Thursday, March 30, 2017

Wake Up With Bryce Harper Hitting 2 Home Runs On Opening Day 2013

On Opening Day in 2013 the future of the Washington Nationals was as bright as its ever been. While the prior season ended in a five game division series loss to the Cardinals (in which Stephen Strasburg did not pitch due to an innings limit) it marked the franchise's first ever postseason appearance. Additionally Bryce Harper won Rookie of the Year at just 19 years old and the team had him under club control for six more years. Fast forward to the video above where Bryce began his age 20 season with not one but two consecutive homers to open the season. That day Strasburg pitched seven shutout innings and the question around baseball became not if the Nationals would win a World Series, but rather how soon it would be until they did.

It has now been four years since that Opening Day and the Nationals have zero playoff series wins. As for Harper, well, he's had an interesting ride. He got hurt in 2013, underperformed (and got hurt again) in 2014, and then had the best offensive season since Barry Bonds in 2015. In between he did his part for the Nats in the 2014 playoffs when he hit three home runs in four games before the team fell to the "even year" Giants. The key to his 2015 Bonds impersonation was an increased walk rate thanks to a much better understanding of the strike zone. 

He got off to a similar start in 2016 and was so good that the Cubs wanted nothing to do with him in a weekend series in early May. Then it just...stopped. Harper was terrible and made nothing but weak contact from that point on. There are many theories as to what happened. Some say it's proof he's overrated but he most likely explanation is that he was hurt. Not hurt enough to require a disabled list stint, but hurt enough to affect his swing. Now with just two years left until free agency he has a major opportunity to quiet the critics starting Monday. In four career Opening Day games Bryce has four home runs.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Wake Up With Mookie Betts Hitting Three Home Runs Against The Diamondbacks

In 2016 Markus Lynn Betts became the first player since Albert Pujols in 2006 to record multiple 3 homer games in the same year. Mookie's first hat trick came back on May 31st against the Orioles, which was part of a two game stretch where Betts hit five long balls. The second time was from the video above on August 14th against the Diamondbacks. This was just a few days after he made the move from leadoff to the middle of the order. Since Xander Bogaerts was in the middle of a second half slump this is when Mookie established himself as the best young player on the Red Sox and a legit MVP contender.

Betts finished the year with 31 homers, nearly doubling his 2015 total of 18. One concern moving forward would be his 2016 home run to fly ball ratio of 10.5% was much higher than his rates from the previous two years (6.1%, 6.5%). This may mean he was getting a little lucky with some fly balls that were leaving the park, but it could also just be the contributed development of a young hitter. Mookie contributes in so many other areas of the game (.318 batting average, 26 stolen bases, league leader in defensive runs saved)  that even if his homer output slips to the mid 20s he'll still be in the conversation as the second best position player in baseball. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Marcus Stroman Is The Story Of The 2017 World Baseball Classic

Entering the semi final round of the 2017 World Baseball Classic I was lukewarm on Team USA's starting pitchers that were lined up for the final two games. On the one hand I respect the hell out of any Major League player representing their country, particularly when many of the game's best players chose not to. But on the other hand I want the WBC to become a legit thing, and it didn't feel like that could happen until guys better than Tanner Roark and Marcus Stroman were pitching our country's biggest games in the history of the tournament. As it turns out Roark and Stroman were exactly what Team USA needed. They gave a shit about winning this thing and in doing so will help lead to more star players participating come 2021.

Not to overlook Roark's impressive performance against Japan from Tuesday night, but the real story here is Stroman. In Wednesday night's championship game he dominated an undefeated Puerto Rican team led by Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Javy Baez, and others. As a team they were batting .326 entering the game and had scored four first inning runs off Stroman when they faced him last week. The Blue Jays ace (?) responded with six shutout innings of one run ball while allowing just one walk and striking out three. Go figure that a pitcher who plays his home games in Canada and has a Puerto Rican mother was Team USA's best player that night. In typical Stroman fashion 12 of his 18 outs came via the ground ball. In 2016 he led all qualified starting pitchers with a 60.1% ground ball rate.

Last year was supposed to be Stroman's big breakout, and in some ways it was. In his first full season following a torn ACL Stroman pitched 204 innings and ranked seventh in the American League in FIP. Unfortunately those numbers also came with a 4.37 ERA and more hits allowed than innings pitched. On the bright side he had a much better second half (3.42 ERA with a 23% strikeout rate) than first half (5.33 ERA with a 16% strikeout rate). Stroman now enters 2017 riding a hot second half in 2016 with a career defining WBC performance added to his resume. Already an elite ground ball pitcher Stroman also possesses great command and is one of the most expressive (meaning fun) players in the game. Due to his performance against Puerto Rico and how seriously he took the game, I'll be rooting for him this year. Even as a Red Sox fan. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Red Sox Thoughts Heading Into 2017

We are now just 11 days away from the BOSTON RED SOX PLAYING IN A REGULAR SEASON GAME THAT COUNTS!!! There are three games on Sunday April 2nd but the Sox, along with most of baseball, open the season a day later on Monday April 3rd (at 2:05 against the Pirates). The WBC is officially over so we now have a week and a half of meaningless spring training games before getting to Opening Day. With that mind here are some thoughts on the Sox entering 2017:

--The biggest baseball story in Boston right now is the status of David Price's elbow. You can be upset with him for last season's ERA, the playoff struggles, and his bizarre handling of the Boston media - but the Red Sox are a better team with him than without him. In 2016 he posted the second highest ERA of his career, and his highest since his rookie season. Aside from being an obvious bounce back candidate losing Price could be a blow to the Sox because of all the innings he ate up last year - innings that may now go to Henry Owens if another staff member goes down. Ultimately if Price misses a few weeks the Sox are still in the AL East driver's seat. But if he ends up needing Tommy John we are in trouble. Then you look at the fact that he has (gulp) six more years left on his contract and this situation could go south quickly. Stay tuned.

--For some reason there is this track record of big name players coming to Boston, sucking early on and bottoming out with the fan base, and then rebounding back to all star level performances. We've seen it happen with Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Rick Porcello, and Hanley Ramirez. So far this spring it looks like Pablo Sandoval will become the next of this group. After a disastrous 2015 Sandoval was somehow even worse in 2016, showing up out of shape and playing in just three games before requiring season ending shoulder surgery. It turns out that this was the best thing that could've happened to him. He came to camp in shape this year and has a real chance to get back in the good graces of Red Sox fans if he plays well and with the right attitude. The team will never receive full value from the five year, $95 million contract he signed but a .270 batting average with 15-20 homers is a reasonable expectation for him this season. Should the Sox make it to the playoffs the 2012 World Series MVP will bring an experienced postseason bat to a lineup in its first season without the most clutch hitter who ever lived.

--Sandy Leon was great last year. He took over a dumpster fire catching situation for Boston and was everything the team could have asked for. In 78 games he hit .310 with a .369 OBP. The only problem is that it's very easy to see he was playing above his head, as evidenced by the fact he was a career .148 hitter entering last season. But Leon played so well that he has the right to the starting job entering 2017 despite many expecting him to lose it by Memorial Day. Best case scenario he hits well again and everything is fine. Worst case scenario the Sox have two solid replacements in Chrisain Vazquez and Blake Swihart. 

--Craig Kimbrel had a weird season in 2016. He got off to a slow start and he ended poorly, but in-between was as lights out as he's ever been. When he was on last year he was ON. His 14.1 K/9 were his most since 2012. This suggests he hasn't lost his "stuff" but what he may be losing is his control. At first glance his 5.1 BB/9 from his first year in Boston is an alarmingly high number. An optimist would say that most of these free passes came during his meltdowns, and that the real Kimbrel is who we saw from May through August. A pessimist would point out that the walks have been on a steady rise since he allowed just 2.0 per nine back in 2012. As noted with Sandoval sometimes stars struggle with their first taste of Boston. Thus Kimbrel should be expected to regain his status as one of the top five closers in baseball this year, but if he gets off to another slow start and the walks don't improve it could be time to hit the panic button.

--Over the past six seasons Hanley Ramirez has played in more than 128 games just twice. Since he was able to stay healthy for most of 2016 there is a sense that we can once again pencil him in for 150 games this year. We're only in Spring Training and already Hanley is dealing with a shoulder injury. It hasn't been bad enough to where he needs to be shut down but it has prevented him from playing first base for most of March. That's not the end of the world, because he is going to primarily DH this season and only play first against lefties, but it's certainly not ideal. The injury hasn't slowed down his hitting but if he's playing at anything less than 100% all it takes is one aggravation to turn this into a multi week DL stint. Since the news of his shoulder broke the same time as Price's elbow the story has been somewhat overlooked. Simply put the offense cannot afford to be missing Hanley for an extended period of time. His health is a legitimate concern and will be all summer.

--We are now just a little over a week away from 2017 regular season baseball yet there doesn't seem to be much hype surrounding the Red Sox in Boston. Reasons for this might include the disappointing ending to the 2016 season, the Patriots' free agency moves stealing sports headlines, and how cold it's been in the city. I just hope fans realize we are at the start of a two or three year championship window. Since taking over at the end of 2015 Dave Dombrowski has been extremely aggressive in trading away prospects for proven major leaguers in Kimbrel, Pomeranz, and Sale. If the Sox win a World Series within the next few years then it'll all be worth it. But there's a chance things don't work out and the team could be left with a lot of big contracts and without the cheap, young talent necessary to supplement the roster. 2017 was supposed to feature a three headed starting pitching monster (and it still might) but the Price injury should remind fans how fragile championship windows can be. The moral? Don't take this season for granted.

2017 National League Cy Young Gambling Preview

For some reason the starting pitchers in the National League are much better than those in the AL. This makes choosing a Cy Young winner more difficult, especially when you consider there is an overwhelming favorite in Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers lefty has decreased his career ERA in each of the previous eight seasons. Over the past four years he sports a cool 1.88 ERA. Yet for various reasons he has not won the award since 2014, which means that there are many NL aces worth considering betting on. Let's take a look at the best values below:

Clayton Kershaw, +160

It feels a little ridiculous to recommend a pick with such low odds. However, in the American League edition of Cy Young picks I mentioned how it would take a once in a generation type player to bet on odds like this, and that's what we have here. From 2011-14 Kershaw won three of four possible Cy Young awards, led the league in ERA four times, WHIP four times, strikeouts twice, ERA+ three times, and hits per nine twice. In 2015 it took a historic second half from Jake Arrieta to rob Kershaw of a Cy Young three peat. Last season he was well on his way to winning the award before a back injury cost him nearly half his season. It's a shame because somehow Kershaw was having the best season of his career. Had he pitched enough innings to qualify his K/BB ratio would have been the best of all time. The +160 odds are terrible and you can probably get similar ones around mid-season but it feels like if Kershaw has another great season voters will be ready to reward him for the first time in three years.

Noah Syndergaard, +1000

Noah Syndergaard is the pick I would most recommend if betting on the NL Cy Young award. Over the past two seasons Thor has been establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball and now at 24 years old he is ready to cement his status with a Cy Young caliber campaign. The major storyline for Syndergaard this past off-season was the fact that he added 17 pounds of muscle in attempt to throw harder. It's tough to imagine he can average more than his league leading 98 mph fastball from 2016 but at such a young age he definitely has potential to improve his overall game. In 2016 Syndergaard led the National League in FIP and home runs allowed per nine while finishing third in ERA, fourth in strikeouts per nine, and eighth in walks per nine. The rate stats are all there so if he can improve on his 183 innings pitched the sky is the limit for the counting stats to be there as well.

Jacob DeGrom, +2500

The NL is so stacked with aces it's tough to come up with just three Cy Young picks. Madison Bumgarner is tempting but not at 10/1 and Stephen Strasburg is a perennial breakout candidate but has never finished higher than ninth in the Cy voting, so we are going to go with Jacob DeGrom at 25/1. This time last year DeGrom was at 10/1 but was coming off a monster 2015 workload that included a lot of extra innings form the Mets World Series run. Still DeGrom started last year on a tear, with a 2.61 ERA through his first 15 starts before trying to pitch through injuries that killed his end of season stats. Since he ended the year on such a down note his odds are better entering 2017 and people forget how good he was two years ago when he finished fourth in the NL in ERA and fifth in both WHIP and K/9. The reason for optimism centers around his improved velocity this spring. It was down even before he got hurt last year (possibly due to the 2015 workload) but so far this spring he is throwing as hard as ever, which makes his current gambling odds very tempting.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Kevin Kiermaier Extension Highlights A Fundamental Shift In The Way Baseball Teams Think

When Chris Carter, the National League's reigning home run leader, signed for just one year and $3 million earlier this off-season it got people talking. The conversation centered around how 15 years ago Carter's 41 homer 2016 would have netted him a long term deal. But baseball teams no longer value players whose only skill is hitting bombs. They want well rounded athletes who play great defense, take their walks, and run the bases well. Hence why little known Kevin Kiermaier, a career .258 hitter who has never hit more than 12 homers in a season, is signing a six year, $50 million plus extension with the Tampa Bay Rays.

The first time I remember hearing about baseball trending towards more of an athletic game was at the 2009 All Star game. Most of the big boppers from the steroid era were gone by then and it was the first mid summer classic in a while not to feature either Manny Ramirez or Alex Rodriguez. The game was changing and since then we have seen teams such as the Rays, Royals, and Cubs have real success while emphasizing defense. While baseball's best players used to be considered sluggers like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire we now see more well rounded guys like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Kris Bryant considered as the best players in the game.

Anyways back to Kiermaier. Outside of Tampa Bay's three fans many people who follow baseball may not realize how good he is. It's true we value defense and base running more these days but Kiermaier takes this to a whole other level. A former 31st round pick he made the majors in 2014 before breaking out in 2015. That season he finished third amongst all American League Players with 7.3 WAR according to baseball-reference. 

Yes you read that correctly. The only AL players to have more WAR than Kiermaier in 2015 were Trout and Josh Donaldson. What's crazy is most of Kiermaier's WAR came from defense where he registered 5.0, nearly twice as many as Kevin Pillar's second place finish of 2.8. Kiermaier also recorded 42 defensive runs saved (DRS) that year, which is the most ever in the history of the stat. His 2015 season ranks as one of the best all time defensively.

In 2016 he was also really good but played in just 105 games due to injury. Yet despite missing a third of the season Kiermaier won his second straight gold glove, led all center fielders in DRS, and led all of baseball in defensive WAR. Defensive stats can be tricky since they are technically quantifiable but to the average fan are tough to understand. However, all you need to know is Kiermaier rates so much better than everyone else that he must be pretty valuable on that side of the ball. 

Carter wasn't the only slugger to get "underpaid" this winter. Mark Trumbo led all of baseball with 47 homers yet received just three years and $37 million from the Orioles. This is well below the value of Kiermaier's extension despite Trumbo having more leverage as a free agent. But honestly it's a good deal for both Tampa Bay and Kiermaier. For the Rays they get a potential long term discount for one of the game's premium assets right now, and for Kiermaier he's set for life and his main skill set may have deteriorated by the time he would have reached free agency. Outside of Evan Longoria it's the largest contract the Rays have ever given out.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2017 American League Cy Young Gambling Preview

I said this last year and I'll say it again. I agree with Barstool's Jared Carrabis that preseason predictions are mostly pointless. If anything they are just an outlet for people to tell you how wrong you were in hindsight. So the point of this blog is not to predict who will win the Cy Young award. If I had to guess I would say Chris Sale. If I had to make another guess I would take Corey Kluber. It's no coincidence that those two have the lowest odds to win according to Bovada. They're the favorites but I don't see any value in betting them at +350 or +450. It would take a generational type player for me to want odds that low on a season long award. So for the most part my picks below are pitchers with good enough odds to give a significant payout yet still have a good chance to win. 

One last thing - In recent years the AL Cy Young award has gone to pitchers very far off the award radar prior to the season. This has included Corey Kluber (2014), Dallas Keuchel (2015), and Rick Porcello (2016), none of whom were even listed as betting options during their respective years. Last season I advocated for taking the field if possible but that is not an option on Bovada. Basically these previous winners highlight how hard it can be to predict award winners. With that in mind let's dive into things:

Yu Darvish, +1200

Yu Darvish is one of the best pitchers in the American League, which means ordinarily there wouldn't be much value in placing a bet on him. However, since he missed all of 2015 and the start of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery people seem to have forgotten how good he is. In 17 starts after coming back last season Darvish posted a modest 3.41 ERA but had a whopping 132 strikeouts in just 100.1 innings pitched. What was most encouraging to see was how good his command was. Ordinarily pitchers take a full season to rediscover their command after Tommy John but Darvish incredibly posted the best walks per nine of his career in 2016, potentially foreshadowing a monster 2017. I expect his Cy Young odds to decrease as the season goes on making him a great bet at 12/1 in March.

Chris Archer, +1400

Man I wish the odds were better for a guy who posted a 4.02 ERA last year and led the league with 19 losses. The rationale for placing a bet on Chris Archer would be that I don't want to get too carried away with value. If there's a pick you like than take them, even if it's Sale or Kluber. And it's not as if there's no value in betting on an Archer bounce back season. After all he was +600 last year, which were the same odds Sale had at the time. The reason for that was his Cy Young caliber 2015 when he finished fifth in the award voting. Although he struggled overall in 2016 most of that damage came in the first half. In the second half he posted a 3.25 ERA with a top five strikeout minus walk ratio. Those numbers are much more in line with his 2015, and the rough first half of a season ago simply gives us better value for this year.

Danny Salazar, +4000

Had Danny Salazar stayed healthy all last year there is no way we would have been able to get him at 40/1 odds right now. He was 25/1 entering 2016 and half way through the season was a legitimate Cy Young contender. I wrote about him last May where after his first eight games he had compiled a 1.80 ERA and was the toughest starter in the league to get a hit off of. He ultimately required a DL stint after the all star break and while he did pitch in the second half he was clearly not fully healthy. His stats suffered and Salazar finished the regular season with a 3.87 ERA and a career high 4.1 walks per nine. What is interesting about the walks is that he was still issuing free passes during his stellar first half, which means there is certainly room for improvement. We know that Salazar is always going to strike guys out (career 10.1 K/9) so if he can get the walk rate below three per nine, where it had been each of his first three MLB seasons, having him at +4000 come late in the year could be a potential steal.

Are We Sure The Blue Jays Won't Be Better In 2017 Than They Were In 2016?

When the Blue Jays lost in the ALCS for the second straight year this past October it seemed like their championship window had slammed shut. After losing David Price to free agency last winter Toronto was set to lose both Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista this off-season. Perceived as two of the three best bats on the market the thought was bidding wars would develop and effectively kill the Blue Jays' chances at re-signing even one of them.

But then a funny thing happened. Both their markets crashed hard. Toronto wasn't able to retain Edwin so they signed the underrated Kendrys Morales. Then they were able to get Bautista to stick around. He is probably considered too old at this point to get a giant contract next winter, but it's likely he'll bounce back offensively and get more than what was out there this year. The offense will likely take a hit without Encarnacion but an improved season from Bautista plus the addition of Morales means it won't be as steep a regression as previously thought.

That brings us to the biggest reason the Blue Jays could be better this year - the starting pitching. It's time people take notice of how good Aaron Sanchez is. In his first year as a full time starter Sanchez finished seventh in the Cy Young voting by going 15-2 with a league leading 3.00 ERA and a league leading 0.7 home runs allowed per nine. He also finished fifth in hits allowed per nine and ninth in total WAR for AL pitchers. While his rate stats were very impressive Sanchez has room for growth if he can go deeper into games and compile more innings pitched as he enters his age 24 season.

The Blue Jays Opening Day starter in 2016 had a rough year. Marcus Stroman's first full season attempt at becoming the team's ace did not go as planned as he finished the season with a 4.37 ERA and career highs in FIP and WHIP. However, he very durable for Toronto and pitched over 200 innings for the first time. He also looked much better over the final two and a half months of the season. During that time Stroman had a 3.24 ERA while striking out 8.4 batters per nine innings, well above his career rate of 7.3. Him and Sanchez have the ability to form one of the best 1-2 pitching duos in the American League this year outside of Boston and Cleveland. 

The AL East is going to be very competitive in 2017. Only the Cubs have better World Series odds than the Red Sox, which makes Boston the clear division favorites. The Orioles have won more games than any American League team since 2012 so they can't be counted out. That leaves the Yankees and Rays, two young teams who are closer to being competitive than people think. Losing Enarnacion hurts because without him Toronto loses some of their swagger and identity. However, the offense is still really good and the team has a chance to develop a new identity behind the starting pitching. If that happens there's no reason to think the Blue Jays won't still be playing come October.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

I Respect Chris Archer For How Seriously He Is Taking His Role As The Ace Of Team USA

Chris Archer is a pretty polarizing guy for fans of other teams when it comes to whether or not they like him. However, it's tough not to respect how seriously he is taking his role as staff ace for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Realistically he shouldn't be near the front of our rotation. If the best players all played USA could have any combination of Kershaw, Bumgarner, Sale, Price, Arrieta, Syndergaard, Kluber, etc. Instead we have Archer, Marcus Stroman, and Danny Duffy pitching in round one this upcoming weekend. It isn't a bad rotation, but it isn't great either.

If you take a quick look at Archer's 2016 it doesn't look very good. A breakout candidate entering the year Archer posted a 4.02 ERA and led the majors with 19 losses. A closer look reveals that Archer was both bad and unlucky in the first half of the season, but All-Star caliber in the second half. The biggest problem early on was Archer's command as he was walking 3.93 batters per nine innings and was also falling victim to unsustainably high BABIP and home run rates. Fortunately for Archer when his command improved so did his luck. In the second half he posted a 3.25 ERA and ranked fifth in strikeout minus walk ratio. This went largely unnoticed since Tampa Bay was well out of the playoff race, but his second half strongly resembled the pitcher he was in 2015 that led to many thinking '16 would be his breakout. 

Anyways, there's a chance Archer's time as USA ace could be extremely brief. Due to pitch counts he could throw three or four innings Friday night and if USA doesn't take care of business there's no guarantee he gets a second start. He could also lead the team tot heir first ever WBC championship game. Either way I respect him for being out there and taking this seriously. I don't blame any player who chooses to prepare for the season and the MLB team that pays them. I just know that when I watch the WBC I want to watch players who really want to be there. However you may feel about Archer just know he wants to be there. I'll be rooting for him Friday night.

Wake Up With Yu Darvish Losing A Perfect Game After 8 2/3 In 2013

Following a solid rookie year in 2012 Yu Darvish had his best season to date in 2013. The momentum from his near perfecto in his first start that year carried over throughout the season, as he went on to finish second in the Cy Young voting. Darvish, who was beat out by Max Scherzer for the award, registered a career best 2.83 ERA while leading the league in strikeouts (277), strikeouts per nine (11.9), and hits per nine (6.2). 

Despite missing all of 2015 due to Tommy John surgery Darvish is likely the most successful starting pitcher to ever come from Japan. Hideo Nomo and Hiroki Kuroda have both registered more WAR but have also played more seasons, Mashahiro Tanaka and Hisashi Iwakuma are underrated but have yet to reach Darvish's apex, and Dice-K Matsuzaka was a failure in every sense of the word after his first two years. Simply put Darvish has the highest ceiling of the group moving forward. 

Since he missed time last year he seems to be off everyone's radar as a great bet to win the American League Cy Young award heading into the season. While most pitchers struggle with their command following Tommy John, Darvish incredibly posted the best walks per nine of his career after coming back last year. Assuming he is his typically productive self this season he is set up for a monster contract when he reaches free agency at the end of 2017.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wake Up With Prince Fielder Hitting An Inside The Park Home Run In 2007

Back in the mid 2000s Prince Fielder, along with Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard, sat atop the first base positional rankings. Fielder was a consistent first round fantasy pick who crushed homers, got on base, and hit for a surprisingly high batting average. He broke out in 2007, just his second full MLB season, with a whopping 50 home runs. However, his best year came in 2009 when he hit 46 bombs with 141 RBIs and a .299/.412/.602 triple slash line. During his time with the Brewers Fielder combined with Ryan Braun to form arguably the most dangerous 3-4 punch in baseball. Additionally, and perhaps more impressively, the two had the best run scoring celebration in the game.

For the entirety of Fielder's prime he was an incredibly durable player for such a big dude. In an eight year stretch from 2006 through 2013 he played in at least 157 games every year, which included a five year stretch where he missed just one game. He started to break down in 2014 following an off-season trade from the Tigers to the Rangers. The slugger was dealing with neck pain that caused him to miss 120 games that year. He bounced back in 2015 and played 158 games before hanging up the spikes this past summer. Since Fielder technically didn't retire he is still owed the full $96 million left on his contract through 2020. It's a shame baseball lost such a great player too early due to injury, but the above video reminds us how fun and underrated of an athlete Fielder was during his hey day.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Relive USA Versus Japan From The 2006 World Baseball Classic

Through the first three installments of the World Baseball Classic it's fair to say Team USA has greatly underperformed. Overall the team has a disappointing record of 10-10. They have made the semi-finals just once, with a fourth place tournament finish in 2009.

Back in 2006 we got a taste of what the WBC could be for the Americans. In round two that year USA faced off with Japan, who had just two major league players on their roster. The story goes that Japan's players were in awe of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and the rest of USA's squad. This led to them keeping their distance during batting practice almost as if they were fans.

Japan's leader, Ichiro, sensed this and told the team they had nothing to fear. He then went out and homered off Jake Peavy in the first at bat of the game. The next eight innings were back and forth throughout, but in the bottom of the ninth A-Rod came up and hit a walk-off single to give USA an epic 4-3 win.

Over 10 years later this is likely USA's most memorable moment in WBC history. It was the moment when it looked like we had the best team in the entire tournament. Yet despite the win over Japan that year USA went on to lose their next two games and were embarrassingly eliminated. Meanwhile, Japan went on to win it all in '06, and then went on to repeat as champs in 2009. 

The 2017 tournament began Monday, March 6th. Team USA's first round schedule:

Friday, March 10th versus Colombia 6:00 PM EST
Saturday, March 11th versus DR 6:30 PM EST
Sunday, March 12th versus Canada 7:00 PM EST

Friday, March 3, 2017

Wake Up With Yoan Moncada's First MLB Hit

My goodness do White Sox fans have a lot to be excited about. According to Baseball America's top 100 prospects list, which is the best and most reliable prospect list, Chicago currently has four of the top 32 (and five of the top 56) prospects in baseball. The majority of this is of course due to the two off-season trades involving Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. The crown jewel of both these trades, Yoan Moncada, should have White Sox fans the most excited.

For a number of reasons Moncada was never going to work out in Boston. After getting signed prior to 2015 he felt as if he should be on a fast track to the majors. The Red Sox obviously thought he needed to spend time in the minors and they were partially proven right this past September. In Moncada's brief cup of coffee in the bigs he struck out 12 times in 20 plate appearances while walking just once. Additionally, while he has some versatility defensively his best position is second base, and he was never going to supplant Dustin Pedroia. In Chicago he'll get to return to his natural spot as opposed to trying to learn third base like he was in Boston.

Despite all the negativity that surrounded Moncada by the end of 2016 he remains one of the best prospects baseball has seen over the past several years. He won the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year award last season by hitting .294 with 15 homers and 45 stolen bases. He is likely going to open the year at AAA but can expedite his return to the majors with a hot start. Along with former teammate Andrew Benintendi, Moncada should be viewed as one of the favorites for the 2017 American League Rookie of the Year award.