2014 All-Star Oversights

It’s hard to argue that Anthony Rizzo isn’t deserving of an All-Star nod.

The All-Star game is pointless. It’s arbitrary. It’s subjective. It’s irrelevant. And honestly, it’s not that fun to watch.

That said, very few things get me more riled up than All-Star selections. I’m really not sure why. I mean, the game is pretty much meaningless, and in the end, most players worthy of selection make it in one way or another. Maybe I care because of some form of pathos that makes me want to fight for the players who I believe truly deserve the honor. Or maybe it’s because I’m still a fan at heart, and I want to see my favorite players recognized for their efforts.

Either way, the selections themselves are always controversial, and this year is no exception. Below, I’ll remark on the players I feel were most deserving of nods that did not receive one (yet). There are a number of notable omissions, especially in the AL, which is stacked pitching-wise. The NL isn’t quite as bad, but a pair of hitters are clearly missing, and there are a number of other names that have a good argument to make the team.

One more thing: A number of these players are eligible for MLB’s final vote, so if you want to vote, click here.

National League Snubs

First, let’s start off with two players who made the team, but have no business sniffing the roster. The NL outfield is rather top-heavy this year, with Andrew McCutchen, Yasiel Puig, Carlos Gomez and Giancarlo Stanton (who made it as a reserve, though I’d start him over Puig) all clear All-Stars. Hunter Pence (reserve) is also well-deserving, as he ranks fifth among NL outfielders in fWAR (2.9) and currently has a 136 wRC+. However, the two other outfielders on the NL’s roster are the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon and the Pirates’ Josh Harrison. Yuk.

Blackmon has been good this year, with a .295/.341/.463 slash line and 12 home runs, though those numbers are obviously inflated by Coors Field, which shows in his underwhelming, yet still above-average 109 wRC+. Blackmon was among the game’s best players over the first month of the season, posting a 1.034 OPS in April. However, since then, he has fallen back to earth, hitting .260/.305/.395 from May 1st on and seeing his OPS drop over 200 points. With a 1.5 WAR, he has clearly been an above-average player, but he still ranks just 21st among outfielders in fWAR.

Blackmon’s a terrible selection, but Josh Harrison may be the least-deserving position player selected to the game in the last decade. He’s been slightly better than Blackmon WAR-wise (1.7, 19th among NL outfielders) in over 100 less plate appearances, and has a 121 wRC+. However, he has never been an even average regular before this year, and at 26, he may not get any better. Heck, he may not even be starting on the Pirates come September.

Adding those two outfielders goes a long way in leaving out some very deserving players. Just among outfielders, Jason Heyward, Billy Hamilton, Justin Upton, Seth Smith, Ryan Braun, Christian Yelich, and Jayson Werth have all been sizably better this season. Even Blackmon’s teammate Corey Dickerson has a much better case than the pair. Heyward is perhaps the most noteworthy of the NL outfield snubs, as his 2.9 fWAR is tied with Pence for fifth best in the NL outfield ranks.

Putting aside the clear disaster in the NL outfield, the senior circuit’s catching situation also deserves some recognition. The NL is loaded behind the plate this season, with Yadier Molina being named the league’s starter, while Jonathan Lucroy (who should be starting) and Devin Mesoraco make the team as reserves. It’s tough to disagree with any of those three (you could argue Mesoraco isn’t enough of a “star”), but at least three other names (Evan Gattis, Buster Posey, Russell Martin) have solid cases. Gattis is hurt, but has a 150 wRC+ and 2.7 WAR this season. Posey is having a down year, but is still hitting .286/.342/.435 with a 2.0 WAR, and is the definition of a “star”. Martin has been lackluster in the power department (.394 SLG, .115 ISO), but has quietly posted a .415 OBP and is a huge plus on defense.

Of course, the two biggest snubs in the NL are a pair of young infielders in Anthony Rizzo and Anthony Rendon. It’s beyond me how these two missed the team. Rizzo has been the third best first baseman in the NL this year, behind only Paul Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman (both All-Stars). In 365 plate appearances, he has hit .274/.384/.489 with a .380 wOBA, 140 wRC+, and 2.5 WAR. He is probably the Cubs’ most deserving candidate over Starlin Castro.

Rendon, meanwhile, has been stellar in his first full season with the Nationals. Among all NL third baseman, he ranks second with a 3.2 WAR, .361 wOBA, and 131 wRC+, behind only Todd Frazier (reserve) in all three categories. Aramis Ramirez (starting) and Matt Carpenter (reserve) join Frazier as the hot corners on the roster, the latter two of which rank below Rendon in a majority of significant categories.

Other NL position player snubs include Jhonny Peralta and Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, and Nolan Arenado at third base.

Pitching-wise, the NL has been much weaker than the AL this year, and there aren’t any absolutely terrrible selections. Each team is required to carry a certain number of relievers, and Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Tony Watson, and Pat Neshek are all fine selections, though Francisco Rodriguez is a reach. A pair of Padres in Huston Street and Joaquin Benoit, as well as Kenley Jansen and Steve Cishek would have been much better choices.

Stephen Strasburg, Jake Arrieta, Henderson Alvarez, and Tim Hudson also would have been nice additions, but none are massive oversights. Ian Kennedy would have been a much better Padres’ representative than Tyson Ross.

Corey Kluber has a 2.65 FIP and 2.86 xFIP in 117.1 innings this season.

American League Snubs

Compared to the NL, the AL has a significant number of big snubs, particularly on the pitching side. Corey Kluber, Garrett Richards, and Chris Sale are HUGE omissions, with all three easily belonging over Scott Kazmir, Mark Buehrle, and the four relievers named (Dellin Betances, Sean Doolittle, Glen Perkins, Greg Holland). Among AL starters with at least 60 innings pitched this season, Sale (2nd), Kluber (3rd), and Richards (7th), all rank in the top 10. Jose Quintana is also missing, though his case is less clear-cut than the aforementioned trio.

The most glaring player missing among position players is easily Kyle Seager, who has been devastating for the Mariners this season. The 26-year-old is hitting .278/.351/.489 with a .367 wOBA and 134 wRC+. His 3.3 fWAR is second only to Josh Donaldson (starting) among AL third baseman, and is nearly a full win better than Adrian Beltre (reserve), the only other hot corner to make the roster. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t make it as some sort of replacement.

Also missing are a trio of middle infielders in Erick Aybar, Ian Kinsler, and hometown favorite Brian Dozier. Aybar was somehow bested by Alexei Ramirez (reserve) as the lone backup shortstop on the roster. The shortstop position is brutal in the AL this year, and with Derek Jeter assured the starting job, there really is room for only one other shortstop on the roster. Aybar leads the group with a 2.5 WAR (0.9 better than Ramirez) and is one of just two shortstops (along with Alcides Escobar) to have an above-average wRC+.

Kinsler’s omission is surprising, though you can’t fault voters for selecting Jose Altuve (reserve) to serve as Robinson Cano‘s (starter) backup. Still, he has hit .306/.342/.486 with a .361 wOBA and 128 wRC+ in his first year with the Tigers. With a 3.8 fWAR, he easily paces his competition.

Dozier is worthy on his numbers alone (117 wRC+, 2.8 fWAR), and considering the game is in Minnesota, it would have been nice to see him on the initial roster. Plus, if you’re going to add a second Twin, he’s a much better sentimental option than Kurt Suzuki (reserve).

The rest of the AL’s roster shakes up rather well, especially in the outfield, where Mike Trout, Jose Bautista, and Adam Jones are easy calls as starters, and Michael Brantley, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss (listed as a first baseman), and Alex Gordon round out a pretty straightforward top seven at the position.

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Derek Jeter’s WAR Progression

Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about Derek Jeter and his performance versus his public perception. Jeter is probably the most popular player in baseball over the past decade and a half, but he’s never really been the best player in the game, and has had just a handful of All-Star caliber seasons since 1999.

So, this got me thinking: where does he rank among players in his era. To try to answer this, I created this chart:

Year Age Career WAR (up to that point) Ranking (since 1995)
1995 21 -0.4 340
1996 22 1.8 126
1997 23 5.9 106
1998 24 12.9 52
1999 25 19.4 32
2000 26 23.0 33
2001 27 27.3 33
2002 28 32.8 27
2003 29 36.9 27
2004 30 41.8 19
2005 31 46.4 17
2006 32 52.5 11
2007 33 56.3 11
2008 34 59.9 9
2009 35 66.8 5
2010 36 69.4 5
2011 37 71.3 5
2012 38 74.3 5
2013 39 73.8 5
2014 40  73.9 5

The chart measures Jeter’s progressive WAR among position players since his 1995 debut season. It’s designed to answer where Jeter has stood among his peers since his debut.

Jeter started off at a rapid pace, accruing nearly 20 WAR in his first five seasons. However, after that it was more of a slow and steady climb to the top. As I stated earlier, Jeter hasn’t posted many All-Star seasons since 1999 with just a trio of 5+ WAR seasons in 2002, 2006, and 2009. However, he has been a remarkably consistent 3-4 WAR player, topping 3 WAR every year from 1997 to 2009.

Over the past half decade Jeter has nestled himself into a safe spot as the 5th best player of his era behind Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, and Chipper Jones. And while he isn’t particularly close to catching any of those four (over 10 WAR behind Jones), he’s comfortably ahead of the 6th place Scott Rolen who is at 69.9 and retired.

So, to essentially answer the question, Jeter has been the 5th best player of his era; never at the top, but still pretty damn good.

2014 Season Predictions

Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals could be set for a deep playoff run this season.

Hey, baseball’s back!

So, to kick the season off right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it), here are my extremely arbitrary and likely to be glaringly wrong 2014 season predictions:

National League East

1. Washington Nationals

Record: 94-68

2. Atlanta Braves

Record: 86-76

3. New York Mets

Record: 77-85

4. Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 76-86

5. Miami Marlins

Record: 66-96

The Braves and Nationals were neck-and-neck for the top spot here until Atlanta’s recent rash of injuries pushed them down and into the “good, not great” category. However, Washington has a chance to be the best team in baseball, and I still would have taken them over a fully healthy Braves team.

After the top two teams, the NL East falls of quickly. The Mets have a chance to crack .500 for the first time since 2008, but odds are they’re in for another losing season. The Phillies have masqueraded themselves as contenders, spending quite a bit of money this winter on past-their-prime free agents, but they’re still incredibly thin on talent and are nowhere near the level of second-tier National League squads such as the Giants or Reds. Still, the Phillies have the best chance out of the bottom trio in this division to reach .500 due to a very strong one-two-three punch of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and AJ Burnett.

The Marlins appear locked for a fourth consecutive last place finish. When Jeff Baker and Casey McGehee occupy two of the top four spots in your lineup, you know it’s bad. At least Marlins fans will get to see plenty of these:

National League Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 92-70

2. Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 86-76

3. Cincinnati Reds

Record: 84-78

4. Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 76-86

5. Chicago Cubs

Record: 65-97

It’s hard to put anyone but the Cardinals on top here. They might be the most complete team in baseball, with depth at every position, even shortstop, where Jhonny Peralta has replaced the dismal Pete Kozma. However, things get a little tricky when it comes to the Pirates and Reds. Both teams are coming 90+ win seasons in which they made the playoffs, and both figure to be competitive once again this year, though they are certainly due for some regression.

The Reds’ roster is currently riddled with injuries to key players such as Devin Mesoraco, Mat Latos, and half their bullpen, and I also find it highly doubtful that Billy Hamilton can even begin to fill the gargantuan size hole left by Shin-Soo Choo’s departure. The Pirates are in relatively good health, but they outperformed their pythagorean record by 6 wins last year (88-74), and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of potential improvements as they return largely the same roster. Both the Reds and the Pirates will be in the playoff mix this year, but I can’t see them overtaking the Cardinals.

At the bottom of the division is the Brewers and Cubs. Milwaukee could be a bit of a surprise team this year, as a full season of Ryan Braun and the addition of Matt Garza make this team look quite respectable on paper. The Cubs look primed for yet another 90+ loss season, but fortunately for Cubs fans, the team should start to promote some of their top prospects this year which could make them an interesting squad to follow later in the season.

Nationals League West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 92-70

2. San Francisco Giants

Record: 85-77

3. Colorado Rockies

Record: 77-85

4. San Diego Padres

Record: 74-88

5. Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 74-88

The NL West is quite similar to the NL East in terms of structure. Like the Nationals, the Dodgers reign supreme in this division, having by far the most talent (and cash). The Giants are sort of like the Braves in that both should be good, but I wouldn’t expect either of them to win their division. The Giants look solid on paper, but there are some major question marks when it comes to depth and health.

After those two, it’s a pretty significant drop-off, as I project the Rockies, Padres, and D-backs to all finish under .500. They each have a shot at making runs at a Wild Card spot, but the true talent level just isn’t comparable to the Dodgers and Giants.

American League East

1. Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 93-69

2. Boston Red Sox

Record: 91-71

3. New York Yankees

Record: 84-78

4. Baltimore Orioles

Record: 80-82

5. Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 74-88

This is probably the most competitive division in baseball considering that even the Blue Jays (who I have finishing last) could reach the postseason if enough things fall into place.

At the top, I still think it’s a dogfight between the Rays and Red Sox. I think they are the two best teams in the American League, but ultimately I slightly prefer the Rays due to a stronger sense of certainty regarding their production.

The Yankees spent nearly $500 million on the free agent market this winter, but not even unlimited money can make up for the hole they had put themselves in at the outset of the offseason. This is a team that is aging quickly, and is heavily dependent on the health of a bunch of 30+ year olds, especially in the rotation, which is currently paper-thin beyond their starting five.

Baltimore also made a bevy of moves this offseason, but their baseline was roughly the same as the Yankees, and it’s hard to imagine them reaching 90 wins.

The Blue Jays figured to compete for the division crown last season, but they were repeatedly struck by injuries to core players that rendered their playoff aspirations impossible. Returning largely the same team, the Blue Jays could be really good if they stay healthy and finally get some support from their starting rotation.

American League Central

1. Detroit Tigers

Record: 88-74

2. Kansas City Royals

Record: 87-75

3. Cleveland Indians

Record: 84-78

4. Chicago White Sox

Record: 72-90

5. Minnesota Twins

Record: 65-97

While the Tigers have a tremendous amount of talent, they appear to be extremely volatile. There is essentially no depth on this team, and the losses of Jose Iglesias, Andy Dirks, and Bruce Rondon have already reduced their chances of holding off the Royals, who, along with the Indians, are clustered at the top of the division.

The bottom duo of Chicago and Minnesota is quite uninspiring, but they each have a solid group of young players that should make them worth watching.

American League West

1. Oakland Athletics

Record: 90-72

2. Texas Rangers

Record: 88-74

3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Record: 86-76

4. Seattle Mariners

Record: 81-81

5. Houston Astros

Record: 63-99

Think of the AL Central as the lite version of the AL West. Again there’s a sizable cluster at the top here, but the A’s, Rangers, and Angels all have 90+ win ceilings and there is no clear separation between them.

Unlike the Central, the West has a fourth team that could be competitive in the Mariners. While I don’t think they’re on the same level as the “big three”, they should be a solid, above-.500 team.

Of course, the A’s, Rangers, Angels, and Mariners all benefit from beating up on the Astros, who figure to have another rough year ahead.

Playoffs

AL Wild Card: Red Sox over Rangers

AL Divisional: Rays over Red Sox

AL Divisional: A’s over Tigers

AL Championship: Rays over A’s

 

NL Wild Card: Pirates over Braves

NL Divisional: Nationals over Pirates

NL Divisional: Dodgers over Cardinals

NL Championship: Nationals over Dodgers

 

World Series: Nationals over Rays

While the end result may be a bit clichéd (everyone seems to be picking this World Series matchup this year), I did pick this same matchup last year, and I don’t feel like giving up just yet. I really just think these are the two best teams in baseball, and each have rosters conducive for deep playoff runs.

Awards

AL MVP: Mike Trout

Duh.

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale

There’s a number of top-tier starters in the AL this year, but I ultimately see the award coming down to either Yu Darvish or Sale, who I believe are the two best arms in the league. Familiar faces such as Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Max Sherzer should also be in the race.

AL Rookie of the Year: Erik Johnson

The AL is loaded with elite freshmen this year such as Xander Bogaerts, Yordano Ventura, and Nick Castellanos, but I went with a slightly less-heralded name in Johnson who has a rotation spot locked down and could produce right out of the gate due to his high floor.

NL MVP: Joey Votto

There isn’t really anybody that stands out like Trout does in the AL, but I think Votto is a fairly safe bet (well, as safe as you can get when predicting a subjective award) due to his consistent elite level offensive performance.

NL Cy Young: Jose Fernandez

Clayton Kershaw’s recent injury makes this decision a lot easier, as does Fernandez’s season debut.

NL Rookie of the Year: Kolten Wong

The NL isn’t as stacked as the AL, but Wong is already an advanced hitter and will get the first crack at the Cardinals’ second base job.

Spring Training Scouting Notes

Jose Abreu was impressive in a limited viewing.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to make my third annual trip down to Arizona for Spring Training. Sitting through five games over three days in the Arizona heat was grueling, but just the fact that baseball was back made it all worthwhile.

I took quite a bit of notes on a number of players for a number of teams*, and what follows are some of my takeaways from this year’s Spring Training visit.

*My Angels takeaways are not included here, but can be found at Halos Daily.

San Diego Padres

  • The Padres had former Cardinals farmhand Ryan Jackson playing third when I was there. This was a bit surprising considering that Jackson is generally thought of as a plus defender, though it could simply have been to get both him and incumbent shortstop Everth Cabrera on the field at the same time. At third, Jackson is an easy plus to plus-plus defender with outstanding instincts, a plus arm, and more than enough range. The question with Jackson will always be if he can hit, and it appears that time is running out for him to answer that, as he is nearly 26 and slated to once again serve in a reserve role. If Cabrera does manage to get hurt, we could finally see Jackson in a full-time role since he is the only other true shortstop option that San Diego currently possesses.
  • Speaking of Everth Cabrera, he looked like a well below-average offensive option when I saw him, though he impressed on defense (with plus range and arm strength), as well as the base paths (easy 70 grade speed). Cabrera posted a 3.1 WAR last season despite playing just 95 games due to injury. His 113 wRC+ appears unsustainable, as it is more than 20 points above his career norm, and he lucked out a bit with a .337 BABIP. Still, Cabrera managed to slash his strikeout rate by more than 5% while posting a career-best .097 ISO. Odds are Cabrera won’t be able to reproduce his All-Star 2013 season, but a .270/.330/.350 line is feasible, and when combined with his stellar defense and value added on the base paths (80% career stolen base success rate), he could prove to once again be an above-average option this year.
  • One player I was very impressed by was 25-year-old Jedd Gyorko, who had a 110 wRC+ and 2.5 WAR as a rookie last season. Gyorko looked great at the plate, with a short, compact swing that allows him to barrel up the ball and hit line drive after line drive. The plus power is there, though I’d still expect him to be more of a 40 double guy than a 25-30 home run guy down the road (he hit 23 last season). His approach at the plate is extremely advanced for someone with less than 600 big league plate appearances, as he shows the ability to hit for a .300+ average with strong on-base skills due to plus pitch recognition. While Gyorko’s bat looked very promising, I had an idea of what it was going in, so I was more surprised by how well he appears to have gotten acclimated to second base. Primarily a third baseman in the minors, the Padres made him a full time second baseman before last season, and he played 1,008 of his 1,100 defensive innings at second last year, showing a decent, yet below-average skillset. However, Gyorko appears to have approved to the point where he is no longer a liability at the position, showing above-average range, a big step up from where he was last season. Gyroko will never contend for a Gold Glove award (or, more importantly, a Fielding Bible award), but he’s capable enough that he could add a couple runs on defense every year.

Seattle Mariners

  • Upon seeing him, it’s easy to see why Kyle Seager has been worth approximately 7 WAR over the past two years. With a fantastic approach at the plate, Seager is capable of providing value through both his on-base ability and plus power. He hit multiple line drives off Angels’ lefty CJ Wilson in my viewing, displaying his outstanding gap power that could eventually lead to a few 40 double seasons down the road. He isn’t the greatest contact hitter, but the contact he does make is loud, and his average of 21 home runs over the last couple years is something that should continue. He’s just 26, so Seager still has the potential to grow offensively, and the Mariners could have a .270/.345/.440 hitter at some point in the near future.

Los Angeles Dodgers

    • Right-hander Jose Dominguez looked great in a one-inning relief appearance against the White Sox, striking out two and popping his usual high-90′s fastballs (I’ve seen him hit 100). While Dominguez has shown a consistent ability to miss bats, I do worry about his lack of a second pitch, as his slider can be inconsistent, and he rarely throws his changeup. Dominguez will always be able to shut down opposing batters with his heater, but as teams get more looks at him, he is going to need to come up with a second plus pitch to offset his fastball, which he threw 80% of the time during nine-game call-up last season. Another concern for Dominguez would be his lack of stamina. While this may not effect him too much considering that he is more of a one-inning shutdown reliever, it could effect him as the season wears on and his arm begins to tire.
    • I did manage to get a decent look at Cuban import Alexander Guerrero, who the Dodgers plan to have as their everyday second baseman at some point this season. Guerrero has a long, powerful swing which could enable him to reach 20-25 home runs if he makes enough contact (a big if), but also leaves enough holes in his swing to make him prone to the strikeout. He had surprisingly strong pitch recognition, and he has proven to be quite passive, taking the first pitch in nearly every single one of his at-bats so far. He can be eager at times, but I’d like to chalk that up to Spring Training jitters. Defensively, Guerrero had considerable range, and though he isn’t quite good enough to stick at shortstop, he should be a more than capable second baseman.  The early signs look positive for Guerrero, but it is still far from a sure thing that he will be able to hit stateside pitching. There’s the potential for a first-division regular here if the bat comes around.
    • Since his breakout 2011 season, I’ve been pretty pessimistic towards Joc Pederson’s chances of being more than a fourth outfielder, but I think I may finally be coming around on him. In a limited viewing, Pederson looked like he could be an above-average outfielder, preferably in right although he’s playable in center. He was very advanced at the plate, displaying a strong natural hit tool that I’d grade out as above-average to go along with plus power. He’s also an easy 55 runner, and I could see a few 20-20 seasons down the road for him. Pederson is true five-tool talent, pretty much above-average across the board, though he lacks a single stand out tool. My one qualm with Pederson is his historic inability to hit left-handed pitching , though I’m optimistic that he can improve enough that it won’t be as glaring as it is now.
    • I was pleasantly surprised to see the Dodgers bring in a few minor leaguers during last Saturday’s (the 15th) afternoon game against San Diego. Among the players who got into the game were Jonathan Garcia and Darnell Sweeney, two players who I saw quite a bit of last summer. I didn’t get to see much of either of them, but it was nice to see a couple guys who you saw in A-ball play in a big league game of some capacity.
    • Of course, the main draw to Saturday’s game was Julio Urias’s one-inning start at the age of 17. Urias looked as good as can be, getting three quick outs, including two strikeouts, against a trio of guys who should spend all of 2014 at the big league level (Chris Denorfia, Yonder Alonso, and Will Venable). Urias still has quite a bit of development ahead of him, but he may be the most advanced 17-year-old in the world right now, and he could reach the majors at some point in 2015 at the age of 19. One concern I have heard regarding Urias is his lack of projection. Despite being just 5’11″ and 160 pounds (listed measurements), Urias may have already maxed out physically, so its’ probably a little too optimistic to expect him to add a tick to his fastball which currently sits between 91 and 95 MPH. Due to his limitations, Urias projects more as a number two or three starter than an ace, but he has a much higher likelihood of reaching his ceiling than elite prospects of the same age. He will need to refine his repertoire this season, and I should be seeing plenty of him at High-A Rancho Cucamonga. Just to add one more thing on Urias, he does suffer from vision issues due to ptosis in his left eye, but that has yet to effect him on the mound, so it should be of little concern going forward.

Chicago White Sox

  • Third base prospect Matt Davidson looked solid, showing the offensive potential for 30 doubles, 20 home runs, and a mid-.300′s OBP down the road. He will always be a guy that strikes out a considerable amount, but the power and plate discipline make him a future above-average play at third base.
  • Jose Abreu went just one-for-three, but I was impressed by his pure strength and hittability. He’s going to have a lot of swing and miss in his game, but his raw power is just so obvious that if he can tap into it, the strikeouts really won’t matter too much. He won’t be hitting .280 with 30+ home runs right away, but I could see him reaching that performance level by 2015.

You can follow Justin Millar on twitter at @justinmillar1, or email him at Justinmillar1@gmail.com.

How many stars do you need to win a championship?

The 2005 White Sox won the World Series despite not having a single player reach 5.0 WAR.

For decades now, pundits and fans alike have asserted that baseball teams need stars in order to win. Yes, it certainly helps to have a star or two, but is it more valuable to have depth? For example, would you rather have a lineup chalk full of 2.0 WAR (18 total WAR) players or one with a 6.0 WAR player, a 5.0 WAR player, and a supporting cast of 1.0 WAR players (also 18 total WAR)?

Personally, I’d take the depth, as to not be so dependent on a pair of players. If one goes down, then it can screw up your entire season.

Of course, if you prefer the theory of utilizing a star-studded core over depth, it begs the question: exactly how many stars do you need to compete for a championship?

In an attempt to answer this question, let’s go back through recent history and see what it tells us. Using wins above replacement (WAR)*, we will tally how many stars each World Series winner and loser had since 2000. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll define a “star” as a player who posts a minimum of 5.0 WAR in that given season. We’ll also quantify the number of 3-5 WAR players and 2-3 WAR players to characterize depth.

*To keep it consistent, we will be using Baseball-Reference WAR.

2013 Boston Red Sox (Record: 97-65)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Ellsbury, Victorino, Pedroia)

3-5 WAR players: 6

2-3 WAR players: 3

The defending World Series champs were absolutely loaded. On offense, they had 12 players accrue 200+ plate appearances, and just one (Will Middlebrooks) posted an OPS+ below 110. With an extremely deep starting lineup and a wide range of above-average bench options, it is no wonder that they won the World Series.

As for their pitching, the Red Sox had a phenomenal bullpen led by Koji Uehara, and a deep rotation featuring Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Jake Peavy among others. While just one Red Sox pitcher (Buchholz) reached the 4 WAR plateau, the team did have a bevy of above-average pitching options. Depth was clearly their calling card with their pitching staff, especially when you consider that they really had at minimum of 6 quality rotation options.

2013 St. Louis Cardinals (Record: 97-65)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Molina, Wainwright, Carpenter)

3-5 WAR players: 1

2-3 WAR players: 4

Much like their World Series counterpart, the 2013 Cardinals rode an extremely deep offense that had an above-average option at nearly every position (shortstop excluded). Also like the Red Sox, the Cardinals’ pitching success was more based on depth than star power, as they only had one starter (Wainwright) top 3.5 WAR. However, a remarkable 10 pitchers were worth at least one win above replacement.

2012 San Francisco Giants (Record: 94-68)

5+ WAR players: 1 (Posey)

3-5 WAR players: 3

2-3 WAR players: 8

The Giants clearly had one absolute star in Buster Posey, who hit .336/.408/.549 with a 7.4 WAR en route to NL MVP honors. However, Posey was the only true star-level player on the 2012 Giants. With Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera, and Matt Cain, San Francisco had a trio of 3-5 win players, but where they really excelled was in the 2-3 WAR range where they had 8 different players reach that plateau. Just looking at position players, every player in the Giants’ starting lineup was worth at least 2 WAR, and that’s not even including Hunter Pence who was acquired mid-season (though he admittedly hit just .219/.287/.384). This is a clear example of depth leading to a championship.

2012 Detroit Tigers (Record: 93-69)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Cabrera, Verlander, Jackson)

3-5 WAR players: 3

2-3 WAR players: 2

The Tigers were almost polar opposites of their World Series foe. This team revolved around a nucleus of Cabrera and Verlander, both of whom put up otherworldly seasons worth 7.3 and 7.8 WAR, respectively. Austin Jackson also enjoyed an excellent season (5.5 WAR), and both Prince Fielder (4.9) and Max Sherzer (4.2) were near the star-level range. However, outside of the aforementioned quintet plus Doug Fister (3.3), Alex Avila (2.5), and Andy Dirks (2.3), the Tigers were running out replacement level players at a number of positions. Quintin Berry, Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young, and Omar Infante all received significant playing time. The team even gave Ryan Raburn and his 29 OPS+ 222 plate appearances. Read the rest of this entry

Best One-Year Deals in Recent Memory

Adrian Beltre signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox in 2009, and one year later, he received a five-year, $80 million contract from the Rangers.

Every year, for one reason or another, numerous players sign one-year deals on the free agent market. Some are veterans looking to regain some of their value in order to hit the market the following offseason with a much higher stock. Others are aging players looking to keep their dimming careers alive. Some are forced to sign short-term deals simply because they aren’t good enough to warrant such a large commitment.

The ultimate goal of any team handing out these deals is to get results that far exceed the contract’s value (duh), and when they hit on one, both the player and team can walk away as huge winners. Over the past half decade, there has been little exception to this rule, as quite a few organizations have been lucky enough to strike gold with these low-risk, high-upside contracts. So, in order to gauge the recent history of successful one-year contracts*, let’s look back at the best such deals signed from the winter of 2008 to 2012.

*This is not including players who signed one-year deals with contract options attached, excluding such success stories as Koji Uehara, Fernando Rodney, and Francisco Liriano

2009 Andy Pettitte

Contract: $5.5 Million with NYY

Coming off two consecutive 200+ inning, 4+ WAR seasons with the Yankees, Pettitte, then 37, decided to re-up with New York for one more year, and the deal turned out to be a steal for the Yankees. Taking a $10.5 million pay cut from the year prior (he made $16 million in 2008), Pettitte was pretty much his usual self. Dropping below the 200 inning mark for the first time since 2004 (he still managed to throw 194.2 innings), Pettitte went 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA (111 ERA+), and 3.6 WAR. This won’t be the last time you see Pettitte mentioned in this article.

2009 Bobby Abreu

Contract: $5 Million with LAA

Abreu was still quite productive in his third and final season with the Yankees in 2008, notching a 125 wRC+, .369 wOBA, and 2.7 WAR, while hitting 39 doubles, 20 bombs, scoring 100 runs, and driving in another 100. However, his age was clearly showing on the defensive side of the ball, as he put up an atrocious negative 11 DRS (defensive runs saved) as New York’s regular right fielder.

He ended up leaving New York for a severe pay cut with the Angels ($16 million in 2008 to $5 million in ’09), where he would anchor a lineup that at one point in mid-August ran out a starting lineup that consisted of nine players with a .300 batting average or better (all were regulars, so this wasn’t like some career 1-for-3 guy was in there). In his first season with the Angels (he would remain in Anaheim through April of 2012), Abreu was once again an offensive force, as he went on to hit .293/.390/.435 with a 120 wRC+ and 3.2 WAR, easily exceeding his $5 million price tag.

2009 Randy Wolf

Contract: $5 Million with LAD

Coming off several sub-par seasons (93 ERA+ from 2005-2008), the 32-year-old Wolf signed on with the Dodgers, where he would go on to lead the league in starts (34), tossing 214.1 innings of 3.23 ERA ball (124 ERA+), enabling him to accrue a 3.9 WAR. Following the season, Wolf would turn his rebound campaign into a three-year, $29.75 million deal with the Brewers. Not bad.  Read the rest of this entry

Scouting Report: Travis Jankowski

Padres outfield prospect Travis Jankowski

Name: Travis Jankowski

Position: CF

Organization/School: San Diego Padres

DOB: 6/15/1991

Height: 6’2”

Bats: L

MLB ETA: Late 2015

Weight: 190

Throws: R

Team: Lake Elsinore Storm (High-A)

Date(s) Seen: Multiple times spring/summer of 2013

Filed by: Justin Millar

How Acquired: 1st round (supp.) of 2012 draft (44th overall)

Have Video? Yes

Physical/Health

Long, lanky frame. Could stand to fill out a bit more. Gazelle-like body gives good idea of tools on the field.

Hit Tool

Contact-oriented approach. Rarely makes hard contact. Uses speed to collect infield hits. Average hit tool isn’t out of the question, but more likely to be in the fringe-average range.

Grade: Present 35/ Future 45

Power

Pretty much non-existent power, as evidenced by just two career minor league home runs and 29 doubles in 183 games. Lack of muscular build hinders overall projection. Will likely never hit double-digit home runs.

Grade: Present 25/ Future 30

Glove

Speed allows for exceptional range. Decent instincts, and ability to cover plenty of ground may lead to a plus defensive profile. Still slightly raw.

Grade: Present 45/ Future 60

Arm

Fringe-average arm strength is suitable for center field.

Grade: Present 45/ Future 45

Other

Decent plate discipline. Walked 54 times in 122-game 2013 campaign. Game will be predicated on speed/defensive profile. Not much here in the way of offensive optimism. Tremendous value on the basepaths.

Baserunning/Speed

71 stolen bases in 2013. Plus speed is calling card. Plays to plus-plus due to excellent reads and overall quickness. Should be among stolen-base leaders at highest level given a healthy amount of plate appearances.

Grade: Present 65/ Future 65

Overall

The speed-oriented outfielder will likely head to Double-A in 2014, as he looks to make enough offensive progress to enhance the potential profile. Value will always be tied up in outstanding speed and range in center field. Plus defense should allow him to stick for few years as at least a 5th outfielder. Could be a regular if hit tool makes any advances.

OFP: 45; 4th/5th outfielder

Risk Factor: Medium; Low-minors profile, but should be safe(ish) bet to reach majors just based on potential utility of speed/defense

You can follow Justin Millar on twitter at @justinmillar1, or email him at Justinmillar1@gmail.com.

The Return of Grady Sizemore

Sizemore last played in the majors in 2011.

The Boston Red Sox made us all feel a bit nostalgic on Wednesday when they signed former All-Star, and cautionary injury tale, Grady Sizemore to one year, major league contract worth $750,000. With incentives, he has the potential to earn up to $6 million this season.

Sizemore, of course, was once one of the most promising and explosive young players in the game. From 2005 to 2008, his age 22-25 seasons, Sizemore was a truly dynamic five-tool talent with excellent defensive skills in center field and a bat that could play well above-average at any position. During that four-year stint, Sizemore hit .281/.372/.496 with a 128 OPS+, .373 wOBA, 129 wRC+, and a 26.9 WAR. He averaged 41 doubles, 27 home runs, 116 runs scored, 84 walks, and a 6.7 WAR per season during that span. He was essentially Mike Trout-lite*.

*Interestingly enough, Sizemore was a common comparison to Trout as the latter was climbing the ranks of the minors. Of course, Trout has exceeded even the wildest of expectations.

sizemore

Click to enlarge.

Then, it all came crashing down.

In 2009, Sizemore injured both his groin and elbow at the start of Spring Training, and though he would still play 106 games that year (hitting a solid, but non-Sizemore-like .248/.343/.445), he clearly wasn’t the same player. He elected to undergo season-ending surgery on his elbow in early September. Just a week after that surgery, he would undergo another, this time to treat a sports hernia.

2010 was a heartbreaking affair for both Sizemore and the Indians, as he would injure his left knee and undergo a season-ending microfracture surgery just over a month into the season. He would return to the Indians in April of 2011, but would spend time on the DL in both May and July before having to have yet another sports hernia surgery. He would return for 10 games in September, but wound up playing a total of just 71 games on the season, hitting a pedestrian .224/.285/.422, albeit with 10 home runs and 21 doubles.

After declining their club option on him for 2012, the Indians re-signed Sizemore to a one-year, $5 million deal that winter, but he would undergo back surgery in Spring Training, and following a series of setbacks to both his back and knee, he had yet another microfracture surgery that September, and wound up missing the entirety of the season.

Entering what is now his age 31 season, Sizemore serves as a cautionary tale to any team with a young, elite-level talent. He was at the top of the baseball world in 2008, but just four years later he was out of a job.

Still, the Red Sox decided to take a gamble on him, and I have to say, I really like it. With Jackie Bradley jr, Shane Victorino, and Daniel Nava set as the starting outfielders this year, and Johnny Gomes as a solid back-up in the corners and at DH, the Red Sox won’t have to force him into a high-volume role until they feel he’s ready. The reward here clearly outweighs the risk, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if Sizemore recovers some of his old form.

You can follow Justin Millar on twitter at @justinmillar1, or email him at Justinmillar1@gmail.com.

Scouting Report: Corey Seager

Dodgers shortstop prospect Corey Seager

Name: Corey Seager

Position: SS

Organization/School: Los Angeles Dodgers

DOB: 4/27/1994

Height: 6’4”

Bat:s L

MLB ETA: 2015

Weight: 215

Throws: R

Team: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (High-A)

Date(s) Seen: Multiple times spring/summer of 2013

Filed by: Justin Millar

How Acquired: 1st round of 2012 draft (18th overall)

Have Video? Yes

Physical/Health

Large frame, but has yet to fill out. Could end up a colossal human being which may force a move off short. Quick despite his size.

Hit Tool

Strong bat-to-ball abilities. Makes plenty of hard contact. Slightly long swing, but nothing to be too concerned about. Just a pure hitter who has a very advanced feel at the plate.

Grade: Present 45/ Future 60

Power

Currently a line drive oriented swing that should allow for plenty of gap power. As his body adds muscle, he should develop more over-the-fence power. Potential for 20+ home runs annually.

Grade: Present 45/ Future 60

Glove

Solid defender at short with good footwork, sound instincts, and a decent amount of range. Not a fast guy, but quick on his feet and can make plays. Average defender at short, but due to his size, he will likely move over to third, where he could be a plus defender.

Grade: Present 40/ Future 50 (at short), Present 40/ Future 60 (at third)

Arm

True plus arm that plays great on the left side of the infield. A weapon that makes up for a lack speed defensively.

Grade: Present 60/ Future 60

Other

Average plate discipline; will get his fair share of walks. High baseball IQ with plus makeup and excellent blood lines, as brother is Mariners’ third baseman Kyle Seager.

Baserunning/Speed

Below average speed; may lose a step or two as he fills out. Won’t ever be a threat on the base paths.

Grade: Present 45/ Future 45

Overall

Seager is just a natural hitter who should develop plenty of power, potentially allowing him to hit ~.290 with 20+ home runs per year. Will always have plenty of gap power, and could post OBPs in the .350-.360 range.

That said, his ultimate potential depends on where he winds up defensively. Bat will allow him to be a superstar at short, but odds are he moves to third, where he still has All-Star potential. Glove could be plus there. Easy top 25 prospect in baseball (maybe higher) who will be a stud no matter where he ends up. I’ve seen him a handful of times now, and he has yet to disappoint.

OFP: 65 All-Star; role 70 if he sticks at short, but due to position scarcity, overall value will be a tick below that at third. Huge talent.

Risk Factor: High; yet to reach Double-A; still a teenager

Regression Candidates Part 1: Position Players

Marlon Byrd’s outstanding 2013 campaign has been largely fueled by a .353 BABIP.

Every year, for a variety of reasons, a multitude of players break out and seemingly emerge out of irrelevancy to post stellar individual campaigns. Sometimes, these players turn into your Jose Bautista’s or Josh Hamilton’s (pre-2013) of the world, players disparaged in years of mediocrity only to turn into perennial All-Stars overnight.

Yet, more often than not, these “break out” players tend to go down the path of Brady Anderson rather than that of Cliff Lee. This isn’t to say that these players fail to ever produce value again at the major league level, but rather that they are unable to replicate their outlier campaigns.

In 2013, we saw quite a few names (some old, some new) burst out and post well above-average seasons. And while some will likely continue to perform at a high level, others are destined to see a decline in their production. So, as the title of this article indicates, here are a few players that could be in store for some regression in 2014 after playing at a rather high level in 2013.

Marlon Byrd, OF Phillies

After years of consistent, league-average production, Marlon Byrd had an absolutely horrid 2012, as he hit just .210/.243/.245 with a -1.0 WAR in 48 games before testing positive for a performance enhancing drug, and receiving a 50-game suspension that kept him out for the remainder of the season. On February 1st, 2013, Byrd signed a minor-league deal with the New York Mets, and ultimately made the club out of spring training. He proceeded to have the best season of his career. At age 35, Byrd posted his first 5.0 WAR season of his career, as he hit .291/.335/.511 (138 OPS+) with 24 home runs in 147 games for the Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates. For his efforts, the Philadelphia Phillies signed him to a two-year, $16 million contract, with the potential for him to earn up to $24 million via a 2016 vesting option.

Byrd’s deal with the Phillies was widely panned from the get-go, mostly due to the utter question mark that is the Philadelphia Phillies’ motives. From a purely objective standpoint the deal makes sense, as the contract is essentially expecting him to be worth just 3.0 WAR over the next two years, which he is very capable of. Yet, if the Phillies are thinking they will be getting the 2013 version of Byrd, then, well… that’s Ruben Amaro for you.

Byrd’s stellar 2013 campaign was largely fueled by a rather high .353 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), by far the highest of his career over a full season. He absolutely shouldn’t be expected to do that again, with his 2014 BABIP likely normalizing in the .315 range. Read the rest of this entry

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