Monday, October 5, 2020

vestigial echoes

Editor's note: this was an unfinished 2017 draft; posting now with neither edits nor additions...

Torco sign on Sheffiled in 1987...
By: Mark Susina via flickr

Here's what Sheffield looked like more recently...
By: Mark Susina via flickr

This photo is dated May 26, 2010...
By: Mark Susina via flickr
The next one is a gem from Blue Batting Helmet...

Steve Trachsel pitching to Deion Sanders; May 29, 1997

Sunday, April 2, 2017

2017 MLB Season Preview

The reader's enjoyment of a blog post is negatively correlated with the length of the introduction. This is our season preview.

AL West Predicted Standings
Houston Astros
Photo: Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Oakland A's
Los Angeles Angels

Houston has loaded up on offense. Their middle infielders form the best* tandem in the game. We're hopeful James Paxton takes big strides this year. He has the stuff to become Seattle's best starting pitcher this year. Their best pitcher is Edwin Diaz, their closer who throws easy at 99+. Seattle needs more pitching to make the playoffs, Ariel Miranda and Yovani Gallardo figuratively carry many question marks. Oakland has not been terribly successful lately, making us think they're due to set a new trend. The A's pioneered intense focus on OBP fifteen years ago, were one of the first teams to identify defensive production as a market inefficiency in free agency, and most recently have relied on platoons more than other clubs. This year, we are looking to see if the A's try to shorten regular season ballgames, with a postseason strategy of pulling starting pitchers before their 3rd time through the order. Their 25-man roster on Opening Day might carry eight relievers, which could give them the arms to rely on a couple of long relievers. Frankie Montas is a potential starter who may shine in their bullpen.

*top 5 middle infield tandems ( right now)
1. Astros (Correa/Altuve)
2. Red Sox (Bogaerts/Pedroia)
3. Dodgers (Seager/Forsythe)
4. Indians (Lindor/Kipnis)
5. Cubs (Russell/Zobrist)

AL West 2017 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Jonathan Lucroy, Rangers
1b: Mike Napoli, Rangers
2b: Jose Altuve, Astros
SS: Carlos Correa, Astros
3b: Kyle Seager, Mariners
LF: Jarrod Dyson, Mariners
CF: Mike Trout, Angels
RF: Kole Calhoun, Angels
DH: Nelson Cruz, Mariners
SP: Yu Darvish, Rangers
RP: Edwin Diaz, Mariners

The state of First Basemen in the AL West is weak af.

It was hard to take Adrian Beltre off 3rd base, but his calf injury and advanced age might be enough to have his production dip beneath Seager's.

AL Central Predicted Standings
Cleveland Indians
Photo: Seth Stohs, Twins Daily
Kansas City Royals
Detroit Tigers
Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox

The window to win in Cleveland is now. The Royals and Tigers are fading. What's unclear is if the young players on the Twins or White Sox will overtake them in the standing in 2016 or '17. A lot should be determined at this year's trade deadline, as buyers and sellers separate the contenders from the pretenders.

AL Central 2017 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Salvador Perez, Royals
1b: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
2b: Ian Kinsler, Tigers
SS: Francisco Lindor, Indians
3b: Jose Ramirez, Indians
LF: Michael Brantley, Indians
CF: Byron Buxton, Twins
RF: J.D. Martinez, Tigers
DH: Edwin Encarnacion, Indians
SP: Corey Kluber, Indians
RP: Andrew Miller, Indians

Lorenzo Cain was snubbed. We bet on the skills and youth of Buxton.

AL East Predicted Standings
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees
Baltimore Orioles
Tampa Bay Rays

Probably the most interesting division at the moment, at least when it comes to the Wild Card. Unless the Red Sox lose David Price and Chris Sale to injury, Boston will probably win the division easily. The next four teams can probably finish between 77 and 87 wins.

It’s a make-or-break year for right fielder, Steven Souza. He turns 28 on April 24th and has yet to play more than 120 MLB games in a season. This could be his career year (20/20 season?), but he needs to hit the ball more frequently and stop striking out more than once out of every three plate appearances. People put a lot of pressure on Souza because he’s the most visible player the Rays received in the 3-team trade that had them send Wil Myers and more to San Diego, while brokering Trea Turner and Joe Ross from San Diego to Washington. Trea Turner had an unsustainably phenomenal debut last season and should be a superstar after his numbers regress back to earth. Joe Ross has already pitched two solid years for the Nats in ’15 and ’16, with strong WAR and FIP numbers. Some of the pressure on Souza is unfair because the other prospects the Rays received, particularly Travis Ott and Jake Bauers, have yet to see the spotlight.

We are observing a rare event in the Bronx, as the Yankees go for their 25th consecutive winning season. According to, below are the longest all-time and current MLB streaks of team winning seasons...

All time
New York Yankees, 39 years (1926-1964)
New York Yankees, 24 years (1993-2016)
Baltimore Orioles, 18 years (1968-1985)
Chicago White Sox, 17 years (1951-1967)
Boston Red Sox, 16 years (1967-1982)

New York Yankees, 24 years
St. Louis Cardinals, 9 years
Los Angeles Dodgers, 6 years
Baltimore Orioles, 5 years
Washington Nationals, 5 years

The most interesting Yankees storylines this spring have revolved around Greg Bird, Dellin Betances, and Masahiro Tanaka. The greatest variables in Baltimore appear to be Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman provide Blue Jays' fans with more optimism than even Gausman and Bundy give to Orioles' fans. We are in the minority, but we prefer Roberto Osuna to Zach Britton.

AL East 2017 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Russell Martin, Blue Jays
1b: Chris Davis, Orioles
2b: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
SS: Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
3b: Manny Machado, Orioles
LF: Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
CF: Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
RF: Mookie Betts, Red Sox
DH: Kendrys Morales, Blue Jays
SP: Chris Sale, Red Sox
RP: Roberto Osuna, Blue Jays

NL West Predicted Standings
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres

Clayton Kershaw might be the best starting pitcher of all time. We may *only* need him to give us a couple more years at his career average level to make it a common belief. With Bruce Bochy managing Posey, Bumgarner, and the underappreciated Brandon Belt, San Francisco will have a puncher's chance. Colorado has some good players, particularly on the offensive side. Nolan Arenado may be the best player in the league, LeMahieu won the batting title last year, Trevor Story was a revelation before and after injuries last year, and their outfield features three dynamic talents. The Rockies' front office makes odd transactions and has hung on to CarGo in spite of intense trade rumors for many years.

The new administration in Arizona is performing a rebuild on a rebuild. There’s scar tissue after the damage Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart did to this franchise. They have a stars and scrubs 25-man roster, with an ace starting pitcher, Zack Greinke, who’s dealing with decreased velocity. Paul Goldschmidt is one of the dozen or so best players in baseball, and if A.J. Pollock is healthy, he’s probably a top 50 overall talent. A strength of the rebuilding Diamondbacks should be the youth of their starting pitching depth. Beyond ace Greinke, who turns 34 in October, the rest of their potential starters are aged 24 (Taijuan Walker), 25 (Robbie Ray), 26 (Shelby Miller), 27 (Patrick Corbin), 24 (Archie Bradley), 23 (Anthony Banda) and 25 (Braden Shipley). They also have a very young gun in the lower minors, who looks like he could be a terrific left-handed starting pitcher, Cody Reed. There’s another Cody Reed currently pitching for Cincinnati, but this Cody Reed is a 6’3” 245 lb southpaw from Alabama who turns 21 this June and has career 7.5 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, and 10.3 K/9 in 171 minor league innings (44 appearances; 39 starts) across 3 seasons. Last season, in 39 2/3 innings for the Kane County Cougars, Reed started 7 games, had a 1.82 ERA, gave up 1 HR, had 55 strikeouts and 3 walks.

San Diego is also trying different strategies, with a maverick front office that has recently gambled heavily on prospects, particularly international signees.

NL West 2017 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Buster Posey, Giants
1b: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
2b: DJ LeMahieu, Rockies
SS: Corey Seager, Dodgers
3b: Nolan Arenado, Rockies
LF: David Dahl, Rockies
CF: Charlie Blackmon, Rockies
RF: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
SP: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
RP: Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

How 'bout that Rockies' outfield?

NL Central Predicted Standings
Chicago Cubs
Photo by Rob Tringali
Pittsburgh Pirates
St. Louis Cardinals
Milwaukee Brewers
Cincinnati Reds

The Cubs are doing things right and should be competitive at least until 2020. Hopefully, it'll be a sustained run like we've seen in the Bronx. Pittsburgh still has a good team that can win a Wild Card. It feels odd to count the Cardinals out, but something seems off about them. Mike Matheny is one of their bigger problems. What's interesting is that the Brewers look like the next great team that will seriously challenge Chicago. The Brewers have made a lot of low risk, high reward gambles, and early returns suggest that enough of the bets will be winners.

It’s not a good sign when your starting rotation takes a couple of big hits before April 1st, but that’s where the Reds find themselves. Homer Bailey is hoping to return in June, and Anthony DeScaflani has a sprained elbow with no timetable for return. Where can the Reds find replacement innings? A couple of young arm look promising. Amir Garrett is a top prospect, has a good slider, but his changeup is not where it needs to be.

NL Central 2017 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: Yadier Molina, Cardinals
1b: Joey Votto, Reds
2b: Ben Zobrist, Cubs
SS: Addison Russell, Cubs
3b: Kris Bryant, Cubs
LF: Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
CF: Starling Marte, Pirates
RF: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
SP: Carlos Martinez, Cardinals
RP: Seung Hwan Oh, Cardinals

Look for Jose Peraza to establish himself as the new 2nd baseman in Cincinnati.

It's hard to believe how different the Cardinals' hopes could be if they still had Alex Reyes, who reasonably could have been expected to perform even better than Carlos Martinez.Their rotation has a little more volatility than the average team. Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha have waffled from unhittable or unplayable. Mike Leake and Lance Lynn are really just asked to eat innings and keep the games relatively close. Carlos Martinez is phenomenal, but we are in a day and age where his velocity could be a red flad, just as Alex Reyes’s flame throwing flamed out his UCL. C-Mart may want to tone it down a bit and live at 94-95 instead of upper 90s for 100+ pitches. Luke Weaver is the Ace up their sleeves in the Minor Leagues. The 2014 first round pick was relatively unimpressive for St. Louis in his debut season last year, but he seems like he’ll be an above average starting pitcher in the Major Leagues if you scout his Minor League statline.

The Cardinals have six infielders who could make an argument for playing every day: Matt Carpenter, Aledmys Diaz, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyorko, Jhonny Peralta, and Matt Adams may find themselves in an everyday roll at some point this season, and the Cardinals will be fine with that.

In about a year or two, we should see the transition from starter to backup and mentor for Yadier Molina and the future Cardinals backstop, Carson Kelly.

NL East Predicted Standings
Washington Nationals
Photo by Steve Mitchell 
New York Mets
Miami Marlins
Atlanta Braves
Philadelphia Phillies

This division looks about the same as it did last year. The Nationals need Strasburg, Scherzer, and Harper to take them to the top. The Mets' rotation has huge patchy spots of this ice. One ship that has sailed is the one that had Matt Harvey as a dominant pitcher. He's back end of rotation fodder if and only if he can stay healthy enough to even pitch. A bright spot in Queens should be that Robert Gsellman looks like he will actually be a good starting pitcher. If Gsellman, deGrom, Wheeler and Matz can combine for 600 quality innings, and Syndergaard continues to challenge Kershaw for best pitcher in baseball, they will have a chance again in October.

NL East 2017 Preseason All-Pro Team
C: J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
1b: Freddie Freeman, Braves
2b: Daniel Murphy, Nationals
SS: Trea Turner, Nationals
3b: Anthony Rendon, Nationals
LF: Yoenis Cespedes, Mets
CF: Christian Yelich, Marlins
RF: Bryce Harper, Nationals
SP: Noah Syndergaard, Mets
RP: Hector Neris, Phillies

Wild Card Games
NL: Mets over Pirates
AL: Blue Jays over Rangers

Division Series
NL: Cubs over Mets
NL: Dodgers over Nationals
AL: Red Sox over Indians
AL: Astros over Blue Jays

NLCS: Cubs over Dodgers
ALCS: Astros over Red Sox

2017 World Series
Cubs over Astros

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Cubs Knocking on the Door

The Cubs are one win away from their first World Series since 1945.

The palpable tension of 1984, '89, '98, '03, '07 & '08 has yet to take effect on the current iteration of the Chicago Cubs National League Ballclub. Due to the measured and impressive rebuild that the Cubs have undergone since 2012, Cubs fans have great confidence in how competitive the club will be over the next few years. This is a tenuous mental place to be as a sports fan, with countless examples of fan bases thinking their team was on the uptick, only to see their window of competitiveness shut without any championships.

This happens in all sports, but the Cubs were at times willing participants in the "lovable losers" labeling. Since World War 2, the Cubs have been so bad, that they played zero postseason games between 1945 and 1984. Cubs fans would always end the season with a "Wait 'til Next Year" shrug. Rooting for the '84 Cubs with Ryno, Jody, Sutcliffe, Leon Durham, this was finally "Next" year! Until it wasn't.

When the Northsiders rolled into the playoffs in '89, they had an older Ryno, a young Greg Maddux, Mark Grace, Andre Dawson, Shawon Dunston, plus the top 2 rookies in NL ROY voting: Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith. That was Don Zimmer's team. This was the year! Except, it wasn't.

The 1945 Cubs won 98 games in the regular season, but
lost Game 7 of the World Series to the Detroit Tigers

A lot happened between 1989 and 1998. Not necessarily with regard to the Cubs, but the fact is that a lot changes in NINE YEARS. Harry Carry passed away in February 1998. He would've loved that season, while Sosa and McGwire chased Maris. This was not a very good Cubs team. Fans figured this HAD to be the year. The curse of the billy goat is a fully overblown narrative. Playoff tension may not be the reason this team lost because, again, this was not a great team, but the tension that exists from perceived curses, from hope, drama and despair, all that built up and reared its ugly head by Jim Riggleman's club. A Braves team with Greg Maddux swept these Cubs, emphatically showing that this was not going to be The Year.

Jim Hendry's 2003 team was beautiful and flawed. They "upgraded" at manager with Dusty Baker. At the top of the rotation, they had co-aces Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. This team really succeeded with depth in the rotation. With Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement, the Cubs had four starters who threw over 200 innings in 2003. The Cubs threw Dontrelle Willis into a trade for Clement and Antonio Alfonseca. This team also greatly benefited from a mid-season trade, when they acquired Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton from the division rival Pirates. This team was pretty loaded, with great pitching, and some thunder in the lineup. Sosa, Alou, Ramirez... They were in the same position this year's team is in. They are up 3 games to 2 in the NLCS and about to host Game 6 in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. This team was 5 outs away from winning Game 6 and advancing to the World Series. They had the lead, and their best pitcher was on the mound. A few things happened, the Cubs collapsed in the top of the 8th in Game 6. They had a lead in Game 7, but lost that one, too. This was going to be the year, but of course, it wasn't.

That team of 2003 seemed like was the beginning of something special. We had Wood, Prior, Zambrano - we'd be good for a few years and have more chances!

It didn't work out that way.

Jim Hendry reloaded to some extent. He "upgraded" again at manager. This time, hiring Lou Piniella, who won a World Series in 1990, which can be argued is similar to modern baseball.

Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Again, we are dealing with good, but flawed, teams. For he 2007 roster, they spent money on guys like Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, Derek Lee. The team had Michael Barrett, Jacque Jones, and Rich Hill. They didn't win a playoff games, getting swept by the Diamondbacks. In 2008, they invested in Kosuke Fukudome and Rich Harden. They successfully moved Dempster from closer to starting pitcher. They didn't win a playoff game and were swept by the Dodgers. They pressure of sustained postseason ineptitude took a physical toll on Lou Piniella and his players.

Maybe it's because of a fundamental change in the Cubs' culture. Give the front office, Maddon, and the coaches credit for this titanic reversal in mindset. When Theo got here, the Cubs had been playing like a cursed team for years. On the contrary, we don't see players from the 2015 or 2016 Cubs afraid of expectations nor the failures of prior generations. Even through his struggles before Game 4, Rizzo was a conduit of constant affirmation in the Cubs winning. Joe Maddon certainly doesn't seem to stress about much of anything. Theo Epstein has looked a bit tense in the stands the past couple of nights, but none of his in-game nervousness permeates the dugout.

Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS is tonight. No-one can blame the Cubs if they lose to Clayton Kershaw and are forced to host a Game 7 tomorrow. Anything better than the fiasco of 2003 should give the team confidence going into the 7th game. What a story that would be, with ex-Cub Rich Hill taking the ball for Los Angeles with an inspiring and heartbreaking backstory of his own.

It's an emotional roller coaster. I try not to think of the Cubs fans who won't survive the winter, having never seen their team win a pennant.

Go Cubs!

Rose, Arod & Big Hurt

Pete Rose got 4,256 hits in the Major Leagues, the most all time. Frank Thomas, a first ballot Hall of Famer, began his career with seven straight inner-circle Hall of Fame seasons. Alex Rodriguez hit 696 home runs in the big leagues and received MVP votes in 15 seasons.

Watching this is well worth 5 or 6 minutes.

Arod is great on TV. Oh, and how great is Pete Rose showing how he'd change his position in the batters box, rather than ever tinker with his swing, to get out of a slump? Simplifying the task of hitting a baseball commands a sort of brilliance.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

2016 MLB Awards Ballot

MLB Awards ballots are due at the end of each regular season, so that post-season performance doesn't skew voters' opinions. I actually started this early Monday morning, but work (as usual) got in the way, so I won't have time to share the mindset with the ballots. I plan on writing that out and updating soon, but in the meantime, it's good to get these written down before the first pitch of the Orioles/Blue Jays Wild Card game. As usual, please add your voice our comments section or by hitting us up on social media.

AL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award
1. Michael Fulmer, Tigers
2. Gary Sanchez, Yankees
3. Edwin Diaz, Mariners

NL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award
1. Corey Seager, Dodgers
2. Jon Gray, Rockies
3. Kenta Maeda, Dodgers

American League Cy Young Award
1. Justin Verlander, Tigers
2. Corey Kluber, Indians
3. Chris Sale, White Sox
4. Rick Porcello, Red Sox
5. Aaron Sanchez, Toronto

National League Cy Young Award
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
2. Noah Syndergaard, Mets
3. Jose Fernandez, Marlins
4. Max Scherzer, Nationals
5. Johnny Cueto, Giants

American League Manager of the Year Award
1. Buck Showalter, Orioles
2. Joe Girardi, Yankees
3. Terry Francona, Indians

National League Manager of the Year Award
1. Joe Maddon, Cubs
2. Don Mattingly, Marlins
3. Brian Snitker, Braves

American League MVP Award
1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Mookie Betts, Red Sox
3. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
4. Jose Altuve, Astros
5. Manny Machado, Orioles
6. Francisco Lindor, Indians
7. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
8. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
9. Justin Verlander, Tigers
10. David Ortiz, Red Sox

National League MVP Award
1. Kris Bryant, Cubs
2. Freddie Freeman, Braves
3. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
4. Corey Seager, Dodgers
5. Joey Votto, Reds
6. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
7. Buster Posey, Giants
8. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
9. Jose Fernandez, Marlins
10. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Detailed explanations are forthcoming.

What do you think? Whom did we overlook or overrate?

Who would have been some of your choices?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

MLB Pennant Races

The clarity of pennant races is always fun to look into this time of year.

American League
There's a virtual dead heat between the Toronto and Boston to win the AL East, with the Blue Jays up by a slight margin. In the same division, Baltimore is not far behind, but most likely trying to hold off Houston, Seattle, Kansas City and Detroit for the second Wild Card.

New York is treading water with their infusion of young talent, which is fun, but their upper limit of wins for the season is probably 85, which won't get them anywhere. The Yankees don't need to tank to get good again, but it's notable that they haven't had a chance at an early draft pick in a long time.* It looks like the emergence of the Sanchez, Frazier, Betances, Bird, Judge, Torres, Austin Era could keep the Bronx Bombers out of the Top 10 for another six or seven years, at least.

As of this writing, Baseball-Prospectus shows the Astros only have a 1.1% chance to win the division or a 8.6% chance to make the Wild Card game.

*Next year will be the 25th Anniversary of the Yankees last Top 10 pick**, when they took a high school shortstop from Michigan with the #6 pick, Derek Jeter.

**fun list
N.Y. Yankees Top 10 Picks
Derek Jeter, 1992, #6, rWAR 71.8
Brien Taylor, 1991, #1, rWAR 0.0
Carl Everett, 1990, #10, rWAR 20.4 (none for NYY, lost in expansion draft, not traded, no compensation)
Thurman Munson, 1968, #4, rWAR 45.9
Ron Blomberg, 1967, #1, rWAR 9.4 (9.5 as a Yankee! He left as a free agent and had a -0.1 season with the White Sox before retiring)

Jeter & Munson are "True Yankees".

Taylor was one of the first legendary pitching flameouts.

Everett was lost to an expansion draft. He was a character worthy of his own blog. Dude doesn't think dinosaurs ever existed, among other insanities.

Blomberg had four very good partial seasons as the Yankees' first baseman in 1971-74, averaging 2.2 rWAR each year, even though he averaged only 90 games per season. Keep in mind, a 2.2 rWAR season now is valued at around $16 million.

Before checking in the with the NL, let's take a quick pulse of our MVP ballot at the moment:

2016 AL MVP
1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Jose Altuve, Astros
3. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
4. Manny Machado, Orioles
5. Robinson Cano, Mariners
6. Francisco Lindor, Indians
7. Mookie Betts, Red Sox
8. David Ortiz, Red Sox
9. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
10. Evan Longoria, Rays

National League
The NL has less drama, with the Cardinals, Pirates, and Giants fighting for 2 Wild Card spots, with the Nationals, Cubs, and Dodgers as the Division champs.

2016 NL MVP
1. Kris Bryant, Cubs
2. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
4. Buster Posey, Giants
5. Corey Seager, Dodgers
6. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
7. Freddie Freeman, Braves
8. Paul Goldschmidt, D'backs
9. Starling Marte, Pirates
10. Ryan Braun, Brewers

I was wrong about Braun. He is good now.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

2016 MLB Season Preview: NL East

Baseball begins on Sunday. Rather than blasting an overwhelming tsunami of information on our faithful readers, we are going to release our 2016 MLB Season Preview in more digestible installments. The first one explores the National League East...

Atlanta Braves
East Coast, NL, and alphabetical order bias gets us started with arguably the worst team in the big leagues. PECOTA projects only the Phillies to win fewer games (66) than the Braves (69). ZiPS projections on Fangraphs are slightly more bearish, with 64 and 68, for each team respectively. In our humble opinion, the Braves will be worse than the Phillies at the Major League level this year.

Hector Olivera will be in LF in '16
If you're a Braves fan, and you need something to feel good about with this 25-man roster, we would focus on two particular aspects of the team: 3/5ths of their starting rotation (Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, and Manny Banuelos) and a couple of 31-year old Cuban batters on the left side (Left fielder Hector Olivera and 3rd baseman Adonis Garcia). The countrymen need to show this season if they are worthy of everyday at bats in a Major League lineup. They could be busts or All Stars, but they should be the most interesting batters on the Braves until they call-up Dansby Swanson.

On the pitching side, Braves games started by Teheran, Wisler, or Banuelos should at least be watchable to observe their development. Once the team tires of Bud Norris and Williams Perez, they can call up more exciting arms like Aaron Blair or Mike Foltynewicz (who may be better suited for the bullpen).

For shame! Casey Kelly had a pitiful 2015, and at 26-and-a-half years old, he is trending into the scary realm of former-prospect. He gave the big league camp 4 innings this Spring Training, and he gave up 8 hits. If he makes it back to the big leagues, it will be one heck of a rise from his current standing.

To finish the Braves' team capsule on a positive note, the Braves may have found something in right-handed starting pitcher John Gant, who is one of the two minor leaguers they acquired from the Mets in exchange for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson last summer. This is dripping in a small sample-size warning, but look at Gant's 2015 Double-A numbers with the Binghamton Mets and then with the Mississippi Braves after the trade:

John Gant 2015 Splits by Double-A Team
Mets: 11 starts, 59.3 ip, 38 runs allowed, 16.2 K%, 3.62 FIP
Braves: 7 starts, 40.6 ip, 11 runs allowed, 27.4 K%, 2.54 FIP

This Spring, John Gant pitched 8 1/3 innings, across 4 appearances, allowing just one run on six hits and a walk.

Miami Marlins
Projecting the 2016 Marlins season might be one of the most difficult. We see them as a team with particularly large error bars from a win projection and could see them win from 66 to 86 games. The acquisition of Wei-Yin Chen was one of the best offseason signings of the winter. Their outfield triumvirate is one of the best in Baseball, but I feel they lack the depth, particularly in the bullpen to make Don Mattingly's first season with the fish an roaring success.

Capps was extraordinary in 2015, will
he get close to that again by 2018?
The Marlins took a big hit with the news of soreness in Carter Capps's elbow. Carter Capps, a 25-year old flamethrower from North Carolina, has as exciting a blend of deception and velocity as any pitcher in baseball. Unfortunately, he saw Dr. James Andrews and is out until at least May 2017.

Southpaw, Adam Conley, was solid last year (3.76 ERA/3.81 FIP in 67 innings) and is a reasonable bet to be a league-average pitcher who makes the league-minimum.

Giancarlo Stanton is the most exciting player on the Marlins, but on days when Jose Fernandez is pitching, the lights shine brightest on the Marlins' ace. Fernandez has a 17-0 career record in home starts.

New York Mets
Cespedes is back in Queens
How far will deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard, Colon, Matz, and Wheeler take this club? Those are their top six starters. As long as four of them stay healthy, they should be in postseason position. It's nice that Cespedes fell back into their laps at a bargain rate, and they have a solid bullpen.

Our favorite Mets player is Hansel Robles

The smart money is on the Mets and Nationals competing for the division title, with the Marlins finishing closer to .500. All three of these teams will benefit from beating up the Braves and Phillies all year. At least one Wild Card should come out of this division. The Braves and Phillies are considerable worse than the doormats of the NL Central (Cincinnati and Milwaukee) or anyone in the NL West.

Philadelphia Phillies
From what we are hearing, the mess that Rubén Amaro made in the city of brotherly love is getting cleaned up pretty quickly by Andy MacPhail, Matt Klentak, and the knowledge that they have money to spend when the time is right. The Phillies are still at least two years away from competing, 2018 or 2019 should be when their window begins to open. The new collective bargaining agreement could determine will come at a time when this team is rebuilding everything. It will be interesting to see how the Phillies' strategy aligns with the new CBA's structure for spending on draft picks, post-arbitration players entering the market, and international free agents.

Looking at the Phillies on the field this year is a complete disaster. We'd probably get most excited for Vincent Velasquez starts and Maikel Franco at bats if forced to root alongside any Phanatics.

Vincent Velasquez went to Philly in the Ken Giles trade.

Washington Nationals
Nationals fans who've read Bill James are hoping his plexiglass principal proves itself once again, regressing the team's disappointing 2015 season into a playoff-bound 2016 campaign.

National League 2015 BaseRuns Winning % Leaders
1. Dodgers .589
2. Cubs .579
3. Pirates .562
4. Nationals .556
5. Mets .554

One of the more volatile x-factors on the Nationals is Tanner Roark. He was a full-time starter in 2014, pitching 198 2/3 innings delivering 5.1 WAR according to B-R and 3.1 on Fangraphs. Last year, when the Nationals signed Max Scherzer, it bumped Roark into the bullpen. He pitched 111 innings in 40 appearances, 12 stars. His FIP ballooned from 3.47 in 2014 to 4.70 in 2015, and he pitched worse than replacement level: -0.7 on B-R and -0.2 on Fangraphs. Most pitchers' stuff plays up when allowed to throw in shorter bursts out of the bullpen. Tanner Roark regressed in either role in 2015.

Tanner Roark Splits by Role/Year
2014 (Starter): .236/.281/.351, 17.3 K%, 4.9 BB%
2015 (Reliever): .256/.306/.433, 18.1 K%, 6.4 BB%
2015 (Starter): .285/.337/.477, 12.9 K%, 5.0 BB%

For what they're worth, Tanner Roark's 2016 Spring Training stats have been stellar against decent competition.
0.64 14.0 14 1 3 13 8.6
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/2/2016.
"Hola, me llamo Ollie."

Oliver Perez is always a treat.

Shawn Kelley is their best reliever.

Lucas Giolito is the best pitching weapon that any contender has in the minors. If the Nationals call him up to bolster the bullpen late-summer and postseason, he has the pitching arsenal to be a difference maker.

Dusty Baker is back in the manager's seat. He'll give Bryce Harper the Barry Bonds treatment, and Harper will continue his rise in this history books, once again as the best player in the National League.

Stay tuned for additional previews in yet to be determined formats.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2016 Hall of Fame "Ballot"

The BBWAA will announce the players they elected to the Hall of Fame at 6pm ET tomorrow. Let's get our faux ballot on the record before it's too late. Since we started doing this six years ago, below is a list of the players who've received our vote, including how many times in parenthesis.

Alan Trammell should be
elected on his first Veterans'
Committee ballot. What
about Lou Whitaker?
(Detroit Free Press File Photo)
Alan Trammell (6)
Edgar Martinez (6)
Tim Raines (6)
Jeff Bagwell (5)
Larry Walker (5)
Barry Larkin (3) HOF
Curt Schilling (3)
Fred McGriff (3)
Mike Piazza (3)
Bert Blyleven (2) HOF
Craig Biggio (2) HOF
Roberto Alomar (2) HOF
Andre Dawson (1) HOF
Frank Thomas (1) HOF
Greg Maddux (1) HOF
Pedro Martinez (1) HOF
Randy Johnson (1) HOF
John Olerud (1) - voted off, under 5%
Kenny Lofton (1) - voted off, under 5%
Mike Mussina (1)

After learning who was elected a year ago, we pretty quickly figured that our 2016 ballot would include Griffey, Bagwell, Raines, Edgar, Piazza, Schilling, Trammell, Walker, Mussina and Sheffield. Over the past couple of months, a few factors have us reconsidering that reaction.

Please keep in mind, we aren't trying to take ourselves too seriously. This is just a fun exercise to see what we would do if we had the vote, and give us a track record to look back on in the future.

*heck, we use the royal "we" as a tip of the cap to The Big Lebowski.

Back to what made us reconsider our ballot... As a fan, we've softened our stance against penalizing PED users. Yet, we would still like to withhold votes from Bonds and Clemens because they were a couple of SOB's who don't deserve additional honors. The character / sportsmanship clause in the BBWAA voting guidelines may also affect our vote for Curt Schilling, who has gone out of his way this past year to show that he is a loudmouthed bigot.

Another trend that we can buy into is voting with game theory, wherein we would vote for the players who could use the vote most. These would be the players who we think are deserving and will be closest to either the 75% of votes they need to be elected or the 5% needed to remain on the ballot. We didn't go all-in on this strategy this year because game theory may lead to a boring ballot, where less than ten candidates actually need meaningful support. Reviewing the public ballots curated by Ryan Thibs suggests that only Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines could fall just shy of 75%, while Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, and (if you're inclined) Billy Wagner, Sammy Sosa, Nomar Garciaparra, and Jim Edmonds need the help to get over 5%. That's an 8-person ballot that we would not want to submit. There is an argument to be made that it helps to build momentum and get some players over 50%, so they can get more serious consideration in the future. That could be where our voting mindset is headed in the future, as the backlog of qualified candidates remains in the teens. That's the only way a reasonable voter could leave someone like Ken Griffey, Jr. off their ballot.

Reviewing our last six "ballots" the only players who were inducted by the BBWAA that we did not vote for were Tom Glavine and John Smoltz in 2014 and 2015, respectively. We probably would have eventually voted for Glavine, if not for the overcrowded ballot, but I don't think we would have gotten on the Smoltz bandwagon any time soon. The Smoltz narrative of being a great starter and a great closer is confusing because the only reason he became a closer was that he was recovering from injury and couldn't start any longer. Rewarding him for that makes no sense; relieving is easier than starting. If Mike Mussina had become a closer when leaving Baltimore halfway through his career, he could have racked up 200 Wins and 200 Saves and sailed in to Cooperstown even though it would have been less valuable than the 1,500+ innings he gave the Yankees as a starter.

We've voted for ten candidates every year, except 2010 (our first year) and 2012. The past couple of years, it's been impossible to vote for all deserving candidates. Our decision on Fred McGriff has vacillated from Yes in 2010, 2011, and 2013, to No in 2012, 2014, and 2015.


Let's now take a stroll through this year's ballot to consider who would get our vote. There are thirty-two players on the 2016 ballot, fifteen of them appearing on the ballot for the first time. Of those fifteen, we believe only two of them actually deserve any consideration. The first one is Ken Griffey Jr, who we know will receive a check mark on close to 95% of submitted ballots. The other is Jim Edmonds. While he is worthy of further consideration, and probably even worthy of induction, we won't shed any tears for him if he's bumped off the ballot this year. He was an unlikable crybaby during his career. When it's difficult to narrow down the contenders to ten players, we're only voting for guys we liked.

We are claerly taking a stand against relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame. Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner will not receive a faux vote from BAseball Reality Tour this year. Hoffman is probably going to end up on close to 60-65% of ballots this year, and it's absolutely mind numbing to think that 600 career saves could make that possible when other numbers show he wasn't as good as Wagner and not nearly as productive as starters on this ballot, namely Mussina and Schilling, who will receive less support.

Joe Posnanski put it best on
On this year’s ballot, you have starter Mike Mussina and closer Trevor Hoffman. There is no doubt Hoffman will get much more support. But, if the two switched roles, who would have the better chance of success? Is there even a question? It’s not hard to imagine Mike Mussina having Trevor Hoffman’s career. It is all but impossible to imagine Hoffman having Mike Mussina’s career.
For the sake of much-needed brevity, let's go rapid fire through the players we can quickly eliminate from serious consideration.

Garret Anderson
By all accounts, Garret Anderson was a nice guy and a good teammate who had a fantastic career. Spending fifteen of his seventeen Major League seasons with the Angels, he hit over 500 doubles, and was a lifetime .293 hitter. Unfortunately, for him, he needed a couple hundred of those doubles to get over the wall to approach Cooperstown.

Brad Ausmus
For a school with strong academics, Dartmouth College has a decent lineage of big leagues that started with Lee Viau in 1888 and also includes Jim Beattie, Mike Remlinger, and today's Kyle Hendricks. Ausmus parlayed his long career into a quick managerial gig in Detroit. He'll be one-and-done with regards to Hall of Fame voting. Compared to all players on this ballot, he is last in Baseball-Reference's version of WAR. Plus, among all Catchers in the Hall of Fame or on the ballot, he ranks last in WAR, WAA (Wins Above Average), and RE24.

Luis Castillo
A good contact hitter with speed and no power, Castillo batted over .300 seven times in his career and led the league in stolen bases twice. National League fans in New York remember him for dropping a crucial infield popup. Around these parts, we will remember him as the guy who hit the foul ball that Bartman shouldn't have touched.

David Eckstein
The most Hall of Fame worthy performance by David Eckstein was when he showed a sense of humor in this video...

Nomar Garciaparra
The Red Sox shortstop won Rookie of the Year in 1997 and had a Hall of Fame caliber run through the next four seasons. Injuries sapped him of his power and playing time later in his career, but his lifetime .313 batting average ties him with Larry Walker for the highest on this year's ballot.

Troy Glaus
Similar to Nomar, Troy Glaus got started at a Hall of Fame pace. In his first four full seasons, Glaus cranked 147 home runs and won World Series MVP while getting a ring for the 2002 Angels. Injuries also took their toll on Glaus, and even though he had a few other good years, he retired with 320 homers after his Age 32 season.

Mark Grudzielanek
Grudzi was a "professional hitter" who had a little more power than Castillo, but still never muscled up more than 13 homers in a season. He stayed in great shape and played until he was 40. He's one of the last links to the great Expos of Montreal, and I'm sure it's an honor for him to just be named on the ballot.

Mike Hampton
Best known for being a good hitter and signing a huge contract with Colorado that didn't pay off for the Rockies, Mike Hampton truly could be inducted in a Hitting Pitchers Hall of Fame. Mike Hampton has been the best hitting pitcher of our time. Since Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947, only Don Newcombe had a higher On-Base Percentage, among all pitchers with at least 800 plate appearances, than Hampton's .293 OBP.

Trevor Hoffman
Sorry, but being a Saves compiler is even worse than a Hits compiler in our opinion.

Slightly related tangent - Mariano Rivera deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He delivered about twice as much value in his career as Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, or any of the closers that are already in the Hall. Mariano should be the standard, and we don't think any relief pitcher belongs in the conversation unless they have regular season numbers that approach Rivera's. A twitter back and forth with a good friend and fan of the Yankees and relievers in the Hall of Fame led us to drawing up the following baseline for relievers to get into Cooperstown: a minimum of 1,200 ip, 40 WAR, 200 ERA+ and a maximum 2.50 RA9, 3.00 FIP, 50 ERA-.

Jason Kendall
As a fifteen-year veteran, Jason Kendall had a really nice career, particularly his first nine seasons, when he played for Pittsburgh and made three All Star teams. He was a good offensive catcher in spite of being limited to mostly doubles power. Kendall had great speed. His 189 stolen bases ranks second all time, behind Roger Bresnahan's 212 (among players who played at least 50% of their games behind the plate). Bresnahan also retired in 1915 and played many more games at positions other than Catcher. If you increase the % level of games at Catcher to 75%, Kendall is first all time. The Baseball-Reference Play Index also shows in the Split Finder that no player ever stole more bases in games played at Catcher:

Rk Player Split G SB ▾
1 Jason Kendall as C 2013 183
2 Ivan Rodriguez as C 2377 124
3 Carlton Fisk as C 2157 122
4 Brad Ausmus as C 1843 99
5 Russell Martin as C 1216 93
6 Benito Santiago as C 1864 90
7 John Stearns as C 680 84
8 John Wathan as C 535 80
9 Tony Pena as C 1878 79
10 B.J. Surhoff as C 676 77
11 John Roseboro as C 1399 65
12 Craig Biggio as C 410 60
13 Miguel Olivo as C 991 50
14 Thurman Munson as C 1276 45
15 Yadier Molina as C 1397 44
16 Joe Girardi as C 1204 44
17 Darren Daulton as C 927 44
18 Mike Heath as C 1021 43
19 Bob Brenly as C 657 40
20 Bob Boone as C 2161 38
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/31/2015.

Jason Kendall also places third all time in getting hit by pitches with 254, behind Craig Biggio (285) and Don Baylor (267). Kendall's production really tapered off after leaving the steel city, as illustrated in his OPS+ chart below...

Year Tm PA OPS+
1996 ★ PIT 471 102
1997 PIT 572 114
1998 ★ PIT 627 131
1999 PIT 334 137
2000 ★ PIT 678 124
2001 PIT 672 78
2002 PIT 605 86
2003 PIT 666 112
2004 PIT 658 107
2005 OAK 676 80
2006 OAK 626 88
2007 TOT 514 62
2008 MIL 587 74
2009 MIL 526 71
2010 KCR 490 71
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/31/2015.

Mike Lowell
Lowell enjoyed a decorated career, named to the All Star team four times, winning one Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, two World Series championships, and one World Series MVP. His .805 career OPS is impressive (even higher than Brooks Robinson's), but his career wasn't long enough to get the counting stats needed for the Hall of Fame. It's sort of interesting that the teamed up with Josh Beckett to win the World Series for the Marlins in 2003 and the Red Sox in 2007, with Beckett winning World Series MVP the first time around and Lowell winning it for Boston.

Lee Smith
As a Cubs' fan of a certain age, Lee Smith was the first closer for whom we ever rooted. He was not a Hall of Famer. He may have "saved" a lot of games in his 18-year career, but he also allowed a lot of baserunners.

Mike Sweeney
By all accounts, Sweeney is one of the nicest people to ever play Major League Baseball. (Can he be much nicer than Garret Anderson?) Sweeney played a lot of first base and DH, mostly for the Royals, retired with 325 doubles, 215 home runs, and an .851 career OPS. He was a class act, but not a hall of famer.

Billy Wagner
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America
If one relief pitcher on this ballot would get our vote, it would be Billy Wagner. He was a much better pitcher than Trevor Hoffman or Lee Smith. His last season was very good, and he could have continued his career to compile a larger number of Saves. That presumably just wasn't something that drove the man. Joe Posnanski made another great point about Wagner vs Hoffman in his post linked above, in case you have yet to read it.

Randy Winn
Probably the least decorated of all candidates on this ballot, Randy Winn was a switch-hitting outfielder who finished with over 500 extra base hits, but he played for thirteen years and never made the postseason.

The best thing we can say about Randy Winn, as a player, is that he was a good defender. In 2004, he led the American League in putouts by an outfielder, and in 2005, he led the AL in Range Factor/Game as LF and Range Factor/9Inn as LF.


That leaves us with seventeen players to consider this year...

Jeff Bagwell
Tom DiPace, USA Today
Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Jim Edmonds
Ken Griffey Jr.
Jeff Kent
Edgar Martinez
Fred McGriff
Mark McGwire
Mike Mussina
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Curt Schilling
Gary Sheffield
Sammy Sosa
Alan Trammell
Larry Walker

We need to eliminate at least seven names. As mentioned before, Bonds and Clemens are out for being poor sports. Same with that sourpuss, Jim Edmonds*.

*It really is kind of a shame that Edmonds probably won't get a second look by the BBWAA. This is the same fate that befell Lou Whitaker and Kenny Lofton, who have really good cases. Take a look at a couple of blind comparisons:

Player A (BA/OBP/SLG): .284/.370/.538
Player B (BA/OBP/SLG): .284/.376/.527

Player A (wOBA/wRC+): .384/131
Player B (wOBA/wRC+): .385/132

Player A is Ken Griffey, Jr. Player B is Jim Edmonds. These numbers don't tell the entire stories of their careers, but they do shine the light on the fact that Jim Edmonds deserves
at least a second look.

McGwire is not going to be on our ballot. It's not because of steroids, but rather because he was never that great of a complete player. He wasn't even that good of a pure hitter. His 1,626 hits place him 20th out of 32 on this year's Hall of Fame ballot, in between Nomar Garciaparra and Mike Lowell.

Sammy Sosa again will not gain our vote. He, similarly to McGwire was not a very good all around player. Sure, he had some speed and a strong arm, but his erratic throwing and poor base running hurt his teams. Early in his career, he couldn't hit a breaking ball at all. Kudos to Sammy on becoming a better hitter later in his career, learning to occasionally lay off or wait back on breaking pitches. Unfortunately, he was a one trick pony. He hit lots of home runs, probably while on PED's, definitely hit some with a corked bat, and he had a propensity for hitting home runs when the Cubs were either up by a lot or down by a lot. That was his reputation when he played with the Cubs, and the numbers reflect the story. Fangraphs has a stat called "Clutch", which is defined as: "How much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment".

For all qualified hitters in the years of Sammy Sosa's career (1989-2007), Sammy has the worst clutch score of them all (-14.84). Isolating just his years with the Cubs (1992-2004), when he made his Hall of Fame case, he still has the lowest Clutch score (-14.33) in MLB. Heck, we don't even need to cherry-pick years. Sammy Sosa actually has the lowest Clutch score since Fangraphs can report on the numbers, from 1974-2015. Looking at Sosa's clutch stats on Baseball-Reference also shows that he hit home runs more frequently when they mattered least:

Sammy Sosa (Plate Appearances per Home Run)
Career Average: 16.2 PA/HR
Within 1 R: 17.0 PA/HR
Within 2 R: 16.7 PA/HR
Within 3 R: 16.8 PA/HR
Within 4 R: 16.8 PA/HR
Margin > 4 R: 13.1 PA/HR

Sammy's out.

Where does that leave us? We need to lose two more names from the dozen below.

(Photo by Ron Veseley)
Jeff Bagwell
Ken Griffey Jr.
Jeff Kent
Edgar Martinez
Fred McGriff
Mike Mussina
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Curt Schilling
Gary Sheffield
Alan Trammell
Larry Walker

Let's decide on which players will definitely get a vote. Those are Bagwell, Edgar, Raines, Trammell, and Walker. Let's also give one to Griffey. This is our only chance to vote for him, and we're going to take it. We are also going to vote for Piazza and Mussina. We have two spots left and four names remaining.

Gary Sheffield was a feared batter.
(AP Photo by Amy Sancetta)
Jeff Kent
Fred McGriff
Curt Schilling
Gary Sheffield

Kent is out because, just like Bonds, Clemens, and Edmonds, he was a jerk. Many have said that Gary Sheffield was a selfish pain in the neck most of his career, but he never bothered us. This guy had some serious bat speed and ability to hit anyone's best pitches. We consider him one of the best hitters of the past 25 years and will gladly vote for him after there was no room on our ballot for him last year. Schilling is out, too. He can take his politics elsewhere. The Crime Dog is back on our ballot for the first time since 2013.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images
Jeff Bagwell
Ken Griffey Jr.
Edgar Martinez
Fred McGriff
Mike Mussina
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Gary Sheffield
Alan Trammell
Larry Walker

Therefore, our final list of ten isn't as far off as we expected 51 weeks ago. The only difference is that we replaced Schilling with McGriff. Next year might be a different story. Schilling could spend the next 53 weeks rehabilitating his reputation. His on-field performance is without question worthy of Hall of Fame honors. Lastly, new blood will be on the ballot and deserving of consideration, most notably: Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Vladimir Guerrero. That should be interesting, and the three of them can slide into the slots of the three who will likely be elected this year: Griffey, Piazza, and Bagwell. We expect Raines to make it in 2017, and unless Bonds and Clemens really start to gain votes from the electorate, Raines might be the only BBWAA selection next year.

To bring this back full circle, here's the new tally of all of our Hall of Fame votes the past seven elections (2010-2016)...

Alan Trammell (7)
Photo by Jonathan Daniel
Edgar Martinez (7)
Tim Raines (7)
Jeff Bagwell (6)
Larry Walker (6)
Fred McGriff (4)
Mike Piazza (4)
Barry Larkin (3) HOF
Curt Schilling (3)
Mike Mussina (2)
Bert Blyleven (2) HOF
Craig Biggio (2) HOF
Roberto Alomar (2) HOF
Andre Dawson (1) HOF
Frank Thomas (1) HOF
Greg Maddux (1) HOF
Pedro Martinez (1) HOF
Randy Johnson (1) HOF
John Olerud (1) - off
Kenny Lofton (1) - off

If you've made it this far, thank you. You're probably friends or family. Please let us know how your thoughts, where we may be misguided, and how your ballot may differ - either on social media or in the comments section below. Happy New Year.