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Is James Shields Worth The Risk?

Monday, February 9th, 2015

We’ve now found ourselves in February with only about 10 days left until pitchers and catchers begin to report to Spring Training. While top names like Hanley Ramirez and Max Scherzer have found homes for the next half decade and beyond, one big name still remains without a team for the 2015 MLB season.

James Shields, the Opening Day starter for the World Series runner-up Kansas City Royals, has yet to sign a contract as the season looms in the distance. Not unlike Kyle Lohse from two seasons ago, who wound up signing in the middle of March, it appears that Scott Boras may have overestimated the market and potentially hurt his value in the process.

Reports have come out throughout the offseason that the 33-year old is looking for a contract valued anywhere from $100-$125 million over the course of five years, the top end of that potentially making him the 5th highest paid player in all of baseball. Given his track record and expected output over the next few years, it’s clear that a contract of that size (or anywhere in that ballpark, really) would be completely unjustified and an enormous risk for the team that pulls the trigger on it.

As noted, Shields is already 33 years old and unfortunately for him has nearly 2,000 innings already logged in the majors. Once Shields throws his 90th inning this year, he will join a group of just 198 starting pitchers over the course of baseball history to hit the 2,000 inning mark. Mileage is certainly a concern, as those innings will inevitably begin to catch up to him in more ways than one.

The first, and probably most glaring, is velocity. Over the past few years Shields has experienced something that not many pitchers deal with while they’re aging; he’s actually throwing his fastball harder. After throwing his fastball at an average of 91 miles per hour during the 2009 season, Shields hurled it at 92.4 this past season, all while throwing it more than he has since 2010.

It’s not a question of if his fastball will start to fall off, but when, which is incredibly concerning considering his already declining strikeout rate. His K% has dropped each of the last three years even with increased velocity, so not being able to work off of hard stuff may be tough for him, especially since his best pitch is his changeup.

He has improved his walk rate, which is certainly a positive, but it hasn’t helped him consistency at all. This past year, it was a toss-up over which version of Shields that you were going to get, the July version in which he struck out 38 batters in 37 innings and posted a 2.63 ERA, or the June version where he posted a 4.88 ERA, had only 18 strikeouts in 31 innings and posted a 1.59 WHIP.

On top of his month-to-month inconsistencies, he’s had some real troubles in October despite being billed “Big Game James”. Over the course of his career, he’s posted a 5.46 ERA throughout postseason play and has gotten absolutely tattooed the past three postseason appearances in particular. He’s simply not someone that plays up the level of competition that he sees after the regular season concludes, which should be another red flag for those in the market for a starting pitcher.

With all of this being said, I would certainly feel comfortable if my team was rolling into Spring Training with Shields as my number three pitcher, but that’s simply not going to be the case for the team that signs him. You’re going to be looking at a 4 or 5 year commitment that could cost upwards of $80 million. After all of the failed contracts that we’ve seen handed out in free agency throughout the last few years I would be very cautious in signing Shields, as he very well may be the next big flop.

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Way Too Early Awards Predictions for 2015 MLB Season

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Coming off the heels of one of the best Super Bowls of all-time (at least that I’ve been able to witness), it’s now time to start shifting into baseball mode. With only 17 days left until pitchers and catchers begin to report for Spring Training, baseball is right on the doorstep; which is something that I can’t believe when I look outside and see a foot of snow.

With that in mind, it’s time to start laying down some predictions for the upcoming MLB season. The Fangraphs and PECOTA projections have already come out, but unfortunately for me I don’t have any algorithms that can create such detailed graphs and charts, so I’ll stick to individual awards.

AL Rookie of the Year – Rusney Castillo

While there is certainly a debate to be had regarding international players that have played professionally in leagues outside of the MLB winning the Rookie of the Year, the fact of the matter is that they’re still allowed to win it (and they typically have a leg up on their competition in the process).

With the recent success of Cuban players in the MLB such as Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman, it’s clear that the top leagues in Cuba definitely have top-level talent that translates well to MLB teams. Castillo showed a glimpse into his potential with a September call-up and I expect him to run away with the award.

NL Rookie of the Year – Kris Bryant

I figure that the folks reading this will probably like this prediction, but I’m not making it just to pander to a majority of my viewership. With Javier Baez and Jorge Soler already making their big league debuts, the stage has been set for Bryant to come in and perform for the up-and-coming Cubs.

He’ll certainly have to work through some flaws that have been pointed out in his game (such as his relatively high strikeout rate), but that’s the case with any rookie. He seems to be far more advanced than the majority of rookies that you will see coming to the majors, so I anticipate that his transition will be relatively smooth.

AL Cy YoungDavid Price

Looking at his 4-4 record with an ERA of 3.59 may cause the casual observer to say that Price underperformed in his brief time with the Detroit Tigers, but a look deeper shows that he was just as good as ever. His FIP of 2.44 shows that he may have just dealt with some bad luck and his .317 BABIP (.032 higher than his career average) just adds weight to that suggestion.

With Max Scherzer now in Washington, Price is going to be looked at to anchor the rotation of a team that’s World Series window may be in it’s final year. Along with that, he also happens to be in a contract year, so a career year now could result in him topping the $200 million mark in free agency. With Anthony Gose slated to play center, Torii Hunter now in Minnesota and Jose Iglesias returning, the defense behind him should be far improved over what he experienced over the second half of last season.

NL Cy YoungClayton Kershaw

He’s far and away the best pitcher in baseball and it’s just a matter of if he can top last year’s performance at this point. I’m incredibly happy that I get to see him pitch in his prime.

AL MVP – Mike Trout

He’s far and away the best pitcher player in baseball and it’s just a matter of if he can top last year’s performance at this point. I’m incredibly happy that I get to see him pitch play in his prime.

NL MVP – Bryce Harper

This is probably the riskiest/most controversial prediction of the six that I made, but it’s one that I feel decently confident about. While many are taking Giancarlo Stanton to win this year, I just don’t see the Marlins being able to grab a playoff spot, especially considering that Jose Fernandez won’t be back until mid-season at the earliest.

Andrew McCutchen has an argument here, but I expect Harper’s season to trump his. While he had some struggles last year, many of them were due to a thumb injury that he suffered towards the start of the season. He came on strong late and was an unstoppable force in the Nationals playoff series with the eventual World Series Champion San Fransisco Giants. I envision that that version of Harper (the one we’ve been waiting for the past two years) will be the one that we get to see throughout the course of the 2015 season. Injuries may come up again due to his occasionally reckless style of play, but if he can stay healthy the NL is in some real trouble.

How do you feel about my picks for each of the respective awards? Who do you have winning each of them?

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Banning The Shift? Not Necessary, Rob Manfred

Monday, January 26th, 2015

On just his first day as Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred is already making waves. In a sit down interview with Karl Ravech of ESPN, Manfred proposed some changes that the league could potentially consider over the next couple of years.

Though he made quite a few statements, the one that stood out to most fans was that he was considering banning defensive shifts. Naturally, just like any rule that would change the way that the game is played, die-hard fans lashed out on social media and are already ready to burn him at the stake.

It’s certainly not necessary to get that worked up over it, as this certainly will not “ruin the game” as many have claimed, but that proposed rule change not a great idea by any means.

In his brief explanation of why the rule could potentially be changed, Manfred noted decreasing offensive numbers and longer game times as reasons behind it. While those are both concerning issues that the game needs to face, this would not be the way to go about making improvements.

Though shifts have grabbed more headlines over the past year or two, they are by no means a new concept. They have existed ever since the formation of baseball, but they’ve just gotten much more numbers-driven and a bit more complex over the years.

Despite the shift, the league average for BABIP has steadily risen since the 1960’s and has sat around the .290-.300 range for the past 20 years or so. The problem is not that the batters are hitting into the shift, it’s that they’re hitting the ball at a much lower rate than they once were.

While you can make the argument that pitching has improved over the years due to the variety of training methods that are now available, one of the main factors in the increased strikeout rate is the expansion of the strike zone.

In a study done last year by Jon Roegele of The Hardball Times, it was shown that the strike zone is growing larger and larger with each passing year and is 40 square inches larger now than what it was just six years ago.

Not only are umpires getting more lenient with their strike calls, it’s the area of the zone that is expanding that is especially troubling. Pitches in the bottom of the zone are being called more often than ever, as the zone below 21 inches has grown a robust 47 square inches in just six years.

Pitchers have clearly taken note of this expansion and have begun targeting the lower half of the zone. Not only have they picked up more strike calls down there than ever before, but in turn it has made the hitters swing at pitches that they never would have if the strike zone was being called the way the rulebook says it should be.

Along with having umpires stick to the rulebook definition of the strike zone, there’s another way that the league can make games more exciting without making wholesale changes to the sport.

Some have suggested a pitch clock, but many have fought back on that idea, as the baseball is the only sport that doesn’t have a time limit. I’m in favor of a clock, but not one on pitchers.

The best way to cut down game times would be to put a clock on batters when they step out of the batter’s box, which is seemingly after every pitch. Travis Sawchick, a writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, found that in one game there were 190 instances of a player stepping out of the box after a pitch.

This sounds like a truly staggering number and it gets worse when considering the amount of time that those stoppages accounted for; 40 minutes. Putting a clock on batters, or even just a restriction on the amount of times that a player can step out of the box, would drastically decrease game times and potentially make the sport less “boring” to casual fans.

There are some changes that baseball could be undergoing within the next few years, but the elimination of defensive shifts should definitely not be one of them. With options like closing the strike zone back up and putting a clock on batters, there are plenty of better alternatives to increase offense and decrease game times.

Should the MLB ban defensive shifts? Would getting the strike zone back to regulation size and instituting a clock on batters be better alternatives? What other options could the MLB go with to give offenses a boost other than steroids, as well as decreasing game times?

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Watch Out, Spectators, The Cubs Have Signed Daniel Bard

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Amidst the big-name free agent signings that have filled this offseason, the Chicago Cubs have made a move that somehow seemed to go unnoticed to the majority of fans and analysts alike. Last weekend, the team came to terms with former Boston Red Sox flamethrower Daniel Bard on a minor-league deal with an invite to Spring Training.

If you had been in a coma for the last five years, this may have seemed like a groundbreaking deal with the Cubs signing one of the top relief men in baseball, but unfortunately things have taken a turn for the worst and Bard’s career has completely fallen off the rails.

After breaking into the league with the Red Sox in 2009, Bard quickly asserted himself as a potential closer of the future for the team, striking out 63 batters in less than 50 innings of work. While he was doing his job well, troubled loomed on the horizon in the form of a BB/9 of over 4.

The next season went even better for Bard, as his ERA dropped below 2 (with a FIP over 3.30, however) and he became a consistent option for Terry Francona in the 8th inning. With Jonathan Papelbon’s contract set to expire following the 2011 season, it appeared that the Red Sox were set with Bard as the closer moving forward.

The beginning of the 2011 season seemed to reinforce that notion, especially with outings featuring pitches like this one he threw to Nick Swisher in April of that year:

Through the first half of the season, Bard was lights out yet again, posting a 2.05 ERA and holding opposing batters to a measly .161 batting average. Much like the rest of the team who experienced one of the worst collapses in baseball history, Bard completely fell of the table in the second half.

Many attribute the Red Sox converting him to a starter as the reason for his downfall, but the cracks began to come to the surface during the second half of 2011, where he had a 5.28 ERA and walked 13 batters in just 29 innings. The month of September was far and away his worst, as he threw to a 10.64 ERA and walked 9 in 11 innings.

Since his dominant performance in the 2009-half of 2011 seasons, Bard has been completely unable to find the strike zone. Call it Steve Blass or Rick Ankiel Syndrome, it doesn’t matter; this is the case of a player that just has lost any ability to throw strikes.

Take last season in Single-A with the Texas Rangers for example; In just 0.2 innings and facing only 18 batters, Bard managed to walk 9 men and hit 7 others. If you’re keeping score at home, he either walked or hit 16 of the 18 batters that came up to the plate. This resulted in an ungodly 13 earned runs during that small time frame, which earned his release from the team.

It was prior to this time with the Rangers that Bard was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), which causes pain in the arm and hand, as well as weakening the muscles in those areas and making it tough to grip anything. As you can guess, that’s a pretty key area for a major league pitcher.

Even with this surgery, however (one that other pitchers like Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Chris Young have underwent), Bard was not able to find the magic that he had 5 years ago. With his physical problems handled, you have to imagine that some of his issues have to be mental.

I was a big fan of Bard during his days in Boston so I’m really hoping for his sake that he’s able to put it all together, but I just don’t know if I can see it happening. His lack of control is almost unprecedented and it’d take a miracle for him to get anywhere near the major league level once again, let alone succeed at it.

This contract comes with nearly zero risk to the Cubs and it’s worth taking a shot given his previous success, but anyone hoping for the Bard of old is more than likely going to be highly disappointed.

How do you feel about the Cubs signing of Daniel Bard? Can you think of any other players that fell off the table as quickly and as steeply as he did?

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Remaining NFL QBs Have Connections To MLB

Monday, January 12th, 2015

With the offseason in a bit of a down period (aside from the Ben Zobrist to Oakland trade and Max Scherzer/James Shields’ 2015 landing spots still up in the air), many fans have turned their attention to football. While my Detroit Lions were eliminated in the first round, I have still tuned in to see the action. With the conference championships upon us, each of the four remaining teams quarterbacks all have ties to baseball in one form or another.

Tom Brady (New England Patriots) – Montreal Expos Draft Pick

One of the facts that you’ll find within most sports-related trivia games is this one. Brady, a three-time Super Bowl champion that is widely regarded as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, was actually an incredible baseball player, good enough to get selected by the Montreal Expos.

In the 18th round of the 1995 MLB Draft (ahead of future major leaguers like David Ross and Aaron Miles) the Expos chose Brady, a standout catcher from California. As a high schooler, Brady impressed scouts with a strong power stroke from the left side of the plate, as well as a strong from behind the dish (go figure).

Even after his commitment to Michigan, the Expos stayed hot on Brady’s tail in attempts to convince him to sign. He clearly made the right choice as far as his career goes, but I can’t be the only one that would have wanted to see where he would have ended up on the diamond.

Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) – Colorado Rockies Minor Leaguer

It’s brought up nearly every time that Spring Training rolls around, but prior to Wilson becoming a Super Bowl winning quarterback and one of the top players at his position, he had quite a future for himself in baseball.

Following his graduation from high school in 2007, Wilson was selected in the forty-first of the MLB Draft by the Baltimore Orioles (ahead of his future teammate Golden Tate). Rather than signing, he instead chose to attend NC State, where he starred on both the baseball and football teams.

This led to him being selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 4th round of the 2010 draft (ahead of Garin Cecchini, Joc Pederson, Adam Eaton and Kris Bryant, among others). He played two years in the minors for them, hitting .229 but getting on base at a .354 clip. His best-case scenario was often cited as a Scott Hairston-type player, but his future would have been interesting to follow on the baseball field.

Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers) – High School Standout

Much like the two players listed before him, Rodgers is seen as one of the best in the business. He has posted statistics that rival the legends of his sport, has an MVP and a Super Bowl under his belt and will go down as one of the best of all-time, but he could potentially have had a future in baseball if he had chose to go down that route.

He wasn’t drafted by a major league team like Brady or Wilson, but it was clear to many that he had quite a bit of talent on the mound. Known for throwing some of the hardest passes in the NFL, Rodgers displayed some of that velocity during his high school baseball career, where it was reported that he could regularly touch 90+ with his fastball.

For a player that was spending a majority of his time in a different sport, this is an incredibly impressive feat (it’s an impressive feat for anyone, really). If he had concentrated on baseball he most certainly would have gotten looks from colleges around the country. 

Matt Hasselbeck (Indianapolis Colts) – Learned Skill From John Olerud 

Hasselbeck is not the starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, but given the fact that Andrew Luck has no experience in baseball aside from throwing out first pitches at a few different games, I had to make an exception.

At 39-years old, Hasselbeck is one of the elder statesmen of the league. He’s been in the league since 1998 and became a staple of the Seattle community during his time with the Seahawks. He made three Pro Bowls with the team and took them to a Super Bowl, the team’s only appearance prior to last season.

He played baseball in high school but gave the sport up after realizing the future that he had in football. While he never made a blip on MLB radars, he learned some important lessons from former Seattle Mariners first baseman John Olerud.

Who is your favorite crossover athlete? Are there any baseball players that you think could fit in the NFL?

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