Chris Sale Changes It Up

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Chris Sale made a victorious return from the disabled list on Thursday evening and in the process he tore thorough a decent Yankee lineup as though it was tissue paper. Sale retired 18 of the 19 hitters he faced, while striking out 10 in just 6 innings of work. The lanky lefty tore through the first 17 hitters he faced before allowing a hit, which actually came as a relief to skipper Robin Ventura, because the manager was prepared to make the unpopular, but intelligent, decision to remove his ace during a perfect game. In short, Sale looked like he hadn’t skipped a beat. This was the dominance White Sox fans have come to recognize in their ace over the past couple of seasons, but the reality is this isn’t the same Chris Sale. This 2014 version has turned into something more.

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Jose Abreu and the Importance of Using the Whole Field

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It’s hard to imagine a player having a better first month in the big leagues than Jose Abreu did in April. He managed to lead all Major Leaguers in home runs (10) and RBI (31) while totaling more bases than any other player as well. His presence in the lineup has been the lightning bolt that electrified the White Sox offense Frankenstein offense back to life and thanks to a brilliantly balanced approach at the plate the Cuban slugger shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. (more…)

Hit List: Paul Molitor

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On Sunday afternoon, Derek Jeter smacked a pair of hits to help the Yankees to a 6-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. And while Jeter’s contributions may not have won his team the game, they did help the Yankee legend accomplish a little history. That pair of singles earned Jeter hits #3,319 and #3,320 of his career, which bumped him past Paul Molitor for 9th on the all-time hit list.

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2014 Season Predictions

Bay Rays' Longoria hits three-run homer off Blue Jays Morrow during MLB game in St. Petersburg

AL East (*signifies wild card)

  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. New York Yankees*
  3. Baltimore Orioles*
  4. Boston Red Sox
  5. Toronto Blue Jays

AL Central

  1. Detroit Tigers
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Chicago White Sox
  4. Cleveland Indians
  5. Minnesota Twins

AL West

  1. Texas Rangers
  2. Oakland A’s
  3. Los Angeles Angels
  4. Seattle Mariners
  5. Houston Astros

ALCS: Tampa Bay over Texas

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Atlanta Braves*
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. New York Mets
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Cincinnati Reds
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Chicago Cubs

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks*
  3. Colorado Rockies
  4. San Francisco Giants
  5. San Diego Padres

NLCS: Los Angeles over Washington

World Series: Tampa Bay over Los Angeles

AL MVP: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

NL Cy Young: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins

AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

NL Rookie of the Year: Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks

3 Bold Predictions

The Minnesota Twins will take the title of worst team in baseball away from the Astros.

The Twins struggled with just about everything a year ago. They couldn’t hit (13th in the AL in runs scored), they couldn’t keep runs off the board (14th in the AL in ERA) and they were historically inept in getting their opponents to swing and miss. The solution to these woes? Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. Let me repeat that. A professional baseball front office legitimately thinks they won’t lose 100 games with these two and Kevin Correia fronting their rotation. Hughes is guaranteed to be a disaster. He’s got a career 11-46 record when his offense scores fewer than 5 runs and that’s something Joe Mauer and the banjo pickers are going to be doing frequently.

The Miami Marlins will manage top the .500 mark

Thanks to a couple of superstar level talents in Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton and a couple of veteran additions, the Marlins will surprise a lot of people. Fernandez will get most of the buzz but the rest of the rotation has the chops to keep up. Jacob Turner has spent most of his minor league career populating the top 25 lists of most every major prospect rating company and he appears poised to break out. The offense will likely be Miami’s ultimate downfall, but don’t be surprised to see the Marlins hunting for the wild card come September.

 Jose Abreu will top the 30 homer mark

Abreu was an absolute revelation during the 2013 World Baseball Classic, which doubled as his introduction to most of the baseball viewing world. He hit a ballistic .383 with 3 homers and 9 RBI in 6 games, displaying the kind of prodigious power that made him a legend by 25 in Cuba. Abreu’s work regiment is already the stuff of legend in the Chicago clubhouse, and I expect that drive to push the White Sox back to respectability, while resulting in numbers that look something like a .275/30 homer/100 RBI year for the slugger.

Yankees Wrap Up Pricey Offseason By Adding Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro-Tanaka-6After a tedious month filled with plenty of patience and very little news, Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka finally broke the freeze, signing a 7 year/$155 million dollar deal with the New York Yankees. If you’ve been paying any attention at all this offseason, the Tanaka signing should come as no surprise. That much discussed luxury tax number, $189 million, they Yankees were hoping avoid was always a pipe dream and after the big money signings of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, New York almost had to sign Tanaka to upgrade what appeared to be a league average pitching staff.

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The Rundown: Minnesota Aims for the Middle

Spending Twins.JPEG-062f9The pitching staff for the 2013 Minnesota Twins was positively abysmal a year ago. As a collective, the Twinkies ranked dead last in strikeout rate while simultaneously allowing their opponent’s to rack up more hits than any other staff in the league.

Things were so ugly a year ago that 10 different pitchers made at least 8 starts for Minnesota and just 2 of those 10 finished the season with a sub-4.00 ERA. Twins GM Terry Ryan knows that’s not a recipe for success, which is why he spent most of last week spending upwards of $70 million to shore up his rotation, adding veteran righties Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. The real question is, does that $73 million get the Twins any closer to an AL Central title?

I’m guessing the answer is no. Nolasco will do a solid job providing some strikeouts to a staff in desperate need of them and he does a nice job of keeping the ball in the park, but otherwise it’s difficult to find the positives when the Twins are paying him to be their ace. That being said, Nolasco is a huge improvement over everyone Ron Gardenhire sent to the mound a year ago. He’s the only pitcher on the team with legitimate strikeout stuff and he should eat up plenty of innings on a staff that badly needs a pitcher to do so.

The same goes for new #2 starter Phil Hughes, who should be rejoicing over the fact that he’s leaving the homer-happy Bronx for the spacious confines of Target Field. Hughes has allowed 1 homer per every 5.3 innings pitched in Yankee Stadium since his Major League debut, compared to 1 homer every 10.4 innings in every other park. Target Field, a notoriously deep park, should suit the fly ball happy Hughes nicely.

But a new ball park still doesn’t make Hughes a good pitcher. He still has the same plain, old vanilla fastball and his secondary stuff is mostly underdeveloped. Hughes, even at his best, is still just a league average pitcher.

His ERA+ since becoming a starter full-time is 9 points below the league average and if not for the Yankee offense propping him up for the past half-decade, Hughes would probably be a reliever by now. The righty is just 11-46 if his team scores fewer than 6 runs, which is something Minnesota was quite adept at a year ago. Unless Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano suddenly turn up next season, expect the losses to continue to pile up for Hughes and the Twins.

Washington pickpockets Fister from Detroit

A puzzling offseason in Detroit continued Monday when the Tigers shipped starter Doug Fister to the Nationals in exchange for Steve Lombardozzi and a couple of young arms. That move was followed by the the prohibitive signing of Joe Nathan, who will fill the closer roll in Detroit. It was the second surprise trade in a matter of weeks from general manager Dave Dombrowski, who appears hellbent on remaking these Tigers into a more flexible outfit.

But outside of flexibility, it’s difficult to see how these deals make the Tigers, a bona fide World Series contender, any better in 2014. Most of Lombardozzi’s value is tied up in his ability to play 2nd base, where Ian Kinsler figures to spend a majority of the time. His bat doesn’t really play in the outfield or at 3rd base, and even if you believe that Lombardozzi and Dirks could make a solid platoon in left field, it in no way justifies trading away one of the 10 to 20 best pitchers in baseball.

Don’t believe me? Take a look:

ERA ERA+ K/BB WAR FIP
3.30 124 3.75 13.3 3.21
MLB Rank: 20th 14th 19th 9th 14th

No matter which way you slice it, that’s a hell of a lot to give up for the quintessential replacement player (Lombardozzi), a 2nd year reliever in Ian Krol, and Double-A pitching prospect Robbie Ray. Maybe Dombrowski is hoping that Ray, the owner of a 3.36 ERA in 142 minor league innings a year ago, turns into another solid rotation piece, but even that line of thinking is odd. Detroit, as currently constructed, is built to win right now so why trade away a good pitcher in the hopes of getting one further down the road?

As for Washington’s perspective on the deal, one has to wonder how quickly GM Mike Rizzo said yes. Three seconds? Five seconds? Seriously, if he put any more thought into it I’d be disappointed. With one quick maneuver, Rizzo was able to improve his 2014 roster significantly without damaging Washington’s extended outlook. The Nats now have the deepest rotation in baseball to go along with a group of young and improving position players. With this much talent on hand, anything short of a deep October run will be viewed as a disappointment.

The price of pitch framing

Yesterday the Tampa Bay Rays announced that they finalized a 2 year/$4.5 million dollar deal with 38-year-old catcher Jose Molina and it may very well be the most interesting $4.5 million handed out this offseason. You may be asking yourself  why would any team want to pay an over the hill backstop with bad knees and nothing left in his bat? Well the answers simple. It all comes down to inches, as in the ones Molina routinely adds to a pitcher’s strike zone each time he’s behind the dish.

According to baseballanalytics.org, since 2008, 13.4% of all pitches thrown to Molina that landed outside the strike zone have been called as strikes, which stands as the best mark in baseball over the time frame. That ability to stay quiet behind the plate shows up in the run column as well. According to Baseball Prospectus, Molina saved about 25 runs a year ago solely through his ability to gain an extra inch or two around the corner of the plate.

With Ryan Hanigan joining Molina behind the plate after yesterday’s trade, the Rays now have two of the top 10 framers in baseball behind the dish. Make no mistake, this is a downright brutal offensive pairing. There’s a very good chance they won’t combine for an OPS above .600, but the Rays don’t really seem to care. It’s a clear statement from the organization that they value the ability to get an extra inch or two around the plate over all others when they scour the free agent market for catchers.

Quick hits: Rockies addition

- GM Dan O’Dowd has a little bit of explaining to do following the slightly confusing Dexter Fowler trade. The soon to be 28-year-old is due $7.35 million next season, he’s still arbitration eligible, and he’s been as consistent as they come in Colorado. Fowler’s usually good for 120-140 games, an OPS of .780 or so as well as some solid centerfield defense. In exchange for 2 or 3 wins worth of value the Rockies will receive back-of-the-rotation fodder Jordan Lyles and defensive specialist Brandon Barnes.

-Lyles made at least 15 starts in each of the past 3 seasons for the Astros and he failed to post an ERA lower than 5 each year and the thought of him making 15-20 starts a year in Coors is downright scary. Barnes, for his part, is an excellent defensive outfielder but he’s downright abysmal everywhere else. He struck out in a quarter of his 450 or so plate appearances, while managing a meager 21 walks. It makes you wonder why O’Dowd didn’t hold out for a better package of players in exchange for Fowler.

- One quick though on the Astros: the new regime, led by Jeff Luhnow, has been absolutely nailing these smaller trades. Fowler is just the latest in a long line of minor victories for the Houston front office.

- The Rockies followed that move up by moving close to a deal with Justin Morneau. It looks like they’re going to pay him somewhere in the neighborhood of $13 million for the next 2 seasons, which could very well look like a steal when this wacky offseason concludes. Morneau should provide a solid glove and some good pop against right-handers when he’s in the lineup. Manager Walt Weiss may want to keep him out of the lineup against lefties however. Morneau has hit just .205 with 5 homers in the past 3 years.

The Rundown: Clouds are Brewing in Philadelphia

Brian McCann, Carlos RuizWith our first busy week of the offseason in the books, the 2013-14 Major League Baseball spending spree is on. We’ve seen Jhonny Peralta and Brian McCann reel in buku bucks by signing long-term deals with franchises that historically view themselves as contenders. Josh Johnson and Dan Haren have managed to nab some pretty pennies from NL West ball clubs, the Phillies made some interesting moves, and of course who could forget the monumental Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler swap. Why don’t we take a quick swing through some of last week’s newsworthy notes:

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Building a Balanced Roster with Texas and Detroit

8830377484_0989594dcd_zAfter spending the better part of the past few seasons climbing baseball’s Mount Everest only to run out of steam just shy of the peak, the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers have decided enough is enough. Those 90-95 win seasons and deep playoff runs that don’t quite bear fruit will no longer be tolerated. The time to go for it is now, and no move quite emphasizes that mindset than the Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler swap.

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Four Thoughts on the 2013 World Series

beltran2After dispatching both the Dodgers and Tigers in hard fought 6 game series, the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals find themselves on the cusp of a title. And while this World Series match up may not have fans all over the country jumping for joy, the mood in St. Louis and Boston will reach a fevered pitch over the next week. So without further delay, let’s dive right in:

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Can the Pirates Shift Past the Cardinals?

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Originally published on highheatstats.com.

The ascension of the Pittsburgh Pirates, from two decade of losing to 94 wins and the NL Wild Card, was not an easy one. The franchise had to completely revamp everything, from they way they do business on the international market to the way they play on the field. Gone were the frugal Pirates of the past. In 2011, GM Neil Huntington and his mates scoured the high seas, spending a record $17 million in the amateur draft in order to turn the franchise around. And while many of those players (top pick Gerrit Cole aside) have yet to make an impact on the big league level, the message was sent. Pittsburgh was here to compete.

That aggressive front office approach in the draft has bled over into other areas of the franchise as well. After decades of doing everything in their power to avoid spending money on free agents, Pittsburgh opened up the coffers for Russell Martin, who was brought in on a 2 year/$17 million dollar deal to fortify what had previously been an extremely weak catching position. Along with Martin, veterans AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, and Justin Morneau among others have been traded for in an effort to raise the roster’s overall talent level. And perhaps most importantly, modern-day analytical analysis has been embraced.

Nowhere is that new, modern approach to baseball more evident than in the Pirates’ commitment to the defensive shift. Pittsburgh was one of the shiftiest teams in baseball this season, using one defensive maneuver or another over 400 times. That ranks 2nd among all of the franchises currently in the playoffs, trailing only the original super-shifters, the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s a huge jump from 2012, when Pittsburgh shifted just 105 times and the numbers back up just how effective all those extra defensive movements were. Pittsburgh ranked 3rd in baseball as a team in defensive runs saved and they finished tied for 7th in the league in defensive efficiency, which is the percentage of balls put in play that are then converted into outs.

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