Friday, April 3, 2015

MLB Postseason Award Predictions

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict there will be no repeat winners in either league for any postseason awards.  That doesn't mean last year's winners won't have another great season; they will.

But voters like to reward the players who maybe came up a little bit short in previous years.  And there are some good candidates that could go all the way this year.

Let's review last year's results:

Clayton Kershaw - last year's NL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner - will still finish in the top ten in the MVP voting and will likely finish second in the CYA voting.

Mike Trout - last year's AL Most Valuable Player - will probably finish second this time around.

Corey Kluber - last year's AL Cy Young Award winner - will finish in the top ten this time around.

Buck Showalter - last year's AL Manager of the Year - will finish in the top five this time around.

Matt Williams - last year's NL Manager of the Year - will likewise finish in the top five this time.

...and the winners will be:

NL MVP goes to Giancarlo Stanton.  The Miami Marlin's right fielder was on an MVP pace in 2014 before a mid-September beaning abruptly ended his season.  Still, in 145 games played, Stanton (.288/.395/.555) hit 37 home runs with 105 RBI, while posting a 6.5 WAR.  He finished second to Kershaw (21-3 - 1.77 ERA), who ironically, had an injury-marred season as well (just 27 games started), but still posted an impressive 8.0 WAR (tops in the NL).  Stanton should have his best season ever in '15 - and that's scary for the rest of the league.

AL MVP goes to Michael Brantley.  Last season, the Cleveland Indians left fielder (.327/.385/.506) hit 20 home runs among his 200 hits, with 97 RBI.  He finished third in the voting last year, but his 7.0 WAR wasn't far behind Trout (7.9) who had another amazing season (.287/.377/.561) with 37 home runs and 111 RBI.  Playing for a team possibly heading for a division title, look for Brantley to lead the charge into the postseason.

NL Cy Young Award goes to Madison Bumgarner.  The San Francisco Giant's ace was nearly flawless in the postseason, and appears likely to continue that trend in the upcoming regular season.  This could be the year he becomes the best left-handed starter in either league.

AL Cy Young Award goes to Chris Sale.  The Chicago White Sox ace (12-4 - 2.17 ERA) had his season curtailed by injury (just 26 games started), but still finished third in the voting last year, posting a 6.6 WAR with a league-best 178 ERA+.  If he can avoid the DL in 2015, he should rise to the top.

NL Rookie of the Year Award goes to Kris Bryant.  The Chicago Cubs power-hitting third base prospect seems to have a perfect swing.  Although he'll start the year in the minor leagues for financial reasons, he'll be called up soon enough to finish with 30 home runs.  His biggest weakness seems to be fielding his position, where he may match that 30 HR total with 30 errors.  Still, the future looks bright for this guy; and postseason play may be a possibility for the Cubs in the next year or so.

AL Rookie of the Year Award goes to Rusney Castillo.  The Boston Red Sox outfield prospect seems to have the best chance of making a splash this season, while other higher-rated prospects from other organizations will likely spend most of the season in the minors.  Castillo could hit .300 with some power potential; maybe hit 20 home runs.

NL Manager of the Year Award goes to Bud Black, who should be the beneficiary of the newly revamped San Diego Padres roster.  This could very well be a postseason team, making Black a very strong candidate to win the award again (he won it in 2010).

AL Manager of the Year Award goes to Terry Francona, who won it in 2013 after guiding the Cinderella Cleveland Indians to a wild card slot.  This year could very well bring a division title to Cleveland, as they appear poised to supplant the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central.




Thursday, April 2, 2015

Despite Off Season Moves, Dodgers Still Best in NL West

When the Los Angeles Dodgers traded oft-injured but talented Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres this past off season, they automatically turned the Pads into a legitimate postseason contender.  Acquiring Justin Upton from Atlanta and Will Meyers from Tampa Bay to help Kemp patrol the spacious San Diego outfield further legitimized that franchise's postseason potential.  Signing free agent workhorse James Shields to anchor their starting rotation may have been the final piece for San Diego to reach the postseason promised land - probably as a wild card, but that would be a vast improvement over where they've gone the last several years:  Nowhere.

Meanwhile, LA also passed on trying to re-sign shortstop Hanley Ramirez (now the Boston Red Sox' new left fielder), then swung a deal acquiring aging shortstop Jimmy Rollins from Philadelphia.  J-Rol's career has been in decline for a few years now, but he may have enough in the tank to give the Dodgers some degree of stability at the shortstop position.  Meanwhile, LA also dealt speedy second baseman Dee Gordon to Miami, then acquired the underrated Howie Kendrick from the Angels to take his place at second base.  The net effect of all these transactions should help the Dodgers, defensively - but it may cost them, offensively.  And they may regret trading their former face of the franchise to a division rival.  If nothing else, watching the Dodgers and Padres in head-to-head competition this season will be more interesting than it's been in years.

In the meantime, the reigning World Champion San Francisco Giants appear to be taking this year off - especially after their popular corpulent third baseman - Pablo Sandoval - left via free agency and landed in Boston.  His replacement:  Casey McGehee, whose better days are well behind him.  Adding to the Giants' woes is having the hyper active Hunter Pence on the DL (broken arm) to start the season, further hindering the San Francisco offense - which will be borderline anemic in 2015.

Neither the Arizona Diamondbacks nor Colorado Rockies appear close to contending in 2015.

Here's how the Final Standings should look:

Los Angeles            93-69
San Diego               87-75
San Francisco         82-80
Arizona                   70-92
Colorado                 62-100

Could we see another postseason showdown between the Dodgers and Cardinals?  It's quite likely.  Interestingly, most of the so-called experts are picking the Dodgers to beat the Cardinals in any possible playoff series.  Of course, most of them picked the Dodgers to beat the Cardinals in the 2013 NLCS and again in the 2014 NLDS.  Go figure.  For the record, the Cardinals are 16-9 all-time vs the Dodgers in postseason play.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Another Division Title in the Cards for St Louis

Until last season, the Cardinals had never reached the postseason four consecutive years.  As the 2015 season is about to unfold, the Cardinals appear to have the talent to extend their postseason streak to five straight years.

Final Standings for NL Central in 2015 should look like this:

St Louis         93-69
Pittsburgh      88-74
Cincinnati      83-79
Chicago         82-80
Milwaukee    74-88

Pittsburgh will put a very good lineup on the field, but their starting rotation is suspect.

Cincinnati will be vastly improved, offensively, but their starting rotation is even more suspect.

Chicago should finish over .500 - not quite the World Series champions their delusional fan base is expecting, but they're improving.

Milwaukee spent most of last season in first place before collapsing in September.  Their collapse should occur by May this time around.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

NL East Still Belongs to the Nationals

It's not beyond the realm of possibility that the Washington Nationals won't win the NL East again in 2015.  They've already had several key players go down with injuries, and four of them are questionable for service by the time they open their season on April 6 against the New York Mets (Jason Werth, Nate McLouth, Casey Janssen & Anthony Rendon).  Another, Denard Span, is out indefinitely after undergoing abdominal surgery a couple of weeks ago.

Although they can survive without a few key players in the lineup from time to time, they can ill-afford to lose guys like Bryce Harper or Ryan Zimmerman (both with a history of injuries) for prolonged stretches again this season and hope to take the much more competitive NL East by storm.

Washington's starting pitching is probably good enough to carry them to the title again this season, even with a makeshift lineup behind them.  That's barring any major injuries to their starters, of course.

Both the Miami Marlins and New York Mets will be much better than last season, but the only way either team could win that division would be an unlikely combination of further Nats' injuries while keeping their rosters almost completely out of harm's way for an entire season.

As far as the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are concerned, 2015 will be another forgettable season, as both former powerhouses are in a definite rebuilding mode.  Just three years ago, the Phillies were coming off a 102-win season.  But an aging core of players has made them perhaps the worst team in baseball - highly capable of losing 102 games in 2015.  It won't be pretty.

Here's what's in store for the NL East for 2015:

Washington    95-67
Miami             85-77
New York       84-78
Atlanta            70-92                  
Philadelphia    64-98

With all their talent in recent years, the Nats have failed to advance past the NLDS in two tries - losing to St Louis in 2012 and losing to San Francisco last season.  Still, they're the odds on favorite to win the World Series.  So in all likelihood, they'd have to beat the Cardinals to reach the Fall Classic.  Don't bet on it.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Meanwhile, in the American League

2015 is going to be a season of great changes - at least in the American League.  The three teams that won division titles last year will be scrambling just to grab a wild card berth this year.

In the meantime, three teams that haven't won a division title in a long, long time will finally break through in 2015 - and one of those division winners will actually make it to the World Series for the first time in franchise history (although their wait will have been considerably shorter than some team we know in the NL Central that hasn't played in the Fall Classic since the Truman Administration and last won it all three years before Ronald Reagan was born).

Here's the way it's going to play out in the Junior Circuit:

AL EAST                                    AL CENTRAL                                    AL WEST

Toronto       89-73                       Cleveland         88-74                          Seattle         90-72
Baltimore    85-77                       Detroit              87-75                          LA of A        87-75             Boston        83-79                       Chicago           82-80                          Oakland       83-79
Tampa Bay  75-87                      Kansas City      81-81                          Houston       80-82
New York    71-91                       Minnesota        66-96                          Texas           71-91

Advancing to the World Series for the first time in franchise history will be the Seattle Mariners, who will of course, be playing the St Louis Cardinals (since it's an odd-numbered year).  It's interesting to note that in 1982, the Cardinals defeated the Milwaukee Brewers - who were making their first trip to the World Series - in a classic seven game showdown.

Of course, the Cardinals lost a seven-game series to the Kansas City Royals in 1985, then lost another seven-game series to the Minnesota Twins in 1987.  Both teams had never won a World Series before, although both had played in a World Series on one other occasion.

What does all this mean?  Simple:  The Cardinals will beat the Mariners in a classic seven-game series.  In the future, if Seattle makes a return trip to the World Series, and they happen to play St Louis again, they'll probably win it that time - in seven games, of course.


Friday, March 27, 2015

10 Reasons Why Cardinals Will Be MUCH Better Than Last Year

Last year, the Cardinals managed to win 90 regular season games despite having an "off year" offensively.  That's putting it mildly.  Based on an OPS+ of 93, it was their second worst offensive season of the millennium.  For the record, only the 2007 Cardinals (92 OPS+) were worse, offensively.

Last year, they managed to win 90 games despite outscoring their opponents by only 16 runs (619 to 603).  Helping their cause was a major league-leading 23 shutouts from the pitching staff, which easily offset the 12 times the offense was blanked by the opposition.  Also, despite the rather shaky performance of closer Trevor Rosenthal - who allowed 39% of first batters to reach base - he still managed to save 45 games - while the rest of the bullpen secured another ten.  Those 55 saves also happened to be the most by any major league team.  In other words, the Cardinals were usually engaged in low-scoring games that were decided by two or fewer runs.

Another thing that helped St Louis win a few extra games was a vastly improved defense.  Essentially, the Redbirds went from being the second-worst defensive team in the league in 2013 (only Philadelphia was worse) to becoming the second-best defensive team in 2014 (only Cincinnati was better).  The addition of right fielder Jason Heyward (from Atlanta) - one of the best defensive players in all of baseball - should put the Cardinals on top of the defensive metric charts by a wide margin in 2015.

Heyward's addition to the roster is just one of the ten major reasons the Cardinals will be vastly improved over last season.  Actually, he's probably the number one reason, since he's upgrading a position - right field - that was among the worst in baseball last year for St Louis.  The other nine reasons for the team's vast improvement over last year is based on the assumption that certain players (Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn & Matt Holliday for example) will perform similarly this season as last.

Without further adieu, here are ten players who will add significantly greater value to the Cardinals in 2015 than the previous season:

* Yadier Molina suffered through an injury-marred season in '14 - playing in just 110 games, with diminished offensive production (.282/.333/.386).  Yadi turns 33 in July, so a gradual decline in his skills is inevitable; however, he should be relatively healthy this season, so appearing in 140 games is likely, and a more potent offensive attack (.300/.360/.420) should be in the Cards as well.

* Kolten Wong is poised for a break-out season based on how well he finished last year - especially with his stellar performance in the postseason.  Wong struggled early in the season, then after a brief stint in the minors, returned with renewed confidence and impressive power numbers.  In 113 games Kolten finished with a .249/.292/.388 slash line.  The other part of the second base dilemma last year was the woeful final season free agent Mark Ellis compiled.  In 73 games, he hit .180 with absolutely no power.  With Wong taking over on a full-time basis at second base, he should be able to play 150 games with this type of offensive production:  .275/.330/.450.  He'll probably hit 15 home runs, steal 30 bags and possibly win a Gold Glove Award.  Yes, second base is in good hands again.

* Jaime Garcia has had a host of shoulder problems that has limited his work to just 99 innings over the course of the last two seasons.  He appears to be healthy again and should be able to work 150 quality innings.  His work this spring has been surprisingly effective, exceeding any reasonable expectation so far.  His contribution to the Cardinal's success could be huge - possibly NL Comeback Player of the Year material.

* Kevin Siegrist had a variety of physical ailments last season that caused his ERA to skyrocket from 0.45 in '13 to 6.82 last year.  He appears to be healthy again, with renewed confidence and effectiveness (5 IP - 0 ERA with 6 SO and just 1 BB so far this spring).  Look for numbers much closer to 2013.

* Michael Wacha appears to be healthy again and ready to dominate batters with his blazing fastball and devastating change up - like he did late in 2013.  He'll be the number three starter - and would be a number one on most teams.  That's scary.

* Jordan Walden, who came over from the Braves in the Heyward deal, is another power arm in the bullpen (254 strikeouts in 211.2 career innings pitched), capable of closing out games whenever needed.  Having another viable option will undoubtedly take some of the pressure off Trevor Rosenthal, who probably needed a break from time to time last season, but rarely got one.

* Speaking of Trevor Rosenthal...expect him to dominate hitters they way he did late in 2013, when he was almost flawless.  In 2014, Rosenthal's walk rate was over five batters per nine innings.  That's going to be cut in half.

* Marco Gonzalez has been impressive so far this spring (3-0 - 0.71 ERA), giving manager Mike Matheny another viable (left-handed) candidate for the starting rotation.

* John Lackey should be able to log close to 200 innings of solid starting pitching - another key to helping the bullpen stay fresh through the long season - and deep into the postseason.

* Jason Heyward - previously mentioned - but his impact on the Cardinals' success will be the greatest, since their biggest weakness from 2014 - right field - is now among their biggest strengths.  Heyward is a viable MVP candidate - particularly if he hits for the type of power he's shown in the past (27 home runs a couple of years ago).  Even if he just matches his career averages (.262/.351/.429), with his exceptional defensive play, he's an elite player.  For the Cardinals front office, the decision to sign him to a long-term contract (he'll be a free agent after this season) should be a top priority - and nailed down sooner than later.

I don't think there's any doubt the Redbirds will be a much better team this year than last.  In fact, the 2015 edition of the St Louis Cardinals may surpass the overall performance of the 2004 and 2005 teams.

Here's a ranking of each season of the millennium, combing the team OPS+ and ERA+ (defensive metrics not included):

Rank   Year    OPS+   ERA+  Total  Postseason?
1(Tie)   2004    107     113       220    Y
1(Tie)   2005     98      122       220    Y (Best Pitching of the Millennium)
3          2013    102     110       212    Y
4(Tie)   2011    112       99       211    Y (Best Offense of the Millennium)
4(Tie)   2002    102     109       211    Y
6(Tie)   2000    103     107       210    Y
6(Tie)   2001    100     110       210    Y
6(Tie)   2009     98      112       210    Y
6(Tie)   2012    107     103       210    Y
10        2010    100     109       209    N
11        2008    107     101       208    N
12        2003    111      90        201    N (Worst Pitching of the Millennium)
13        2014     93      105       198    Y
14        2006     97       98        195    Y
15        2007     92       95        187    N (Worst Offense of the Millennium)

Obviously, these numbers provide a good measurement of the team's regular season performance - but once the postseason begins, anything can happen (example:  2006).

What can we expect in 2015?  Here's my guesstimate:  OPS+ 102 - ERA+ 119 (Total 221).  By the time we factor in the expected superior defensive metrics, this could shape up to be the best Cardinal team of the millennium.  No kidding.

Odds makers currently give the Cards a 12 to 1 shot to win the World Series.  I think that makes them highly underrated...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ranking NL Central Starting Rotations

Now that free agent pitcher James Shields is officially off the market (signing a four-year deal with the San Diego Padres), we now have a clearer picture of how the starting rotations of the five NL Central teams will be staffed - at least for now.  Once the season begins, there may be some changes - particularly at the lower end of the rotations, where the competition for the fifth spot usually has a good number of candidates - from aging veterans to unproven rookies.

For rating purposes, we'll compare each team's Number One Starter, their Number Twos, and so on and so forth.  Included will be a brief picture of last season's performance and any significant issues that may be pertinent, such as the relative risk for arm/shoulder/elbow trouble.

Here we go:

NUMBER ONE  

1 - Cueto (CIN) 20-9 - 2.25 ERA - 243.2 IP - 160 ERA+ (Age 28) - After an injury-plagued 2013 season, he was the second-best pitcher in the NL last season.

2 - Wainwright (STL) 20-9 - 2.38 ERA - 227.0 IP - 154 ERA+ (Age 32) - Had a "dead arm" phase in the second half - Had minor off season elbow surgery which is a concern heading into the new season.  When healthy, he's among the top 4 or 5 pitchers in MLB.

3 - Lester (CHI) 16-11 - 2.46 ERA - 219.2 IP - 155 ERA + (Age 30) - Had his finest season in 2014, but pitching for Oakland, inexplicably failed to hold the Royals at bay in the AL Wild Card game.  Not a good way to end a season.

4 - Liriano (PIT) 7-10 - 3.38 ERA - 162.1 IP - 117 ERA+ (Age 30) - Health issues last year - could be a problem again in 2015.  

5 - Garza (MIL) 8-8 - 3.64 ERA - 163.1 IP - 104 ERA+ (Age 30) - Durability and a volatile demeanor could be troublesome in 2015.

NUMBER TWO

1 - Lynn (STL) 15-10 - 2.74 ERA - 203.2 IP - 134 ERA+ (Age 27) - Had his finest season, by far, in 2014, although pitching with low run support cost him some wins - Should be just as good - if not better - in 2015.

2 - Arrieta (CHI) 10-5 - 2.53 ERA - 156.2 IP - 151 ERA+ (Age 28) - Pitched extremely well last season with a relatively light workload - Will need to post similar results while eclipsing 200 IP to give team a reasonable shot at postseason play.

3 - Peralta (MIL) 17-11 - 3.53 ERA - 198.2 IP - 107 ERA+ (Age 25) - Thanks to getting a lot of run support, actually won more games than any NL Central pitcher not named Cueto or Wainwright in 2014 - Will he be so fortunate in 2015?

4 - Bailey (CIN) 9-5 - 3.71 ERA - 145.2 IP - 97 ERA+ (Age 28) - Will need to bounce back from a mediocre 2014 - Lower the ERA, increase the workload - Otherwise, it could be another painful season for the Reds.

5 - Cole (PIT) 11-5 - 3.65 ERA - 138.0 IP - 98 ERA+ (Age 23) - Has potential to have breakout season in 2015, but needs to work more than 200 IP to give Pirates a reasonable shot at a division title.

NUMBER THREE

1 - Wacha (STL) 5-6 - 3.20 ERA - 107.0 IP - 115 ERA+ (Age 22) - If he's fully recovered from his shoulder problems, he should be able to dominate opposing lineups like he did late in the 2013 season (and postseason) - His workload will probably be limited by a cautious brain trust - still, 150+ IP would be a welcome asset to the pitching staff.

2 - Lohse (MIL) 13-9 - 3.54 ERA - 198.1 IP - 107 ERA+ (Age 35) - Not overpowering, but reliable - Age may start becoming a bit of a factor, especially if his not-so-fast-fastball loses some velocity in 2015.

3 - Leake (CIN) 11-13 - 3.70 ERA - 214.1 IP - 97 ERA+ (Age 26) - A steady workhorse - Should give Reds another 200+ IP in 2015.

4 - Hammel (CHI) 8-5 - 2.58 ERA - 108.2 IP - 128 ERA+ (Age 31) - Pitched well with a limited workload last season - Needs to double the output in 2015 to give Cubs any postseason hopes.

5 - Burnett (PIT) 8-18 - 4.59 ERA - 213.2 IP - 81 ERA+ (Age 37) - Pitching for a miserable Phillies team last season - Still durable after all those years, but age-related decline likely to continue - Probably should retire - Would be no surprise to see him released by the All Star break.

NUMBER FOUR

1 - Worley (PIT) 8-4 - 2.85 ERA - 110.2 IP - 125 ERA+ (Age 26) - Good numbers in limited action last season - It may not take long for this guy to supplant Burnett in the number three slot in the rotation.

2 - Fiers (MIL) 6-5 - 2.13 ERA - 71.2 IP - 178 ERA+ (Age 29) - Had the highest ERA+ in the division last season - but needs to at least double his innings pitched in 2015 to give rotation the necessary boost to stay in the race.

3 - Lackey (STL) 3-3 - 4.30 ERA - 60.2 IP - 86 ERA+ (Age 35) - Acquired from Boston prior to the trade deadline last season - Struggled in limited action - Whether or not he can bounce back in 2015 remains to be seen.

4 - Wood (CHI) 8-13 - 5.03 ERA - 173.2 IP - 76 ERA+ (Age 27) - Durable, but ineffective last season - He may not be able to improve in 2015 - The Cubs will be in trouble if he doesn't pitch more effectively this season.

5 - Cingrani (CIN) 2-8 - 4.55 ERA - 63.1 IP - 79 ERA+ (Age 24) - After showing flashes of brilliance when first called up in 2013, regressed significantly last season - Without vast improvement this season, the Reds will have serious issues.

NUMBER FIVE

1 - Hendricks (CHI) 7-2 - 2.46 ERA - 80.1 IP - 155 ERA+ (Age 24) - Encouraging results in limited exposure last season - If he can come close to duplicating this performance with 160+ IP, Cubs should easily escape the cellar.

2 - Locke (PIT) 7-6 - 3.91 ERA - 131.1 IP - 91 ERA+ (Age 26) - Assuming Burnett flops for the Pirates in 2015, the team will desperately need this guy to pitch better than last year - and work closer to 200 IP.

3 - Martinez (STL) 2-4 - 4.03 ERA - 89.1 IP - 91 ERA+ (Age 22) - Has the raw talent to develop into a top end of the rotation starter - If he does, Cards could run away with division title.

4 - Nelson (MIL) 2-9 - 4.83 ERA - 69.1 IP - 77 ERA+ (Age 25) - Expected to improve this season - Nowhere to go but up.

5 - Desclafani (CIN) 2-2 - 6.27 ERA - 33.0 IP - 61 ERA+ (Age 24) - Posted a decent 3.78 ERA in the minors last season - Significant improvement is critical in the fifth spot in the rotation if the Reds hope to have any chance at all in the division race.

OVERALL ROTATION RANKINGS

1 - St Louis Cardinals - The combination of Wainwright, Lynn and Wacha should be dominant in 2015.

2 - Chicago Cubs - The addition of Lester and the continued development of their younger talent brings some measure of credibility to a franchise desperate to win.

3 - Milwaukee Brewers - Lacking a true "ace", but still capable of keeping their team in most games.

4 - Pittsburgh Pirates - A shaky rotation with the potential to be a total disaster.

5 - Cincinnati Reds - After Cueto, a lot of question marks.