2015 Division Preview – American League Central

Upper Deck Insight 30 March 2015 | 0 Comments


Welcome to part five of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series. Today’s focus is on the AL Central.

Defending Champion

Detroit Tigers

Past Five Champions

2014 - Detroit

2013 – Detroit

2012 – Detroit

2011 – Detroit

2010 – Minnesota

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 92.0

Best Player

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

By all accounts the Tigers slugger had a down year in 2014.  But for Cabrera, a down year is relative: .313 average, .895 OPS, 25 HR, 109 RBI – all top-10 (or near top-10) numbers in the AL.  Though he might be starting to show some signs of decline, as evidenced by the ankle issues that plagued him all year, he is still the cream of the crop.  Consider this: he has finished in the top-15 in MVP voting for 10 consecutive years.  If he can lead an aging Tigers squad back to the playoffs once again, expect to see that number reach 11.

Honourable Mention: Jose Abreu, White Sox; Michael Brantley, Indians

Best Pitcher

Chris Sale, White Sox

Chris Sale has to be wondering what it will take to capture a Cy Young award.  He has been arguably the best pitcher in the American League over the past three seasons (40-26, 626 strikeouts, 2.79 ERA) but has been eclipsed in each of those years by some outstanding individual seasons by others (Price, Scherzer, Kluber).  As a consolation prize he takes my award for the AL Central’s best pitcher.  He topped the AL last season in both ERA+ (178) and K/9 (10.8), and posted career best numbers in both ERA (2.17) and WHIP (0.97).  He will miss the beginning of 2015 with a broken foot but might be pitching for a contender when he returns.

Honourable Mention: David Price, Tigers; Corey Kluber, Indians

Three Storylines For 2015

1. What Can Kansas City Do For an Encore?

The Kansas City Royals were baseball’s darlings last season.  After making the playoffs for the first time since 1985, they promptly put on a pair of glass slippers and danced all the way to game 7 of the World Series.  It was an incredible run that included a remarkable Wild Card win over Oakland in perhaps the best game of the year.  The young core that everybody in baseball was waiting to arrive finally came together.  So what do they have in store for 2015?  A big challenge.  The enter the year missing several key components of last year’s team, most notably ace James Shields, but also Nori Aoki and long-time DH Billy Butler.  Both will be missed.  Can Alex Rios return to his younger form?  Can Edinson Volquez help replace Shields?  Will last year’s long run have a negative impact on the power arms in the bullpen?  KC may need positive answers to all of those questions to find their way back to October.

2. Wheelin’ and Dealin’ in Chicago

Something got into the executives in the Windy City this offseason.  The Cubs took the prize for busiest National League team, and the White Sox won the AL prize.  They made a few huge moves to improve their pitching, including dealing for Jeff Samardzija, and signing both David Robertson and Zach Duke.  They also brought in Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera to add to a lineup that includes last year’s rookie of the year Jose Abreu.  That means both the offense and the defense should be better, and for a team that won 73 games last year, that also might mean a big turnaround is in order.  In a division that looks wide open, that just might make them contenders.

3. A Crumbling Dynasty? 

The Detroit Tigers have been an AL Central dynasty in recent years.  They have finished .500 or better in six consecutive seasons, capturing four straight division crowns.  But they have been unable to win in the playoffs mainly due to a weak bullpen.  So with some solid closers available for hire in the offseason, it was a little bit surprising that Detroit decided to keep Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, and Al Alburquerque as their key relievers.  To add to their list of potential problems is the fact that two of their perennial MVP candidates look to be fading a bit.  Cabrera’s numbers were down across the board last year, and he is coming off offseason ankle surgery.  Justin Verlander had one of the worst years of his career, with his velocity and strikeouts way down, and his ERA way up.  Couple that with the loss of Max Scherzer to free agency and the Tigers, for the first time in years, just might be vulnerable.

Interesting Stat

Joe Nathan and success have gone hand-in-hand for most of his career….except for last season.  Of all American League closers, Nathan’s 35 saves were 5th most in the league – but that is where the good news ends.  He blew seven saves (tied for the most), and his 4.81 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, and -0.2 WAR were the worst by far.  If Nathan falters, the next man in line might be Joakim Soria, who was Texas’ closer before being acquired by the Tigers at last year’s deadline.  The problem?  His WAR of -0.1 wasn’t much better than Nathan’s.  In a division that already had Glen Perkins and Greg Holland, and acquired David Robertson in the offseason, Detroit’s end-game options must be better.

Who Should Win


Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column in early April.

The Best Day Ever – The Eighth Annual Fantasy Baseball Auto Draft

500 Level Fun 27 March 2015 | 0 Comments


Fantasy baseball draft cheat sheets?

Throw ‘em away.

All your research on position scarcity?

Don’t need it.

Projections, sleepers, busts, and breakout players?

Burn ‘em.

If you are a hardcore fantasy baseball fan, stay away.  This is not the draft for you.

But if you are a man who enjoys heavy drinking, chicken wings, disgusting shots, and watching a tiny computer screen automatically select baseball players for your team, then get ready.  Buckle up.

Tomorrow brings with it one of the greatest days on the baseball calendar – the 8th annual PEGS fantasy baseball league auto draft.

What makes this league so unique from others?  Why is this league, the one that I play in each year that requires no draft strategy, my ultimate favourite?  Please, join me in the ultimate guide to the auto draft to find out.

The History

It all started in 2008 when a group of 10 friends decided to set up a fantasy baseball league.  The draft was set for 5 pm on a Wednesday.  Each member of the league planned to stay in the office late in order to draft from work.  Unfortunately, it turned out that the majority of the league was blocked from running Java, meaning they couldn’t access Yahoo’s live draft.

So, instead of drafting, the members of the league convened at a pub and drank multiple pitchers of beer, logged into a laptop, and watched as Yahoo automatically filled our rosters.  The amount of fun, joy, and hilarity that ensued was unexpected, but amazing.

The auto draft was born.

The Draft

From that point on, it was decided that the league would continue each year, and the auto draft would continue as well.  In order to keep the draft standard each year, the following rules were established:

– Only one member of the league is allowed to log in, and only one laptop can be used

– No member of the league is allowed to alter his pre-draft rankings.  Doing so results in his execution (figuratively).

– Every pick must be made by the Yahoo auto draft system.

– The draft must take place at a pub.  Every member of the league must either be there in person, or at least be there in spirit (via text).

– Each member of the league who is at the bar must drink a least three beers, though the commissioner (me) would prefer to see everybody have at least twelve.

The League

Believe it or not, it takes some very shrewd managing to win the league.  Since all teams are essentially random, the GM who makes the best free agent pickups and trades will rise to the top.

In addition, the man who comes in last place faces one of two punishments:

1. He must purchase a round of rye shots for the entire league at the next year’s draft, or

2. He is ruthlessly cut from the league, tarred and feathered and paraded through the streets.

The Penalty Shots

Before the draft the league nominates several players, debates them, and ultimately confirms a final list.  Whenever any of those pre-determined players are drafted, the owner who is stuck with that player must drink a pre-determined shot.  In 2011, there were a total of six penalty shots.  In every year since the number has been expanding.  This year we are up to 14.  Meet this year’s penalty shot nominees:

– Jonathan “The Self Cleaning Anus” Papelbon

– Nick “Douche Canoe” Swisher

– Alex “Who gives an eff” Rios

– Brett Lawrie

– Josh Hamilton

– Max Scherzer

– Prince Fielder

– Starlin Castro

– Ervin Santana

– Adam Lind

– Nelson Cruz

– Joe Nathan

– A-Rod

– Any Player Named Greg (including Greg, Gregory, Gregerson, etc.)

The list of potential shots is endless, but will definitely include Rye, Jack Daniels, Tequila, Captain Morgan, Jagermeister, Goldschlager, Hawaiian Lion, and a Bear Fight (made of an Irish Car Bomb immediately followed by a Jagr bomb, as shown below).  Good luck gents.

bear fight

The Trades

As mentioned, it is important to be active in the trade market to win this league.  Trading, especially at the draft, and especially before the draft is over, is highly encouraged.

Each year at least one trade has been made during the draft.  Generally these trades are completely random, such as a 21st rounder and a 24th rounder for a 22nd  rounder and a 23rd rounder.  Generally these trades turn out to be ill-advised, including a few years back when a meaningless swap of 23rd rounders ended up not being so meaningless when Mike Trout exploded onto the scene.  Or last year, when one member of the league, a die-hard Detroit Tiger fan, unknowingly traded away Miguel Cabrera, and spend the next 90 minutes wiping away tears streaming down his cheeks.

The Final Words

Tomorrow’s draft takes place at Gabby’s on King East in Toronto.  The fun gets going at 6:00.

Who will be this year’s champion and join this exclusive list?

2008 – The Forward Claps

2009 – ionionionionionion

2010 – Bear Fights

2011 – The Five Holers

2012 – Dad’s Magic Wiener

2013 – Pupusa Power

2014 – GOD

We’ll find out soon enough.

To all my competitors in the league – get ready.  It’s time.

2015 Division Preview – American League West

Upper Deck Insight 25 March 2015 | 0 Comments


Welcome to part four of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series.  Today’s focus is on the AL West.

Defending Champion

Los Angeles Angels

Past Five Champions

2014 – Los Angeles

2013 – Oakland

2012 – Oakland

2011 – Texas

2010 – Texas

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 94.8

Best Player

Mike Trout, Angels

All you need to know about how good Mike Trout is, is this: 2014 was his worst major league season.  How bad was it?  Take a look: .287 AVG, .939 OPS, 36 HR, 111 RBI, 115 R, 16 SB, 7.9 WAR.  He also won the American League MVP award for the first time.  If that is what he can do at his worst, there’s no doubt he is the best in the division – not only now, but maybe even for the next decade.

Honourable Mention: Robinson Cano, Mariners; Adrian Beltre, Rangers

Best Pitcher

Felix Hernandez, Mariners

2014 was another dominant year in the career of one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation.  King Felix went 15-6 and led the league with a 2.14 ERA and 0.91 WHIP, while adding an impressive 248 strikeouts.  More importantly, he was finally able to pitch at a high level for a contending team.  Unfortunately for Hernandez, the year ended in very narrow disappointment on two fronts: the Mariners missed out on the playoffs by one game, and he was pipped by Corey Kluber for the Cy Young.  Those disappointments might give him added fuel to dominate in 2015, which should be scary news for the rest of the AL West.

Honourable Mention: Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners; Sonny Gray, Athletics

Three Storylines For 2015

1. Can Trout Get Even Better?

As mentioned already, Mike Trout had his worst statistical season last year, yet still came away with the MVP award and a division title.  That his Angels were upset in the playoffs by the magical Royals team that went to the World Series should only drive Trout forward more.  Which begs the question: what else can he do?  In his three full seasons, he has dominated every aspect of the game. He hits for power and average, he steals bases, he makes highlight reel defensive plays.  The only thing he has yet to do, however, is hit in the playoffs.  In last year’s sweep by the Royals, Trout hit a mere .083 with only 1 hit and 3 walks.  The Angels are still the division favourite, but with an aging Pujols and a relapsing Hamilton, Trout might need to be better than ever in order to get a chance to prove he can hit in the postseason.

2. Mysterious Oakland

Billy Beane has been known to make crazy decisions and retool on the fly, so nobody should really have been surprised by what he did over the winter.  But what did make his roster transformation so shocking were both the number and magnitude of the moves he made.  Gone are Josh Donaldson, Derek Norris, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Brandon Moss, and others.  In are Ben Zobrist, Billy Butler, Tyler Clippard, Brett Lawrie, Marcus Semien, and Ike Davis.  Beane replaced almost half of the 2014 Wild Card team in a few months.  Are they better?  On paper, absolutely not.  But will they contend?  With a Beane team, you never know.

3. The Upward Mariners

After signing Robinson Cano to a huge free agent deal last winter, baseball experts and fans slammed Cano as being a money chaser, a player who didn’t care about winning.  That’s how far away Seattle looked from contention.  My oh my how things can change.  Seattle won 87 games last season, coming within a single win of reaching the AL Wild Card game.  Now, after making a free agent splash for the second straight winter with the acquisition of AL HR leader Nelson Cruz, they just might be poised to get over the top.  Cruz, Cano, and last season’s breakouts Kyle Seager and Dustin Ackley give them a mighty offense, and with King Felix, the pitching will also be sound.  And the division looks winnable as well, what with Oakland retooling, Texas already without Darvish, the Angels going through Josh Hamilton chaos, and the Astros still a few years away.  This could be the year.

Interesting Stat

That the Seattle Mariners finished one game out of a playoff spot last year is almost mircaculous when you consider the production of their DH.  Pick a category, any category, and the Mariners designated hitters were likely near or at the bottom of the American League.  Runs Scored?  Dead last, with 60.  Hits?  Dead last, 108.  Average, OBP, OPS, HR?  Last (.190), last (.266), last (.567), and 2nd last (15).  At a position where power hitting is supposed to be the norm, the .567 OPS put up by Seattle DH’s would have been the worst in the entire American League for a single player – by a mile.  Of the 76 batters who qualified for the batting title, Houston’s Matt Dominguez had the lowest OPS, .586.  All of which makes the signing of Nelson Cruz so massive.  If can come anywhere close to the .859 mark he put up last year, we might be seeing the Mariners in October.

Who Should Win


Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column in early April.

2015 Division Preview – National League East

Upper Deck Insight 19 March 2015 | 0 Comments


Welcome to part three of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series. Today’s focus is on the NL East.

Defending Champion

Washington Nationals

Past Five Champions

2014 – Washington

2013 – Atlanta

2012 – Washington

2011 – Philadelphia

2010 – Philadelphia

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 97.8

Best Player

Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

After taking a step back in 2013, Stanton broke out last year and proved that he is perhaps baseball’s most elite slugger.  He topped the NL with 37 HR, a .555 SLG, and 24 intentional walks, and added 105 RBI and a .950 OPS on top of that.  And that was after missing the final stretch of the season after getting hit in the face by a pitch.  His production earned him a Silver Slugger award, and a second place finish in NL MVP balloting.  It also earned him the most outrageous contract in sports: 13-years, $325-million.  Safe to say he’ll be around for a while.

Honourable Mention: Anthony Rendon, Nationals; Bryce Harper, Nationals

Best Pitcher

Max Scherzer, Nationals

He was the biggest fish available on the free agent market, and the Nationals took the bait, signing Scherzer to a 7-year, $210-million megadeal.  Scherzer began his career in the National League with the Diamondbacks, and his return to the senior circuit immediately makes him the best and most fearsome pitcher in the East.  Scherzer led the American League in wins for the second year in a row last year with 18, and though his rate stats fell from his Cy Young winning 2013, he more than made up for that with 252 strikeouts and 220.1 IP.  Scherzer joins a Nationals team that looks dominant on paper, hoping to pitch his way back to the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

Honourable Mention: Cole Hamels, Phillies; Stephen Strasburg, Nationals

Three Storylines For 2015

1. Washington Domination

The Nationals won the division in a landslide last season, finishing a whopping 17 games in front of the Mets and Braves.  This year, they just might win it by more.  They were already the best team heading into the winter, and then they added former Cy Young winner Scherzer to a rotation that already includes Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann.  Plus, they won by so much last year even with Bryce Harper struggling all season with injury and consistency.  Add the fact that the Braves and Phillies are in decline, the Mets just lost Zack Wheeler, and the Marlins won’t have Jose Fernandez for at least half the year, and this division race might be over before it even begins.

2. End of an Era

The Philadelphia Phillies were baseball’s model franchise for a long stretch of the mid-2000’s. They won five straight NL East titles, went to two World Series (winning one), and finished over .500 10 years in a row.  But those days are gone.  The last few seasons has been the start of Philly’s decline, and this year might be the worst yet.  The core that was so important to the glory days is either gone (Jimmy Rollins), aging (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard), or injured (Cliff Lee).  The only real difference maker on the roster is Cole Hamels, and if you believe the rumour mill, he will be wearing a different uniform by the trade deadline.  It seems like only a matter of time until GM Ruben Amaro blows it up and gets rid of Utley as well.  Let the rebuild begin.

3. Parade of Injured Pitchers

What is it with the NL East and pitching injuries?  The season hasn’t even begun yet, and two of the biggest difference makers are already gone, with Wheeler and Lee set to miss the entire season.  However, the two most important arms in the division are both scheduled to be back in the ’15 campaign, and how quickly they can get back to their normal, devastating selves will have a huge impact on whether or not there will be a division race.  Miami’s Jose Fernandez, one of the best young pitchers in the game, is slated to return in June or July from Tommy John surgery.  The 22-year old was in the midst of a dominant start last year when he was cut down, going 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA and 0.95 WHIP through 8 starts.  In New York, Matt Harvey is set to make his long anticipated return as well, after missing the entire 2014 season with Tommy John.  Harvey finished 4th in Cy Young voting in 2013 after a 9-5, 2.27 ERA line, and his presence atop the Mets rotation is mandatory if they are to take a step forward in 2015.

Interesting Stat

With the addition of Scherzer to their rotation, the Nationals have by far the most fearsome starting-5 in baseball.  The rotation is so good, that they are moving their best starter (in terms of WAR) to the bullpen.  That’s right, Washington’s best pitcher in 2014 was Tanner Roark, he of the 5.1 WAR, which ranked ahead of Zimmermann (4.9), Fister (4.5), Strasburg (3.5), and Gonzalez (2.3).  WAR might not be everybody’s idea of a perfect stat, but it does a great job of rank ordering the best of the best, and shows that Washington might want to think twice about who they demote to the pen.  If anything, it proves that the Nationals, alongside having baseball’s best rotation, also has baseball’s best insurance policy.

Who Should Win


Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column in early April.

2015 Division Preview – National League Central

Upper Deck Insight 17 March 2015 | 0 Comments

NL Central

Welcome to part two of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series. Today’s focus is on the NL Central, home to one of the most intriguing teams heading into 2015, the Chicago Cubs.

Defending Champion

St. Louis Cardinals

Past Five Champions

2014 – St. Louis

2013 – St. Louis

2012 – Cincinnati

2011 – Milwaukee

2010 – Cincinnati

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 94.2

Best Player

Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

It was just another banner year for Pirates leader Andrew McCutchen in 2014.  All he did was finish 4th in the NL with a 6.4 WAR, after posting a .314 average with 25 HR, 83 RBI, and 18 SB.  He led the league with a .410 OBP, .952 OPS, and 168 OPS+, while helping the Pirates reach the postseason for the second straight year.  McCutchen was named to his fourth straight All-Star game, and for the third year in a row he finished in the top-3 in NL MVP voting and was named a Silver Slugger.  There’s no reason to think he won’t repeat all of those accolades this year.

Honourable Mention: Carlos Gomez, Brewers; Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

Best Pitcher

Adam Wainwright, Cardinals

If not for Clayton Kershaw, I think Adam Wainwright might be universally recognized as the best pitcher in all of baseball.  All the Cardinals righty does is win, year in and year out.  Last season he reached the 20-win plateau for the second time in his career, and posted a career-best 2.38 ERA in 227 innings.  He finished 3rd in Cy Young voting and 8th in MVP voting, and led St. Louis back to the playoffs for the fifth time in his career and third year in a row.

Honourable Mention: Jon Lester, Cub; Johnny Cueto, Reds

Three Storylines For 2015

1. Is It Finally Next Year?

As each non-World Series winning season draws to  a close on the North side of Chicago, fans have been hoping that next year is the year where the Cubbies finally break their curse.  Sadly, Cubs fans have been waiting for next year since 1908.  But maybe, just maybe, finally, after over a century of futility, next year might be here.  After a few years spent acquiring high-end young talent through trades, the draft, and import free agents, GM Theo Epstein went out and brought in several win-now players, including David Ross, Miguel Montero, Dexter Fowler, and most importantly ace lefty Jon Lester.  Add to that the hiring of Joe Maddon as manager, and there is hope in Wrigleyville.  I’m not sure that this is the year it all comes together, but the window for contention is now officially open, and it might not be closing for a long time.

2. Pirate Juggernaut

Not since the early ’90’s have the words “Pirates” and “Juggernaut” been uttered in the same sentence.  But it’s true: after over two decades spent on the outside of the MLB postseason, the Pirates have qualified for October baseball two years in a row and seem poised to make it three in 2015, with quite possibly the best team yet.  Despite losing Russell Martin to free agency, the Pirates should be strong offensively with one of baseball’s best outfields (McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte), and a solid infield led by Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and 2014 batting champion Josh Harrison.  They also brought back A.J. Burnett, who dominated as a Pirate, and Francisco Liriano to team with breakout candidate Gerrit Cole, giving them a stacked top of the rotation.  And don’t forget about Korean import Jung Ho Kang, who is a true mystery.  This might finally be the year they get ahead of St. Louis.

3. Youth Is Served

There’s no doubt that baseball is becoming a young man’s game, with stars like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Giancarlo Stanton tearing up the league.  But for a collection of some of baseball’s very best young talent, look no further than the NL Central.  The following 26 years old and under stars and highly touted prospects could all be difference makers in 2015:

Pittsburgh: Gerrit Cole (24), Jameson Taillon (23), Starling Marte (26), Gregory Polanco (23)

Chicago: Javier Baez (22), Starlin Castro (24), Anthony Rizzo (25), Arimendy Alcantara (23), Jorge Soler (23), Kris Bryant (23)

Cincinnati: Billy Hamilton (24)

Milwaukee: Jean Segura (24)

St. Louis: Carlos Martinez (23), Trevor Rosenthal (24), Michael Wacha (23), Kolten Wong (24), Jason Heyward (25)

Interesting Stat

The Chicago Cubs finished dead last in the NL Central last season, and one of the biggest reasons why was their starting pitching.  Jake Arrieta had a breakout year, but after the trade deadline their rotation was thin – very thin.  And it showed.  Of all the teams in the NL Central, the Cubs rotation finished dead last in several meaningful stats, including IP/Start (5.72), ERA (4.11), WHIP (1.313), Batting Average Against (.259), Quality Start % (48.8), and OPS against (.715).  Which is why Chicago’s acquisition of Jon Lester is so crucial.  Based on his 2014 numbers, Lester should vastly improve each of those stats: 6.87 IP/Start, 2.46 ERA, 1.102 WHIP, .236 Batting Average Against, 84.4 Quality Start %, and .635 OPS Against.  If the Cubs are to contend in 2015 Lester will be the key reason why.

Who Should Win

St. Louis

Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column in early April.

2015 Division Preview – National League West

Upper Deck Insight 16 March 2015 | 1 Comment

NL West

It’s that time of year again, time for 500 Level Fan to start embarrassing himself with futile, sad, and mind-blowingly awful predictions.  Before we get to my annual predictions, let’s go division by division to get a glimpse of what is in store for baseball fans in 2015.  These preview posts should be seen as a division primer, so we can get to know the best players and teams, along with some interesting storylines, in each.  These won’t have my actual predicted order of finish – just a quick snapshot.  The predictions come later.

We’ll begin today with the NL West.

Defending Champion

Los Angeles Dodgers

Past Five Champions

2014 – Los Angeles

2013 – Los Angeles

2012 – San Francisco

2011 – Arizona

2010 – San Francisco

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 93.2

Best Player

Buster Posey, Giants

There is no longer any doubt that Buster Posey is not only the best catcher in the division, but is also the best player.  Despite spending game after game crouching behind the plate, Posey remains one of the best all around hitters in the game, and 2014 was no exception.  His .311 batting average was 4th in the National League, and he also added 22 HR and 89 RBI for a Giants team that won the NL Wild Card.  His poise behind the plate was one of the major reasons why San Fran won the World Series for the third time in five seasons.

Honourable Mention: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks; Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

Best Pitcher

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw is simply unbelievable.  He was truly dominant from 2011 – 2013, and somehow the big lefty took it to another level in 2014.  He topped the NL in wins (21), ERA (1.77), complete games (6), ERA+ (197), FIP (1.81), WHIP (0.857), K / 9 (10.9), and K/BB (7.71!). He unanimously won the National League Cy Young award, and became the first pitcher since Bob Gibson in 1968 to win the NL MVP award.  Now he just needs to figure out how to win in the playoffs.

Honourable Mention: Madison Bumgarner, Giants; Zack Greinke, Dodgers

Three Storylines For 2015

1. Odds and Evens

2010 – World Series.  2011 – Missed the Playoffs.  2012 – World Series.  2013 – Missed the Playoffs.  2014 – World Series.  2015 – ?  The San Francisco Giants will be looking to buck the odd numbered year trend this season, as they begin the quest for a fourth title in six years.  But there are a lot of questions marks surrounding this team as the season gets underway.  Gone are Ryan Vogelsong, a dependable fifth starter, and playoff hero and heart of the team Pablo Sandoval.  Can they be replaced?  Does Tim Lincecum have anything left?  Will last season’s immense workload, especially in the playoffs, have any impact on Madison Bumgarner?  Will Matt Cain be the same upon his return from injury?  How will they replace Hunter Pence, who will open the season on the DL?  They will need to find a good answer to all of those questions if they hope to hang around with the Dodgers and end the odd year jinx.

2. Madness in San Diego

The San Diego Padres scored 535 runs last season, the lowest total (by a mile) in the National League.  To rectify that, GM A.J. Preller decided to make an offseason trade . Then he made another one, and another one, and another one, and on and on.  It seemed as if every day San Diego was involved in another deal in what was one of the wildest offseasons in baseball.  At the end of the winter the Padres had acquired former All-Stars Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, solid hitting catcher Derek Norris, and 2013 Rookie of the Year Wil Myers.  They also went out and added ace James Shields for good measure.  Now the challenge is to figure out how to play all of those guys, when players like Cameron Maybin, Will Venable, and Carlos Quentin are already on the roster.  It should be a fun year in SD.

3. Kershaw and the Playoffs

72 – 26 record.  2.11 ERA.  0.946 WHIP.  948 Strikeouts.  3 Cy Young Awards.  1 NL MVP.   Those are the numbers that Clayton Kershaw has posted from 2011 to 2014.  He is the best pitcher we have seen since Pedro Martinez was destroying the American League as a member of the Red Sox.  But there is another side to Kershaw that he would dearly love to improve upon: his playoff resume.  For his career, spanning six playoff series in four separate seasons, he has been surprisingly mortal: 1 – 5 record, 5.12 ERA, 1.235 WHIP, 0 World Series rings.  The Dodgers once again look to have the best team in the division on paper, and all signs point to them once again reaching October.  Will regular season Kershaw join them this year?

Interesting Stat

As mentioned above, the San Diego Padres scored the fewest runs in the league last year, but just how anemic was their offense?  The answer is very, very anemic.  The Padres finished dead last in all of baseball in runs scored (535), hits (1,199, almost 100 behind the 29th ranked Reds), batting average (.226, 12 points behind 29th), and OPS (.634 – way back of 29th place).  To put that OPS in perspective, Toronto fan favourite Munenori Kawasaki, known for his weak bat, had an OPS of .623, meaning the Padres essentially had an entire roster of Kawasaki’s in 2014.  There is a lot of pressure on Kemp, Upton, and co. in 2015.

Who Should Win

Los Angeles

Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column in early April.

Is There Still Hope For 2015?

Upper Deck Insight 11 March 2015 | 0 Comments


The Blue Jays were dealt a devastating blow yesterday with the news that Marcus Stroman will miss the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL.

The news is crushing in so many ways for Toronto.  The most obvious is that Stroman was penciled in as one of the team’s top starting pitchers, with the potential for an Opening Day start.  He was being picked by many within the industry as one of 2015’s breakout stars.

Less obvious is the impact that Stroman has on the team as a whole.  He is not quite 24 years old and doesn’t have the “veteran moxy” that many others do, but his enthusiasm, his smile, and his upbeat attitude are infectious.  Even more, his relationship with Aaron Sanchez is incredibly strong, and not having Stroman around might have a negative impact on Aaron.

So is this it?  Are the Jays chances at ending a 21-year playoff drought over before the season even begins?  Is all the hard work by GM Alex Anthopoulos going to fall by the wayside after yesterday’s news?  It’s obvious that Toronto can’t replace Stroman, but will they be able to scrounge together enough arms to still maintain their status as contenders?

While the odds are certainly stacked against them, I think the short answer is yes.  There are 25 players on an active roster, and while losing Stroman is massive, there are still 24 others left to pull the ship forward.  There is a huge opportunity for a guy like Sanchez, or Daniel Norris, to step up and prove that they deserve a spot in the rotation.  There’s even a chance that Marco Estrada might prove useful.

But what should give us hope above all is that teams have proven in the past that they can survive, even thrive, after losing an ace.

In 2010, the St. Louis Cardinals finished second in the NL Central, 5 games back of Cincinnati.  They were led that year by 28-year old Adam Wainwright, who finished 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 213 strikeouts in 230.1 innings.  He made the NL All-Star team, and finished 2nd in Cy Young voting and 17th in MVP voting.  In short, he was a pure ace.

The Cardinals entered 2011 with real hopes of returning to the playoffs.  But before the season even began came crushing news: Wainwright required Tommy John surgery and would miss the entire season.  I wrote it about that week.  The instant reaction was that St. Louis’ season was over.  They were no longer contenders.  Yes they still had perennial MVP candidate Albert Pujols and slugger Matt Holliday, along with one of the best catchers in the game in Yadier Molina.  But the rotation without Wainwright looked thin.  There was an aging Chris Carpenter, on his last legs as an effective big leaguer.  There were a couple of 30+ year old journeymen in Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook.  There was an unproven rookie in Jaime Garcia.  And it was topped off by reliever turned starter Kyle McLellan.

But something funny happened to St. Louis.  Instead of being devastated by the loss of Wainwright, they rallied around him and came together as a team.  They got off to a decent start in April and May, and hung on through the dog days of summer before pulling away in September.  They then snuck by the Phillies in 5 games, the Brewers in 6, and the Rangers in 7 to capture a shocking World Series title.

There are other examples from around baseball, as pointed out on Twitter by @DrewGROF yesterday, of teams thriving without aces.  The Giants lost Matt Cain to injury last year and won the Series.  The Tigers made the playoffs with little production offered by Justin Verlander.  But there is something about the 2011 Cardinals that is more relevant.

Look at the construction of both teams.  The Jays still have a perennial MVP candidate in Jose Bautista, and a legitimate slugger in Edwin Encarnacion.  Plus, with the signing of Russell Martin, they too have one of the best catchers in the game.  The rotation without Stroman will have an aging ace in Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey, and possibly a reliever turned starter in Marco Estrada.  It also might have an unproven rookie in Sanchez or Norris (or both).  And perhaps more important, while the NL Central wasn’t at its strongest in 2011, neither is the AL East in 2015.  Even without Stroman, Toronto still has one of the best teams on paper.

So at the end of the day, while losing Marcus Stroman is a devastating, crushing, and crippling injury, it’s not the end of the world.  The season must go on, and the Jays can take solace in the fact that teams have won in the face of this type of adversity before.

Anything can happen.

What To Do With Dioner?

Upper Deck Insight 10 March 2015 | 0 Comments

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at Toronto Blue Jays

In November, the Blue Jays made a big splash in free agency, signing catcher Russell Martin to a huge 5-year deal.  It was a massive coup and came as a surprise to many in the baseball world.  There is no doubt that Martin makes the Jays a better team.  He is an excellent receiver behind the plate.  He put up a 5.5 WAR last season with Pittsburgh, and a 4.3 WAR the season before that.  He has been to the postseason in seven of his nine seasons.  He is a proven winner and he is Canadian – added bonus.

There was only one problem with the signing.

The Blue Jays already had a catcher.

Dioner Navarro had a very nice first season in Toronto.  He hit .274 with a .712 OPS, 12 HR and a 2.3 WAR, and is still signed through this season at a modest $5-million.  But now he is a man with no place to play.

So what should the Jays do?  Keep him or trade him?

The Case for Keeping Him

Toronto’s offseason makeover included beefing up the lineup with the additions of Martin, Josh Donaldson, and Michael Saunders, giving the Jays one of baseball’s mightiest batting orders.  But let’s be honest with ourselves – when you get past that fearsome top-6, the rest of the offense looks fairly weak, especially the bench players.  Depending on who wins the starting jobs at 2B and CF, Toronto’s bench will likely include four of the following: Maicer Izturis, Ryan Goins, Munenori Kawasaki, Kevin Pillar, Steve Tolleson, Danny Valencia, Dalton Pompey, and Josh Thole.  Hardly a murderers row.

But adding Navarro’s name to that list instantly makes it more impressive.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe that Dioner is an MVP candidate in any way, but if the game is on the line in the 9th, I’d feel much more comfortable with him coming to the plate than Tolleson or Goins.

Of course, much of this depends on how much success Martin has catching R.A. Dickey.  Josh Thole currently holds down one valuable roster spot because he can catch a knuckleball.  Unfortunately, as we have seen over the past two seasons (.213 average, .550 OPS, -1.1 WAR) that’s about all he can do.  If Martin can prove that he can handle Dickey, suddenly Thole becomes expendable, freeing up the backup catcher role for Navarro.  Between that and a few games a week as DH, the Jays can keep his bat in the lineup on a consistent basis.

Even if Martin doesn’t have what it takes to catch Dickey, keeping Navarro is still a good option.  Though he might not look like a typical DH, he can handle the bet better than the other candidates and has a decent amount of power.

The Case for Trading Him

It’s all well and good to simply move Dioner to a DH role, but here’s the thing: Dioner Navarro is a catcher.  That is what he is paid to do, and that is why he was brought to this team in the first place.  Telling somebody that he suddenly only has half the responsibilities that he did before is not likely to make him very happy.

Further, quality catchers are hard to find, and nobody knows that better than the Toronto Blue Jays (see Cash, Kevin; Arencibia, JP; Quiroz, Guillermo; Phelps, Josh; etc.).  One would expect that Navarro holds a decent amount of trade value, especially when his modest salary and production level is factored in.  Coupled with that is the fact that the Jays have several holes on the roster that could use reinforcements, such as the bullpen and a back-end starter.  There is no guarantees that Navarro can fetch an All-Star on the trade market, but you would hope that an arm better than Todd Redmond might be available as the fifth man.

Finally, moving Navarro would potentially open a spot for a backup catcher (depending on what happens with Thole).  Toronto currently employs a soon-to-be 25-year old in Buffalo by the name of A.J. Jimenez.  While he might not be ready quite yet, having him in the big leagues to learn from Martin might do wonders for his development.

There’s no telling what Alex Anthopoulos will do with Navarro.  As shown above, there is a case to be made for either option.  But if there is one thing we know about the GM, it’s this: expect the unexpected.

Five Best Teams in 2015

Uncategorized 10 March 2015 | 0 Comments

Spring training is underway, so we are starting to get a pretty good look at the best teams in baseball for 2015. Anything can happen once the regular-season starts, but the 5 teams listed below should all be in playoff contention and looking for a World Series push. As of right now, these are the best 5 teams in the game.

Washington Nationals

When you look at Washington the last few years, it is hard to claim that they have not underachieved. They have plenty of talent that people enjoy in fantasy baseball leagues, but they have never made it past the National League Championship Series. They still have a fairly young roster, and adding Max Scherzer to the top of the rotation gives them a solid boost. Until they get over their postseason demons, this is just a really good team built for the regular season.

Los Angeles Angels

Injury issues for the pitching staff last year really put a damper on an otherwise great season. With some new arms to add to the mix, the Los Angeles Angels should be one of the best teams in the American League. They have Mike Trout leading the offense (and defense), and Albert Pujols is just one guy who brings playoff experience to the table.

St. Louis Cardinals

Much like the last few years, the Cardinals made a few subtle changes to bring back another World Series contender. They still have anchors on the team like Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, but they infused some young blood in the lineup as well. This team has a chance to be winners in the National League Central yet again.

Seattle Mariners

Looking for a team to make a jump in 2015? Seattle barely missed the playoffs in 2015, so they decided to go out and add a few more pieces to a promising core. Nelson Cruz is coming off a very impressive season in fantasy baseball leagues, and he could be that extra bat they need to make the postseason for the 1st time in years.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers lost a few former All-Stars over the winter, but they replaced them with veterans who have championship experience as well as All-Star berths to their name. It was somewhat of a risky move, but management knows that they need to switch things up to break their World Series drought.

Five Key Spring Questions

Upper Deck Insight 18 February 2015 | 0 Comments


It was a frenzied offseason across major league baseball, with players flying around everywhere, and with many teams bulking up (San Diego, both Chicago teams) or slimming down (Oakland, Tampa Bay).

Things were no different in Toronto, where the Jays made some big moves by bringing in Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, and Michael Saunders, and said goodbye to Melky Cabrera, Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, J.A. Happ, and Casey Janssen.  While the winter movement by GM Alex Anthopoulos strengthened the team and has them tentatively penciled in as a “contender” there are still many questions hovering over the Blue Jays as pitchers and catchers get set to report.

Here are 5 key ones.

1. Is Dalton Pompey ready for prime time?

Dalton Pompey entered 2014 as a 21-year old kid who had never played a game above single-A.  He ended it as the starting centrefielder for his hometown Toronto Blue Jays – quite the season!  Pompey made stops in Dunedin, New Hampshire, and Buffalo, before making his major league debut on September 2.  In 17 games, he made 43 plate appearances, and despite some fairly pedestrian numbers (.231 AVG, .301 OBP, .436 SLG, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 SB) showed the Blue Jays enough to believe in him.  By allowing Colby Rasmus to leave via free agency, and dealing Anthony Gose to Detroit, Toronto essentially said to the world that Pompey will be the man for 2015.  Is he ready?  Maybe, maybe not.  But remember – Toronto’s CF put up a .213 average and .636 OPS last season as Rasmus, Gose, and Pillar combined to stink up the summer.  Even if Pompey isn’t ready to breakout, he doesn’t have to be outstanding to be an improvement over last year.

2. Can Michael Saunders replace Melky Cabrera?

Melky in 2014: .301 AVG, .808 OPS, 16 HR, 3.1 WAR

Saunders in 2014: .273 AVG, .791 OPS, 8 HR, 2.4 WAR

The numbers are fairly similar between the two, and that is before you factor in that Saunders only played in 78 games in 2014.  And therein lies the rub. Saunders’ career high in games played is 139, set in 2012.  If he can stay healthy, there is every reason to believe he can match or surpass Cabrera’s offensive production while providing much better defense, especially moving from spacious Safeco Field to the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre.  But if he can’t stay healthy?  That’s a whole other story.

3. Who plays 2B?

This question seems to be constantly repeating itself, year after year.  The one good thing is that Anthopoulos did address the second base issue in the offseason by dealing Anthony Gose to Detroit for prospect Devon Travis.  Travis is a bit of an undersized player, but one who has put up very impressive offensive numbers in Detroit’s minor league system.  He projects very nicely to be the 2B of the future.  The future, of course, does not mean this year, which means that once again the Jays have a gaping hole to fill.  Ryan Goins might seem like a solid bet to once again get a shot, but no matter how good his glove is, it can never justify carrying his .479 OPS.  But don’t forget about Maicer Izturis.  After a miserable 2013, Izturis actually got off to a decent start last year (.286 AVG, .324 OBP through 11 games) before being lost for the season with a knee injury.  He might be the best bet to keep the seat warm until Travis arrives.

4.  Aaron Sanchez: closer or starter?

As I said last week on this site, in an ideal world Aaron Sanchez enters the season as the fifth starter and gives Toronto about 150+ quality innings.  But that depends on many other things.  If he lands in the rotation, who closes?  Cecil?  Loup?  Somebody from out of nowhere?  If he closes, who takes over as fifth starter?  Todd Redmond?  Marco Estrada?  Daniel Norris?  There is a lot to think about, and at the end of the day I think it will boil down to which of those roles the Jays feel they can afford to be weaker.  My guess is Sanchez ends up as the closer.  His ultimate fate will be in the rotation, but not until 2016.

5. How good will Josh Donaldson be?

In the last two seasons combined, Josh Donaldson has hit 53 HR, provided 191 RBI, and put up an .840 OPS, all while playing his home games in a notorious pitchers park.  He also provided outstanding defense (+29 defensive runs saved).  Overall he has posted a combined 15.4 WAR, trailing only Mike Trout’s 16.8 WAR.  In short, he has been one of the best players in all of baseball.  Now you take him out of Oakland’s cavernous park, put him into the Rogers Centre, and surround him with Reyes, Martin, Bautista, and Encarnacion, and there is the chance that he puts up a monster campaign.

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