held to just one run by Jarred Cosart. New York bounced back to .500 behind steady showings from Ivan Nova and Masahiro Tanaka the next couple of days (avoiding the ignominy of being swept by the Astros), but lost Mark Teixeira – who missed all of fifteen games in 2013 – to the DL with a hamstring strain along the way. On the bright side of things, aside from C.C. the starting pitching looked more than simply solid, Michael Pineda looking especially good in his debut in pinstripes, but whether the rotation can carry a lineup that at one point trotted out Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, Dean Anna, and rookie Yangervis Solarte around the infield this week, will be a steep test indeed. A primetime series beginning Thursday against Boston will be a nice early measuring stick to judge just how far the Yankees have fallen behind their AL East rivals.
- Chicago White Sox (2-3) →
- Minnesota Twins (2-3) →
- Houston Astros (2-3) →
After only going 85-77 in 2013 (dramatically outperforming their pythagorean win/loss expectation of 79-83 in the process) despite boasting the ML’s leading payroll ($228.1M), God only knows the New York Yankees needed to shake things up this offseason if they were to return to their accustomed winning ways. Out the door went their top position player by WARP from the year prior, Robinson Cano taking his non-hustling talents to the Pacific Northwest. Unobstructed by the Yankees, so too did the powerful (although free-swinging) center fielder Curtis Granderson leave to earn his fortunes elsewhere – in his case, just across town with the Mets. And of course, the Yanks’ top reliever, and the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, departed too – albeit through the planned retirement route rather than New York’s apathy. In rapid fashion, help arrived via free agency; Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and prize capture Masahiro Tanaka were all brought in by GM Brian Cashman for the princely sum of a combined $438M, while Hiroki Kuroda and Brett Gardner were both extended in the hope of further bolstering a squad also returning from injury the big name likes of Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira.
And yet all their offseason activity may be for nought – in the ultra-competitive AL East, such spending may in fact merely have the effect of a plaster on a broken leg; the infield is still a mess. Their outfield is made of glass. C.C. Sabathia, despite his weight loss, looks likely to be the next Roy Halladay-like/Johan Santana-esque breakdown candidate. Alex Rodriguez’s half-man, half-centaur shadow remains looming over the team. The farm system is as unyielding as a pumpkin patch set up in the Sahara. And the team is ancient – all of their projected starting position players are over 30 years old, and the average age of those players is 33.8. The Yankees are going to need help in every area they can find it if they’re to seriously contend once again in 2014. Michael Pineda might just be one forgotten source.
When we last saw Pineda, it was September 2011, and he was in a Mariners uniform. As a 22-year-old, he hadn’t looked out of place aside Felix Hernandez at the top of Seattle’s rotation, posting a 3.74 ERA (3.42 FIP and 3.53 xFIP) over 28 starts after breaking Spring Training with the team, on his way becoming the first rookie to ever throw at least 150 innings with at least a strikeout per inning and fewer than three walks per nine. Armed with a 94-97mph heater and a slider off of which opponents hit only .175/.220/.294 (Pineda threw it 857 times), the imposing righty’s strikeout percentage of 24.9 was 6th best among 94 qualifiers, landing him right between Justin Verlander and the version of Tim Lincecum who won two Cy Young awards. He was so good at such a young age, that when New York landed him in exchange for the no. 4 prospect in baseball at the time, catcher Jesus Montero, as well as the RHP prospect Hector Noesi, the industry consensus was that they had got themselves a steal – despite the high price of losing Montero.
But, as no one at the time predicted, so far the swap has been the ultimate lose/lose trade. Montero is now an overweight first baseman in Triple-A Tacoma after bombing out in Seattle, and Noesi has been sub-replacement level; the pair have thus far combined for a total of -1.4 fWAR, 2 last place finishes in the AL West, and about 40 extra pounds this spring. Pineda on the other hand, showed up overweight to his first Yankees Spring Training back in 2012, and promptly tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder; two years later, he’s still yet to throw a pitch in the majors. Literally nothing good has come from the trade, apart from, as Baseball Prospectus pointed out in their annual, “the 40-man roster spot the Yankees freed up”. With Montero equally a non-factor in Seattle, Yankees fans couldn’t even direct their trade ire at the Dominican Republic native; the once much-hyped Pineda thus has become quite the forgotten man in New York, as other stories (A-Rod, the 189 plan, retirements), have overwhelmed his absence.
That might soon change. Though he returned to minor league action late last summer (in his 40.2 innings he posted a 9.07 K/9 and 3.10 BB/9), an eye-opening Spring Training has the 6’7 Pineda in line to claim New York’s open fifth rotation spot, and thus back under the spotlight. In beating out David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, and Adam Warren for the opportunity, the now 25-year-old Pineda has looked every bit the same as his 22-year-old self; he still has the same mechanics, the late break on the slider, and sub-3 BB/9 control, while similarly lacking the quality third pitch to be truly dominant. The man himself has said so much: “I’m the same Michael Pineda.” His fastball velocity has been somewhat down so far, sitting at around 92mph in Spring Training, though it’s not uncommon for pitchers to ramp it up once regular season games begin. The Bronx Bombers best hope he does so, as Pineda figures to be a large factor in their 2014 success.
Though the Yankees’ starting staff looks the strongest element of the team on paper, in reality questions remain at every spot; can C.C. still do it? Will Father Time finally catch up with Hiroki Kuroda? Is Tanaka the next Yu Darvish, or more like Daisuke Matzusaka? Was Ivan Nova’s second-half performance for real? The youthful impetus a fully-recovered Pineda would provide New York would be immense in terms of shoring up some of the squad’s deficiencies, and a pleasant surprise to those who had forgotten him.
A good performance from the ace up their sleeve, after two and a half years of waiting, could be the difference-maker for the Yankees.
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. Yesterday, I added to that already large number, looking at the hot starts of Mike Moustakas and Tommy Medica in addition to the battle for Colorado’s final outfield slot. Today, I continue on with some more of Spring Training’s offensive leaders, and whether anything meaningful can be gathered from their performances so far.
The No. 2 overall pick from the 2009 MLB draft, Dustin Ackley has thoroughly disappointed in his brief tenure with the Seattle Mariners. After posting a combined .669 OPS at the dish while also failing to stick defensively at either second base or center field during his first three years with the team, Ackley will be starting in left for the Mariners in 2014, pretty much by default (S/O to Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik on his outfield construction). Much like Mike Moustakas, the lefty’s status as a regular figures to be in serious jeopardy should he again fail to hit, especially so given Seattle’s soon-to-be deep pockets could presumably quickly source an alternative. His strong .441/.472/.735 Spring Training line though, rather than a fluky aberration from a busted prospect, might actually have some real significance in regard to Ackley’s long-term future with the club.
After batting just .205, Ackley was demoted to Triple-A Tacoma in May last year in order to re-work his swing and learn how to play the outfield again. With the Rainiers, the former top prospect not only raked .365 in 25 games, but apparently got his mindset right again – an epiphany he credited to Raul Ibanez’s book recommendation. Upon his return to the Majors after the All-Star Break, the 26-year old hit .304/.374/.435 in 53 games, looking just as comfortable as in his 2011 rookie season, after which stardom was expected. His numbers so far this spring then, though admittedly a small sample size, might be seen to indicate that the oft-maligned North Carolina product has legitimately turned a corner in his development, and is ready to contribute in a meaningful way this season.
The organization’s first round pick in 2009, A.J. Pollock began 2013 behind Adam Eaton on the Diamondback’s depth chart, but quickly assumed the starting role when Eaton’s troublesome elbow held him out of action. In 131 games, Pollock proved himself to be a roughly league average hitter, but a tremendous defender – ranking fourth in the NL in Fangraphs UZR and UZR/150 fielding ratings. He was so impressive in fact, that Eaton was traded away (at his lowest value – S/O to Kevin Towers) this past offseason, leaving the 26-year old Pollock Arizona’s center field job all to himself.
Rather than being content in his new role, Pollock so far seems out to prove that Towers made the right decision in keeping him over Eaton. His Spring Training stat line – .417/.475/.778 – though a small sample size, certainly would suggest that the former No. 6 prospect of the D’Back’s system is ready to bust out from his under the radar status. After all, it’s hardly unexpected for 26-year olds to suddenly make the leap – so his spring showing can’t be taken with the usual pinch of salt. If his bat ever comes close to matching his glove, Arizona might have a future star on their hands in Pollock. He’s making a valiant case for such a designation anyway.
As a brief aside, fellow Spring Training batting champion contenders Marwin Gonzalez (.462/.442/.654, 26 ABs), Matt Long (.455/.486/.667, 33 ABs), and Rajai Davis (.393/.469/.500, 28 ABs), are all undoubtedly doing it with smoke and mirror shows at the moment. Davis though, with Andy Dirks sidelined to begin the year, will be Detroit’s Opening Day left fielder, and a fantasy sleeper if there ever was one. If he can keep up some level of average production at the plate to go with his blazing speed on the basepaths and increased opportunity for counting stats in the potent Tigers lineup, he’ll be worth much more than a late-round selection by seasons end.
Acquired from Oakland last August in exchange for Alberto Callaspo, Grant Green hit .280 with a .720 OPS over 40 games down the stretch for the Los Angeles Angels, filling in more than capably for an injured Howie Kendrick at the keystone. That he had a BABIP of .391 in doing so however, made the winter speculation about Kendrick’s future with the club seem ridiculous. Green has so far posted another seemingly impressive .387/.364/.548 slash line this spring, but once again, the superficial numbers are undermined by poor peripherals; Green has yet to draw a walk against pitching judged 7.9 on the OppQual scale (for reference, a rating of 10 is ML level opposition, 8 is Triple-A), but has struck out 6 times. Green’s performance thus far is giving off all the signs of an impending regression should he face better pitching, and with better infield incumbents, it would be foolish for Los Angeles to talk themselves into Green as a more valuable asset than a utility infielder at the present moment.
After putting up a -7 DRS season at second base last year though, even that might be a stretch; his weak glove is an additional reason for Green not to receive time over Kendrick, Erick Aybar at short, or newly acquired David Freese at third base. A man without a position, and relying on inflated offensive stats then, Green’s status with the Angels is a troubling one. Still just 26, there’s still time for the USC product, but his immediate future will consist of bouncing between Triple-A and the Angels’ bench – especially if they’re intent on carrying an additional relief pitcher to back up their shaky rotation.
And so wraps up my weekend of looking at Spring Training’s early offensive leaders. I think we can all safely judge that early statistics are far from truly reliable in terms of indicating future performance, but sometimes, just occasionally, something meaningful can be taken from them. Either way, I’ll be glad when this time next week we’ll have a real regular season game to overreact to, and I can stop writing about mostly insignificant Grapefruit/Cactus League matchups. Bring on the season already!