Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 MLB Season Preview

It's been a brutally cold winter across most of the Northern hemisphere this year, with feeble warmth from the hot stove. We are ready for warm weather and ballgames. At least the ballgames start this week. Let's look forward to the upcoming season with predictions on standings, the postseason, and awards. Please add your predictions to the comments. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Fun with Spring Stats

We like to have fun with all kinds of stats over here. Usually, we look for something more valuable than a minuscule sample size of Spring Training stats that are almost meaningless because of varying competition levels and the uncertainty of some players goals in each plate appearance. Because the outcome of Spring games mean nothing, some pitchers could be looking to work on a specific pitch - particularly pitches that need work. Batters similarly can be working on a approach at the plate that might not lead to reaching base, but can prepare them for situations when they need to move a runner over, or maybe they take 2 strikes to work on hitting with 2 strikes. Greg Maddux used to famously set up hitters in Spring Training by throwing them pitches in a sequence they would never see in real games. We just don't know.

One of the most predictive pitching stats, of regular games is the strikeout-to-walk ratio. We get some surprising names in the list of Top 11 pitchers by spring K:BB ratio.

Rk Tm OppQual IP H R BF SO/BB ▾
1 Hutchison, Drew TOR 8.6 9.2 7 3 36 16.00
2 Scherzer, Max DET 8.8 14.1 9 4 52 16.00
3 Ventura, Yordano KC 9.2 15.1 10 3 57 15.00
4 Lynn, Lance STL 9.0 7.1 8 5 32 14.00
5 Pineda, Michael NYY 8.7 9.0 8 0 35 14.00
6 Chapman, Aroldis* CIN 8.7 10.0 11 4 40 13.00
7 Matsuzaka, Daisuke NYM 9.5 12.2 18 8 59 12.00
8 Zimmermann, Jordan WSH 9.0 13.0 7 1 47 12.00
9 Jackson, Edwin CHC 9.5 9.0 10 4 41 11.00
10 Reed, Evan DET 8.7 10.0 3 3 34 11.00
11 Wood, Travis* CHC 9.0 10.2 14 7 46 11.00
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/19/2014.

Yordano Ventura has been setting the baseball world on fire with his otherworldly stuff and panache. Having a couple of people ahead of his 15:1 K:BB ratio is a bit surprising. That another youngster, 22-year old Drew Hutchison, tied with reigning Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer, at 16:1 is a breath of fresh air.*

*Unless you hate the Blue Jays and/or Drew Hutchison

Beyond that, it's great to see Michael Pineda performing well in limited action this Spring...

How about classic Dice-K showing up? That's fun! He's given up 18 hits and 8 runs in 12 2/3rd innings in spite of a striking out twelve and only walking one.

The Cubs should be pleased that they have two of the top eleven K/BB pitchers. Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood are probably evolving into trade chips for the Cubs, limiting walks while missing bats this season will raise their stock.

Evan Reed, who is out of options, could be solidifying his spot in the Tigers' bullpen by striking out 11 batters for each walk.

For hitting, we will look at two stats. OPS, with min 30 plate appearances (LOL), and Home Runs.

Age Tm OppQual PA OPS ▾
Moustakas, Mike* 24 KC 8.6 43 1.501
Cervelli, Francisco 27 NYY 8.4 30 1.462
Moss, Brandon* 29 OAK 9.1 32 1.388
Bernadina, Roger* 29 CIN 8.7 34 1.388
Miller, Brad* 23 SEA 8.9 39 1.385
Hicks, Brandon 27 SF 8.2 41 1.364
Jackson, Austin 26 DET 8.3 40 1.284
Heisey, Chris 28 CIN 8.9 38 1.263
Solarte, Yangervis# 25 NYY 8.0 33 1.245
Souza Jr., Steven 24 WSH 7.4 35 1.235
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/19/2014.

I'm not surprised to see Mike Moustakas at the top of this list. He's had glowing reports from scouts and reporters all Spring.

The Yankees are reportedly shopping Francisco Cervelli. These stats are aligned with the fact that he's been a pretty good hitter in the big leagues during limited playing time the past few years. Since 2010, Cervelli has a .352 OBP, which is not bad for any hitter, let alone a backstop.

Brandon Moss had a great season last year and looks to continue his success as the left-handed part of another A's platoon.

The Mariners are more inclined to trade Nick Franklin than Brad Miller. I wonder if potential trade partners might try to make their best offer available, but only for Brad Miller.

Austin Jackson could do some serious damage if he sticks to the #5 spot of the Tigers order, after scoring 395 runs over his 4-year career, primarily as a leadoff or lower in the order batter. As a middle-of-the-order slugger, we can expect more of Jackson's counting numbers to become RBI's.

Chris Heisey is on this list primarily as a result of leading all batters with five homeruns this Spring. More on that in a minute.

I don't know Yangervis Solarte or Steven Souza. Do you? Solarte is new to the Yankees' system. His first six professional seasons were in the Twins organization, and he spent the last two years on the Rangers' triple-A team, the Round Rock Express. He's a non-roster invitee to the Yankees spring training, so we'll see if he can at least solidify a spot on their Triple-A squad. Steven Souza has never gotten past double-A, but he hit pretty well there last year. In 77 games playes (323 plate appearances), he slashed an impressive .300/.396/.557.

Looking ahead to our Spring homerun leader board, as of the morning of March 19th, 107 players have hit more than one homerun this Spring. 29 players have hit more than two homers. Here's the leaderboard of players who have hit at least four:

Heisey, Chris 28 CIN 8.9 38 5 0 6 .368 .368 .895
Moustakas, Mike* 24 KC 8.6 43 4 6 4 .486 .558 .943
Martin, Russell 30 PIT 9.2 24 4 2 4 .381 .458 1.000
Miller, Brad* 23 SEA 8.9 39 4 4 8 .412 .474 .912
Danks, Jordan* 26 CWS 9.1 39 4 2 11 .361 .410 .750
Pence, Hunter 30 SF 9.3 42 4 2 13 .325 .357 .775
Stanton, Giancarlo 23 FLA 8.7 43 4 3 7 .333 .372 .692
Baez, Javier 20 CHC 8.5 37 4 0 11 .297 .297 .703
Olt, Mike 24 CHC 9.2 33 4 1 12 .258 .273 .645
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/19/2014.

Woo hoo! Javy Baez and Mike Olt! Go Cubs!

Drew Hutchison is making his case for the Blue Jays rotation.
(AP Photo by Gene J. Poscar)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cleveland Indians 2014 Season Preview

Our series of interesting* team preview posts begins on the shores of the Cuyahoga River. In his first season at the helm of the Cleveland clubhouse, Terry Francona exceeded most expectations. The 2012 Indians went 68-94, but they turned things around all the way to 92 wins and an appearance in the AL Wild Card Game last year. This offseason, the front office was challenged with replacing 2/5th's of the starting rotation while improving their below average team defense and bullpen.

2013 Win-Loss Record: 92-70
2013 Pythagorian Record: 90-72

Key Losses: Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, Chris Perez, Rich Hill, Joe Smith, Jason Kubel, Drew Stubbs, Matt Albers, Kelly Shoppach
Combined Projected 2014 fWAR: 5.9

Key Additions: John Axford, David Murphy, Shaun Marcum, Aaron Harang, Josh Outman, Justin Sellers, David Aardsma, Scott Atchison, Nyjer Morgan, Jeff Francoeur
Combined Projected 2014 fWAR: 2.7

*Who says we need to preview all thirty teams?

Replacing Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir with lower-priced internal options and free agents limits the team's financial risk, but is a huge risk strategically.

As an entire staff, Cleveland pitchers provided 15 Wins Above Replacement last season (per Fangraphs), ranking 16th out of 30 Major League teams. Jimenez (3.2 fWAR) and Kazmir (2.5 fWAR) accounted for 38% of the team's 15 fWAR. We applaud Cleveland's tact of investing in areas that do not involve Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez. Looking at Cleveland's organizational depth chart, they may have enough resources to surpass 15 pitching WAR and contend with Detroit and Kansas City for the AL Central.

In 2014, Cleveland's starting rotation will be lead by Justin Masterson. He had the highest WAR on the team last season and is entering a contract year, FWIW. Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Zach McAllister should fill out the middle of the rotation. Salazar was outstanding in 10 starts last year, striking out over 30% of the batters he faced over 52 innings. The team has high hopes for Danny Salazar, expecting that a full season of him should replace what they got from at least Kazmir. If either Salazar, Kubler, or both complement Masterson as top of the rotation arms, Cleveland should have a good season. Zach McAllister needs to improve to be a consistently effective starter, but there's still reason for optimism. The fifth spot in the rotation has a bevy of competitors between Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Shaun Marcum, Aaron Harang, post-hype bounceback candidate Trevor Bauer, Travis Banwart, and prospect T.J. House.

Their rotation was a strength last season, but the bullpen often let the team down. Given that they could convert some of the 5th starter contenders into effective relievers, that should help, as should getting more than 20 innings from southpaw Marc Rzepczynski. The other left-hander in their bullpen will be new addition Josh Outman, from the Drew Stubbs to Colorado trade.

Cody Allen has surpassed Vinnie Pestano as the primary setup man, but Pestano is a prime candidate for a bounceback season. How's this for a small sample size? Pestano has had 3 one-inning appearances this spring and performed perfectly, with three 1-2-3 innings. If Pestano and Allen lock down the 7th and 8th, the Indians will have the benefit of shortening the game to closer, John Axford. Another bounceback candidate, Axford could be one of the best pickups of the offseason. Lord knows Axford was a disaster during his struggles with Milwaukee, but his peripheral stats look really good for a bounce back to effectiveness. Axford still throws hard, in the 95-96 mph range. After struggling first the first six weeks of the season, Axford actually had a pretty terrific year. From May 15th through the end of the year, Axford had a 2.50 ERA and 2.4 K/BB ratio. He was very good after a late-season trade to St. Louis, and spending a couple of months getting coached by Dave Duncan can't be bad.

Get your season tickets now! (AP photo)

Last year's Indians were not a very good defensive team. Yan Gomes is a good defensive catcher, and the two Michael B's - Bourne and Brantley - do a pretty good job of covering 2/3rd's of the outfield. Unfortunately, for Cleveland fans, that's about it. Baseball Info Solutions placed the 2013 Indians as the 7th worst defense in Major League Baseball, tied with Houston, with -41 defensive runs saved. Fangraphs defensive ratingsranks them as the 4th worst defense, better than only the Astros, Phillies, and Mariners. The addition of David Murphy to platoon in right-field with Ryan Rayburn, allows Nick Swisher to play first base, where he is better. The place for Cleveland to make up the most ground defensively is by having Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis improve their defensive contributions. We're not as optimistic about Cleveland's defense, unless they succeed with platoon advantages, defensive substitutions, or reinforcements from the minor leagues.

Their top prospect is a 20-year old shortstop named Francisco Lindor. Baseball Prospectus scouts him as "Incredible instincts for the game; near elite potential with the glove; silky actions; excellent backhand pickup; range plays up; arm is plus; total package at shortstop". Lindor can definitely hit. He has a career .364 OBP over 1,051 Minor League plate appearances.

USATSI photo
Scoring 4.6 runs per game, Cleveland tied Baltimore for the 5th highest scoring offense in baseball last year. Their supposed moves this season, to convert Carlos Santana into a third-baseman only enhances the team's ability to get their nine best hitters in the lineup. This is a smart front office and manager who can platoon players based on their hitting splits, as well as defensive platoons - better outfield for their flyball pitchers / emphasis on infield defense for groundball pitchers. Cleveland might not be able to maintain a Top 5 offense in this coming year, but if their pitching can be Top 10, and their offense is Top 10, they could be dangerous. They need to shore up the defense to contend.

Cleveland fans could use the excitement.

BAseball Reality Tour Projection: 83-79

Comments? Questions? Let's hear 'em.

Saturday, March 8, 2014