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.
ERA IP H R BB SO OppQual
0.64 14.0 14 1 3 13 8.6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: 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 NBCSports.com:
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 Baseball-Reference.com: 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 Baseball-Reference.com: 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.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Yonder Alonso: Late Bloomer or Lame Duck?

Earlier today, the Oakland A's traded pitchers Drew Pomeranz, Jose Torres, and a player to be named later to the San Diego Padres for first baseman Yonder Alonso and reliever Marc Rzepczynski. Initial reactions lean towards this being a win for San Diego because Pomeranz is the most valuable commodity in the transaction. Future performance, of course, is the unknown. What strikes me as most interesting in this deal is what is in store for the A's new first baseman.

Yonder Alonso was born in Havana, Cuba in the spring of 1987. He was a highly touted prospect in the Reds' organization from 2009-2012, but clearly blocked by perennial MVP candidate, Joey Votto. He got his first exposure in the Major Leagues with the Reds, mostly as a pinch-hitter in 2010 and playing out of position in Left Field over 47 games of 2011. In that brief time, he showed his bat could play. His line in 2011 was a wildly promising .330/.398/.545, good for a 153 OPS+. The following winter, he was traded to San Diego, in a loaded package including Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger, and Edinson Volquez, for the mercurial right-hander Mat Latos.

Joey Votto blocked Yonder Alonso in Cincinnati
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America

As most batters that move to San Diego, his hitting did not improve, but this was not due to the ballpark. His home road splits, over his career, have been quiet even.

Yonder Alonso MLB Home/Road Splits (Career)
ISplitGGSPAHRBBSOBAOBPSLGtOPS+
Home2492068731581122.268.338.394100
Away2592099381782141.278.342.391100
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/2/2015.

In fact, his career numbers at the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark of Cincinnati have been horrendous, as evidenced by his .292 OBP while playing along the shores of the Ohio River. What's really never returned from his repertoire after 2011 is any semblance of power. He has never topped 9 home runs in a season, and his slugging percentage has been below .400 since he left Cincinnati. The Padres didn't expect Alonso to hit lots of homers. When they decided to trade Anthony Rizzo to Chicago for Andrew Cashner, their strategy relied on the fact that a line drive hitter, like Alonso, would be more likely succeed in their cavernous ballpark than a fly ball hitter, like Rizzo.

Current front office management in San Diego has changed since the Rizzo for Cashner deal, so it's not like they are living in regret. A.J. Preller is moving forward. This could be a good move for the Friars. It opens up first base for fragile Wil Myers and gives them a strong arm for the rotation. Pomeranz has good stuff, and he's moving to the National League, which should help his run prevention.

Back to what interest me of this move. Will this be an opportunity for Yonder Alonso to finally blossom as a player? He turns 29 in April and has two more seasons before Free Agency. For all the Alonso bashing we've heard off his underwhelming performance in San Diego, the dude had a .361 OBP last year and 111 OPS+. Among hitters with at least 400 PA's last year, that was the 20th highest On-Base Percentage in the National League. Alonso has been hurt for most of the past three seasons. If he gets a good string of health, it's not unreasonable to expect a slash line in the neighborhood of .300/.380/.410.

On the other hand, he could be keeping first base warm for another Cuban-born first baseman in the A's system who has hit well everywhere he's played. 23-year old Rangel Ravelo was born in Havana sixteen days after little Yonder's fifth birthday. They have a lot in common, both having gone to high school in the Miami area, both good contact hitters who have struggled with recent injuries that have sapped them of their already humble power, and now they both have a chance at the same Major League job. Take a look at these career numbers from Ravelo:

Rangel Ravelo MiLB Batting Stats
YearAgeTmLevPAHRBBSOBAOBPSLG
201018BristolRk1871925.254.291.335
2011192 TeamsA-Rk25201431.338.381.415
201220KannapolisA32722038.290.343.397
2013212 TeamsA+-A41345157.299.388.432
201422BirminghamAA551115677.309.386.473
2015233 TeamsAAA-AA-Rk24632342.304.377.439
Minors (6 seasons)Minors197621173270.302.369.426
Foreign (2 seasons)Foreign199104619.429.568.721
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/2/2015.

Would it surprise anyone if A's General Manager, David Forst, flipped Alonso in another trade this winter to open the door for Ravelo to win the first base job? Whenever and wherever Ravelo gets his opportunity, will the results be much different?

Rangel Ravero has been great in the 2016 Venezulan Winter
League, winning Player of the Week this Oct 26 - Nov 1
Photo from www.eluniversal.com