Fun With Early Season WAR

Around the Majors 17 April 2014 | 0 Comments

It’s hard to believe, but the 2014 regular season is already almost 10% finished.  Crazy! 

Early on in this young season some teams are surging (hello Milwaukee!), and others are scuffling (here’s looking at you Arizona!).  But the one thing we keep hearing, the one universal caution about assessing performance at this time of year is this: it’s still early.

But it’s never too early to have some fun with stats.  Just this past week, Baseball Reference began publishing WAR for the 2014 season.  Let’s take a look at some early season WAR stats.

Player WAR

Player WAR - BEST

 

The above tables show the best players in baseball in terms of WAR.  For total WAR (which combines offense and defense to provide a full view of a player), there are some standard names.  Mike Trout, Carlos Gomez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Joey Votto are names that you’d expect to see there.  But Juan Uribe?  Chase Utley?  If it was 2008 maybe, but not now.  It will be interesting to see if they have discovered the fountain of youth, or if it is just a hot start.  For Jays fans, Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista have both parlayed their fast starts into top-20 player status. And how much does it hurt to see Yan Gomes’ name in the top-10?

Offensively, there are no real surprises.  Alexei Ramirez has shown pop earlier in his career, and Dee Gordon can fly on the basepaths.  On the defensive side, it’s nice to see two Jays in the top-10, with Diaz and Goins doing what was expected of them early – contributing with the glove, if not the bat.

Player WAR - WORST

 

The first thing any Blue Jays fan will notice when looking at the list of worst players in terms of WAR is our old friend J.P. Arencibia.  There were fears around Toronto that when Arencibia was let go, that he might blossom in Texas with a coming out season to make every Jays fan wince (see Yan Gomes, Chris Carpenter, etc.).  But fear not!  Wtih a -0.5 WAR, and -0.4 oWAR, Arencibia is picking up right where he left off in 2013.

The biggest shock of the above tables has to be Prince Fielder.  Acquired by the Rangers to beef up their lineup, many predicted Fielder to be a potential MVP candidate this season.  But early on he is actually the worst player in all of baseball.  I have to think that that won’t last for much longer.  Expect to see Fielder, Allen Craig, and maybe Billy Hamilton move up the list in the future.

In terms of Blue Jays, there are really no surprises.  Sierra has struggled in his very limited playing time, and while Lawrie is showing signs of turning things around, he has a long way to go to make up for his rough start.  Bautista has never been, and will never be, an outstanding fielder, but the Blue Jays will accept below average defense for 40 HR any day.

Pitcher WAR

Pitcher WAR

 

Johnny Cueto is tied as the best pitcher in baseball – it’s plausible.  He’s had past success.  But he’s tied with Scott Feldman?  Feldman currently has a 0.44 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, and a staggering 908 ERA+, all amazing numbers.  However, he also has 8 walks to 7 strikeouts, he’s hit 5 batters, and his FIP (a stat to measure fielding independent pitching) is 4.27, meaning he has performed closer to a below average pitcher, and has been very lucky to get where he his.  I will make a 500 Level Fan guarantee that Feldman will be nowhere near the top of the list in September. 

The other biggest surprise comes from the worst WAR list, where potential Cy Young candidate Stephen Strasburg is sitting with a WAR of -0.5.  He is tied with Bronson Arroyo, a pitcher that many Jays fans were practically begging Alex Anthopoulos to sign in the winter.  Good thing he went to Arizona!  Unfortunately, it’s never a good sign when your team’s ace is sporting a -0.3 WAR himself.

 

Three Things From Week Two

Weekly Things 14 April 2014 | 0 Comments

McGowan

photo from espn.com

The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays season thus far can be described with two words: cautious optimism.

Through two weeks the Jays are 7-6, tied for first in the AL East, and looking like a competitive baseball team.  The team has played four series, three of which have come against AL East rivals, including two on the road in Tampa Bay and Baltimore.  That’s a tough start, and the team has handled it very, very well.

Toronto’s series win in Baltimore was particularly impressive.  The team did virtually nothing offensively on Friday or Saturday, and still nearly took both games, before – finally – erupting on Sunday afternoon.  Taking two of three against a team thought by many to be a legitimate World Series contender is huge for early season confidence – both for players and for fans.

Here are three things from week 2:

Week 2: April 7 – April 13

Record: 4 – 2

1. Rasmus is Waking Up

Last week I wrote an early season “Good, Bad, and Ugly” post about the Jays start, and placed Colby Rasmus in the ugly category.  And why not?  Through the first 8 games of the season, Rasmus was hitting .074 with a .315 OPS.  He has struck out 12 times in 30 plate appearances, an alarmingly high rate.  More troubling, he was playing a below average CF, often playing far too shallow and allowing balls to go over his head.

Fast forward a few days, and Rasmus looks much, much better (except for the fielding part, where he was victimized for an extra innings triple on Saturday).  He had three hits against the Astros on Thursday, and followed that up with a 4-for-12 series against the Orioles.  He has homered in three of his past four games and his average and OPS have improved to .217 and .780 respectively.

Colby left yesterday’s game with hamstring tightness, but all indications are that the injury is not serious, which is very important because the Jays need his bat in the lineup.  Now if he can only rub off on Lawrie…

2. A Long (Long, Long, Long….) Time Coming

It didn’t take long for the Dustin McGowan bandwagon to empty.  Toronto’s oft-injured starter was rocked by the Yankees in his season debut on April 4th and immediately had people ranting for his removal from the rotation.  With J.A. Happ ready to come off the DL the McGowan experiment looked like it might be on the verge of ending.

Then he went out on Friday night and dominated the Baltimore Orioles.  McGowan tossed 6.1 IP and allowed 5 hits, 1 walk, and 0 ER, while striking out 2 in a 2-0 victory.  The win was his first since 2008, helping to erase at least a little bit of six years of frustration.

What happens next is still up in the air.  J.A. Happ was recalled from Buffalo, meaning Toronto now has six starters for five slots.  Happ will likely start in the bullpen for now, meaning McGowan is still in the starting rotation, a spot which after Friday’s performance, he fully deserves.

3. No Room for Error

There are those who say that the AL East is no longer the division it once was, that it is no longer the best division in baseball.  The jury is still out out about the latter part of that statement, but about the former there is no doubt – the division is definitely no longer what it used to be – a two team division.   For close to a decade it was Boston and New York and Everybody Else, but now it might be the most competitive division in the game. 

Through two weeks, only two games separate first from last.  It is the only division where the leader is playing worse than .600 baseball, and where the difference between the best and worst run differential is less than 16.  In other words, it is extremely tight right now, and is proving to be a complete division with five good teams.

Of course, the main problem with such a division is one slip and you can drop from first to worst in a hurry.  With a slate of games upcoming against the AL Central, the Jays finally have a chance to play an extended amount of games against teams outside the division, and it is important – no, mandatory – that they take advantage.

Eight Games In…The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Upper Deck Insight 9 April 2014 | 1 Comment

GBU

Eight games into the 2014 season and the Jays are sitting at .500.  There has been plenty to get excited about, plenty to think about, and plenty to be downright worried about.

Without further ado, here is an early look at The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly through 8 games….

The Good

Melky Cabrera

Four straight games with a homer, and his four bombs in the season’s first 8 days have already surpassed his total from the entire 2013 season.  Melky also has 11 hits for a .314 average, and his .971 OPS ranks 18th in the AL.  More important than numbers is the fact that Melky looks happy.  He is energized, he is motivated, he is smiling – all a far cry from 2013 when he was a slow, limping, mopey mess.  He might not be an ideal leadoff hitter, but there’s no denying that Cabrera is raking right now.  Think of how much more dangerous the lineup will be if he sustains this pace when (if?) Reyes comes back.

Honourable Mention: Jose Bautista; John Gibbons managerial moves

The Bad

Team OBP

I thought J.P. Arencibia was gone?  Even without the former catcher’s dead weight, Toronto’s OBP is an awful .286 through 8 games, well below the league average of .324 and good for second last in the AL and fifth worst in all of baseball.  The main problem is that they have only drawn 25 walks, middle of the pack in the AL but with one extra game that many other teams.   That total is a bit misleading, however, as Jose Bautista is responsible for 9 (!!) of those walks, meaning the other 13 players who have registered an AB have only drawn 16 walks…in 8 games.  That is one of the main reasons why 6 of Toronto’s 10 HR have been solo shots.

Honourable Mention: Back end of the rotation; Run support

The Ugly

Colby Rasmus

Many expected big things from Colby this year, but this is definitely not the start he envisioned: 2 for 27, 12 strikeouts, .074 average, .315 OPS.  Gibbons has tried bumping him to second in the lineup to no avail.  He tried sitting him against a lefty to no avail.  He tried dropping him back to 7th in the order to no avail.  Colby has looked lost at the plate, and even looked a bit lost in the field in Tampa before having a nice defensive series against the Yankees.  It is very early, and he has traditionally been a slow starter so there is no need to panic yet.  But things might get very ugly, very quickly.

Honourable Mention: Brett Lawrie; Reyes Injury

Three Things From Week One

Weekly Things 7 April 2014 | 0 Comments

 

Melky

One week of the 2014 MLB season is in the books, and the Jays are off to a middling start.  They have looked at turns fantastic and at turns terrible, but in reality a 3-4 record is pretty good, when the you consider the schedule.

The week started with a four game set in Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field AKA Toronto’s House of Horrors.  Considering that the Jays hadn’t won a series there since 2007 and then lost Jose Reyes one at-bat into the season, a split has to be considered a job-well-done. 

Then to return home and play the revamped Yankees, facing Tanaka and Sabathia?  Losing two of three is nothing to be disappointed about. 

Could they have been better?  Sure.  But things also could have been much, much worse.

Here are three things from week 1:

Week 1: March 31 – April 6

Record: 3 – 4

1. The Melk Man Returns

2013 was a miserable season for Melky Cabrera, so bad that there was some question as to whether he would still be a Blue Jay.  But 2014 is a brand new year, and offseason surgery to remove a tumor from his back seems to have done a world of wonders for the left fielder.

Through seven games, Cabrera has already matched his 2013 HR output with three, after homering in each game against the Yankees.  He has recorded a hit in all seven games, and has a slash line of .323 / .323 / .613 / .935.  His 19 total bases lead the American League.  Even better, he actually looks capable in the OF, after barely being able to move last season.

It’s very early, but Melky’s comeback is already one of the best stories of the season.

2. Up and Down Rotation

It’s no secret – the Blue Jays will only go as far as their pitching will take them.  Through seven games, it looks like it might take them on a rollercoaster ride this season. 

Toronto is 3-4 so far, both in wins / losses and in gems / clunkers.  Hutchison and Buehrle (against the Rays) and Dickey (against the Yankees) all threw absolute gems last week, but sadly Dickey and Morrow (against the Rays) and McGowan and Hutchison (against the Yankees) were responsible for real clunkers.  The numbers speak for themselves.  In Toronto’s three wins, the starters have averaged just under 7 IP per start, and posted an ERA of 0.00, a WHIP of 0.82, and a K/BB ratio of 4.20 (21 strikeouts to 5 walks).  However, in the four losses they have been awful: 4 IP / Start, 11.25 ERA, 2.31 WHIP, 1.55 K/BB (17 strikeouts to 11 walks).

No team’s bullpen can afford to have that many bad starts in such a short period of time, for risk of wearing them out very early.  The starters have to be better.

3. Where Are The Runs?

Starting pitching was considered a weakness heading into 2014, and the ups-and-downs of the rotation can’t be seen as a surprise.  The offence, however, is another story. 

Even without Jose Reyes, one would expect a lineup with Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus, Dioner Navarro, Brett Lawrie, and Adam Lind to score some runs.  But the Jays have only managed to score 22 times thus far.  Their 3.14 runs/game makes them the lowest scoring team in the entire American League.  They only have 50 hits, a .216 average, and a paltry .277 OBP – second lowest in the AL.

With 8 HR, Toronto trails only the Astros in team power, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing, as already the team is starting to resemble last season’s squad who was ripping for the fences each and every AB.  The Blue Jays need to start getting on base, or the runs per game total will be staying low for a while.

Welcome Back Dusty

Upper Deck Insight 4 April 2014 | 0 Comments

Dustin

Judging by the weather  – currently cold, windy, and rainy - you’d never know it, but today is a beautiful day for baseball.

After a long, cold winter, and a (relatively) successful opening road trip, the Blue Jays return to Toronto tonight for the much anticipated Home Opener.  The Home Opener is always an exciting time of year - the dome is packed and rocking, and there just seems to be an extra bit of excitement in the air.  It doesn’t matter that the team is not considered a contender by baseball experts.  All that matters is that baseball is back.

As a bonus, there are three added incentives to watch tonight’s game.  First is that recently retired Blue Jays legend Roy Halladay will be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, and will likely receive an enormous and lengthy ovation.  Second, is that for the first time since 2003 the Toronto Blue Jays home opener will be against the hated New York Yankees.  Any game against the Yankees always bring extra emotion, but combine that with the added intensity of the Home Opener and you have a potentially explosive atmosphere.  Armed with an expensive roster after a massive offseason shopping spree, the Yankees are actually favoured to win tonight’s game based on odds compiled by Sports Betting Dime.

But the third incentive about tonight’s clash is the most interesting – the pitching matchup.  For the first time, baseball fans will see Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka pitch in a major league regular season game.  Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last year and followed that up with a spectacular spring (2-0, 2.14 ERA, 26 K in 21 IP).  You can bet that hundreds of thousands (or more) will be tuned in from Japan to see their hero in pinstripes.  But for Jays fans, Toronto’s starter brings just as much intrigue, as the Blue Jays welcome back Dustin McGowan. 

McGowan was drafted in the first round of the 2000 draft, made his debut in 2005 as a 23-year old with huge potential, then promptly saw his career derailed by injuries.  In the nine  years since his debut, McGowan has only thrown a total of 400.1 innings.  That’s about two seasons worth of work for a regular MLB pitcher.  But shoulder surgeries, knee problems, long rehabs, and just about the worst luck you can imagine have robbed Dustin of five of his prime years.  In fact, it’s probably not a stretch to say that most (if not all) Jays fans figured he would never set foot on a major league mound again.

But credit McGowan.  His hard work and perseverence shone through last year, as he finally returned to the Blue Jays.  He threw 25.2 innings of relief in 2013, finishing the season with a 2.45 ERA, and over a strikeout per inning.  That late season audition, combined with an injury to J.A. Happ opened the door for him this spring, and he walked right through it.  For a more detailed look at his comeback, check out this excellent piece by National Post writer John Lott.

So tonight when you feast your eyes on the Yankees with their $175-million starter, take a minute to appreciate Toronto’s starting pitcher.  After a long road back, McGowan deserves it.

Welcome back Dusty!

Third Annual 500 Level Fan Reader Poll

500 Level Fun 3 April 2014 | 0 Comments

readers

For the third consecutive year, 500 Level Fan has decided to let the readers – the fine, educated, and outstanding readers – take over.

Over the past two seasons I have polled the readers on anything and everything Jays related, from team and player performance, to potential trades and rookie call-ups.  This year, after the pain of 2013, the predictions are much, much more conservative.

So without further ado, here are the results of the 2014 500 Level Fan Reader Poll.

1. After two straight injury shortened seasons, Jose Bautista looks healthy.  How many home runs will he hit this season, and will it be enough to regain the AL HR crown?

There was a wide range of opinion here.  Some bought into Bautista’s red hot spring, and pegged him for over 40 dingers, while others were more skeptical and predicted in the low 20′s.  Except for one brave soul, nobody thinks he will end the season at the top of the home run charts.

Lowest prediction: 23 HR

Highest prediction: 47 HR

Average prediction: 35 HR

2. Aside from Bautista and Encarnacion, predict Toronto’s top-3 HR hitters.

Far and away, the most popular answer was Adam Lind followed by Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie.  But there were seven other combinations predicted by the group, including some with some faces that I never expected to see, such as Melky Cabrera, Jose Reyes, Dioner Navarro, and Moises Sierra.

Other combinations:

- Cabrera, Reyes, Rasmus

- Lind, Cabrera, Navarro

- Lind, Rasmus, Cabrera

- Rasmus, Lawrie, Lind

- Rasmus, Lind, Lawrie

- Reyes, Lind, Cabrera

- Sierra, Rasmus, Lawrie

3. R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow seem entrenched in the rotation.  Outside of those three, what two pitchers will start the most games?

Seven different pitchers were named by the group, with Drew Hutchison getting by far and away the most support.  Other names mentioned were J.A. Happ, Esmil Rogers, Dustin McGowan, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and the return of Ricky Romero.  There was also one response that predicted Hutchison and a player acquired via trade would start the most.  

4. It appears that Ryan Goins will enter the year as the second baseman, but there are concerns about his bat.  Who finishes the year at 2B?

About half of the readers believe that Goins has what it takes to last the entire season.  But there were plenty of other responses.  Maicer Izturis was mentioned a few times, along with three players currently in the minor league system: Munenori Kawasaki and Chris Getz (in AAA Buffalo) and Andy Burns (in AA New Hampshire).  There were also two readers who predicted a player from outside the organization would take over at second: one predicted a superstar, while the other predicted Seattle’s Nick Franklin.  

5. 2013 was a nightmare for Melky Cabrera.  Predict his 2014 stats.

Quite the range of predictions for Melky.  In terms of batting average, the group was all over the place, with guesses as low as .212 and as high as .332.  For OPS, there was also a huge range, from .600 up to .815.  Finally, in terms of home run power, there was a massive range.  A few think Melky’s power will return and see him eclipsing 30 HR, while a few aren’t buying it and predict single digits.

6. Will any rooke call-ups make an appearance this year?

The obvious candidates here are Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, and they were named on almost every ballot.  Other names brought up include Andy Burns, Jonathan Diaz (which, of course, has already come to fruition), A.J. Jimenez, Sean Nolin, and Kenny Wilson. 

7. Who will be the first major player traded, if any?

I asked this last season and the nearly unanimous response was Colby Rasmus.  Rasmus, of course, finished the season with the Jays and returns as the starting CF.  This year there was no overwhelming favourite.  Rasmus was once again mentioned a few times, but so were Aaron Loup, Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie, Ryan Goins, R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and somewhat surprisingly Jose Bautista.  

8. How many wins do you expect from the 2014 Blue Jays?

The average response to this question in 2013 was 92.  Jays fans are more pessimistic this year, but the predicted totals were not as low as I was expecting.

Low: 71 wins

High: 98 wins

Average: 82 wins

Thanks to everybody for fiilling out the ballot.  Good luck with your picks!

Check back for a mid-season update and an end-of-season results column.

Nightmare Start

Upper Deck Insight 1 April 2014 | 0 Comments

Untitled

photo from mlb.com

 

Trust me – I don’t want to be negative about the Blue Jays this year.  Last season was hard enough on everybody, and the team enters 2014 with limited expectations but absolutely no pressure to win.

But after watching what transpired on Opening Day, it’s tough to not feel at least a litle bit negative. 

Or a lot.

Everybody and anybody who watches the game of baseball knew that Toronto had the chance to contend in 2014 only if two things were remarkably better: health and pitching.

Well, it didn’t take long for both of those to show serious cracks.

In what sounds like a joke, Jose Reyes lasted three pitches into the first game of the season before being removed with hamstring tightness and placed on the 15-day DL.  You read that right – three pitches.  The early word is that the injury doesn’t appear to be serious and the DL stint is more precautionary, but the Blue Jays are notorious for making things sound better than they are.  Would anybody be surprised if “not serious” equated to a 3-month injury leave?

Then there was the pitching.  Ugh.  R.A. Dickey, who has a dominant career record in Tampa Bay and who was supposed to be fully healthy this season, was terrible.  He lasted 5 IP, giving up 6 ER on 5 H and 6 BB.  Six walks!!  In total, Dickey, Rogers, and Jeffress issued 8 free passes to the Rays, basically giving them the game.

About the only thing that went right for Toronto were the other two positions they needed to improve in the offseason, 2B and C.  Maicer Izturis went 2-for-3 with a run, and Eric Kraatz supplied all of the offense with a 2-run HR in the 8th.  In fact, all three of Toronto’s catchers registered a hit in the game.

The beautiful thing about baseball is that there is a game the next day, so the Jays have a chance to erase Opening Day from their minds (and from the fans minds) and get into the win column today.

But for a team that absolutely needed a fast start this year, Opening Day couldn’t have gone much worse.

25 Blue Jay Predictions for 2014

500 Level Fun 28 March 2014 | 0 Comments

logo

Over the course of the past week, 500 Level Fan has posted a series of divisional previews, and a host of blatantly incorrect 2014 predictions. 

Today I wrap up my season prediction columns with a look at what’s in store for the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays.

Here are 25 predictions about Toronto’s upcoming season.  Enjoy!

1. Jose Bautista’s red hot spring carries over into the regular season.  He enjoys his best campaign since 2011 and slugs over 40 HR.

2. On Friday April 4th, in the home opener, Dustin McGowan rewards the Jays for years of patience by throwing six scoreless innings against the Yankees.

3. Edwin Encarnacion shows no ill effects of offseason wrist injury, and hits over 35 HR, making him and Bautista the top home run hitting teammates in baseball.

4. Brett Lawrie continues to struggle to stay healthy, ending up on the DL twice.

5. Ryan Goins starts the season at second base, and to the surprise of many actually finishes the season there as well.  While he will never hit a ton, his glove does enough to keep him the lineup every day.

6. Adam Lind still doesn’t hit great against left handers, but for the first time is able to eclipse a .650 OPS vs. LHP.

7. Mark Buehrle extends his 200 IP streak to 14 straight seasons….barely. 

8. Of the two players once considered Toronto’s elite prospects – Anthony Gose and Kyle Drabek – one of them will be out of the organization by September.

9. Former Jay J.P. Arencibia will out-homer Dioner Navarro by a wide margin, but Navarro will out-OBP Arencibia by 100 points.

10. Armed by the return of his hard knuckler and a healthy back, Dickey has a huge bounceback season, eclipsing 200 strikeouts and posting a sub 3.50 ERA.

11. Buoyed by a couple of fluky caroms in Fenway Park’s wonky outfield, Edwin Encarnacion hits a triple in his final at-bat of a game in Boston to hit for the cycle.

12. Jose Reyes plays over 145 games.

13. For the first time ever, Toronto actually enjoys interleague play and finishes over .600 against the NL.

14. Despite an absolutely massive year by Sergio Santos, Casey Janssen maintains the closers role all season and finishes with over 40 saves.

15. Marcus Stroman makes an appearance in the big leagues as a reliever.  Aaron Sanchez does not.

16. Josh Thole starts the season as the backup catcher.  Erik Kraatz replaces him part way through the season.  And A.J. Jimenez ends the season as the backup.

17. Bautista hits 3 HR in a game.

18. The Jays play 26 games in August and win 18 of them.

19. Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers, Kyle Drabek, and J.A. Happ all make starts in place of a once-again-injured Brandon Morrow.

20. Moises Sierra plays so well as a fourth OF that the Jays are able to move Colby Rasmus at the trade deadline for pitching help.

21. Toronto absolutely destroys Masahiro Tanaka….twice.

22. A Blue Jay finishes in the top-5 in the AL in the batting race.

23.  In a 3-game series from July 18-20, the Texas Rangers visit Toronto, and J.P. Arencibia strikes out 10 times in three games.

24. Jays hitters go crazy in a Thursday afternoon game at home against the Red Sox, with over 25+ hits, 20+ runs, and back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs.

25. With no pressure and no expectations, the Blue Jays are the surprise of baseball and play meaningful games in September…finally.  Dream big right?

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

500 Level Fun 28 March 2014 | 0 Comments

autodraft[1]

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 7th 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 2012, because we are cruel, we expanded the list to nine.  This year the penalty shot list is as follows:

- Jonathan “The Self Cleaning Anus” Papelbon

- Nick “Douche Canoe” Swisher

- Alex “Who gives an eff” Rios

- Brett Lawrie

- Shane Victorino

- Grant Balfour

- Josh Hamilton

- Max Scherzer

- Prince Fielder

- Starlin Castro

- Ervin Santana

- Adam “ZZ Top” Lind

- Any Member of the Houston Astros

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.  This year has already seen a few blockbusters, confirmed weeks before the draft: a swap of first round picks, and a swap of the first NL East player taken for each of two teams.  For the sake of the draft, one can only hope that one of the penalty shot players is involved.

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

We’ll find out soon enough.

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

2014 MLB Season Predictions

Around the Majors 27 March 2014 | 0 Comments

Crystal Ball

Over the past week and a half, 500 Level Fan has posted a preview of each of MLB’s six divisions.  Now it’s time to up the ante.  No more “previewing”.  It’s now time to “predict”.

As always, my predictions should not be wagered upon by anybody, because they will likely all be wrong.

Like last year, the 500 Level Fan predictions column will be split over two days.  Today I’m going to cover MLB predictions, including final standings, playoff results, award winners, and some miscellaneous categories.  Next, I’ll put my focus on the Blue Jays, with some individual and team predictions.

So sit back, read on, try not to laugh, and get ready to comment.

American League Predictions

East

1. Tampa Bay

2. Boston

3. New York

4. Baltimore

5. Toronto

Thoughts: A full season of Wil Myers, David Price in a contract year, and Evan Longoria make the Rays the team to beat.  Expect big things from the starting rotation…..Boston still has the pieces, but a lot will depend on whether Bogaerts and Bradley Jr. are ready for the big leagues.  They might miss Ellsbury more than they thought…..Huge offseason spending spree, but the Yanks forgot about 2B and 3B.  The season is all about Derek Jeter’s farewell…..Not convinced that Ubaldo will be a difference maker, but the Orioles will fight deep into the summer…..The pressure is off, and if they can stay healthy the Jays can contend – but that’s a big if.

Central

1. Detroit

2. Kansas City

3. Cleveland

4. Chicago

5. Minnesota

Thoughts: Even with the early season injuries the Tigers will still have enough, with Miggy, Verlander, Kinsler, and Scherzer…..Kansas City should take another step forward, but will likely fall just short of both the Tigers and of a Wild Card…..After making the playoffs last year the Indians still have what it takes to contend.  It should be a three way battle to the end…..The White Sox have a legitimate Cy candidate in Sale and a rookie of the year candidate in Cuban Jose Abreu, but not a whole lot else…..Minny rebuilt their starting rotation but this season is all about getting ready for Buxton.

West

1. Texas

2. Oakland

3. Los Angeles

4. Seattle

5. Houston

Thoughts: Yes the injury bug has struck early, but I think the addition of Prince Fielder is a difference maker.  As long as Darvish doesn’t miss much time I like the Rangers…..They are two-time defending champions, but the A’s rotation is a huge question mark, especially after the injury to Jarrod Parker…..Is this finally the year the Angels put it together?  Maybe, but it will be a battle for a Wild Card…..Robinson Cano won’t disappoint in Seattle, but there are still too many holes to be a true contender…..If they avoid 100 losses, 2014 will be a major success in Houston.

Wildcards

Red Sox and A’s

Stat Leaders

HR - Miguel Cabrera, DET

RBI - Prince Fielder, TEX

Average - Mike Trout, LAA

SB - Leonys Martin, TEX

Wins - Justin Verlander, DET

ERA - Felix Hernandez, SEA

K - Justin Verlander, DET

Sv - Joe Nathan, DET

Awards & Miscellany

MVP - Mike Trout, LAA

Cy Young - Justin Verlander, DET

Rookie - Jose Abreu, CHI

Manager - Brad Ausmus, DET

Bounceback Player - Albert Pujols, LAA

Most Disappointing Player - Carlos Beltran, NYY

First Major Player Traded - Colby Rasmus, TOR

National League Predictions

East

1. Washington

2. Atlanta

3. Philadelphia

4. N.Y. Mets

5. Miami

Thoughts: With Harper another year more mature, and Fister joining a formidable rotation, Washington should prove last year was a blip and storm to a division title…..The Braves have already been decimated by injuries and the season hasn’t even started yet.  They should still battle for a Wild Card…..Tempted to drop the Phillies even lower, but Lee and Hamels are still better than most other team’s top-2, so they stay in third…..The future looks incredibly bright in New York, but with Matt Harvey injured and the prospects still a year away, the present may be rough…..Miami might be building something special with Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, but will they stick around to see it come to fruition?

Central

1. St. Louis

2. Pittsburgh

3. Cincinnati

4. Milwaukee

5. Chicago

Thoughts: Cardinals seemingly have the perfect mix of everything: speed, power, offense, defense, pitching, youth, veterans, stars, and depth.  They are the most complete team in league…..The Pirates are a prime regression candidate, but can’t imagine MVP McCutchen letting them slip too far back.  Another Wild Card spot is a real possibility…..I think the Reds end up missing Choo much more than they expected, unless Hamilton learns how to get on base with regularity…..Could be a fun year in Milwaukee, with Braun back and Garza in the fold.  Wouldn’t at all be surprised if they finish second.  Carlos Gomez is the real deal…..The Cubs have some nice pieces, but are still a year or two (or three or four) away.

West

1. Los Angeles

2. San Francisco

3. Arizona

4. Colorado

5. San Diego

Thoughts: The Dodgers seem to be stacked with both talent and cash.  Can’t see anybody stopping them in this division…..San Fran was awful last year, but let’s call that a mulligan.  Cain, Lincecum, Posey and co. should be right back in the mix…..The loss of Corbin really hurts the D-Backs, but with Goldschmidt they are never out of it…..If Tulowitzki and Gonzalez both stay healthy, the Rockies could be a force – but we’ve been saying that for years now…..Not buying the “Padres as contenders” line.  San Diego fans are already figuring out what Jays fans learned last year – you can never trust Josh Johnson.

Wildcards

Pirates and Giants

Stat Leaders

HR - Carlos Gonzalez, COL

RBI - Paul Goldschmidt, ARI

Average - Freddie Freeman, ATL

SB - Starling Marte, PIT

Wins - Clayton Kershaw, LAD

ERA - Jose Fernandez, MIA

K - Clayton Kershaw, LAD

Sv - Craig Kimbrel, ATL

Awards

MVP - Bryce Harper, WAS

Cy Young - Clayton Kershaw, LAD

Rookie - Archie Bradley, ARI

Manager - Matt Williams, WAS

Bounceback Player - Justin Morneau, COL

Most Disappointing Player - Ryan Howard, PHI

First Major Player Traded - Cliff Lee, PHI

Playoffs

American League

Wildcard Round – A’s over Red Sox

ALDS – Tigers over A’s, Rays over Rangers

ALCS – Rays over Tigers

National League

Wild Card Round – Giants over Pirates

NLDS – Nationals over Giants, Cardinals over Dodgers

NLCS – Cardinals over Nationals

World Series

The World Series stays in the AL East, as Tampa Bay upsets St. Louis, sending the Cardinals to their second straight Series defeat.