Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Jake Arrieta Has Been Great But Clayton Kershaw Is Running Away With The Cy Young Award

In the second half of 2015 Jake Arrieta went on one of the most impressive pitching runs baseball had ever seen. In fact it was the best pitched second half of all time. In his 15 starts after the All-Star break he went 12-1 with a 0.75 ERA, the lowest ERA after the break in MLB history. Arrieta's only loss came when Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter against the Cubs. Arrieta's performance was better than the second half of Bob Gibson's legendary 1968 season when he went 11-4 with a 1.19 ERA after the All-Star game. 

Arrieta's dominance led to him winning the NL Cy Young award, which began an off-season conversation of whether or not he had surpassed Clayton Kershaw as the best pitcher in baseball. Whenever an athlete has been great for a long time we tend to think their prime is over when a new challenger comes along attempting to exceed them. Kershaw fits this category. Over the past five seasons he won three Cy Young awards, an MVP, led the league in ERA four times, WHIP four times, strikeouts three times, and wins twice. 

Despite being two years older than Kershaw, Arrieta was the new kid on the block in terms of the best pitcher in baseball conversation. Yet on April 21st of this season he threw his second no-hitter since last August and remained unbeaten until June 5th. The loss stopped a 20 game regular season winning streak that stretched 11 months. He has been the most un-hittable starter in the NL with a league leading 5.7 hits given up per nine innings. While this had led to an extremely impressive 2.10 ERA he has simply not been able to keep up with the brilliance of Kershaw. 

Kershaw's season has been a joke. Here is a list of categories he leads the league in: ERA, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, strikeouts, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, BB/9, and strikeout to walk ratio. Some of those stats are common ones that every fan can understand and some are more advanced but they are all equally impressive. But the most impressive? Kershaw's 16.11 strikeout to walk ratio would be the best ever for a single season. The current record? 11.63. In other words Kershaw is striking out more hitters while walking less at a rate we have never come close to seeing. 

In terms of how he ranks directly to Arrieta it isn't as close as you would expect. The categories that Arrieta leads in, wins and hits per nine, Kershaw is right behind him. Arrieta has 12 wins to Kershaw's 11 while Kershaw is at 5.9 hits per nine, just 0.2 behind Arrieta. Meanwhile Kershaw has sizable leads in ERA (1.79 to 2.10), strikeouts (145 to 111), BB/9 (0.7 to 3.5) and strikeout to walk ratio (16.11 to 2.78). By nearly any objective standard Kershaw has been the superior pitcher in 2016. The jury is still out on whether or not he can get it done in the playoffs but barring something tragic except Kershaw to win his fourth Cy Young award in six seasons and to solidify his claim as the best pitcher in all of baseball.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Now That Sonny Gray Is Pitching Better The A's Must Decide Whether Or Not To Trade Him

After three straight playoff seasons from 2012-14 the Oakland Athletics are back to rebuilding. The process isn't off to a great start after general manager Billy Beane has traded away Josh Donaldson and Addison Russell over the past two seasons. The next big decision is going to come this July, when Beane will have to decide what to do about 26-year-old Sonny Gray.

Entering the year Gray was a popular breakout candidate about to enter his prime. In his third full season last year he went 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA and finished third in the AL Cy Young voting. However, through his first nine starts of 2016 Gray went 3-5 with a 6.19 ERA before going on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.

He has been better since returning and in three of his four starts has allowed two runs or fewer. The biggest improvement has been his control as he has decreased his BB/9 from 4.50 before the injury to 1.46 afterwards. There is a real chance Gray's problems were simply the result of an injury and looking forward Beane is very unlikely to deal him at a discount.

Currently the A's are 29-41, which is good for last place in the AL West and fourth worst in all of baseball. Everyone on the team is going to be made available at the deadline. The last rebuilding effort lasted five years. Whether or not Gray gets traded in the next month and a half will determine how long the current process takes.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Wake Up With Tim Lincecum Winning His Angels Debut

It's been a rough year for the Angels. Outside of having the next Mickey Mantle signed to a reasonable, long term contract they don't have much going for them. The Albert Pujols contract is getting worse by the year, Garret Richards might need Tommy John surgery, oh and the team is still paying Josh Hamilton's contract.

All of this has led to a 31-38 record, which is good for fourth place in the AL West. Lincecum is the type of low risk, high reward signing the team should be making. At this point the best case scenario is that the 32-year-old has a couple of good months before flipping him at the trade deadline to replenish a weak farm system. 

Lincecum's Angels career got off to a good start Saturday afternoon. He picked up the win against Oakland by firing six innings of one run ball while giving up four hits and two walks. Although he only struck out two batters the 5'11" right-hander had the same violent delivery that made him "The Freak" and one of the most fun players to root for in his prime. Lincecum is most known for winning back to back Cy Young awards in just his second and third full seasons (2008, 2009).

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Get To Know The National League Rookie Of The Year Favorite: Dodgers Shortstop Corey Seager

22-year-old Corey Seager entered this season as the consensus number one prospect in baseball. In a 27 game cup of coffee to close out 2015 he batted .337 with four home runs as a middle of the order bat on a division winning Dodgers team. This type of production on one of baseball's marquee franchises had many fans expecting big things this year. Through mid-June he has not disappointed and is right in the middle of the National League Rookie of the Year race. 

Through his first 32 games of the season Seager was hitting just .264 with two home runs and 15 RBI. He has since discovered his power stroke and turned things around. In his past 32 games he has batted .302 with 13 homers and 21 RBI. His 71 hits leads all MLB rookies and on June 3rd he became the youngest player to hit three home runs in a game since 1963. While Rockies shortstop Trevor Story began the season on a tear the NL ROY race is currently between Seager and Mets pitcher Steven Matz. 

Corey, the younger brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, was drafted 18th overall by the Dodgers in 2012. He is tall for a shortstop and while there were initially concerns he would have to move to third those worries have been put on hold. Oddly enough he doesn't get much attention for someone as good and young as he is playing in Los Angeles. But that can be attributed to his personality, which is more Mike Trout than Bryce Harper. He should only get better with time and is part of an incredibly exciting wave of young shortstops that also includes Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, and Francisco Lindor

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Looking Back At Every Number One Pick From The MLB Draft This Decade

What makes the MLB draft unique from say the NFL or NBA is that most fans are unfamiliar with even the top picks. In addition no player has ever gone directly from the draft to the majors and in most cases it can be years before we see first round picks get called up. However, with the benefit of hindsight, the MLB draft is similar in that like any other league it has its share of stars and busts. Below is a look back at every number one pick from the past ten years:

2016: Mickey Moniak, OF, Phillies

The consensus on Moniak is that he wasn't the best player in the draft but would sign cheap and give the Phillies budget flexibility later on. As a high school prospect he is years away from making an impact at the big league level but if all goes well will be ready to contribute once the team is close to finishing the rebuilding process, which is off to a surprisingly nice start. 

2015: Dansby Swanson, SS, Diamondbacks

In an attempt to win now the Diamondbacks made a very puzzling decision this past offseason and traded Swanson to the Atlanta Braves for Shelby Miller. This was the fastest a number one pick had ever been traded and was just the third to be dealt before making his MLB debut. Arizona hoped Miller would speed up their path to contention but instead he has pitched to a 1-6 record with a 7.09 ERA while Swanson has already progressed to AA.

2014: Brady Aiken, LHP, Astros

This was one of the stranger picks of the decade. At the time of the draft Aiken was considered one of the best players available but when it came time to sign him the Astros thought there was problem with his elbow, which ended contract negotiations. He became the first number one pick not to sign since 1983 and sure enough went on to have Tommy John surgery over the offseason. He was then selected 17th overall by the Indians in last year's draft and is expected to make his minor league debut sometime later this season.

2013: Mark Appel, RHP, Astros

Appel was considered one of the most big league ready pitchers in a long time when Houston took him first overall. After a disappointing three seasons in their farm system the Astros sent him to Philadelphia as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter. Appel has not fared much better in his new surroundings and has a career minors ERA of 5.04.

2012: Carlos Correa, SS, Astros

Correa's selection was the blueprint for the Phillies drafting Moniak this year. By not picking the "best available player" the Astros were able to use some of their draft budget later on. However, it is starting to look as if Correa was in fact the best player from this draft. In 160 games at the major league level Correa has hit .271 with 30 home runs, 100 RBI, and 22 stolen bases. The 21-year-old was last season's AL rookie of the year award winner despite playing in just 99 games.

2011: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pirates

Cole was widely considered the best player from his class and the Pirates did the right thing by taking him. Last season was the first time the 25-year-old made over 30 starts and he went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA and over 200 strikeouts. While his K/9 has dipped from 8.7 last year to 7.1 this year Cole has still managed an impressive 2.85 ERA. 

2010: Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals

Slam dunk number one pick for the Nationals here. Harper was considered a generational talent coming out of high school and has done nothing to disappoint so far. In 2015 at just 22-years-old he became the youngest unanimous MVP in baseball history. The only concern now for Washington is whether they can keep him around when his contract expires in two and a half years. 

2009: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals

The Nationals really picked the right two years to pick first. Strasburg has overcome Tommy John early in his career to become everything the Nationals could have hoped for. So far this season he is having a career year while going 9-0 with a 2.85 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 79 innings. Last month he signed the largest long term contract ever for a pitcher who had Tommy John.

2008: Tim Beckham, SS, Rays

Beckham and Appel are the two biggest busts on this list. What is surprising about Beckham's career is that he is still with the Rays organization. He survived a 50 game suspension for a positive drug test and a torn ACL to make it to the majors as a part time bench player. In 109 major league games he is hitting just .216. 

2007: David Price, LHP, Devil Rays

Luckily for Tampa Bay they hit on one of their back to back number one picks. The highlight for Price's tenure with the Rays came in 2012 when he won the AL Cy Young award by going 20-5 with a 2.65 ERA and 205 strikeouts in 211 innings. Price made four all star teams with Tampa Bay before they sent him to the Tigers at the 2014 trade deadline as part of a three way deal that netted them Drew Smyly and prospects. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Nolan Arenado Has Become Baseball's Best Two Way Player

Baseball is a regional sport, which means fans aren't always caught up on story lines happening outside of their city. Because he has always played for subpar Rockies teams Nolan Arenado has never gotten the national attention he deserves. Currently he ranks fifth among all players in WAR, according to baseball reference. If the 25-year-old superstar keeps up his recent level of play he won't be baseball's best kept secret much longer.

Arenado has always been known for his glove. Since entering the league in 2013 he leads all third basemen with 75 defensive runs saved. The next closest are Manny Machado (now a shortstop) with 56 and Josh Donaldson with 48. Safe to say nobody is catching him anytime soon. He has won a gold glove every year he has played in the league and it is widely expected that he captures a fourth this season since his 1.3 defensive WAR rank first among third baseman and third among all position players. 

But what has transformed Arenado from a defensive wizard to one of the best all around players in baseball is his bat. While playing half his games at Coors Field has its advantages Arenado was never expected to hit like this. After hitting a combined 28 homers between 2013-14 he exploded for a National League leading 42 last season. He also led the NL with 130 RBI and 354 total bases. Arenado did this while playing his typical elite defense yet only finished eighth in the MVP voting.

It is fair to assume that a major reason why Arenado finished eighth was that he played for a 94 loss team. Bryce Harper deservedly won the award despite playing for a non playoff team, although one that was above .500. Why that is important is because there is a good chance the Rockies don't play the playoff this year. Arenado has only gotten better since last year's breakout season and once again leads the NL in home runs (18) and RBI (49). Nobody in baseball outside of Manny Machado has the two way impact Arenado does. His combination of power and defense means it's time he becomes one of the faces of baseball.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

And Just Like That The Texas Rangers Have The Second Best Record In Baseball

Part of what makes baseball great is how quickly smart teams can turn their fortunes around. Last spring the Texas Rangers lost Yu Darvish to Tommy John surgery, started the season 8-16, and remained under .500 through August 3rd. It was fair to assume that the glory days of back to back pennants in 2010 and 2011 had disappeared and that a lengthy rebuilding process would begin. However, the Rangers had other plans and became buyers at the trade deadline. The acquisition of Cole Hamels enabled Texas to win 38 of their final 59 games to finish as AL West champions.

The addition of the second wild card in 2012 has led more teams to become buyers at the trade deadline but the Hamels deal was much more than a three month rental. After the 2015 season Hamels was signed for a reasonable three years and $70.5 million plus a club option. It would have been impossible for the Rangers to acquire someone of his caliber at that salary via free agency so Texas did their offseason shopping early. Since mid August of last season Hamels is 12-1 with a 3.27 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 146 innings pitched. 

Another unexpected addition to this first place team has been rookie sensation Nomar Mazara. Entering 2016 the now 21-year-old outfielder had played just 20 games above AA so figured to be nothing more than a late season call up. Forced into playing time from the injuries to Shin-Shoo Choo and Josh Hamilton, Mazara has batted .318 with a .367 OBP, 10 home runs, and 27 RBI. He is currently the favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year. 

The final pieces to this team have the been the return from injuries of Yu Darivsh and Jurickson Profar. Darvish has pitched just twice since his memorial weekend debut, going 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 10.2 innings. With a career strikeout rate of 11.2 per nine innings Darvish gives Texas the luxury of two potential aces, something none of the Red Sox, Orioles, White Sox or other American League teams can match. 

Profar, meanwhile, had not played any baseball since 2013 due to a couple of terrible shoulder injuries. He entered that season ranked as the number one prospect in all of baseball and was called up two weeks ago to replace the suspended Rougned Odor at second base. Now at 23 years old he has gotten a hit in all 11 of his games this season while batting .380 with two home runs. 

So that's pretty much how Texas got here. A trade, a call up, and two return for injuries have supplemented strong seasons from Adrian Beltre and Ian Desmond. What makes the Rangers so dangerous is their balance. Currently the offense ranks third in the AL in runs per game and the pitching ranks fifth in ERA. No other team in the American League has that type of offense combined with a deep pitching staff. It's what has led them to win 14 of their last 17 games and to having the second best record in all of baseball. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Cleveland Indians Are Riding Two Breakout Stars To First Place

The AL Central has been baseball's most up in the air division so far in 2016. Early on it looked like the White Sox were the best team in the entire American League. They have struggled mightily since, however, and it then appeared as if the Royals were poised to repeat as division champs. Next came the Cleveland Indians. After starting the year 10-12 they are on a 22-12 run, which includes six straight wins and a recent four game sweep over the defending champions.

Cleveland's success shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Since Terry Francona took over as manager in 2013 they have been over .500 every season. They lost a one game playoff to Tampa Bay that year and narrowly missed the postseason in 2014. The 2015 Cleveland Indians scored 4.16 runs per game. This year that number has risen to 4.84 despite the loss of Michael Brantley, who finished third in the 2014 AL MVP voting. 

The biggest development since Brantley's shoulder injury has been the success of 22-year-old shortstop Francisco Lindor. After finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last season Lindor is having another excellent year. So far in his career he has played 154 games, which is roughly a full season. In those games he has batted .311 with a .356 OBP, 18 home runs, 80 RBI, and 22 stolen bases. Since the start of 2015 he ranks fourth among all shortstop in defensive runs saved, despite not getting called up until June.

In addition to the success of the offense the team's pitching staff is also getting a boost from a breakout star. 26-year-old Danny Salazar has entered the Cy Young conversation by going 6-3 with a league leading 2.24 ERA. In just 68.1 innings he has struck out 81. He has carried them thus far through Corey Kluber's struggles, Carlos Carrasco's injury, and Trevor Bauer's inconsistencies. Despite the slow start Cleveland's starters have the strikeout potential to form one of the best rotations in the league.

The AL Central, just like the American League, is wide open right now. The only team out of contention is Minnesota. Recent reports suggest that Brantley may not be back anytime soon, which would mean the Indians are in the market for a bat. Cleveland's flaws aren't any worse than Chicago's or Kansas City's. Barring any more significant injuries this division could come down to who makes the biggest trade deadline splash.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Checking In On Trevor Story Since His Ridiculous Opening Week

Unless you were living under a rock during the opening week of Major League Baseball you probably remember the name Trevor Story. Through the first six games of his career the 23-year-old shortstop batted .333 with seven home runs and 12 RBI in 28 plate appearances. Story originally won the job out of spring training in part because of Jose Reyes' domestic violence suspension that kept him out of action through May 31. With Reyes currently on a minor league rehab assignment the Rockies will be forced to make a decision soon, which means it's a good time to check in on how Story has done since opening week.

When you're as young as Trevor Story and start your career the way he did there are going to be fans who think he is the next Carlos Correa or Kris Bryant. However, although Story was the 45th pick of the 2011 draft he was never considered a top prospect. The highest he ever ranked on Baseball America's top 100 list was 96th after 2012. Entering 2016 Story was only ranked as the team's eighth best minor league player. While Baseball America is not the definitive decision maker of who turns out good and who does not, it shows Story was not a highly touted rookie entering the season.

It's for this reason that many were skeptical of Story's start. Obviously it was impossible to keep up the pace he was on but the question going forward was how much he would fall back down to earth. For the season Story is hitting .261 with 15 home runs, which means in the 203 plate appearances (45 games) since his scorching start he has hit .250 with eight home runs. 

The most concerning stat for Story is his MLB leading 76 strikeouts. Many great hitters, such as Chris Davis, strikeout at similar rates, which is fine as long as they are drawing walks and getting on base. But Story has just a .317 OBP so far so while the power has remained since opening week he needs to do a better job of understanding the strike zone and increasing his walk rate. 

In an ideal world the Rockies find a trade partner for Reyes and let Story continue to develop. Story has done nothing to lose the job but Reyes' contract could come into play here. He is owed $22 million next season and it's unlikely Colorado would be willing to sit him and get nothing in return. The only way to increase his trade value is to play him. Reyes just played his first minor league rehab game last night so they still have some time to make a decision but this has certainly become a story worth monitoring.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Barry Bonds Admits To Being An Asshole During His Playing Career

Nothing like developing a little self awareness 10 years after your playing career is over to realize you should've treated the media better. It really shouldn't be that hard for professional athletes to do. Sure everybody has an ego and it must suck to get asked stupid questions after a tough loss or bad performance but it's part of the job and worth the millions of dollars many athletes make. All that being said give Bonds credit for acknowledging it. In his first year as hitting coach for the Marlins he has come back to baseball with a much better attitude and helped lead them to a surprising 28-25 start.

Bonds had problems with the media long before he took steroids. In the article link above he said it started early in his career with the Pirates when he was too young to handle the pressure of carrying the entire team. The negative stigma around him carried over when he went to the Giants and worsened when federal prosecutors spent nearly a decade saying he lied about never taking steroids. The case was dropped last summer, which has led to Bonds being able to reconstruct his image. 

It's a shame that Bonds' accomplishments aren't celebrated because 10 years after his retirement most fans forget how truly dominant he was. In addition to holding the home run record he won seven MVPs, including four straight from 2001-2004. He was the most feared hitter in the history of baseball. In 1998 he was intentionally walked in the ninth inning of a two run game with the bases loaded. In 2004 he was intentionally walked a record 120 times. In 2015 only two players walked a total of that many times. Bonds finished that season with 232. 

Despite the records Bonds will never be able to rid himself of the steroid use. His only chance at the Hall of Fame is if years from now society, and more importantly the voters, view PEDs differently. There's also the case that he was a HOF player before he took steroids. What people forget about Bonds was his athleticism in the 90's. He won eight gold gloves in a nine year stretch and is one of just four players to have a season hitting 40 homers and stealing 40 bases. He is also the only member of the 500 home run club to steal 500 bases.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

It's Mookie's World And We're All Just Living In It

In Mookie Betts' first full professional season in 2012 he hit zero home runs in 71 games. When Betts was drafted as a light hitting middle infielder in the fifth round of the 2011 draft the hope was that he would become a doubles hitter. The power barrage he's been on since 2012 has been nothing short of amazing. He hit 15 homers in 2013 followed by 16 in 2014 and 18 last year. After his three homer game last night Betts is now up to 12 homers in 2016 and it's only June 1.

In 2014 it became clear Betts, a second baseman, was ready to graduate to the majors. However, with Dustin Pedroia already manning the position Betts made the switch to outfield and looked as if he had been playing it his whole life. In a lost season for Boston the Red Sox called up Mookie with an eye on 2015. In a 52 game sample size that year he hit .291 with a .368 OBP while slugging five homers and stealing seven bases. 

2015 was yet another disappointing season for the Red Sox but ended up being a huge year for Betts' development. After a slow start he was able to finish with 18 homers, 21 steals, a .291 batting average and a .341 OBP. He played center field for most the season until Jackie Bradley Jr.'s elite defense pushed Betts to right. However, Mookie would be a center fielder on nearly 25 other teams and Fenway's spacious right field requires somebody with his athleticism. 

Mookie, who's real first name is Markus, credits his power development to strong hands and wrists from a lifetime of bowling. If he wasn't one of the ten best outfielders in baseball right now he would probably be a professional bowler, as he bowled two perfect games in the span of a few weeks over the offseason. 

In addition to Betts' 12 home runs so far this year he ranks first in the American League in runs, third in hits, first in triples, and third in RBI. He is the leadoff hitter for the best offense in baseball and at just 23 years old has the potential to develop even more power as he enters his prime. The Red Sox offense is so loaded right now that it's a legitimate debate who their MVP has been so far this season. Regardless of whether or not he is the best player on his own team Markus Lynn Betts (MLB) is going to be one of baseball's best for years to come.

A video posted by Mookie Betts (@mookiebetts) on