Aided by Yordano Ventura‘s solid start in his return from elbow soreness, the 23-year-old allowing just two earned runs in six innings of work*, the Kansas City Royals yesterday snuck past Michael Wacha and the Cardinals 3-2. In doing so, they took the ‘Battle of Missouri’ 3 games to 1, and secured bragging rights in the I-70 area for the next 12 months, so congratulations to them. Naturally though, seeing as how nothing good can ever happen for the Royals without something equally bad, or just unintentionally hilarious, striking them back, this happened during the win:
Yep, that’s Nori Aoki getting drilled in the back of the head by Yadier Molina, who was simply throwing back to the pitcher from the crouch, as he often does. Not exactly a case of intentionally backing Aoki off the dish. Anyhow, after crumpling to the floor and taking a couple of minutes to
regain consciousness shake off the concussion he was hiding compose himself, Aoki would eventually resume his at-bat. Oh and by the way, this was the very first batter of the game for KC! I’d love to know, does not a single day pass without at least once instance of #RoyalsbeingRoyals?
In off the field news concerning Kansas City, the organization made Brandon Finnegan, a left-handed pitcher from TCU, their first round (no.17 overall) pick in the 2014 amateur draft, a move which didn’t exactly go down well on Twitter:
Finnegan is shortish (5-11), has history of shoulder issues, lacks great 3rd pitch, projects as possible closer in the big leagues. #royals
— Jeff Rosen (@jeff_rosen88) June 6, 2014
I have no opinion on Finnegan personally, but the medical reports I’m hearing on him are positively scary.
— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) June 6, 2014
Hey, in a draft supposedly loaded in pitching, anytime you can grab a guy with a potential shoulder injury lurking (and then double down with another lefty, Foster Griffin, at no. 28 overall), you have to do it! Thursday truly was a masterclass in #Royaling.
* Though he only struck out one, his velocity, which had so worryingly dipped in his last outing, was back to its usual ridiculous level; his four seam fastball averaged 98.15mph, his sinker 97.81, and slider 89.43. Sure looks like the ‘Father of Dragons’ is back.
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!
As previously detailed in my ROY cases for Noah Syndergaard and Xander Bogaerts, 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 for an NL MVP pick.
He famously donned Sports Illustrated’s cover alongside the tagline ‘Baseball’s Chosen One’ while still a high schooler. The then-catcher was picked No. 1 in the 2010 draft, and secured a a $6.25 million signing bonus along the way. He blew kisses to pitchers in the Minors. He was booed vociferously by a raucous Dodgers crowd when he made his ML debut less than 2 years later. Within a week, Cole Hamels ‘welcomed’ him to the league with a good ol’ plunking, only to see his victim steal home that same inning. In that same season, at just 19, he became the youngest All-Star in baseball’s history. If that weren’t enough, since his debut, he’s muscled more home runs during his age 19 and 20 seasons (42) than any hitter since Tony Conigliaro, and accrued as many WAR over that period as Ty Cobb.
And yet somehow, Bryce Harper might now be underrated.
After posting a rookie season for the ages, winning the NL ROY award on the strength of a .270/.340/.477 line and 22 homers in 139 games, Harper headed into 2013 with the expectations of the baseball world upon his young shoulders; the Washington Nationals were expected to be World Series contenders, their star 20-year old to be the MVP-like force behind their inevitable success. Things didn’t quite work out as planned.
The Nats missed the postseason altogether in Davey Johnson’s last year at the helm, somehow limping only to a record of 84-78 in an NL East division which contained the lowly Marlins, Mets, and Phillies. And though Harper improved, he still wasn’t producing like Mike Trout – his symbolically aligned partner in carrying baseball for the next generation – drawing the ire of impatient fans and internet commentators alike. But while his end of season statistics may have ultimately disappointed those who predicted a breakout performance, they also obscured the truth; Harper was playing like an MVP, until he quite literally, hit the wall.
Through his first 25 games (103 PAs), the man whose eye-black sets the internet alight was batting .356 with 9 home runs and a ridiculous 1.181 OPS. Then, in his 26th game of the season, came the first collision – Harper falling foul of Turner Field’s outfield fence. He carried on regardless, but his line had already dropped to .303/.400/.622 just 37 plate appearances later, when his second run-in with an outfield wall occurred – this time at Dodger Stadium.
Harper would wind up on the DL, his balky knee forcing him out of five weeks of action. He would return in early July, but not the same player – something Harper himself admitted in September – managing just (by his high standards at least) a .789 OPS en route to a final line of .274/.368/.486 in 118 games played.
Even playing on a knee which required offseason surgery though, Harper showed across-the-board improvements in his game during 2013; per David Golebiewski, “Harper boosted his batting average (from .270 as a rookie in 2012 to .274), on-base percentage (.340 to .368) and slugging percentage (.477 to .486) while also sharpening his strike-zone control (his walk-to-strikeout ratio climbed from 0.47 to 0.65). His park-and-league-adjusted OPS spiked from 18 percent above average to 33 percent above average.” After swinging at most everything low and away as a rookie, the 20-year old demonstrated a more mature approach at the plate in his sophomore effort, jacking his walk rate almost 3 percentage points (9.4% in 2012 to 12.3% in 2013) despite pitchers throwing him marginally less strikes (41.2% as opposed to 42.3%). And even despite his injury, Harper’s trademark raw power remained, his .212 ISO mark remarkably similar to the .206 figure he posted the year prior.
Not that such incremental improvement satiated the demands of those preseason prognosticators – apparently an injury-marred campaign is no excuse in the march towards superstardom nowadays. After an offseason in which Mike Trout’s otherworldly play and soon-expected extension attracted more of the media’s attention however, Harper has quietly slinked away from the limelight – and dedicated himself to getting healthy for a monster 2014 (he may even have hit the gym too hard, with recent photos of his huge new physique inspiring PED talk – which Harper quickly shot down).
With World Series aspirations once more after the addition of Doug Fister, the Nats will need him if they’re to make a serious run during the postseason. Fortunately for new manager Matt Williams, Harper appears to be on board with the plan already: recently citing “I don’t want to run into another wall,” in recognising the importance of his everyday presence towards his team’s success, the young slugger has clearly matured in his first real time away from the glare – a factor that along with his health, should have opposing pitchers quaking in their cleats come April. With that in mind, and other pennant contenders St. Louis lacking a true superstar (although a fine leader, Yadier Molina doesn’t qualify in my eyes), the Dodger’s wealth of riches unreliable in terms of their health (I’m looking at you Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp), I’ve no problem in predicting this year to be the year for Harper; I’ll take his 16/1 odds of winning NL MVP over the 6/1 Andrew McCutchen, 7/1 Joey Votto or even 9/1 Paul Goldschmidt all the way to the bank, thank you very much.
It’s been too long for Bryce Harper to be out of the spotlight. I’m ready for him to snatch it back in a big way.