Five Key Spring Questions

Upper Deck Insight 18 February 2015 | 0 Comments

Donaldson

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.

A Chat With 500 Level Fan

Upper Deck Insight 10 February 2015 | 0 Comments

Regular Lance

Man, it feels good to be back.  On October 20, 2014 I posted a review of my 2014 Toronto Blue Jay predictions.  It was good for a laugh, especially my guess that Moises Sierra would surpass Colby Rasmus on the depth chart, leading to a Rasmus trade.  Yikes.  The next day, I was hard at work on a World Series preview piece when my site went down.  500 Level Fan was no more.

I tried to self diagnose the issue, to no avail.  I tried to circumvent the problem, but had no luck.  But finally, after several developers and several months of inactivity, on Friday February 6, 2015, the problem was solved.  The Fan was back!

So what did I miss?  An absolute ton.  It was one of the craziest winters in baseball history, with huge free agent signings, blockbuster trades, and seemingly a new rumour every single day of the week.  Since I was unable to post anything all winter, I decided to sit down with roaming reporter Regular Lance for an interview and share my views on everything that went down.

Note: Roaming reporter Regular Lance is clearly not a real person

Regular Lance: 500 Level Fan – good to have you back on the blogging circuit.

500 Level Fan: Thanks Regular, glad to be back.

RL: Let’s get things started.  The Jays made a ton of moves this winter.  With only a few weeks left until spring training begins, how would you grade Toronto’s offseason?

5LF: As of right now I would give them a B.  Needless to say they made a few huge additions with the acquisitions of Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, and Michael Saunders, players that no doubt give them one of the most powerful lineups in all of baseball.  Martin should also provide a huge defensive lift by his ability to handle pitchers (especially all the young starters the Jays will have).  If he is also able to catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball, that will be a double bonus, as that would eliminate the need for Josh Thole to start every fifth day.

RL: Sounds like you love the moves made by Anthopoulos this year.  So why not an A?

5LF: I’ll give you three reasons:

1. The bullpen is still in disarray.  Janssen, McGowan, Santos, Graveman, and Nolin – all guys who provided innings last year – are gone.  The closer role is currently empty.  Nobody, with the exception of swingman Marco Estrada, has been brought in.  If you are counting on a return to form of Steve Delabar, and the emergence of a few other guys, that could be a problem.

2. Second base was a black hole all of last season, and has not been addressed.  Yes, Devon Travis might be a franchise player in the future, but I don’t think that the future includes this season.

3. No matter who was added, you can’t overlook the fact that Lawrie, Melky, Rasmus, and Lind are all gone, and Martin will replace Navarro.  Although only Melky was productive last year, that is still 55% of your starting lineup that has turned over.  We saw what happened the last time Toronto brought in a bunch of new faces – it took a long time for them to jell.

RL: You mention that you are concerned about the bullpen.  Last season Aaron Sanchez posted a 1.09 ERA in 33 IP as a rookie.  Would you prefer to see him used as a closer or a starter in 2015?

5LF: That is a tough question to answer, because there are so many variables that go into it.  The short and sweet answer is that I would prefer to see him as a starter.  It doesn’t take a mathematician to understand that 150 quality innings are better than 50 quality innings, and that his impact as a starter is much higher.  However, here are other questions that you have to ask, and have answered, before you can really say for sure:

– Who else would close?  I’d rather see Sanchez slotted back at closer than a guy like Santos who threw away games left, right, and centre for two years.  A high impact starter is meaningless if the bullpen blows all of his starts in the 9th.

– Will Sanchez be able to handle an increased workload?  Baseball is littered with closers who failed as starters, guys like Papelbon, Zach Britton, and even Casey Janssen.  These were pitchers who washed out as starters because the 150 IP > 50 IP equation didn’t hold true.  If Sanchez really struggles as a starter, I’d much rather have 50 quality innings at the back of the bullpen than 150 mediocre or poor innings.

RL: What are your thoughts on Brett Lawrie leaving?

5LF: To be honest, I think I’m going to miss Colby Rasmus more than Brett.  I had such high hopes for Lawrie, but he really never hit the ball as well as I expected.  He was a great defender, but between his bat and injury struggles I think he was more of a liability than an asset.  I might be made to eat my words, but I really don’t expect him to develop into an All-Star in Oakland either.  I loved this trade for Toronto.

RL: So the Jays are improved.  Which team in the East should they be most concerned about?

5LF: Probably themselves!  Seriously, the winner of the AL East this year might be the team that can stay out of its own way the most.  Baltimore are defending champs, but lost Cruz and Markakis.  Boston made some huge signings but have huge question marks in the rotation.  Tampa Bay got rid of everybody.  The Yankees are old, have injury concerns, and have to deal with the A-Rod circus.

RL: Fair enough.  Do you expect any more moves before April?

5LF: I don’t think there will be anything major, but I’d expect a few relief pitchers to be brought into the fold, either on major league or minor league deals.  I just hope that the oft-rumoured trade for Jonathan Papelbon doesn’t come true.  That would be awful.  Awful, awful, awful.

RL: Final question: we keep hearing about a grass field coming to Toronto.  Will that happen?

5LF: I hope so, but don’t hold your breath.

Looking Back At My 2014 Predictions

Upper Deck Insight 10 February 2015 | 0 Comments

With only a few weeks away until the start of spring training, it’s time to take a moment and look back on just how bad my 2014 predictions really were.

2014 American League

Apparently I am an absolute expert at picking the AL Central.  The East?  Not so much….

2014 National League

Nostradamus!!!  100% of the division champs correctly predicted!  100% of the NL Playoff teams correctly predicted!!

2014 AL Stat Leaders

And that didn’t last long.  A down year for Verlander and an injury plagued year for Fielder hit me hard.  Still, four of my picks finished in the top-10 of their respective categories, so not a total bust.

2014 NL Stat Leaders

Not too bad on the pitching front, but pretty terrible on the hitters.  Kimbrel leading the league in saves has proven to be the easiest prediction in history.

2014 Playoffs

Tampa Bay over St. Louis.  Yikes.

2014 Awards

Mike Trout as MVP and Clayton Kershaw as Cy Young were picked by just about everybody in the world, so it’s hard to pump my tires over those picks.  Although Pujols and Morneau didn’t win the actual Comeback Player of the Year awards, they both had very good seasons, so I’ll take a bit of credit for that.  And Beltran and Howard both stunk, so I don’t feel too bad there either.  All in all, not awful!

Looking Back: 2014 Blue Jay Predictions

Uncategorized 20 October 2014 | 0 Comments

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It is a quiet time in baseball.  We are a day away from the World Series and a few weeks away from free agency.  The best way to fill this lull is with humour.  So with that, let’s take a look back at 25 Blue Jay predictions I made before the 2014 season started.

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.

Result: Half right.  Bautista did enjoy his best season since 2011, putting up a .928 OPS and 6.0 WAR but fell a bit short of the 40 HR mark with 35.

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.

Result: Not even close.  McGowan struggled in his return to the rotation lasting 2.2 IP and giving up 4 ER.

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.

Result: Again, half right.  An injury cost Edwin the 35 HR plateau as he fell just short with 34.  But with a combined 69 HR, he and Bautista were the top home run hitting teammates in baseball (tied with Cruz and Jones of Baltimore).

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

Result: Yep, though I did expect him to play more than 70 games.

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.

Result: Kind of.  Goins started the season and finished the season as the second basemen, but he spent a good chunk of the middle of the season in AAA Buffalo because he simply can’t hit.

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.

Result: Way off.  Lind was limited to only 37 PA vs LHP and put up a woeful .223 OPS.

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

Result: Nailed it – 202.0 IP.

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.

Result: Nope, both finished the season within the organization.

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

Result: Wrong on both.  Navarro actually out-homered Arencibia 12 – 10, and only managed to out-OBP him by 78 points, .317 – .239

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.

Result: No and No.  Dickey did have a pretty good season but fell short of both thresholds, finishing with 173 strikeouts and a 3.71 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.

Result: Didn’t happen – though Edwin did hit two triples in 2014, both in Toronto.

12. Jose Reyes plays over 145 games.

Result: So close!!! Reyes finished with 143 GP.

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

Result: Nailed it!  The Jays finished 13 – 7 (.650) 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.

Result: Kind of a 3-parter.  1) Santos did not have a massive year, wrong.  2) Janssen, aside from when he was injured, did maintain the closers role all season, right.  3) He did not reach 40 saves, finishing with 25, wrong.

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

Result: Right and wrong.  Stroman began as a reliever before becoming entrenched as a great starter.  Sanchez made 24 relief appearances.

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.

Result: The Jays actually carried three catchers for a while, so both Kratz and Thole were backups.  But Kratz was traded part way through the year (and is now in the World Series) and Jimenez never made the big leagues.

17. Bautista hits 3 HR in a game.

Result: Wrong.  He hit 2 HR in a game twice, but never managed 3.

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

Result: Couldn’t be further from the truth.  The Jays entered August just a game and a half out of the AL East lead, and comfortably ahead in the race for the second Wild Card, before going 9-17 to fall out of contention.

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

Result: Morrow did go down yet again, but only Happ started a game out of that quartet.

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.

Result: Wow.  What was I thinking here?  Sierra was abysmal in the 13 games he played in, posting an .059 average and .145 OPS before being shipped to the White Sox on waivers.

21. Toronto absolutely destroys Masahiro Tanaka….twice.

Result: Masahiro Tanaka absolutely destroyed the Jays….three times.  In three starts against Toronto he was 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA and 22 K in 18.1 IP.

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

Result: Close but no cigar.  With a .301 average Melky Cabrera finished eighth.

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.

Result: Nope.  Arencibia only struck out twice in the series, and even hit a home run against his former club.

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.

Result: The Thursday afternoon home game (on July 24) was memorable, but not because the hitters went crazy.  In an 8-0 Jays win, Marcus Stroman took a no-hitter into the 7th and finished with 7 1-hit, shutout innings.

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?

Result: I’ll take this one.  The Jays did surprise and remained in playoff contention until mid-to-late September.

Final Tally: Not good.  Not good all.  I did get a few picks right, but was spectacularly off on many.  Moises Sierra?  Yikes…

Announcing the Winners: 500 Level Fan’s 2014 Awards Ballot

Around the Majors 8 October 2014 | 3 Comments

With the 2014 postseason well underway, it is once again time to unveil my picks for baseball’s best.  The Baseball Bloggers Alliance has asked members to submit a ballot for the annual BBA Awards, which are a little bit different from the traditional ones.  There are five awards up for grabs – one each for top rookie, manager, reliever, pitcher, and player (notice the award is for TOP player, not most VALUABLE player).  While some of the awards are brutally obvious (Mr. Kershaw for best pitcher?), the others are very, very tight.

So without further ado, I present to you the 2014 500 Level Fan BBA Award Ballot!

Connie Mack Award – Top Manager

American League

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1. Mike Scioscia – LA Angels

After badly disappointing in 2013, Scioscia guided the Angels to the best record in the American League in 2014.  Having baseball’s best player certainly helps, but Scioscia had to navigate through a terrible bullpen early on, a major injury to Josh Hamilton, and the loss of 2/5 of the starting rotation (Skaggs and Richards).  He gets my vote.

2. Buck Showalter – Baltimore Orioles

Played most of the season without Machado, Davis, and Wieters, and re-jigged the bullpen on the fly to coast to an AL East title.

3. Ned Yost – Kansas City Royals

Seemed to make questionable moves quite often, and often infuriated fans with his love of bunting.  But there’s something to be said about a manager who leads the worst power hitting team in baseball to its first playoff birth in 29 years.

National League

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1. Don Mattingly – Los Angeles Dodgers

Yes the Dodgers had the biggest payroll in the game, but it’s tough to actually deliver when much is expected of you.  Add the fact that Kershaw missed a month, Puig being Puig, and having to fit four premium outfielders into three spots, and Mattingly did a great job.

2. Clint Hurdle – Pittsburgh Pirates

For a good part of the year the Pirates made last year’s playoff run look like a fluke.  But Hurdle kept fighting and led the Bucs to a second straight Wild Card spot.

3. Matt Williams – Washington Nationals

Rookie manager took over a talented team that badly disappointed last year.  Result?  A runaway NL East crown.

Willie Mays Award – Top Rookie

American League

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1. Jose Abreu – Chicago White Sox

The numbers were staggering for any player, let alone a rookie: 36 HR, 107 RBI, 35 2B, .964 OPS.  And he missed 17 games too!  No brainer.

2. Masahiro Tanaka – New York  Yankees

It was his award to lose early on, but an elbow injury limited him to only 20 starts.  Those starts were memorable however: 13-5, 2.77 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 141 Ks while playing in pressure packed Yankee Stadium.

3. Matt Shoemaker – Los Angeles Angels

Came out of nowhere to put up a 16-4 record with a 3.26 ERA for the AL West champions – massive after the injuries to Tyler Skaggs and Garrett Richards.

National League

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1. Jacob deGrom – New York Mets

Made just 22 starts, but had a dynamite year for the surprising Mets with a 2.69 ERA and 144 strikeouts.  Will be part of a terrific young rotation in 2015.

2. Billy Hamilton – Cincinnati Reds

The Reds badly disappointed in 2014, but Hamilton certainly didn’t.  A .250 average was much better than anticipated, and he added 56 stolen bases.  He might have to do something about the 23 times caught stealing, however.

3. Ken Giles – Philadelphia Phillies

The 23-year old looks like a closer-of-the-future for Philadelphia.  Posted a 1.18 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 64 Ks in 45.2 IP.

Goose Gossage Award – Top Reliever

American League

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1. Greg Holland – Kansas City Royals

The bullpen was one of the key reasons why KC ended its long playoff drought, and the anchor of that ‘pen was Holland.  He saved 46 games and put up a 1.44 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 90 K in 62.1 IP.

2. Wade Davis – Kansas City Royals

Acting as Holland’s setup man, Davis was unbelievable.  In 72 IP he struck out 109 batters and posted a 1.00 ERA and 0.85 WHIP.  Perhaps the Royals didn’t lose the Wil Myers trade after all….

3. Dellin Betances – New York Yankees

That’s right – two non-closers make my top-3.  Betances was unreal for the Yankees in 2014 with a 5-0 record, 1.40 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, and a staggering 135 K in 90 IP.

National League

Awards - Kimbrel

1. Craig Kimbrel – Atlanta Braves

Kimbrel takes this award for the fourth straight year on my ballot after leading the NL in saves yet again with 47.  He actually put up his worst numbers since 2011, but when your worst numbers are a 1.61 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 95 K in 61.2 IP, you’re pretty solid.

2. Aroldis Chapman – Cincinnati Reds

He just keeps dominating: 36 saves, a 2.00 ERA, and an absolutely ridiculous 17.7 K/9 (106 K in 54 IP).

3. Kenley Jansen – Los Angeles Dodgers

Jansen anchored a sometimes shaky Dodgers bullpen with 44 saves, 101 Ks, and a 2.76 ERA.

Walter Johnson Award – Top Pitcher

American League

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1. Felix Hernandez – Seattle Mariners

Unquestionably the best pitcher in the American League.  King Felix was absolutely dominant and nearly led the Mariners to the postseason.  He topped the league in ERA (2.14), Starts (34), WHIP (0.92), and Hits/9 (6.5), finishing with a 15-6 record, 248 strikeouts, and his seventh straight 200+ IP season.

2. Corey Kluber – Cleveland Indians

In just his second full big league season, Kluber came from seemingly out of nowhere to destroy opposing hitters.  With an 18-9 record, 2.44 ERA, and 269 strikeouts, Kluber kept the Indians in contention long after they should have been eliminated, especially in September.  In his final five starts he went 5-0, with a 1.12 ERA and 54 Ks.

3. Chris Sale – Chicago White Sox

Sale took his incredible 2013 numbers and nearly bettered them across the board, finishing with a 2.17 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a league leading 178 ERA+ and 10.8 K/9.

4. Jon Lester – Boston Red Sox / Oakland A’s

Lester started the season in Boston where he was one of the few bright lights on a dismal Red Sox team.  After being swapped to Oakland at the deadline, and faced with the immense pressure of trying to lead a collapsing team to the playoffs, Lester delivered big time: 2.35 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, with a complete game shutout in 76.2 IP.

5. David Price – Tampa Bay Rays / Detroit Tigers

Dealt just hours after Lester, Price wasn’t the difference maker that many expected him to be in Detroit.  But he finished the season as the AL leader in IP (248.1), and strikeouts (271).

National League

Awards - Kershaw

1. Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers

While there is debate about who is the best player in the game, Kershaw is hands down baseball’s best pitcher.  His 2014 season was one for the ages.  Despite missing all of April, he still topped the league in wins (21), ERA (1.77), Complete Games (6), ERA+ (197), FIP (1.81), WHIP (0.86), K/9 (10.8), and K/BB (7.71).  A masterpiece.

2. Johnny Cueto – Cincinnati Reds

Cueto had been knocking on the door of stardom for a while, but he finally broke through in 2014.  After injuries limited him to only 11 starts last season, the righty went 20-9, with a 2.25 ERA, and a league leading 242 strikeouts.

3. Adam Wainwright – St. Louis Cardinals

He is emerging as one of baseball’s most dependable starters, after finishing the year with a 20-9 record, 2.38 ERA, and 1.03 WHIP for the division winning Cardinals.

4. Madison Bumgarner – San Francisco Giants

Arguably the least recognizable name on the Giants staff after Cain, Lincecum, Hudson and mid-season acquisition Jake Peavy.  But Bumgarner has supplanted them all after his breakout 2014.

5. Cole Hamels – Philadelphia Phillies

Nice bounce back year for the lefty, in an otherwise dismal year for the Phillies.  Despite earning only 9 wins, Hamels put up a 2.46 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, and fell just short of 200 Ks.

Stan Musial Award – Top Player

American League

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1. Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels

There should be no debate this year about who wins this award, whether it be Top Player, Most Outstanding Player, or Most Valuable Player.  Trout is simply on another planet right now compared to the rest of the league.  In a season where he struck out more than ever before (league leading 184), and stole significantly fewer bases (16), Trout still managed to light up the league.  He topped the AL in WAR (7.9), Runs (115), RBI (111), and Total Bases (338), and finished in the top-10 in OBP, SLG, OPS, 2B, 3B, and HR.  His success also finally turned into team success as he led the Angels to the AL West crown. Oh – and he’s still only 23.

2. Josh Donaldson – Oakland A’s

Second to Trout in WAR at 7.4, Donaldson might have topped him if not for a September swoon.  Still, the Oakland 3B maintained his status as one of the best overall players in the game, with a rock solid 2.7 dWAR to go along with 29 HR and a .798 OPS.

3. Victor Martinez – Detroit Tigers

In a relatively down year for Miguel Cabrera, it was Martinez who became the offensive catalyst for Detroit.  He led the league in OBP and OPS, and set a career high with 32 HR.  He also hit an insane .337 with two strikes.

4. Jose Bautista – Toronto Blue Jays

Kept the Jays on the fringes of the playoffs all year long, as he put up his best season in years.  Bautista finished in the top-10 in WAR, OBP, SLG, OPS, Runs, HR, RBI, and Walks.

5. Jose Altuve – Houston Astros

Houston’s sparkplug had a career year, leading the league with 56 stolen bases, 225 hits, and a .341 average.

The rest:

6. Jose Abreu – Chicago White Sox

7. Nelson Cruz – Baltimore Orioles

8. Michael Brantley – Cleveland Indians

9. Robinson Cano – Seattle Mariners

10. Adrian Beltre – Texas Rangers

National League

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1. Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers

I’m not normally a fan of pitchers winning MVP, or in this case Top Player, awards but I think this year qualifies as a special circumstance.  Kershaw was just utterly and thoroughly dominant in a season when no position players were utterly and thoroughly dominant.  Kershaw topped the entire NL with a 8.0 WAR – miles ahead of second place.  He deserves it.

2. Giancarlo Stanton – Miami Marlins

MIght have been his award had a beanball not ended his season in early September.  As it is, Stanton led the league in HR with 37, SLG at .555, and total bases with 299.  He also finished in the top-3 in WAR, OPS, RBI, and BB.

3. Andrew McCutchen – Pittsburgh Pirates

Another outstanding year for the Pirates CF, and another postseason appearance for the Pirates.  McCutchen’s .952 OPS, 7.8 oWAR, and .410 OBP all topped the NL.

4. Jonathan Lucroy – Milwaukee Brewers

The unheralded Brewers catcher quietly put up a terrific year for Milwaukee.  He actually led all position players with a 6.7 WAR and 53 doubles, and put up an .837 OPS, all while playing 136 games at baseball’s toughest position.

5. Buster Posey – San Francisco Giants

The former NL MVP, Posey had an excellent year in 2014 (22 HR, .854 OPS, 5.2 WAR).  But he really came into his own by hitting .393 with a 1.043 OPS during the heat of the pennant race in September, helping the Giants clinch a Wild Card spot.

The rest:

6. Russell Martin – Pittsburgh Pirates

7. Anthony Rendon – Washington Nationals

8. Adrian Gonzalez – Los Angeles Dodgers

9. Carlos Gomez – Milwaukee Brewers

10. Justin Morneau – Colorado Rockies

500 Level Fan’s 2014 Playoff Predictions

Around the Majors 4 October 2014 | 0 Comments

playoffs

The MLB postseason is underway after a so-so Wild Card round.  We were treated to an absolute classic between KC and Oakland and then an absolute, old-fashioned blow-out between Pittsburgh and San Fran.

With 8 teams left, there really isn’t one true favourite. Things are wide open. So who will win?

American League Divisional Series

Detroit Tigers vs. Baltimore Orioles

Baseball is a funny game, one that I don’t understand.  On paper, the Orioles are a terrible baseball team.  Their three best players are all out for the playoffs – Machado, Davis, and Wieters.  Their lineup is stocked with no-names and scrubs, like Ryan Flaherty, Steve Pearce, and Caleb Joseph.  Their big offseason signing, Ubaldo Jimenez, was a bust.  Their power hitting shortstop J.J. Hardy hit only 9 HR.

On paper, Detroit is a juggernaut.  They have a huge offense with Cabrera, Victor and J.D. Martinez, Kinsler, Hunter, and Castellanos.  They have a rotation with three Cy Young winners, and two other All-Stars, and a potential hall of fame closer.

Yet it was Baltimore who romped to a division title and Detroit who clinched on the final day of the season.  It’s Baltimore who comes into this series as the favourite, and Detroit who is the underdog.  Never-the-less, I think the Tigers, despite a shaky bullpen, have what it takes to pull out the upset.

Prediction:  Detroit in 5.

Kansas City Royals  vs. LA Angels

After squeaking past Oakland in a game for the ages, the Royals reward is a trip to LA to face the best team in the American League, who are led by the best player in baseball.  Good luck!

But if the Royals proved anything this year, is that they can never be counted out.  Despite a weak offence and a mediocre starting rotation, Kansas City kept finding ways to win.  They used speed, bunts, and an outstanding bullpen to sneak past teams who relied on power.

But can they do it again?  Can they get by a team that has tons of thump and pop, with Trout, Pujols, Hamilton, Kendrick, and Calhoun?  There are serious questions about the Angels pitching, and there may be questions about how Trout fares in the playoffs for the first time.

Says here he will be fine.

Prediction:  LA in 4.

National League Divisional Series

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

How does St. Louis do it?  Year after year they find themselves in the postseason, despite having to overcome huge obstacles.  This year was no different as they faced a huge divisional deficit to the Brewers, and a late season push by the Pirates to emerge as NL Central champions – despite poor performances by many of the guys they were counting on (Tavares, Wong, Craig), and a severe injury to Yadier Molina.  Yet – here they are again.

They face the Dodgers in a rematch of last year’s NLCS.  LA is led by the best pitcher in the world in Clayton Kershaw.  But as good as he is, he always seems to struggle against the Cardinals.  If he continues to struggle against them, that makes the starts by Zack Greinke and Hyun Jin Ryu that much more important.

I can see St. Louis beating Kershaw once, but if Greinke and Ryu hold form, that means the Cards will have to beat him twice.  I can’t see that happening at all.

Prediction: LA in 5.

San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals 

Of course the Giants are back in the playoffs – it’s an even numbered year!  After winning it all in 2010 and 2012 San Fran is hoping for some more even number magic in 2014.  With the Cy-worthy Madison Bumgarner taking over as team ace, and with a red hot Buster Posey, they have as good a chance as ever.

They will face Washington, a year removed from being one of the most disappointing teams in the game.  This year, behind a solid rotation and a dominant bullpen, they dominated the NL East and are poised for a deep playoff run.  A lot may rest on the shoulders of Bryce Harper, however.  He used to be compared to Mike Trout as one of the best players in the game, but injuries and struggles have dropped his stature significantly.  If the good Harper shows up, the Nats should win.  If not….

Prediction: Washington in 5.

American League Championship Series

Detroit Tigers vs. Los Angeles Angels

If the Tigers have actually made it this far, it is a good indication that the bullpen is righted itself and the starters are firing.  That is bad news for the Angels, who despite having great offensive players, struggle a bit against power pitchers.  The biggest difference maker may very well be Anibal Sanchez.  Bumped from the rotation, Sanchez has the ability to give the Tigers 3, 4, or 5 quality innings from the bullpen if necessary.  With injuries to their rotation, that is a luxury that LA simply doesn’t have.  Miggy vs. Trout will get the headlines, but  Sanchez will earn the accolades.  Detroit in 6.

National League Championship Series

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Washington Nationals

Clayton Kershaw against Stephen Strasburg.  Baseball fans everywhere salivate at the thought.  But there are more than just those two involved here, in what would be a series loaded with superstars.  Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann, Zack Greinke, and on and on and on.  Washington won the season series 4-2, but I think there is something special about this Dodger team this year.  Kershaw dominates, and the Nationals can’t keep up. Dodgers in 7.

World Series

Detroit Tigers vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Funny – I picked this exact same World Series last year, meaning there is likely no chance that it happens.  But if it does – imagine the pitching match ups!  Scherzer, Verlander, Price, Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu.  Then you have Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Ian Kinsler vs. Puig, Gonzalez, Ramirez and co.  You have speed with Gordon and Rajai Davis.  You have shaky bullpens, which means the potential for crazy late inning drama.  Basically you have everything you’d want for a classic.  I picked the Tigers last year, and I think I’ll stand by them again  Miggy has to win once in Detroit right?

World Series Prediction: Detroit Tigers in 6.

The 500 Level Fan Guide to Playoff Rooting

Around the Majors 30 September 2014 | 0 Comments

Detroit-Tigers-Tiger-Logo-Design_9662f8d9-183f-462b-8e45-81432b69a110_1024x1024

The march to the 2014 World Series begins tonight as the Oakland A’s take on the Kansas City Royals, in Kansas City’s first playoff game since 1985.  The fact that the Royals made the postseason this year means that the crown of longest suffering fans has been passed to those of us who support the Blue Jays – a humiliating achievement.

Because our beloved team once again failed to play on past game 162, for the 20th consecutive playoffs we need to choose a new team to support.  After all, the playoffs make for great TV watching, but only if you go non-Swiss and actually pick a side to root for.

Normally the process of elimination is fairly straightforward as there is always a bitter rival to cheer against, like the Yankees or Red Sox.  But this year marks the first time since 1993 that neither Boston nor New York qualified, so things aren’t so simple.

But don’t worry – by following a simple step-by-step process, 500 Level Fan will have an October team picked out for you in no time.

Let’s do this.

Step 1 – The AL East

Just because the Red Sox and Yankees missed the cut, doesn’t mean it’s OK to support another AL East team.  It’s actually against the law to do that.

CUT – Baltimore Orioles

Step 2 – Recent Winners

Building dynasties can be fun if the dynasty plays in your city.  Otherwise, they suck and are not to be cheered for.  The Giants and the Cardinals have combined to win 4 of the past 8 World Series.  Enough is enough.

CUT – St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants

Step 3 – Teams that make you mad

Granted, this may be subjective, but tell me that you look at the roster of the Kansas City Royals and don’t get at least a little bit angry.  On paper the Jays should be able to crush a team that starts Omar Infante, Nori Aoki, Alcides Escobar, and brings Raul Ibanez off the bench.  Yes they are a nice story, but I can’t get behind them.

CUT – Kansas City Royals

Step 4 – Boring Teams

Aside from Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, tell me something exciting about the Nationals?  Harper’s regression this year makes him much less interesting than Trout or Puig, and there is no cinderella element to them.  They just do everything pretty well – and that’s boring.

CUT – Washington Nationals

So that leaves us with half the field: the Pirates, Dodgers, Angels, A’s, and Tigers.  The final step is to rate those teams in three categories: ex-Jays, best story, and most exciting.

Ex-Jays

5 points – Angels – Johnny Mac, John Buck

4 – Tigers – Rajai Davis

3 – Pirates – Travis Snider

2 – Dodgers – Brandon League

1 – A’s – Jesse Chavez

Best Story

5 – Tigers and A;s (tie) – I like it when teams go for it, so the aggressive trade deadlines for Oakland and Detroit give them a leg up.

3 – Pirates –  Back in the playoffs two years in a row.

1 – Dodgers and Angels (tie) – same expensive rosters as a year earlier.  Ho-hum.

Most Exciting

5 – Angels – Mike Trout in the playoffs, enough said

4 – Dodgers – Puig, Kershaw, Greinke, Brian Wilson’s beard…

3 – Tigers – Miggy, Victor, Kinsler, Price, Verlander, Scherzer, and on and on

2 – Pirates – McCutchen is worth watching all by himself

1 – A’s – Adam Dunn finally tastes the playoffs

Bottom Line

I can’t believe I’m saying this, what with bitter division battles in our history, but with a total of 12 points, give me the Tigers this October.  With a roster full of great players, a long series drought, an aggressive GM and owner, recent playoff failures, and ex-Jay representation, why not pull for them to bring the series back to Detroit?  They can keep it warm for us for 2015.

500 Level Fan of the Game – September 24, 2014

FLF of the Game 25 September 2014 | 0 Comments

Kemper

It took me a while, but finally, on the final homestand of the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays season, 500 Level Fan has uncovered a 500 Level Fan of the Game!

There was an extremely sparse crowd on hand to take in what turned out to be the quickest game of the season – only 1:59 was needed for Mark Buehrle and Taijuan Walker to duel in 1-0 Jays win.

Though there weren’t many fans on hand, there was one fantastic gentleman sitting in front of us in section 532.  Clad in a personalized jersey, “Kemper” was heavily in tune to the game, watching intently as Buehrle was dealing on the mound.  Despite the dome being deathly quiet for most of the game, Kemper came equipped with bright red ear plugs – fascinating.

Kemper loved the Jays, but it became clear early on that he was not a huge fan of John Gibbons.

In the top of the third, Corey Hart led off with a fly ball down the right field line that dropped very close to the line and bounced out of play.  The ball was called fair by the first base umpire, giving Hart a leadoff double.  It was tough to tell if the ball was fair or foul from our seats, but that didn’t stop Kemper from laying into Gibbons for not challening the call right away.

“Come on Gibbons!  Get out there you bum!  You’re a bum Gibbons!  A bum!  Come on you turd!  Put down your beer and get out there!  You bum!”

Gibbons of course did challenge, and lost.  Classic.

Kemper delivered another gem in the ninth, after a leadoff walk put a Mariner on first base.  “Good thing that wasn’t a no hitter,” he said, nonsensically.

But by far the best part about Kemper was his reaction to each Buehrle strikeout.  As soon as strike three was delivered, he would sweep his arm forward, flick his wrist, and wave goodbye to the strikeout victim.  It was our lucky night that Buehrle and Sanchez combined for 11 Ks, which meant we were treated to 11 goodbye waves!

Thanks Kemper, for the wonderful memories!

 

The Magnificent Bautista

Upper Deck Insight 23 September 2014 | 3 Comments

Bautista14

It has been a tough September to be a Jays fan.  After a thoroughly disgusting August, the Blue Jays put themselves back on the fringes of the playoff race with a 10-3 stretch in the middle of September.  Suddenly, hope was back in the city.

But the team hit the skids in a major way.  They were swept in Baltimore, lost 3 of 4 in New York, and will now be watching the playoffs like the rest of us.

Why?  How did this happen?  How did a season full of such of promise turn into yet another lonely October?

There are many reasons, but to put it bluntly this team just simply wasn’t good enough this year.  To quote Drew Fairservice, he of the great blog Ghostrunner on First, the Jays had  “too many at bats given to players who simply cannot – or could not – hit.”  The other teams were flat out better.

But though this season has turned into a disappointment, there is one thing that it has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt: Jose Bautista is an absolute beast.

Coming off two consecutive injury plagued seasons, there were many who were critical of the Jays leader.  “He is injury prone, his best days are behind him,” and on and on.  There were even whispers that Toronto should look to trade him for pitching help.

So what has Bautista done this year to answer his critics?  How about:

– .288 average (15th in the American League)

– 35 HR (3rd)

– 103 RBI (7th)

– 98 R (3rd)

– 103 BB (2nd)

– .407 OBP (1st)

– .940 OPS (4th)

– 5.7 WAR (9th)

Those numbers are incredible and cement Bautista as one of the best players in the American League.  But what’s even better than that is how amazing he has been lately.  With the Jays season spiralling out of control and playoff hopes growing dimmer by the day, Jose Bautista has put this team on his back and tried his best to carry them – to will them – into October.

In his past 25 games Jose Bautista has exploded: .318 / .455 / .716 / 1.170, 11 HR, 26 RBI, 19 BB : 12 K.  He has made countless fantastic plays in the outfield, and has been all around lights out.

Sadly his heroics won’t be enough to end Toronto’s playoff drought.  But if there is one thing that his finish should accomplish it’s this:

Nobody should question Jose Bautista anymore.

Season Ending Wish List

Upper Deck Insight 17 September 2014 | 0 Comments

norris

It was a wild, bumpy, exciting, agonizing, and all around great ride, but it’s time to call a spade a spade and admit it – this season is over.

Sitting five games back of the second wild card with 12 to play, the Jays need not one, not two, but three miracles to make the postseason.  First they need to finish strong – insanely, incredibly strong – along the lines of 11-1 or 12-0.  Then they need the Royals to have a terrible finish, and they also need the Mariners to have a similarly terrible finish.  The odds of that happening are slim to none.

But that doesn’t mean we should just tune out.  We should all be thankful for the season that Gibbons and co. have given us.  Meaningful September baseball for the first time since 2000 is a huge step forward, and a nice foundation has been laid for a truly competitive 2015.  Instead of being angry that the team fell short, fans should be celebrating a great turnaround season and some unexpected late season drama.

That doesn’t mean we can’t want something, however.  Below are five things I would love to see in the season’s final 12 games:

1. Colby Rasmus playing every day

The writing is on the wall for Rasmus.  After three-and-a-half up-and-down seasons in Toronto it is obvious that Colby will not be brought back for 2015 and beyond.  He arrived with much fanfare but never seemed to reach his full potential here, and now finds himself benched in favour of Kevin Pillar.  But despite his shortcomings as a player, fans have grown fond of Rasmus, with his Southern quirks and his love of chicken dogs.  Even though he will likely be suiting up in a different uniform next year, the Jays should let him finish out 2014 manning centrefield in Toronto, not rooted to the bench.

2. Daniel Norris making a start

I really want to see Aaron Sanchez get a chance at starting a game, but that is unrealistic seeing as how he has been in the bullpen for months.  To be honest, having Norris make a start is also unrealistic for the same reasons, but his last start came much more recently so stretching him out might be less of an issue.  He has only appeared in 3 games since his promotion in September, and as a much hyped prospect I’d love to see him pitch multiple innings to see what he can do.  If it means shutting down Marcus Stroman a start early, I’m all for it.

3. Dalton Pompey getting a start or two

Similar to Norris, Pompey was called up in September and has barely played.  With the Jays on the verge of being eliminated I’d love to see him in the outfield ahead of Pillar or Gose, at least once, and preferably at home.  Obviously decisions for 2015 won’t be made based on a few games, but it would be nice to see if he can offer more than Pillar or Gose.

4. Brandon Morrow closing games

While it seems obvious that Rasmus won’t be back next year, there are also many indications that Casey Janssen will also be a member of a new team.  His critical comments at the trade deadline, his drop in performance in the second half, and the fact that Sanchez was given a few save opportunities ahead of Janssen all seem to point Casey towards the door.  If so, the Jays will be looking for a new closer, and with Sanchez hopefully making the move to the rotation, Morrow might be a decent candidate if he’s brought back.  He is a power arm who has done it before, so why not give him a look to close out the season?  I personally think his control is too erratic to be effective, but if he’s in the mix I say throw him to the wolves.

5. Anthony Gose batting in the leadoff spot

I’ll be honest: this seems like an all-around bad idea.  Gose really struggles at the plate, and there are days when it seems he can’t hit the ball to save his life.  But he has drawn walks at a much higher rate than Reyes this season (9.8% of plate appearances vs. 6.3% for Reyes) and he has great speed.  Reyes at times has looked a little too swing happy and shown little patience.  Melky Cabrera was a great #2 man in the order, but on the chance that he leaves via free agency, the Jays should at least toy with the idea of going Gose, Reyes, Bautista at the top – at least for a few games in September.