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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ranking NL Central Position Players

After months of careful study and analysis, using advanced metrics and common sense, I've ranked all the position players in the NL Central who are most likely to be in the starting lineup on a regular basis - at least, at the beginning of the season.

However, there could be significant changes as early as May - at least for one team:  The Chicago Cubs.  Around that time, their highly touted third base prospect - Kris Bryant - will probably be called up from the minors to add much needed offensive firepower for a team expected to contend for a division title (Las Vegas odds makers list them at 12 to 1 to win the World Series; along with the Cardinals!).  One thing is certain:  The Cubs will not win the NL Central - let alone even qualify for a wild card berth with their current projected lineup (even with five Jon Lesters in the starting rotation).

A comparison of the five NL Central teams' primary position players sheds some light on who are legitimate contenders - and who are the pretenders:


In the wake of an injury-plagued season in '14 (only 110 games played), the Cardinals' Yadier Molina has reportedly shed twenty pounds, hoping to take some pressure off a bum knee.  If he can stay reasonably healthy this season, he should be able to outperform Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy (#2) who had his best season last year (.301/.373/.465 with a NL-most 53 doubles).

Cincinnati's Devin Mesoraco (#3) who hit 25 HR (most by any MLB catcher) in just 114 games appears to be a rising star.

Pittsburgh is going to miss Russell Martin (now with Toronto), although his replacement - Francisco Cervelli (#4) - should be adequate.  Unfortunately for the Pirates, "adequate" may not be good enough to help nurture a mediocre pitching staff through a challenging season.

The Cubs acquired Miguel Montero (#5) from Arizona for his "pitch framing" ability; somehow overlooking his sharp offensive decline in the past two seasons - a trend that will likely continue in 2015.  As far as "pitch framing" goes, it didn't really help the D-Backs' atrocious pitching staff last year (4.26 ERA was 2nd-worst in the league, behind Colorado's 4.86 ERA).

First Base

Chicago's Anthony Rizzo, after a breakout season, appears to have overtaken the Reds' Joey Votto (#2), who will be trying to return to form after a couple of seasons of nagging injuries which dramatically hurt his production (only 62 games played last season).

The Cardinals are hoping Matt Adams (#3) will regain that power stroke he had in '13 when he hit 17 HR in 319 PA.  If he does, he could surpass Votto and possibly Rizzo.

Milwaukee's newest addition - Adam Lind (#4) - could be an offensive weapon (.321/.381/.479 in 96 games) - although somewhat of a defensive liability.

Meanwhile, the Pirates are desperately hoping Pedro Alvarez (#5) rebounds after a disappointing '14 - when he hit just 18 HR - half the total from '13.

Second Base

Pittsburgh's Neil Walker (.271/.342/.467 with 23 HR) is an All Star caliber player who is just entering his prime.  If anyone's going to challenge him, it could well be the Cardinals' Kolten Wong (#2), who not only has excellent defensive skills, his hitting should be greatly improved in '14.

Third ranked Scooter Gennett (.289/.320/.434) of Milwaukee has a decent bat but needs work on the defense to reach All Star status.

The Reds' fourth ranked Brandon Phillips (.266/.306/.372) nearly punched out a Cincinnati beat reporter a couple of years ago for noticing his OBP sucked.  It still does, and his defensive skills are slipping for the aging hot dog, as well.

The Cubs are praying that fifth ranked Javier Baez (.164/.227/.324) will cut down on his strikeouts (95 in 229 PA).  Otherwise their postseason hopes get very dim.

Third Base

The Reds' Todd Frazier had a breakout season in '14 (.273/.336/.458 with 29 HR) - and he's good with the glove to rank a notch ahead of the Redbirds' Matt Carpenter (NL-most 95 BB), who displayed remarkable postseason power (4 HR in 39 PA) after hitting just 8 HR in the regular season.

Pittsburgh's third ranked Josh Harrison (.315/.347/.490) had a career year in '14 - will likely regress a bit in '15.

Aging Aramis Ramirez (#4) of Milwaukee (.285/.330/.427) posted his lowest SLG since '02 - and his glove is suspect at the hot corner, as well.

Either Mike Olt or Tommy La Stella (#5 & 5A) will likely be in the lineup for the Cubs on Opening Day - and neither one is going to do much to enhance Chicago's postseason dream.  Maybe rookie Kris Bryant will get called up by May and have a monster season - because that's what they need to be competitive.


Jhonny Peralta (club record 21 HR for SS) was better than expected last year for St Louis, when he was arguably, the best shortstop in either league.  He'll likely regress a bit in '15, but should still be better than Starlin Castro (#2) who hit well (.272/.339/.438) but still has defensive issues.

Pittsburgh's Jordy Mercer (#3) is a solid defensive player with a decent bat, while the Reds' Zack Cozart (#4) is a very good defensive player with a weak bat (.221/.268/.300).

The Brewers' Jean Segura (#5) is a good defensive player whose production fell off considerably in '14 (.246/.289/.326) compared to '13 (.274/.329/.423) when he was an All Star.  If he doesn't improve this season, the Brewers could be in serious trouble, along with the Cubs.

Left Field

Pittsburgh's Starling Marte (.291/.356/.453) is a five tool player who will only get better in '15 and beyond.  Matt Holldiay (#2) is starting to show some age-related regression, with a career low .441 SLG last season.  If he can hit 20 HR and drive in 90 again, the Cards should return to the postseason for a record fifth straight season.

The Brewers' third ranked Khris Davis (.244/.299/.457 with 22 HR) should post better offensive numbers in '15, but his defense is still suspect.

Marlon Byrd (#4) - the new addition to the Reds' lineup - hit a career high 25 HR with the Phillies last season, but at the age of 37, may show some regression this season.

The Cubs' Chris Coghlan (#5) is a pretty good hitter (.283/.352/.452) but an atrocious defensive player.

Center Field

Andrew McCutchen (.314/.410/.542) is the best player on an improving Pirates' franchise, although he's overrated, defensively.  Two seasons ago, Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez (#2) played a spectacular defensive CF, regressing slightly last year, but his hitting was nearly a carbon copy (.284/.356/.477 with 23 HR).

After a lackluster '13, third ranked Jon Jay (.295/.359/.396) rebounded nicely for the Cardinals in '14 - especially defensively.

Cincinnati's speedy Billy Hamilton (.250/.292/.355) is ranked at #4, but will likely show overall improvement as his career progresses.

Dexter Fowler's (#5) ability to get on base (.375 last season) will help the Cubs' offense this season, but defensively, he's a liability.  In other words, he's got lots of company in Chicago.

Right Field

The Cardinals' big acquisition this off season - Jason Heyward - will solve the team's biggest weakness last season - although duplicating a 7.0 WAR may be a difficult assignment.  However, if he can find his niche in the St Louis lineup, he could have his best offensive season in '15 - and the Cards should cruise to another division title.

The Brewers' injury-plagued Ryan Braun (#2) discovered that playing without his special vitamins wasn't so easy last year - posting career lows in his entire slash line (.266/.324/.453).  He's bound to improve on those numbers in '15, but he'll never get back to that PED-enhanced production from a few years ago.  Defensively, a liability.

The Cubs' hot rookie sensation - third ranked Jorge Soler (.292/.330/.573 in 97 PA) - may continue where he left off last season - or he may find out that big league pitching isn't so easy to hit this year.  If he flops, more trauma at Wrigley Field for another painful year.

The Pirates are counting on rookie Gregory Polanco (#4) to improve on last season's 89 game introduction to the major leagues (.235/.307/.343).  If he struggles once again, it's going to be tough for Pittsburgh to reach the postseason for a third straight year.

How bad was Jay Bruce (.217/.281/.373) last season for the Reds?  So bad, that even a couple of relatively untested rookies from Chicago and Pittsburgh are already ranked ahead of him.  He's got to get better in '15.  There's nowhere to go but up from a negative 1.1 WAR.


The Cardinals and Pirates - with three players each ranked number one at their positions - figure to have the best overall lineups in the NL Central.  The difference between those two teams seems to be pitching - the Cardinals have the advantage - barring any significant injuries.

It would be a mistake to count any team out of the race for the division title (even the Cubs).  If Votto returns to form this season, the Reds could be much better.  The same goes for the Brewers with their former golden boy, Braunie.

For the Cubs, they need three relatively unproven rookies to rise to the occasion, if they hope to rise in the standings - which may be asking too much, too soon.  


St Louis should win division title again
Second place could be a tight race between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati - even Milwaukee or Chicago could sneak up there if all their pieces fall into place
In other words, second through fifth place is almost a toss up between four teams

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Are the Cubs Really Going to Challenge the Cardinals?

Apparently, the Las Vegas odds makers believe the Chicago Cubs are for real - giving the franchise that hasn't won a World Series in 106 years a legitimate shot to win it all in 2015 (12 to 1).  Only the Washington Nationals (11 to 2) and Los Angeles Dodgers (8 to 1) are considered to have a better shot at becoming World Champions.

Joining the Cubs at 12 to 1 are the Boston Red Sox, LA Angels of Anaheim and the St Louis Cardinals.  In other words, the Cubs have made such an off-season splash, they're perceived to be on equal footing with the Cardinals, heading into the new season.  Technically, they will be tied for first place prior to Opening Day.  That's the good news.  The bad news:  They have to play 162 games.

I'm not just mocking the Cubs because of their past history of ineptitude.  Actually, their immediate future - this season - is destined to disappoint their delusional fan base for the 107th consecutive year; but who's counting?

Here's a comparison of each team's anticipated lineups for the upcoming season.  These are the  position players expected to start most of the games (along with last season's WAR & projected WAR for this season):

C     Yadier Molina (2.3 WAR - Projected 5.5)     Miguel Montero (0.6 WAR - Projected 1.5)
1B   Matt Adams (2.2 WAR - Projected 3.5)        Anthony Rizzo (4.9 WAR - Projected 5.5)
2B   Kolten Wong (2.1 WAR - Projected 4.5)       Javier Baez (-1.1 WAR - Projected 1.5)
3B   Matt Carpenter (2.8 WAR - Projected 3.5)    Tommy La Stella (-0.4 WAR - Projected 1.5)
SS    Jhonny Peralta (5.7 WAR - Projected 3.5)     Starlin Castro (1.9 WAR - Projected 3.5)
LF    Matt Holliday (4.0 WAR - Projected 4.5)      Chris Coghlan (0.6 WAR - Projected 1.0)
CF    Jon Jay (2.8 WAR - Projected 2.5)                Dexter Fowler (1.5 WAR - Projected 2.5)
RF    Jason Heyward (7.0 WAR - Projected 5.5)    Jorge Soler (1.1 WAR - Projected 3.5)

Total Cardinals (28.9 WAR - Projected 33.0)         Total Cubs (9.1 WAR - Projected 20.5)

For the Cubs, their third baseman of the future - Kris Bryant - may be called up early enough in the season to have a positive impact on the team's fortunes.  There is very little doubt he'll be an elite player - possibly near "Mike Trout" levels of performance, once he gets acclimated to the major leagues.  Let's say he's called up early enough and performs at a ridiculously high rate to produce a 10.0 WAR.  We'll remove La Stella's projected 1.5 WAR and insert Bryant's projected 10.0 WAR to change the team projection to a 29.0 WAR.  Even then, it's probably not going to be enough to catch the Cardinals - who also have better pitching than their arch-rivals.

The bottom line:  Those 12 to 1 odds may be appropriate for the Cardinals.  But it's a sucker bet for the Cubs.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Will the Pirates Challenge the Cardinals in 2015?

The Pittsburgh Pirates may have finished in second place (88-74) last season - two games behind the Cardinals (90-72) in the NL Central - but they actually were a better team, saber-metrically speaking.  Pittsburgh's Run Differential (+51) was significantly better than the Cardinals' (+12), who really had no business winning 90 games - but they did.  Call it luck or clutch performances or brilliant managing or whatever you want to call it - but according to Bill James' Pythagorean Winning Percentage, St Louis should have won just 83 games.

In fact, the Cardinals' team WAR was just 3.5 (above league average) in 2014 - 5th best in the National League.  The two best NL teams - Washington Nationals (+16.6) and LA Dodgers (+15.8) were both eliminated in the first round of the playoffs - and the third best team - Pirates (+9.2) - didn't get past the wild card game - eliminated by the eventual World Series champions - San Francisco Giants (+5.1) - who "on paper" were just the 4th best team in the NL.  Of course, they took care of the Cardinals in a five game NLCS before eventually knocking off the KC Royals in a seven game Fall Classic.

Much has happened since the Cardinals' season ended in San Francisco last October.  In the wake of  the Oscar Taveras tragedy, the need to fill a glaring hole in right field produced the Shelby Miller (and Tyrell Jenkins) for Jason Heyward (and Jordan Walden) trade.  Last season, the right field position for the Cardinals generated a WAR that was -3.1 (below league average) - only the Cincinnati Reds (-3.3) fared worse in the entire National League.

What was a black hole last year figures to be a shining star this year, however.

With Yadier Molina's injury-plagued season, Cardinals' catching was also significantly below average - but that too, figures to change for the better this season.  Additionally, with Kolten Wong's anticipated improvement at second base, what was once a weakness in 2014 should now be a strength in 2015.  Wong could very well have an All Star-caliber season in 2015; certainly, greatly improved over last year.

Optimistically, it's not unreasonable to anticipate a better offensive season from veteran left fielder Matt Holliday after a down year, as well; and despite the projections for Matt Adams to merely repeat last year's production at first base, I think he'll improve; plus the right-handed swinging backup Mark Reynolds should help spark additional offense against left-handed pitching.

The only position that may see a downward shift in production is at shortstop, where Jhonny Peralta performed far above reasonable expectations in 2014; especially defensively.  It was a career year, so it's unlikely he'll be able to repeat it.  Speaking of "career years", Matt Carpenter had one in 2013 - but after moving from second base to third base last year, his production slipped quite a bit; but it's not unreasonable to expect better numbers from him in 2015.

Despite Trevor Rosenthal's 45 saves last season, the entire bullpen (aside from Pat Neshek) had a down year; it's likely going to be much better (and healthier) this season.

The starting rotation did a good job last season; and with a return to form from a healthy Michael Wacha. he could pick up where he left off in the latter part of 2013.  That, along with injury-free seasons from Adam Wainwright & company, the rotation should be among the best in the league this season.  If Jaime Garcia can contribute even close to 100 quality innings this year, that would be a bonus; an unexpected bonus, actually.

In other words, there is reason for optimism for the Cardinals heading into the new season.  If all goes as planned, the Redbirds should return to the postseason for a franchise-record fifth straight year; and in the process, capture their third straight NL Central title.

If St Louis is going to be challenged in the Central, the most likely candidate is still the Pirates, although they have some issues that may prevent them from making a serious run.

First and foremost, they lost their fine catcher, Russell Martin (5.4 WAR) to free agency (Toronto Blue Jays).  Meanwhile, his replacement - Francisco Cervelli - is going to be adequate, but hardly an All Star caliber player (In a seven year MLB career, Cervelli has appeared in 250 games, posting a career WAR of 4.0).

Like the Cardinals in 2013, the Pirates were an offensive juggernaut last season; in fact, the WAR from their "non pitchers" was 12.3 above league average, which was tops in the NL.  However, the loss of Martin and the recent trade of right fielder Travis Snider to Baltimore (2.5 WAR) for a minor league pitching prospect - is bound to slow down the offense this season.  In Snider's absence, Pittsburgh is planning to use rookie Gregory Polanco, who had limited success in 89 games last year (.235/.307/.363), but may or may not pan out this year.  They've also added Corey Hart (-0.5 WAR) as a possible alternative in right field (or first base) - although his better days are well behind him.

Last season, the Pirates' pitching (-3.1 below league average WAR) was their weak link, and unfortunately for them, it's probably going to be even weaker in 2015, after losing free agent Edinson Volquez (2.0 WAR) to the KC Royals and replacing him with over-the-hill A.J. Burnett (-0.3 WAR with the Phillies), who is now 37 years old and fading fast.  At best, their starting rotation is shaky; at worst, a disaster.

If the Pirates are going to contend, they're going to need stellar seasons once again from guys like Andrew McCutchen (6.0 WAR), Starling Marte (5.6 WAR) and Josh Harrison (5.2 WAR).  Plus, they need Pedro Alvarez to return to 2013 form, when he led the NL with 36 home runs, primarily batting in the cleanup spot in the lineup; however, that's a long shot.  This is a major hole in their lineup as it stands right now; and without a viable number four guy, there's little chance for the Pirates to be raising the Jolly Roger enough times to overtake St Louis.

The Pirates are still a good team, but they won't be as good as they were the last two seasons.

The Cardinals will be better than they were last year; maybe even better than they were in 2013, when they went to the World Series.  Whether or not they make it back to the Fall Classic in 2015 remains to be seen.  Odds-makers are giving them a 12 to 1 shot of winning the World Series.

Odds makers are giving the Cubs the same shot of winning the World Series.  Seriously.  The Cubs.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

2015 NL Central Projections: Cardinals Overwhelming Favorite?

With all the recent hype surrounding the Chicago Cubs (new manager, new left-handed pitching ace, new center fielder, bold new prediction from first baseman to "win the NL Central"), the Las Vegas odds makers have given the lovable losers a legitimate shot to win the World Series (around 12 to 1?).

At the same time, unimpressed with the off-season moves of the St Louis Cardinals, those same odds-makers have downgraded last year's division champions - giving them about the same chance of winning the World Series as last year's cellar-dwelling Cubs.

That's just f***ing ridiculous.

Assuming WAR actually means something (generally speaking, it does), let's take a look at the entire NL Central's off-season moves, from a Wins Above Replacement perspective.  This will tell us if a team's additions, along with their subtractions actually figures to help them win more games in 2015.

Obviously, there are still some free agents floating around out there that could alter these projections; not to mention a few blockbuster trades that may happen before the season begins.  For now, here's the way things have gone for each team:

CARDINALS - 16 players that spent all or part of the 2014 season on the roster are gone.  The most notable subtractions are reliever Pat Neshek (2.3 WAR) and starter Shelby Miller (1.7 WAR).  Neshek - a free agent who had a career year in '14 - signed with the Houston Astros; Miller was traded to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for right fielder Jason Heyward (7.0 WAR) - who becomes a free agent at the end of this season; so this deal is a long term risk, but a short term bonanza.

All of the remaining 14 players that are gone had slightly negative WARs.  In fact, the grand total of the 16 subtractions is NEGATIVE 1.2 WAR.  Branch Rickey used to call the act of dumping a player with declining skills "Addition by Subtraction" - and that concept seems to apply here.

Obviously, the Heyward acquisition is the most significant of the front office's additions during the off-season, but there were four others:  Jordan Walden (0.9 WAR), Mark Reynolds (0.6 WAR), Dean Anna (0.2 WAR) and Matt Belisle (0.1 WAR).

Total WAR for additions:  8.8 - Add in 1.2 WAR from subtractions - NET GAIN: 10.0 WAR

CUBS - 8 players that spent all or part of the 2014 season on the roster are gone.  The most notable subtractions:  Jeff Samardzija (1.8 WAR - now a starting pitcher for the White Sox) and former third baseman Luis Valbuena (1.4 WAR) who was traded to the Houston Astros for center fielder Dexter Fowler (1.8 WAR).  All told, the Cubs gave up a total WAR of 1.8 in their subtractions.

Additions:  The biggest coup in the free agent market - left-handed ace Jon Lester (5.2 WAR) was a step in the right direction for the franchise with the worst pitching in the division last season (707 runs allowed).  They also signed former Cards closer Jason Motte (-0.1 WAR) - trying to make a comeback after TJS - and reacquired starting pitcher Jason Hammel (3.1 WAR) - However, the Hammel signing doesn't add to the team's total WAR since his contribution was already factored in from last season.  Along with the previously mentioned Fowler, the other additions include catcher Miguel Montero (0.6 WAR) and utility outfielder Chris Denorfia (0.1 WAR).

Total WAR for additions:  7.6 - Lost 1.8 WAR from subtractions - NET GAIN:  5.8 WAR

The rest of the NL Central have either regressed or improved only slightly:

REDS - 11 subtractions and 4 additions equals 1.1 WAR 

PIRATES - 11 subtractions and 5 additions equals NEGATIVE 3.9 WAR

BREWERS - 13 subtractions and 4 additions equals NEGATIVE 4.3 WAR

NL Central Projections for 2015 - The "Starting Point" for each team is their Pythagorean Winning Percentage from 2014 (Based on Run Differential).  As we can see, four out of the five NL Central teams won more games than their run differential would normally produce (especially the Cardinals):

Team         W-L in '14 vs Pythagorean  - 2015 W-L Projection

Cardinals         90-72           83-79                   93-69
Pirates              88-74           87-75                   83-79
Reds                 76-86           79-83                    80-82
Cubs                 73-89           71-91                   77-85
Brewers            82-80           80-82                   76-86

It looks like it's going to be a tight race for last place in the NL Central in 2015.  It seems as though the Cubbies might be able to escape the cellar; but just by the slimmest of margins.  Certainly, this isn't what all those delusional Cubs fans are expecting for the upcoming season - not to mention those Las Vegas odds-makers.  Sorry.  Please accept my condolences for another season of futility.

Maybe 2016 will be better.  But don't count on it.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Rick Reuschel Won 2 Gold Glove Awards - Deserved 12

What do Andy Messersmith, Jim Kaat, Phil Niekro, Steve Carlton, Joaquin Andujar and Fernando Valenzuela have in common?

They were all NL Gold Glove Award-winning pitchers who didn't deserve the honor.  In each case, the Gold Glove Award should have gone to just one guy:  Rick Reuschel.  All told, ten seasons of Gold Glove snubs are represented by these six fine NL pitchers (Messersmith and Kaat both won two in a row, and Niekro won three in a row).

How did this happen?  It may sound preposterous, but I have it figured out.

Andy Messersmith:  GG in '74 and '75 for no real reason; at least it had nothing to do with actually "fielding" his position well.  His Range Factor of 1.91 in '74 was slightly better than league average (1.88).  He followed that up with a 1.51 in '75, which was significantly worse than league average.  Let's face it:  He was chosen simply because he was a high profile free agent who was signed by the Dodgers in '74 - and they went on to play (and lose) in the World Series.  Somehow, the aura of all that notoriety lasted for another season; hence, the ridiculous second GG.

Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.77 Range Factor in '74 and a 2.95 in '75.

Jim Kaat:  GG in '76 and '77 for no real reason; except his reputation from all those GG seasons in the AL carried over in his first two seasons in the NL.  Kaat's Range Factor for both seasons was exactly 1.46.  These would be the last of 16 Gold Glove Awards Kaat would bag.  He actually deserved the first four.

Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.63 RF in '76 and a 2.57 in '77.

Phil Niekro:  3 straight GG - '78 (2.21 RF) - '79 (2.29 RF) & '80 (1.90 RF).  Niekro had never won before, so it was simply his time.  He was very good with the glove, but somebody else was better.

Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.52 RF in '78, a 2.86 RF in '79 and a 2.94 RF in '80.  Do we detect a trend yet?

Steve Carlton was about as "high profile" as it gets for a pitcher in '81.  He was a taciturn World Series champion in '80 and he was closing in on the 3000 career strikeout plateau.  Of course, that has nothing to do with "fielding" - which Carlton rarely did that season (1.18 RF).

Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.59 RF in '81.  Can you believe it?

Reuschel was out of commission for the '82 and '83 seasons.  When he came back in '84, he was still leading the NL with a 2.53 RF, but '82 World Series champion Joaquin Andujar posted a respectable 2.38 RF to take home the Gold.  He was colorful, and that's good enough here, folks.

By 1985, the opposing coaches and managers in the NL finally realized this Rick Reuschel fellow was pretty darned good with the glove.  He won GG number one with a 2.97 RF.

Fernando Valenzuela:  GG in '86 with a very nice 2.54 RF.  He almost deserved it.

Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.84 RF in '86, so it appears he should have won back-to-back Gold Glove Awards.  But no.

However, Reuschel led the NL with a 2.50 RF in '87.  Not coincidentally, his team - the San Francisco Giants - just happened to play the Cardinals in that season's NLCS, thus creating the perfect candidate for the GG:  Big Daddy!

For his career, the underrated Reuschel had a career 2.52 RF (compared to NL average 1.89 RF).  In the National League, only Greg Maddux was a better fielding pitcher in the history of the Gold Glove Award.  He was a guy who deserved all 18 of his Gold Gloves; proving that sometimes, they do get it right.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Gold Glove Debate: Was Clete Boyer Even Better Than Brooks Robinson?

Brooks Robinson was considered to be the greatest defensive third baseman in major league history.  Over his career, Robinson saved more runs with his glove at his position than anyone ever has - 293 to be exact (according to  His skills were genuine and widely appreciated by fans and sportswriters, alike - not to mention opposing coaches and managers who rewarded Robinson with sixteen consecutive Gold Glove Awards (1960 - 1975).

Not surprisingly, with 92% of the voters from the BBWAA supporting his inclusion, he became the first third baseman voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, thirty-two years ago today - January 12, 1983.

Interestingly, early in his Gold Glove Award-winning career, there was another great defensive third baseman who may have been even better with the glove than Robinson:  Clete Boyer, of the New York Yankees.

Boyer wasn't much of a hitter, but he was an exceptional third baseman whose defensive skills were under appreciated - due to the fact that his playing days in New York (1960 - '66) happened to coincide with the peak of the Mickey Mantle/Roger Maris Era - with five straight trips to the World Series from '60 to '64.

By 1967, Boyer was playing third base in the National League as a member of the Atlanta Braves.  Despite nagging injuries and declining skills, he was still a top-notch third baseman - finally getting his one and only Gold Glove Award in '69.

He probably deserved a few more, based on a comparison between Boyer and Robinson over that seven year span when both were AL counterparts.  The key defensive metrics - Range Factor (putouts + assists per 9 innings played) and Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average (Rtot) - obviously favor Boyer; however, Robinson had more playing time at third base, hardly ever missing a game; while Boyer was being used at second base and shortstop, I suppose out of necessity.

The year-by-year comparison:

Yr   Games - Robinson vs Boyer   Range Factor - Robinson vs Boyer    Rtot - Robinson vs Boyer

'60                 152               99                                 3.32              3.65                  17                 15
'61                 163              141                                2.97              3.78                  15                 30
'62                 162              157                                3.13              3.76                  18                 28
'63                 160              141                                3.07              3.43                  12                 14
'64                 163              123                                2.97              3.31                  17                 15
'65                 145              147                                3.05              3.45                   8                   8
'66                 157                85                                3.06              3.80                   4                  11
TOTALS     1102              893                                                                             91                121

Despite playing 209 fewer games at third base, Boyer's defensive skills were worth 30 more runs than Robinson's.  That is obviously attributed to Boyer's overwhelming advantage in Range Factor.  In all fairness, Boyer deserved the Gold Glove Award in '61, '62, '63 and '65.

Whereas Boyer's defensive skills had already peaked by the end of 1966, Robinson's were only getting better.  Over the next three seasons - from '67 through '69 - Robinson's glove work was an astounding 88 runs above average.  By then, there was absolutely no doubt that Brooks Robinson was the best defensive third baseman in the game.

Robinson's durability enabled his career as a third baseman to last for 2870 games - roughly twice as long as Boyer (1439 games).  When Boyer retired, his career Range Factor was 3.42 - compared to 3.20 for Robinson.

In the end, Boyer's glove was worth an extra 162 runs for his teams.  Had he been able to maintain that pace for as long as Robinson's career lasted, he may well have been regarded as The Best There Ever Was at the Hot Corner.

As it was, despite the seven Gold Gloves the other guy won in the seven-year comparison, it seems to me Clete Boyer was in fact, more Golden with the Glove.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pujols Deserves More Gold Glove Credit

For eight straight seasons - from 2004 through 2011 - the National League's best defensive first baseman was a player better known for his offensive prowess:  Albert Pujols.  Certainly, Pujols was one of the greatest sluggers of all-time during his 11-year reign in St Louis, but he also happened to be the best defensive first baseman the Cardinals have employed since Keith Hernandez was traded away over 30 years ago.

As we have observed time and time again, the best defensive player at any given position is often passed over when the Gold Glove Awards are doled out.  Such was the case with Pujols, who received his first Gold Glove in 2006, then another in 2010.  That leaves six seasons unaccounted for - when players of lesser defensive prowess managed to claim the award.  Understandably, it's difficult for a player to be chosen in their first season at a position; still, the defensive metrics are clearly indicating it was Phat Albert - not Todd Helton, nor Derek Lee, nor Adrian Gonzalez nor Joey Votto - who should have bagged the Gold Glove Award each and every season between '04 and '11. 

Pujols' Range Factor and Defensive Runs Saved - Compared to League Avg & GG Winner is listed below for all eight seasons in question:

Yr   Pujols' Range Factor vs NL Avg (Run Differential)       GG Winner & RF & Run Dif

'04         10.57       vs 9.51    (+15)                                             Todd Helton         10.22      (+10)
'05         11.22       vs 9.65    (+9)                                               Derek Lee              9.38        (-4)
'06         10.55       vs 9.43    (+14)  GG
'07         9.84         vs 9.21    (+25)                                              Derek Lee              8.84         (-1)
'08         10.61       vs 9.34    (+18)                                              Adrian Gonzalez    9.12        (+1)
'09         10.84       vs 9.29    (+12)                                              Adrian Gonzalez    9.00        (+12)
'10         10.53       vs 9.23     (-3)    GG
'11         10.13       vs 9.33     (+7)                                               Joey Votto              9.54        (+7)

Funny how those Gold Glove Awards work sometimes.  2010 was actually a sub-par defensive season for Pujols, so naturally, he wins the Gold Glove Award.  There may have been a better candidate that year, but when you consider the larceny Derek Lee pulled off in two different seasons, we'll let this one slide.

When Albert flew the coop in 2012, his defensive prowess took a bit of a downward spike, which continued over the next two injury-plagued seasons for the now aging first baseman/DH.  It's unlikely he'll spend enough quality time at first base over the remainder of his career to qualify for another Gold Glove Award.  If he does win another, it's more likely his defensive metrics will be closer to Derek Lee's than the younger version of himself.

Re-Evaluating Gold Glove Credentials: Ryne Sandberg & Roberto Alomar

Roberto Alomar is widely regarded as one of the best - if not the best - defensive second basemen in major league history.  He certainly dazzled us with some unbelievable defensive wizardry over the course of his Hall of Fame career.  As his reward, Alomar won ten AL Gold Glove Awards between 1991 and 2001.

There was just one problem:  His defensive skills were actually, on average, below average.

Over the course of his career, his glove work as a second baseman actually cost his teams 30 runs.  His career Range Factor (Putouts + Assists per 9 innings) of 4.97 compares to a league average of 5.06.  Those aren't the types of numbers associated with the "best defensive second baseman of all-time" - but there they are.  This leads me to believe that there's more to great defense than making the isolated spectacular play which will be shown time and time again on ESPN or MLB Network.

It also leads me to believe that Alomar is highly overrated by just about everybody on the planet. ranks him at number 14 all-time for second basemen.

Here's a closer look at each Gold Glove Award-winning season for Alomar compared to who should have won the Gold Glove (if different):

Yr  RF vs League Avg   (Run Differential)   And the Winner Should Have Been...

'91   4.94    vs 5.19            (-5)                       Lou Whitaker      5.21   (+11)
'92   4.69    vs 5.25            (+1)                      Scott Fletcher       5.53   (+8)
'93   4.78    vs 5.15            (-7)                       Scott Fletcher       5.39   (+21)
'94   4.65    vs 5.10            (-7)                       Scott Fletcher       5.69   (+8)
'95   5.10    vs 5.11            (-8)                       Fernando Vina      5.86   (0)
'96   5.35    vs 5.05            (-6)                       Mark McLemore  5.53   (+19)
'98   5.10    vs 4.85            (+11)
'99   5.07    vs 5.13            (+8)
'00   5.02    vs 5.03            (+7)
'01   4.70    vs 4.86            (-4)                      Frank Menechino   5.11  (+8)

Quite honestly, I never even heard of Frank Menechino before today.  Incidentally, neither Fletcher nor McLemore ever won a single Gold Glove Award; Vina won a couple playing for the Cardinals later in his career ('01 and '02).

Strangely enough, Alomar's best defensive season (Range Factor) came early in his career ('88), as a member of the San Diego Padres, but Ryne Sandberg was right in the middle of his nine-season Gold Glove run ('83 - '91).  There was no stopping him.

Sandberg was actually a good defensive second baseman - saving his team 57 runs over the course of his Hall of Fame career ( ranks him at number 9 all-time for second basemen).  His career Range Factor (5.31) beats the league average (5.21), but his best glove work came early in his career.

Here's a closer look at Sandberg's Gold Glove Award-winning seasons:

Yr   RF vs League Avg   (Run Differential)    And the Winner Should Have Been...

'83   6.02    vs 5.33           (+12)
'84   5.70    vs 5.41           (+12)
'85   5.76    vs 5.47           (-4)                          Glenn Hubbard      6.92   (+17)
'86   5.26    vs 5.21           (+3)                         Glenn Hubbard      5.88    (0)
'87   5.31    vs 5.19           (-13)                        Glenn Hubbard      5.78    (+5)
'88   5.39    vs 5.22           (+8)                         Roberto Alomar     5.63    (+7)
'89   5.10    vs 5.12           (-2)                          Robby Thompson   5.28  (+16)
'90   5.11    vs 5.01           (0)                            Jose Lind                5.50   (+6)
'91   5.12    vs 5.14           (+6)                         Robby Thompson    5.60   (+4)

Interestingly, in 1992, Jose Lind won the Gold Glove Award for the first and only time in his career, with a Range Factor of 5.59 (League Average was 5.18).  Strangely enough, his glove actually cost his team (Pittsburgh Pirates) two runs that season.  Meanwhile, Sandberg had a slightly lower Range Factor (5.36), yet he saved his team nine runs.  Why he didn't win his tenth straight Gold Glove Award is beyond me.  Incidentally, Hubbard never won a Gold Glove Award - Thompson bagged just one - in '93.

What does all this mean?  Winning a Gold Glove Award does not always translate into being the league's best defensive player.  On closer review, Roberto Alomar deserved three out of the ten Gold Gloves he actually won, plus another one he should have won.

Meanwhile, Sandberg legitimately earned two of the nine he actually won, plus the one late in his career he should have won.

For the casual fan, the significance of good defense is often lost when evaluating players for Hall of Fame consideration.  Lost in the shuffle are Bobby Grich (ranked number 7 all-time for second basemen) and Lou Whitaker (ranked number 11).  Both were terrific defensive second basemen - Grich saved 71 runs and Whitaker 77 runs for their teams over their careers.  Both are ranked higher than Craig Biggio (number 14 all-time), who just had his ticket to Cooperstown punched.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Did Jim Kaat Really Deserve 16 Gold Glove Awards?

There's very little doubt that Jim Kaat was the best fielding pitcher in the American League from 1962 through 1965.  At the conclusion of each of those four seasons, Kaat was fittingly honored with four consecutive Gold Glove Awards.

The key defensive metric - Range Factor - was significantly better than what was "league average" over that four season span (as shown below):

          Kaat    Lg Avg
1962 - 2.94  -   2.08
1963 - 3.13  -   1.99
1964 - 2.37  -   1.90
1965 - 2.69  -   2.04

For some reason, in 1966, Kaat's fielding prowess diminished significantly.  He was now just an average fielding pitcher, at best; although apparently, no one really noticed.  As he aged, his skills diminished further, and by the early '70's, Kitty Kaat was significantly below average with the glove, as opposed to the guys who should have won the Gold Glove (as shown below):
          Kaat    Lg Avg                   Revised GG Award Winner (Range Factor)
1966 - 1.92  -  1.99              Joe Horlen (3.50)
1967 - 2.02  -  1.96              Tommy John (3.63)  (Also won an imaginary '73 GG in the NL)
1968 - 1.77  -  1.89              Tommy John (3.25)
1969 - 1.41  -  1.88              Mel Stottlemyre (3.33)
1970 - 2.27  -  1.86              Joe Horlen (3.34)
1971 - 1.87  -  1.98              Mike Hedlund (2.76)  
1972 - 1.91  -  1.86              Mel Stottlemyre (2.42)
1973 - 1.44  -  1.86              Mel Stottlemyre (2.47)
1974 - 1.53  -  1.81              Steve Busby (2.37)
1975 - 1.60  -  1.87              Steve Busby (2.56)

Yet, Jim Kaat still managed to win a Gold Glove Award, year in and year out.

In 1976, Kaat moved to the National League, winning his last two Gold Glove Awards - bringing his grand total to sixteen consecutive - a record for pitchers; equaling the major league record for most consecutive Gold Gloves won (Brooks Robinson - the greatest defensive third baseman of all-time also won 16 in a row):
          Kaat   Lg Avg
1976 - 1.46  -  1.88        Rick Reuschel (2.63) (Revised GG Winner)
1977 - 1.46  -  1.85        Rick Reuschel (2.57)

More often than not, the managers and coaches polled for this prestigious award get it right.  They got it right the first four times with the affable Kaat.  Somehow, they failed to notice the regression over those final twelve seasons.  Consequently, they failed to notice the fielding prowess of Horlen (twice), John (twice), Stottlemyre (thrice), Hedlund (once), Busby (twice) and Reuschel (twice).

Kaat is a borderline Hall of Famer, who just missed getting voted in by the latest Veteran's Committee panel (needed 12 votes - got 10).  Certainly, those in favor of his induction cite the 287 career wins he amassed in 25 major league seasons; not to mention his impressive collection of Rawlings' Gold Glove Awards - sixteen to be exact.  Whereas this achievement earned Kaat a place in Rawlings' Hall of Fame in 1991, that grand total needs to be taken with a grain of salt when considering his true Hall of Fame credentials.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

How Bob Gibson Won 9 Gold Glove Awards

Over the years, Gold Glove Awards have been doled out to players with relatively poor defensive metrics.  Here is the first in a series of Gold Glove Award case histories:  

With nine NL Gold Glove Awards to his credit, Bob Gibson was considered to be one of the best fielding pitchers in major league history.  Every year, from 1965 through 1973, Gibson took home the Gold - no questions asked.

In reality, the greatest pitcher in St Louis Cardinals history was far from being the best fielding pitcher in the National League at any time during his career.  This shocking revelation came to me after reviewing his key defensive metric (Range Factor), which was below league average for every season he played - except 1967 and 1972; and even then, it was barely above league average.

For his career, Gibson's Range Factor was 1.80 - compared to a league average of 1.98.

Based on Range Factor (for legitimate starting pitchers), the likely Gold Glove replacements (with Range Factor in parenthesis):

1965 - Don Cardwell (2.77) - This would have been his only Gold Glove Award.

1966 - 1967 - Al Jackson (3.06 - 3.28) - These would have been his only Gold Glove Awards.  Ironically, he was a teammate of Gibson's for just these two seasons.

1968 - Don Drysdale (2.45) - This would have been his only Gold Glove Award in what would prove to be his last great season.

1969  - 1972 - Juan Marichal (2.55 - 2.52 - 2.58 - 2.24) - "Four-Time Gold Glove Award Winner" should have been on his Hall of Fame plaque.

1973 - Tommy John (3.26) - This would have been his only Gold Glove Award, despite the fact that his career Range Factor of 2.42 is well above average (1.88).

Meanwhile, the obvious question:  How did Gibson convince the managers and coaches throughout the National League (who cast the votes for this award) that he was indeed a Gold Glove-caliber player?

It must have had something to do with the events that took place on October 12, 1964 - Game 5 of the World Series vs the New York Yankees.  Staked to a 2-0 ninth-inning lead at Yankee Stadium, the first batter Gibson faced in the bottom of the ninth - Mickey Mantle - reached on an error by shortstop Dick Groat.  Gibson then struck out Elston Howard to set the stage for what was arguably, the greatest defensive play by a pitcher in World Series history.

The next batter - Joe Pepitone - hit a vicious line drive right back where it came from.  Of course, Gibson had a unique follow-though after delivering one of his pitches - falling off violently towards the first base line, with his back almost facing the batter; he was a prime target.  Sure enough, the ball smacked off his hip and careened towards the third base line; a certain base hit.

Gibson may not have been in a particularly good fielding position (he never was), but his superb reflexes made up for that.  Without hesitation, Gibson pounced on the ball - and in one motion, falling into foul territory past the third base line, he whirled around and threw a perfect strike to a flabbergasted Bill White at first base to retire an even more flabbergasted Pepitone by a half step.  Every time I see that replay, I ask myself "How did he do that?"

It was an impossible play which was performed on baseball's grandest stage - at Yankee Stadium, no less.  In that moment, a Gold Glove pitcher was born.  The fact that the next batter - Tom Tresh - tied the game with a home run, really added to the legend.  The Cardinals would regain the lead in the top of the tenth on a three-run Tim McCarver home run.  Gibson returned to the mound to nail down the 5-2 win, and unbeknownst to him, nail down the next nine Gold Glove Awards.

As history has proven, once a player has received that first one, there's a good chance they're in for the long haul - especially for a marquis player like Gibson who exuded confidence; whose athleticism allowed him to make sensational plays from time to time.  The fact that he was actually unable to make plays on balls others may have reached escaped the thought process of those starstruck managers and coaches for nine consecutive seasons.  But really, who could blame 'em?

I don't think Joe Pepitone would argue.

Coming next:  Examining the Jim Kaat Gold Glove Award Mystique