Category Archives: Around the Majors

500 Level Fan’s 2014 Playoff Predictions

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

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.

Fun With Mid-Season WAR

Today is officially the worst day on the baseball calendar.  There is literally nothing happening today – no games, no home run derby, no All-Star events.  Absolutely nothing.

So why not take advantage of this quiet time to have some fun looking at mid-season WARs!  I did this at the beginning of the season when sample sizes were incredibly small.  Now, with over half the season in the books, we should be getting a clearer indication of who has been good and who has been bad.

And who has been downright awful.

Player WAR

 mid year 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), most of the names in the top-10 are guys you’d expect: Troy Tulowitzki, Mike Trout, Stanton, McCutchen, Goldschmidt.  Josh Donaldson is proving that last year was no fluke, and guys like Seager, Lucroy and Brantley have blossomed.  Jason  Heyward is a bit of surprise.  Jose Bautista is the top Blue Jay, ranking 18th in the majors.

Offensively, there are no real surprises, aside from perhaps Brantley.  Two Jays rank in the top-10 which is great to see.  Likewise, there are no real surprises on the defensive side of the ball either, as baseball’s top defenders are well recognized.  The biggest disappointment has to be that Ryan Goins is still considered Toronto’s top defensive player, despite not playing in the big leagues for months.

 mid year WAR worst

 

This where things get interesting.  In terms of baseball’s worst total WAR, a few of those names jump right off the screen, namely Raul Ibanez, Matt Kemp, Domonic Brown, Jedd Gyorko, and Alfonso Soriano.  These are former All-Stars, former near-MVP’s, and guys who were still extremely useful to their teams as recently as 2013.  We knew they were having down years in 2014, but this has to be considered a heavy disappointment.  It’s also interesting to see that Brad Glenn put up a -0.4 WAR with Toronto in such limited playing time.  That’s rough.

Two other points to make.  1 – how bad of a fielder does Matt Kemp have to be to put up a -2.4 WAR?  That is abysmal, and much, much worse than Castellanos.  2 – I think Jays fans will agree that Melky Cabrera is MILES ahead of last year in terms of his defense – yet he is still ranked 1,042nd in the majors.  Imagine how his dWAR would have looked if he played a full season last year?  Yikes.

Pitcher WAR

 mid year WAR pitcher

 

You can’t argue the top-2 in terms of WAR.  Adam Wainwright and Felix Hernandez were the starting pitchers of last night’s All-Star game.  But how about Toronto’s Mark Buehrle slotting in at #3 in all of baseball, tied with the great Clayton Kershaw?  Very impressive.  The two biggest surprises for me are Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel, one current and one former Cub.  Was not expecting that kind of performance from those two.

On the worst WAR list, it is no surprise to see Ernesto Frieri.  The former Angels closer was just horrendous early in 2014.  It also seems as if Edwin Jackson is on this list every year.  How he keeps finding pitching jobs is beyond me.  Finally, poor Sergio Santos ranks 595th in major league baseball.  It might be time to cut ties with him before he sinks any lower.

Halfway Home: Revisiting My 2014 Predictions

Crystal Ball

The 2014 MLB mid-season lull is in full effect.  The Blue Jays are off until Friday night, meaning we have four days of dead air ahead of us.  (No, the home run derby doesn’t count).  To help fill the empty space, today I will take a look at just how bad my 2014 predictions look so far. 

American League Predictions

East 2014 AL East

Thoughts: What can you say really.  Boston and Tampa Bay have been the biggest flops in baseball and the Jays have surprised everybody.  However, Tampa is starting to surge, and with the AL East actually being baseball’s weakest division (how weird does that sound), a crazy Rays comeback might not be out of the cards just yet.

Central 2014 AL Central

Thoughts: Absolutely, 100%, nailed it so far!  I expect the Tigers to maintain the lead the rest of the way, and the biggest battle to be between the Royals and Indians for second – and potentially a Wild Card spot. 

West 2014 AL West

Thoughts: If it wasn’t for Texas it would be two clean sweeps in a row.  Nothing has gone right for the Rangers this year and they might very well suffer the dubious distinction of finishing behind the Houston Astros.  Oakland, LA, and Seattle are making a serious case to have three playoff teams come out of the West.  

Wildcards

I predicted the A’s and Red Sox.  Oakland looks like a sure bet for the postseason, but maybe as the AL West champ.  The Red Sox look horrendous – and I couldn’t be happier!  Currently the Angels and Mariners lead the way. 

Stat Leaders 

2014 AL Stat Leaders

Thoughts:  Hey – I got Felix Hernandez for ERA leader right!  Unfortunately that’s about the only thing I’m even close on.  To be fair, Prince Fielder’s injury hampered that pick, and I’m not sure anybody could have predicted Justin Verlander’s regression.  I have a funny feeling that I might also nail the Mike Trout prediction by the end of the year. 

Awards & Miscellany

MVP – Mike Trout, LAA

– I think you’d have to consider him the favourite right now.

Cy Young – Justin Verlander, DET

– He has really fallen hard this year.  Probably not even in the top-10 right now.  This is currently King Felix’s award to lose.

Rookie – Jose Abreu, CHI

– He currently leads the majors with 29 HR, so he is the odds on favourite to win this award.

Manager – Brad Ausmus, DET

– This award is wide open right now.  Ausmus is right in the mix, along with Bob Melvin of Oakland and Lloyd McClendon of Seattle.  But a big second half could put a number of other guys in the mix (including John Gibbons).

Bounceback Player – Albert Pujols, LAA

– With 20 HR already, he has already eclipsed his 2013 total.  I’ll stick by him.

Most Disappointing Player – Carlos Beltran, NYY

– .216 average and .671 OPS and looking older by the day.  I think I nailed this one!

First Major Player Traded – Colby Rasmus, TOR

– Not yet…

National League Predictions

East 2014 NL East

Thoughts: If not for the Phillies I would have fully nailed this division.  As it stands, Philadelphia is awful, and it looks like the race for first is going to go right down to the wire.  Miami looked like a contender early on, but have since faded.

Central 2014 NL Central

Thoughts: At least I got the Cubs right.  Milwaukee has outperformed expectations to this point, but are currently really struggling and might drop back to fourth in a week or two.  I had high hopes for the Pirates, and they appear to have turned a corner, but still have a lot of work to do to reach a playoff spot.

West  2014 NL West

Thoughts: So far so good at the top, but I was way off on Arizona, and I expected much, much less from San Diego – though the bottom three are so tightly packed that anything can happen.  

Wildcards

I predicted San Francisco and Pittsburgh, and currently the Giants and Braves hold down the spots.  But the Pirates are only 3 games back, so still very much alive.

Stat Leaders 

2014 NL Stat Leaders

Thoughts: A much better performance here than in the AL.  My picks of Kimbrel, Kershaw, and Goldschmidt were all pretty good, and Marte is in the top-5 for steals.  Injuries derailed my picks of Gonzalez and Fernandez, but both were playing pretty well before they went down, so that makes me feel a bit better.

Awards

MVP – Bryce Harper, WAS

– Not looking too good right now as he has battled injuries this year.  This award is probably wide open right now.

Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

– Looks like it will boil down to him or Adam Wainwright.  Both deserve it.

Rookie – Archie Bradley, ARI

– Yet to play a big league game. 

Manager – Matt Williams, WAS

– Very much in the running.

Bounceback Player – Justin Morneau, COL

– With a .312 average, .846 OPS, and 13 HR this one looks good!

Most Disappointing Player – Ryan Howard, PHI

– Second in the NL in strikeouts, batting .220 with a -0.5 WAR.  He is certainly in the running.

First Major Player Traded – Cliff Lee, PHI

– Still might go, but Jeff Samardzija beat him to it.

500 Level Fan’s 2014 All-Stars and No-Stars

allstar

The 2014 MLB All-Star rosters were announced Sunday night, and the Blue Jays had three players named to the AL squad.  Sadly, due to Edwin Encarnacion’s quad injury, only two will be traveling to Minnesota, but the selection of Jose Bautista and Mark Buehrle were both very well deserved.

But how about the rest of the teams?  That’s where I come in.  Today 500 Level Fan will unveil the fifth annual 500 Level Fan All-Star teams.  These are players that would be in the All-Star Game if I had my way.  And just for fun, I’ll also be announcing the fourth annual 500 Level Fan No-Star teams, a list of players who are really, truly, and brutally awful.

So sit back and enjoy 500 Level Fan’s All-Star and No-Stars for 2014:

Catcher

All-Stars: – Salvador Perez (Kansas City, AL) and Jonathan Lucroy (Milwaukee, NL)

– Both Derek Norris of the A’s and Devin Mesoraco of the Reds have better numbers than Perez and Lucroy, but have only just over half the number of at-bats.  So while they have been very impressive, Perez and Lucroy have been equally impressive across a much larger sample size.  Lucroy in particular has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball, with a .326 average, .907 OPS, and 4.4 WAR. 

No-Stars – Jose Molina (Tampa Bay, AL) and Travis d’Arnaud (New York, NL)

– With a -1.4 WAR and a .191 slugging percentage over 136 AB, Molina has actually been worse than J.P. Arencibia was for the Rangers.  d’Arnaud’s time will come, but it clearly isn’t happening this year: .286 OBP, -0.8 WAR, 1 demotion to the minor leagues.

First Base

All-Stars: – Edwin Encarnacion (Toronto, AL) and Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona, NL)

– Before going down with an injury on Friday, Edwin was having a season to remember with 26 HR, 70 RBI, and a .959 OPS.  If not for the DL stint 40-50 HR was a real possibility.  Goldschmidt is proving that last year was no fluke, with a 1B best .960 OPS and 4.1 WAR on a last place Arizona club.

No-Stars – Nick Swisher (Cleveland, AL) and Ryan Howard (Philadelphia, NL)

– Nothing has gone right for Swisher this season, evidenced by his league worst -0.7 WAR and sub-.200 average.  But at least Cleveland isn’t paying him Ryan Howard’s salary.  Howard’s 14 HR are nice, but the .231 average, -0.2 WAR, and 107 strikeouts are not.

Second Base

All-Stars – Jose Altuve (Houston, AL) and Chase Utley (Philadelphia, NL)

– A lot of great options in the AL this season, but none have been better than Houston’s diminutive 2B.  Altuve leads the AL in hitting, has a solid .813 OPS, has nearly as many walks (22) as strikeouts (26), and has swiped 39 bases.  Utley has turned back the clock in Philly to the tune of a .791 OPS and 2.8 WAR.

No-Stars – Eric Sogard (Oakland, AL) and Jedd Gyorko (San Diego, NL)

– Sogard had a nice year in 2013 but has been poor in 2014, and is currently sporting a miniscule .224 slugging percentage.  Gyorko was a breakout star last year, and the Padres expected big things after signing him to a nice extension.  But he has been both injured and awful: .162 average, -1.4 WAR.

Third Base

All-Stars: – Josh Donaldson (Oakland, AL) and Todd Frazier (Cincinnati, NL)

– In a spot normally reserved for Adrian Beltre, it has been Donaldson having the banner year in the AL West.  His 19 HR and 63 RBI are tops among all third baseman, and his defense has been fantastic.  Frazier is having a huge breakout year for the Reds with 17 HR and an .849 OPS, almost single-handedly keeping Cincy afloat in the NL Central.

No-Stars – Mike Moustakas (Kansas City, AL) and Mike Olt (Chicago, NL)

– Royals fans keep waiting for Moustakas to take the next step, but he only seems to be going backwards.  Currently sits under the Mendoza line and has already been sent back to the minors once.  Olt was a prized slugger acquired in the Garza trade last year, and hasn’t disappointed power-wise with 11 HR.  But he has struck out in almost 40% of his plate appearances and is hitting a major league-worst .147.

Shortstop

All-Stars: – Alexei Ramirez (Chicago, AL) and Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado, NL)

– Yes Jeter is starting, but Ramirez should be.  His numbers are outstanding: 8 HR, 41 RBI, 14 SB, .723 OPS, 2.3 WAR.  Tulowitzki has slowed down a bit after his meteoric start, but still leads all SS in just about every offensive category: 18 HR, 47 RBI, .349 average, 1.044 OPS, 5.4 WAR.

No-Stars – Xander Bogaerts (Boston, AL) and Everth Cabrera (San Diego, NL)

– Boston’s rookie has shown flashes of brilliance, but also prolonged stretches of awful-ness.  He has struck out 84 times with a mere .675 OPS.  Cabrera is coming off the Biogenesis scandal, and it seems to have impacted his legs.  Known for his speed, he has only swiped 13 bases while being caught 7 times – a ratio that won’t bail out his .546 OPS.

Outfield

All-Stars: – Jose Bautista (Toronto, AL), Michael Brantley (Cleveland, AL), Mike Trout (LA Angels, AL), and Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh, NL), Giancarlo Stanton (Miami, NL), Carlos Gomez (Milwaukee, NL)

– Bautista and Trout have become staples in this category, and both might be having their best all-around seasons yet.  Brantley has been terrific for the Indians, with a .323 average, .898 OPS, and a perfect 10-for-10 in stolen bases.  In the NL, McCutchen, Stanton, and Gomez are just getting better and better.  The trio have combined for 47 HR, 35 SB, and 12.0 WAR.

No-Stars – Robbie Grossman (Houston, AL) and Domonic Brown (Philadelphia, NL)

– Grossman proved to be a very useful player in 2013 but has been mostly useless this year.  In over 130 plate appearances the Astros OF has managed just 7 extra base hits, a .158 average, and a .536 OPS.  Things have been ugly for Brown this year as he tries to follow up last year’s breakout campaign: only 5 HR and a major league-worst -1.7 WAR. 

Starting Pitcher

All-Stars: – Felix Hernandez (Seattle, AL) and Adam Wainwright (St. Louis, NL)

– Somehow King Felix is getting even better, and this year he finally is getting run support.  He has a 10-2 record to go along with a sparkling 0.89 WHIP, 2.11 ERA, and 145 strikeouts in 136.1 IP.  Johnny Cueto and Clayton Kershaw have both been fantastic in the NL, but Wainwright has been just a bit better.  He leads baseball with a 4.7 WAR and a 1.79 ERA.

No-Stars –  Clay Buchholz (Boston, AL) and Edwin Jackson (Chicago, NL)

– Not much has gone right for the defending champs, not the least of which has been the performance of one of their supposed “aces”.  Buchholz has been horrendous in 2014 with a 6.11 ERA in 13 starts.  I think it’s clear that despite having great stuff, Edwin Jackson will never figure it out.  He continues to defy logic by never missing a start, yet never pitching well.  This year’s numbers: 1.52 WHIP, 5.05 ERA, 45 walks.

Non-Closing Reliever

All-Stars: – Dellin Betances (New York, AL) and Jonathan Broxton (Cincinnati, NL)

– Betances has been a revelation out of the Yankee bullpen, with an astounding 79 strikeouts in 52.1 innings, to go along with a nasty 0.75 WHIP.  Broxton has reinvented himself in Cincinnati as Chapman’s setup man, and has been dominant: 0.76 WHIP, 0.62 ERA in 29 IP.

No-Stars – Alexi Ogando (Texas, AL) and Brian Wilson (Los Angeles, NL)

– Ogando was once a rising star in the Rangers rotation and bullpen, but has been a major disappointment in 2014, allowing nearly two baserunners per inning.  The bearded one has flopped so far as a Dodger (though to be fair he has been better lately): 1.88 WHIP, 5.64 ERA. 

Closer

All-Stars: – Greg Holland (Kansas City, AL) and Huston Street (San Diego, NL)

– Holland is picking up right where he left off a year ago with a 50:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 1.04 WHIP, 1.93 ERA and 23 saves.  Francisco Rodriguez and Craig Kimbrel have received more attention than Huston Street, but Street has been nearly perfect for the Padres: 23/24 in saves, 0.78 WHIP, 1.13 ERA, and only 7 walks allowed.

No-Stars – Ernesto Frieri (Los Angeles, AL and Pittsburgh, NL)

– So bad, he counts for both leagues after a midseason trade.  Frieri has allowed a mind-boggling 27 runs in only 33.1 innings, for an ERA of 7.29.  How he managed to save 11 games is beyond me.

Ten Shocking Stats

shocking

The calendar has flipped to June.  All teams are approaching the 60 game mark.  Believe it or not, the season is already 35% complete.

With over 850 games in the books, it’s safe to say that small sample sizes are a thing of the past.  Players who got off to fast starts have faded back to career norms.  Teams that came blazing out of the gates (hello Colorado) are starting fall back in line. 

But not all of them.

Here are ten shocking stats through a third of the MLB season.

1. The Tampa Bay Rays are the worst team in the American League

You read that right.  After losing a 7th straight game last night, the Rays are now 23–35 and have dropped below the Houston Astros in the standings.  Nothing has gone right so far.  The normally outstanding David Price has looked normal, injuries have hurt the rotation, new closer Grant Balfour has been borderline terrible, and the offense has been non-existent.  You might recall that I picked them to win the World Series this year.  Oops.

2. Justin Verlander looks more like John Danks than Justin Verlander

Seriously.  Through 12 starts the former Cy Young and MVP winner is shockingly mortal.  He ranks 26th in the AL with a near-career-worst 3.99 ERA, and 39th with a career-worst 1.44 WHIP.  After striking out around 9.0 batters per 9 innings in each of the last 5 seasons, his K/9 this year is a mere 6.5.  Is this a blip or the beginning of the end?

3. The third best pitcher in all of baseball is Dallas Keuchel

At least according to WAR it is.  The Astros pitcher got off to a strong start and has somehow been able to maintain it.  With a 3.0 WAR, he trails only Johnny Cueto and Yu Darvish.  He is 6-3 with a 2.70 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 64 K.

4. The Kansas City Royals have just 25 HR as a team

That number is so low that Edwin Encarnacion almost matched it in May alone.  Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz has 20 on his own.  The lack of power is one of the main reasons why the Royals fired their hitting coach earlier this week.  Dreadful.

5. J.P. Arencibia is even worse than last year

After putting up one of the worst offensive seasons in the history of the game and being released by Toronto, Arencibia caught on with Texas with hopes of resurrecting his career.  It didn’t turn out that way.  The Rangers needed to see only 60 AB before sending him to the minors, as JPA managed a paltry .182 OBP and a -0.9 WAR.  Poor guy.

6. Dee Gordon has 34 stolen bases

The LA Dodgers have played 59 games, meaning Gordon is on pace for 93 steals in 2014.  No major league player has eclipsed the 90 steal plateau since Rickey Henderson in 1988, and nobody has topped 100 since Vince Coleman the year before.  If Gordon can continue to get on base, those numbers are in his radar.

7. Carlos Gonzalez has a WAR of -0.5

Gonzalez has been one of baseball’s best overall players in each of the past four seasons, averaging 27 HR and a .926 OPS.  This season he has been subpar, hitting .258 with a .763 OPS and only 8 HR.  The -0.5 WAR makes him the fifth worst player in the National League, ahead of the equally disappointing Matt Kemp (-0.9 WAR).

8. Only 5 of the 15 AL teams have a positive run differential

Normally you would expect at least 7 or 8 to be on the plus side, but that isn’t the case this year.  Even weirder is the fact that Toronto is the only team in the AL East, and Detroit the only team in the AL Central to be above 0.  Oakland has an unreal +115 differential through 57 games.

9. The San Diego Padres have a team OBP of .283

If you’re looking for a reason why the Padres have scored a major league low 187 runs, this would be it.  For context, in terms of players, a .283 OBP ranks 158th of 174 qualified players.  The Padres have four players in the bottom 15: Will Venable (.280), Everth Cabrera (.279), Yonder Alonso (.248), and Jedd Gyorko (and MLB-worst .217).  That is almost like have a full team of Arencibia’s!

10. Edwin Encarnacion has 0 (ZERO!) intentional walks

That’s right – zero.  Even when he was in the middle of one of the hottest hitting streaks in baseball, even when he was literally matching Mickey Mantle this past May, he wasn’t given an intentional pass.  Not even once.  Even with journeyman Juan Francisco or .230 hitting Brett Lawrie batting behind him.  What’s crazier is that Jose Bautista, hitting in front of Edwin, was issued an intentional walk to get to Edwin!  Think about that.

Fun With Early Season WAR

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

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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

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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.

 

2014 MLB Season Predictions

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.

2014 Division Preview – American League East

AL East

Welcome to the final edition of 500 Level Fan’s divisional preview series.  Today’s focus is on the AL East, the home of the Blue Jays.

Defending Champion

Boston Red Sox

Past Five Champions

2013 – Boston

2012 – New York

2011 – New York

2010 – Tampa Bay

2009 – New York

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 97.6

Best Player

Evan Longoria, Rays

In a division stocked with veteran players and former All-Stars, Longoria takes the cake.  He is only 28, meaning he has only just entered his prime years, and he seems to get better each and every year.  Last season Longo eclipsed the 30 HR mark for the third time in his six year career, and topped an .840 OPS for the sixth straight year, while finishing 6th in AL MVP balloting.  He plays outstanding defense at third, and has developed into a real team leader on the Rays, continuing to lead the cash strapped franchise into contention.  This year the team is poised to be even better, and so is Longoria.

Honourable Mention: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox; Manny Machado, Orioles

Best Pitcher

David Price, Rays

The number of elite pitchers in the AL East has dwindled over the years, and with newcomer Masahiro Tanaka still an unknown quantity, the best bet here is Price.  A year removed from his Cy Young season, Price struggled early in 2013 before missing the entire month of June due to injury.  When he returned he was just as dominating as ever.  From July onwards, Price made 18 starts, posting a 9-4 record, 2.53 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 102 strikeouts, and only 13 walks (!) in 131.2 IP.  For the season, he led the entire American League in both complete games (4), and K/BB (5.59).  He enters 2014 as the undisputed ace on a contending team, and is also on a contract year.  Will he still be a Ray in October?

Honourable Mention: Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees; Jon Lester, Red Sox

Three Storylines For 2014

1. Same Old Yankees

In 2008 the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in ages, and responded by going on a massive spending spree in the offseason.  In 2013, they missed the playoffs again, but this time promised fiscal restraint and professed a desire to stay below the luxury tax threshold.  That lasted for about ten minutes.  When all was said and done, the Yanks spent just under $460-million on just four players.  Will Carlos Beltran, Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann make them better?  Absolutely.  But with the departure of Robinson Cano, and the continuing fade of Jeter and Teixeira, the infield looks awful.  Plus with the retirement of Mariano Rivera there is a huge hole in the bullpen, and plenty of question marks in the rotation.  These are the Yankees, however, so holes don’t stay unplugged very long.

2. World Series Hangover?

The Red Sox shocked the baseball world by going from worst to first and winning the 2013 World Series (to the dismay of Jays fans everywhere).  But now comes the tough part: trying to do it again.  No team has repeated since the 1998-2000 Yankees, and the road will be difficult for the Sox.  They lost Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, and offensive sparkplug Jacoby Ellsbury over the winter, and didn’t really bring in anybody save for A.J. Pierzynski (who disappointed in Texas last year).  They are putting a lot of faith in rookies Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts to pick up the offensive slack, and are hoping that the rotation can stay healthy – easier said than done with injury stalwarts Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz.  One can easily see Boston romp to the division title, but one can also see them regress back to fourth place.

3. Don’t Forget About the Rest

As is so often the case with the AL East, the Yankees and Red Sox hog all the headlines.  But there are other very good teams that play here too.  In fact, the Tampa Bay Rays just might be the division favourite after having a very un-Ray like offseason.  They actually spent money in re-signing James Loney and bringing in closer Grant Balfour.  They also hung on to ace David Price despite his looming free agency, and he leads a stacked starting five.  Baltimore regressed last year, as expected, but also spent some money this offseason.  Ubaldo Jimenez will help a young rotation and Nelson Cruz has the potential to add plenty of pop in the outfield, not to mention young stars Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado.  Then there are the Jays, who, well, uh, umm….yeah.

Interesting Stat

Speaking of the Jays – they didn’t do much in the offseason, but they did make one very important move: upgrade the catcher position.  In 2013, Blue Jay catchers weren’t just bad – they were abysmal.  Toronto’s catchers ranked dead last in the AL in average (.194) and OBP (.235), and were third last in OPS (.583).  They also finished with the third most strikeouts (169) and the second fewest walks (30) – not a good combination. The trio of J.P. Arencibia, Josh Thole, and Henry Blanco were bad, but Arencibia by far was the worst – especially his splits.  On the road last season, Arencibia hit .147 with an absolutely unfathomable OBP of .185.  New catcher Dioner Navarro won’t confuse anybody for Buster Posey, but with a career OBP of .313 he looks like Carlton Fisk compared to what Toronto had last year.

What the Bloggers are Saying

I reached out to Ernie Paicopolos, Editor-In-Chief of Fenway Nation, an outstanding Red Sox blog to get his take on what is in store for the AL East this season.

Biggest Storyline

I’d say the Yankees are the biggest storyline to watch out for in 2014.  They spent half-a-billion dollars and they still have holes – mostly in the infield and bullpen.  Adding Ellsbury, Beltran, McCann and Tanaka will clearly make them better – but how much better over their 85 wins last year (thanks to an amazing job by Joe Girardi)?  I see them getting 88-90 wins for their over-spending.  Lots of angst in the Bronx – whihc is a good thing!

Most Interesting Player

The AL East player I’m most interested to see this year is Wil Myers.  The kid hit .293 with 13 HRs in just 88 games last year – even though he looked a little overmatched at times in the post-season  I see a break-out year for him in 2014 – maybe even MVP-type numbers.  The Royals will soon regret that deal for ‘Big Game’ James Shields.

Who Wins?

Sorry to say, I don’t think the Red Sox or the Jays will win the AL East in 2014.  I think the Rays are going to put it all together this year – led by Myers, Longoria and their young pitching.  I see Tampa reeling off 98-100 wins and taking the division with relative ease.  I think the Red Sox will finish a somewhat distant second (94-95) wins and barely take one of the Wild Card slots.

Who Should Win

Tampa Bay

Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column on March 27th.

2014 Division Preview – American League Central

AL Central

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

2013 – Detroit

2012 – Detroit

2011 – Detroit

2010 – Minnesota

2009 – Minnesota

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 91.4

Best Player

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

This isn’t even close. Though he may have lost his status as the best player in the game (at least in the opinion of some), Miguel Cabrera is still the class of the AL Central, and an absolute beast. Last year he hit 44 HR and drove in 137 runs, all while missing 14 games. It was his second straight year of 40+ HR, and his 7th in a row of 30+ HR. He also won the AL batting title for the third straight season, finishing at .348, and he led the league in OPS with a massive 1.078. Cabrera has incredibly finished in the top-30 in MVP voting every single season of his career, including winning it in each of the past two years. Dominating.

Honourable Mention: Jason Kipnis, Indians; Alex Gordon, Royals

Best Pitcher

Max Scherzer, Tigers

In his fourth season in Detroit, Scherzer was finally able to put it all together, and for the first time eclipse his teammate Justin Verlander as the most dominant arm in the division. In winning the AL Cy Young award, Scherzer put forth some gaudy numbers, including a league best 21-3 W/L record, and a league leading 0.97 WHIP. Throw in 240 strikeouts, a 2.90 ERA, and only 56 walks in 214.1 IP, and you have a career defining campaign. Next up is trying to replicate that success in 2014.

Honourable Mention: Justin Verlander, Tigers; Chris Sale, White Sox

Three Storylines For 2014

1. Remade Tigers – Are They Better?

After three straight division titles and three straight disappointing playoff exits, the Detroit Tigers made some very significant changes in the offseason. First came the blockbuster trade with Texas, sending Prince Fielder to the Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Then, in a move that puzzled many, Doug Fister was shipped to the Nationals for a few relievers, opening up a rotation spot for Drew Smyly. They then added Joe Nathan to take over the troublesome closers spot, brought in Rajai Davis for bench depth, and named Brad Ausmus manager to take over for the retired Jim Leyland. After that whirlwind comes this question: are they actually better now? With Verlander trying to recover from offseason surgery, Jose Iglesias potentially missing the entire season, and the Scherzer contract fiasco hanging over them, there will be plenty of distractions standing in their way.

2. Brand New Minny

It’s been quite the fall from grace for Minnesota. After back-to-back Central crowns in ’09 and ’10, they have plummeted to 63, 66, and 66 wins in each of the past three years, never rising higher than fourth. To address that, the Twins made some wholesale changes of their own. The starting rotation – a huge weakness last year – has been remade with the additions of Ricky Nolaso, Phil Hughes, and Mike Pelfrey. Each of those comes with the potential to be great, but also a history of inconsistency. Longtime franchise icon Justin Morneau is gone, and his former partner in crime Joe Mauer will tansition to first base full time. The key will be getting enough offense from a young outfield, and looking forward to the potential callup of young phenom Byron Buxton. It likely won’t be enough for 2014, but the foundation is being set.

3. A Royal Improvement

After years of being labelled baseball’s next big thing, the Kansas City Royals finally took a step forward last year, finishing with 86 wins and only 5 games out of a Wild Card spot. This year all eyes will be on them to see if they can continue moving forward and finally break baseball’s longest postseason drought. The Royals brought in reinforcements in Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante to join a solid young core of Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Salvador Perez, and are hoping for a breakout year from Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas. They also welcome back one of baseball’s best closers in Greg Holland. However, after the departure of Ervin

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Santana, there are questions marks in the rotation after ace James Shields. And with Shields himself set to become a free agent after the season, the team needs to be in contention by the trade deadline to avoid a massive amount of speculation. With the Indians and maybe the Tigers both vulnerable, a good start is mandatory.

Interesting Stat

Advanced defensive metrics are ever evolving, and most will admit that they aren’t perfect. But no matter what your opinion on the subject, one thing is obvious – they all agree that Miguel Cabrera was a poor 3B. There were 160 players who spent time at third last year. Cabrera ranked 160th – dead last – in Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average at -17, meaning he cost his team 17 runs with his glove, and he was 159th in Defensive Runs Saved at -18. Cabrera’s defensive WAR (dWAR) was also pretty bad, coming in at -1.5. In 2014 Cabrera will shift back across the diamond to first base, a much easier and less premium position. That move should tighten up Detroit’s infield D, which in turn could do a world of good for the Tigers pitching staff and ultimately the runs allowed column.

What the Bloggers are Saying

I reached out to Mike Brandyberry, a Cleveland Indians blogger who runs a fantastic Indians blog called Did The Tribe Win Last Night.

Biggest Storyline

I think the biggest storyline for the division is that it is as wide open as it has been in the last couple of seasons. Detroit has really shaken up their roster with the loss of Jim Leyland, Prince Fielder, and Doug Fister. The Tigers can tout that they are quicker and better defensively all they want, but when you shake up your roster, you just can’t be certain you are still as good as you have been the last couple seasons. Detroit is still the team to beat, but they aren’t the near, sure-thing like they have been the last five seasons. Cleveland and Kansas City can both challenge the Tigers this season. It will be interesting to see how those two teams unfold. It’s easy to believe the Indians may have exceeded expectations last season and the Royals have to have a sense of urgency withi James Shields’ pending free agency at the end of 2014. I could see any of those teams winning the division, or any of them falling on their face.

Most Interesting Player

Justin Verlander and how he rebounds from a subpar season (by Verlander standards) and from minor injury this offseason can really dictate a lot. If Verlander returns to form and he and Max Scherzer make a dominant 1-2 punch, the Indians and Royals have nothing that can match that. If Verlander continues to appear human, or even has further setbacks, the door opens even wider for Cleveland or Kansas City to run through.

Who Wins?

As wide open as I think the division is, Detroit is still the team to beat. Pitching wins and they have the best pitching. however, each of three contenders (Detroit, Cleveland, and Kansas City) have some flaws. Detroit has lost both some offensive pop and a quality starting pitcher in Doug Fister. Cleveland won more than their fair share of one-run games last year. If that doesn’t happen, their win total could backpedal and I think Kansas City is the most improved team in the division. It could really make for a 3-team race to 90 wins. One gets in the playoffs and the other two miss the playoffs.

Who Should Win

Detroit

Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column on March 27th.