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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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Brian Rzeppa’s 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Happy New Year, everyone! The 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame class is set to be announced tomorrow and with a 10-player limit on each writer’s voting card, there could be some big names left off yet again. We’ll also hear the debates regarding players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire, but there’s almost zero chance that they’ll get in. While my opinion may differ, I left them off for this exercise just because the card was pretty packed as it was. Without further adieu, let’s get to the picks.

Craig Biggio

After being 0.2% shy of the required 75% for induction, there’s no doubt that Biggio will get in this year. With 3,060 career hits, multiple Gold Gloves and multiple Silver Sluggers, Biggio was a consistent threat for his two decades in the game. While he wasn’t necessarily a dominating force, he certainly deserves a spot amongst the game’s greatest. 

Pedro Martinez

As one of the most electric pitchers (or players in general) that I’ve ever seen, Pedro should be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. His peak is up there with anyone who has ever played and I can’t see any reason why he would be held out. 

Randy Johnson

Much like Martinez, Randy Johnson was lights-out during a time when offense was at an all-time high. His strikeout totals won’t be surpassed in the foreseeable future and the longevity that he displayed was impressive in itself. Also like Pedro, “The Big Unit” should be in on the first ballot.

Mike Piazza

Coming in with 62% of the vote on last year’s ballot, it’s really more of a matter of “when” rather than “if” Mike Piazza gets in the Hall. He was one of the best offensive catchers of all-time, as his 427 home runs put him far ahead of Johnny Bench’s second place total of 389. 

Jeff Bagwell

We’re coming up on Bagwell’s 5th year on the ballot and much like Piazza, it’s really just a matter of time before he gets the required amount of votes. His teammate Biggio will likely get in before him, but it can be argued that Bagwell had a better peak. His career numbers compare well to fellow first basemen and he doesn’t have any off-the-field issues that should hold him out. 

John Smoltz

Smoltz is an incredibly interesting case, given that he doesn’t have the counting numbers that voters like from starters (wins, strikeouts) due to his stint as a closer, but he also doesn’t have the save totals due to his time as a starter. Regardless of his role, though, Smoltz was a top pitcher for a very long time. It may not be this year, but he’ll get in.

Edgar Martinez

There are many baseball purists that would never vote for Martinez to get into the Hall, but I’m not one of them. Why penalize a player for playing a position that each American League is required to fill? Why overlook some players’ far below-average defensive play to let them into the Hall? The fact is that Martinez was an imposing hitter and the best DH of all-time and I don’t see any reason that he’s not in there yet.

Alan Trammell

This was one of my toughest calls, and probably is at least slightly influenced given that I live in Michigan. Trammell was one of the best defenders in his era and he was no slouch with the bat. With over 2,000 career hits, nearly 200 home runs, 236 stolen bases and multiple All-Star appearances, his game was very well rounded. He probably won’t get in within the 15-year limit, but I can see him getting in via the Veterans Committee. 

Curt Schilling

Not unlike Smoltz before him, Schilling is a relatively borderline induction candidate this year, but he should get in at some point. He doesn’t have a Cy Young which hurts him, but his postseason performances and consistent regular season will be enough to put him over the top in my mind.

I wound up only using 9 spots for my ballot, but I’m sure there are a few names that could have filled the 10th spot. Mike Mussina and Tim Raines come to mind, but for one reason or another I left them off. What are your thoughts on my ballot? How do yours compare?

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3 Players Set For Big Regression In 2015

Monday, December 29th, 2014

With the offseason coming to a bit of a lull (although top names like Max Scherzer and James Shields are still available) it’s safe to say that we can start looking towards next season already. Last year, we saw some surprising names jump onto the scene, but we may see some of those fade away as quickly as they came.

Alfredo Simon – SP – Detroit Tigers

After looking at last season’s basic statistics for Simon, 15-10 with a 3.44 ERA, many lauded the Tigers for their acquisition. He’s coming off of his first All-Star season at the age of 33, but it appears that last year might have been a case of fool’s gold.

Throughout the first half of last year, Simon pitched to a 12-3 record with an impressive 2.70 ERA, so you can easily say that his All-Star appearance was well earned. With that being said, his numbers fell off of a cliff during the second half, as he went 3-7 with a pedestrian 4.52 ERA.

If you look into the advanced statistics, the picture becomes even clearer. He was the beneficiary of the league’s 10th lowest Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) at .265, a number that is typically around the .285-.295 mark for most pitchers. Along with that, he managed to strike out just 5.82 batters per nine innings, which was the lowest for a full season in his career.

His 3.44 ERA looks impressive on the surface, but his 4.33 FIP tells a much different story. That number placed him 10th worst among qualified starting pitchers and is definitely not indicative of someone who will maintain success in the future. Making the move to Comerica Park will help, but I don’t see any situation in which Simon replicates his 2014 success.

Casey McGehee – 3B – San Francisco Giants

Last season, McGehee came out of nowhere to steadily produce for a Miami Marlins team that was barren on offense. This was his first truly productive season since the 2010 campaign with the Milwaukee Brewers. Since then, he had spent time with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the New York Yankees and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.

While his surprising comeback was certainly a feel-good story for fans around the league, his resume from last year has some holes in it that are just too glaring to overlook going into 2015.

After being slugging his way to a .319/.386/.391 slash line during the first half of the season (assisted by an astronomical .369 BABIP), McGehee started to fall off the table in the second half, with his numbers dropping all the way down to a paltry .243/.310/.310. Along with the drop to a regular BABIP in the second half (.284) McGehee saw his strikeout numbers jump from 55 in 93 games to 47 in just 67.

The second half that McGehee produced is more than likely what we are going to see out of him for the entirety of the 2015 season. He’ll be a passable option for the Giants at third until they can find a long-term solution, but we likely won’t see a repeat of his .287/.355/.357 line that he posted in 2014.

Josh Harrison – 3B – Pittsburgh Pirates

In talking about breakout players from the 2014 season, there aren’t many guys that burst onto the scene quite like Harrison. After spending his first three years with the Pittsburgh Pirates going up and down between the majors and the minors and largely being considered a role player, Harrison exploded and wound up finishing 9th in MVP voting.

His versatility in the field was incredible, as was his bat. He anchored the leadoff spot for the Pirates and slashed .315/.347/.490 line for the season with 13 home runs and 18 stolen bases and wound up posting 4.9 WAR, which was good for 25th in all of baseball.

At just 27 years old, many consider Harrison to be an important piece of the team moving forward, but that may not be the case upon closer consideration. His numbers at the plate were impressive, but they were aided by a .353 BABIP (9th in baseball) and while that alone doesn’t equal regression, it can be a telling sign especially considering his career number of .313.

Harrison’s success last season was almost completely predicated off of murdering fastballs, but beyond four-seamers he was a very average hitter. With pitchers likely to notice these trends, you can guarantee that he’ll be seeing a lot more off-speed stuff in the 2015 season. While he won’t completely fall off the table, a WAR of in the 2.0-2.5 range (still solid) should be expected.

What other players do you expect to come down to earth next season?

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Top Trade Options On The Market

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Free agency is already in full swing, which means many of the top names have already found new homes. Though there has been quite a bit of movement on the trade market already, with Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers heading to San Diego, Josh Donaldson going to Toronto and a few other notable moves, there are a few players that could wind up getting moved prior to the season kicking off.

Cole Hamels

Much like a majority of the Philadelphia Phillies roster, Hamels has to be seen as available to other teams just based on the fact that the team should (hypothetically) be in a rebuilding phase. General Manager Ruben Amaro has defied logic in the past, but he would be crazy to not at least listen to what teams would offer for his ace.

Hamels is the cream of the crop as far as the trade market goes, as he’s a proven ace who is under team control for at least the next four seasons with a contract that is right in line with his value (along with a $20 million team option for the fifth season).

While he has not experienced Kershaw-level dominance, he is still just about as reliable of a pitcher that you’re going to find, and potentially a better option than the top two free agent pitchers that are left unsigned, James Shields and Max Scherzer.

As we have seen in the past, Amaro has a tendency to expect a bit too much of a return in any transactions, so the price for Hamels might be higher than if he were on any other team. It’s going to take a top prospect or two to pry him away from Philly, but the return could end up being more than worth it if he goes to the right team.

Troy Tulowitzki

If this were a case of comparing talent with no external factors, Tulowitzki would have undoubtedly topped this list. When he’s healthy, he’s undoubtedly the best shortstop (and one of the best players overall) in all of baseball.

He has won two Gold Gloves in his career and just as many Silver Sluggers, sports a .371 OBP for his career and has a 20 stolen base season on his resume. He is the prototype of what you would want out of a shortstop, but there’s one major problem for any team acquiring him; he can’t stay healthy.

After playing 151 games in the 2009 season, Tulo has went on to miss 281 games over the past five years, including 71 just last season. It hasn’t been a series of nagging injuries, but rather some major ones that include hip surgery, groin surgery, a broken wrist and a strained quad that caused him to miss nearly 50 games.

He’s under team control for the next 6 years, which would be a dream with his production, but could end up being a nightmare with his injury history. The cost of acquiring him from the Colorado Rockies will be steep, which will only increase the risk of trading for him.

Jordan Zimmermann

Unlike the other options that have been listed, Zimmermann does not offer the security of sticking with a team beyond this coming season, as 2015 is the last year on his contract. He’ll be making $16.5 million this year, but that could skyrocket if/when he hits free agency.

Regardless of his contractual situation, however, Zimmermann has quickly asserted himself as one of the top right-handed arms in the game and he’s managed to stand out in a rotation that also features Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister.

Over the past three seasons, Zimmermann is 45-22 with a 2.96 ERA (3.18 FIP) and a superb 4.43 K/BB ratio that was even higher this past season at an astounding 6.28, which was good for 6th in all of baseball. He’s only 28 years old and he seems to be improving with each season, so we may not have even seen his top form at this point.

Giving up a substantial package for what could be a one-year rental is always a nerve-wracking proposition, but the talent that Zimmermann brings to the table should outweigh any of those concerns. For a team that is in need of a pitcher to put them over the top, they should have no qualms about making a move with the Washington Nationals.

What other trade options are out there that you find appealing? What would you be willing to give up for any of the players listed?

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Under The Radar Free Agent Position Players

Monday, December 15th, 2014

We’re in the middle of December, which means we’ve already passed the Winter Meetings. There was quite a bit of movement going on (Jon Lester signing with the Cubs, Jeff Samardzija heading to the White Sox, Yoenis Cespedes being shipped to Detroit) which will only get the ball rolling for the rest of the offseason. While there are still some big names out there, like Max Scherzer and James Shields, there are a few names that aren’t quite getting the press that they deserve. These three players will be able to contribute to a team next year and they won’t cost you and arm and a leg.

Mike Morse (1B/OF)

Last year, Morse came into the offseason off of one of the worst years of his career, hitting just .215 over the course of the year and compiling 13 home runs in only 88 games played. It wasn’t the contract year that he was looking for, but things wound up paying off.

 

He signed with the San Francisco Giants and it ended up being a great deal for both sides. For Morse, he re-established his value by posting a .279/.336/.475 slash line with 16 homers in 131 games and for the Giants, they received a power threat who helped them take home their 5th World Series title in 5 years.

While Morse won’t be mistaken for one of the game’s top sluggers, he does really well for himself at the plate. He is not an all-or-nothing power hitter like many role players are, as he’s able to get on base pretty consistently. He’s played quite a few positions in his career, but he realistically should try to find a home in the American League where he can DH. He’s an impressive hitter, but he’s one of the worst defensive players in all of baseball.

Alex Rios (OF)

After signing a big contract with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008, Rios saw his career take a huge step downward, much like his former Jays teammate Vernon Wells. This led to the team trading him to Chicago, where after a few up-and-down years (culminated by a 2012 season that saw him receive MVP votes) he found his way to Texas to play for the Rangers.

He once again proved that he had turned his career around and helped the Rangers in their playoff push (they ultimately missed the playoffs in Game 163). Unfortunately, things just weren’t the same last year as they were the year prior, both for the team and for Rios. The team fell into the cellar of the American League West and Rios seemed to lose all of the power that was once in his bat.

Even without any power, however, Rios could still play an important role on a contending team. He killed left-handed pitching last year (with a .325/.353/.545) and dealt with a few nagging injuries, so the lack of power could have been a fluke. Another added bonus is that he has never played in the playoffs, so he may be willing to take a pay cut for the right team.

Stephen Drew (SS/2B/3B)

Stop laughing; I’m serious.

After sitting out half of last season due to a first round pick being attached to him, it was clear that Drew was pretty rusty when he signed with the Boston Red Sox in late May. He never really got it going at the plate, to say the least, even after being traded to a more favorable hitters park in Yankee Stadium.

While he didn’t get his bat up to par, his glove kept him on the field. He’s known around the league as one of the better defensive shortstops in all of baseball, but his versatility is also a plus. He’s capable of playing second and third in addition to shortstop, which adds to his value.

Coming off of the season that he had last year he won’t be looking to cash in for a big payday. His value that he prevents on defense is enough reason to sign him, but he could be a bounce back candidate with the bat. Even if he hits just .230 or .240 he immediately becomes a consistent above-average middle infielder, so I’d take my chances on a one-year deal with him.

Are there any other players that aren’t receiving the attention that they should be? If so, why should they be getting more press?

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Breaking Down The Free Agent Pitching Market

Monday, December 8th, 2014

After a bit of a layoff, I’m back at it. Given that the season has come to a close, my weekly story is going to have to switch up a little bit. With free agency in full swing and the Winter Meetings underway, this seems like the perfect time to take a look at what the market has to offer over the next few months.

The Cream of The Crop

Max Scherzer

Living in Michigan, I’ve had the opportunity of watching essentially every Scherzer for the Tigers over the past 5 seasons. He’s had some pretty good teammates in the rotation with him (Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, etc.) but over the past three years it’s safe to say that he’s really taken his game to a different level.

Coming to Detroit, Scherzer had a bit of a control problem and really wasn’t able to command his pitches all that well. He’s figured that out now, which makes him one of the more lethal pitchers in all of baseball.

He’s not mentioned with the Clayton Kershaw’s and Felix Hernandez’s of the league, but he’s still more than capable of anchoring a rotation. At 30 years old you have to wonder how well his repertoire is going to age (given that he works off of his mid-90’s fastball), but for the next few years, at least, he should be a solid investment.

Jon Lester

Though it’s debatable as to who is the best starter on the market this offseason between Lester and Scherzer, it has become clear that Lester is going to be the first one to sign. With Scott Boras representing Scherzer, he’s going to wait to see how the market plays out before accepting anything, which makes Lester’s signing all the more important.

Whichever team signs Lester is going to acquiring one of the best left-handers in baseball and much like Scherzer, a bonafide ace. He was at the top of the Boston Red Sox rotation for the past 6-½ years (with two World Series titles under his belt) and they reluctantly shipped him off to the Oakland Athletics, where he shouldered the load in their playoff push.

He’s 31 years old, but given the fact that he doesn’t rely on overpowering hitters and has had no injury problems throughout his career, Lester should be as safe a bet as any on the free agent market this offseason.

James Shields

He doesn’t belong in the same conversation as Scherzer and Lester, but he was the leader of the Kansas City staff that wound up leading the team to an improbable World Series appearance.

His regular season was impressive (though he somewhat drastically outperformed his FIP), but his numbers took a dip when October rolled around. “Big Game James” didn’t live up to his nickname this year, which may end up hurting him in negotiations; even it is an incredibly small sample size.

He will be 33 once the 2015 season begins, which will also work against him. I don’t see him getting $100+ like the two aforementioned starters will, but I will say that he’s the most likely to leave the team he played for in 2014.

Second Tier

Ervin Santana

After waiting out the market last year and going without a contract until March, you have to believe that Santana will be a bit more eager to get a deal done within the next month or two. With the way that he pitched last year, he shouldn’t have any problems finding a suitor.

He will soon be 32, but it’s clear that he has quite a few more innings left in him. He pitched far better than his 3.95 ERA from last year indicates and although he has had quite an inconsistent career, he could easily plug into a #2 or #3 spot in most team’s rotations.

Francisco Liriano

It’s been quite a whirlwind of a career for Liriano, who many saw as the future of the Minnesota Twins rotation while he was a youngster behind Johan Santana. Following a few surgeries to his elbow, Liriano’s stock massively fell off the table as he failed to get back on track.

Now 31, Liriano has reinvented himself over the past few seasons in Pittsburgh and is looking to cash in. His track record and injury history might hurt him, but what is working against him the most is the draft pick compensation that is tied to him. He’ll still get in the $40 million range, but I don’t know if I’d personally be comfortable with that.

Kenta Maeda (If posted)

It seems like every year there are a few international players that draw the eye of the scouts around the league and this year is no different. Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas has already signed a big deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda could be the next domino to fall.

He’ll be just 27 years old when next season rolls around and he’s been one of the best pitchers in Japan over the course of the last 3 seasons. He has a low to mid 90s fastball, a big 12-6 curveball, a decent slider and a major league-ready slider in his arsenal and although he won’t be in the Yu Darvish/Masahiro Tanaka level of starter, he could fit in the middle of a rotation.

Fliers

Justin Masterson

Once a top prospect in the Red Sox organization, Masterson has had a tumultuous last few seasons. From a breakout All-Star campaign in 2013 to a disappointment of a 2014 season; it’s tough to tell what he’s going to bring to the table. At his best, Masterson will keep the ball in the park and eat innings, but at his worst he won’t find the strike zone and would be useless to a team.

Josh Johnson

It’s starting to feel like Johnson is going to be in this section every year, but I just can’t bring myself to give up on him, which seems to be the attitude of most general managers in the league. He was once one of the top pitchers in baseball, but injuries have derailed his promising career. It’s not going to take much, but if Johnson can get healthy after another Tommy John surgery, he can be very, very productive.

Brandon Beachy/Kris Medlen 

The Atlanta Braves turned some heads recently when they declined to bring back this pair of oft-injured starters, but it’s not hard to see their line of thinking. Beachy is coming off of a second Tommy John procedure and Medlen is rehabbing from one, as well. When healthy, either of these two can provide support at the back end of a rotation. I’d prefer Medlen to Beachy given their medical records, but either can be seen as a low-risk, medium-reward type of player.

How do you rank the top pitchers in this year’s free agent class? Are there any under-the-radar names that you have your eye on?

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Giants Win World Series, Maddon Kicks Off Offseason & More

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

We’ve reached the end of the line. It was yet another incredible season from start to finish with highlights scattered all throughout. The season ended this past week, but it didn’t take long for things to get going in the offseason. Let’s get to it.

Giants Win World Series…Again

For everyone who complains that baseball features the same World Series teams over and over again (normally mentioning the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox when they say it), they may have some added ammunition with the result of this year’s championship.

The San Francisco Giants completed their quest for their third World Series win in the last five years, with a 7-game victory over the underdog Kansas City Royals. Viewers didn’t exactly take to the series but for those who watched, they definitely got a boatload of entertainment.

After a decisive 10-0 victory at home in Game 6, the Royals were riding high coming into Game 7. It was unclear going into the game as to who would pitch for San Francisco, but Bruce Bochy eventually decided on veteran Tim Hudson, who didn’t even last two innings. Jeremy Affeldt quieted a rally then postseason hero Madison Bumgarner put their bats to sleep to clinch it.

Bumgarner’s performance has to be considered one for the record books and he showed the country that he deserves to be talked about amongst the top arms in the game. If the Giants history provides any pattern, you’d have to bet that they’ll somehow manage to miss the playoffs next season but as for now, they’re World Series champions once again. What were your thoughts on this series? Did you find it entertaining?

Maddon Hired By Cubs

Though the Chicago Cubs weren’t exactly looking for a manager heading into the offseason, with Rick Renteria doing an adequate job for the 2014 season, they were presented with an opportunity to make a move that they just couldn’t pass up. In this case, the Tampa Bay Rays loss was the Cubs’ gain.

With the hiring of former Rays manager Joe Maddon, the Cubs have to be seen as seriously taking a step forward in their rebuilding process. They’ve spent the last few years ridding the team of it’s bad contracts and strengthening the farm system and the hiring of Maddon should drastically help those young players once they get to the big leagues.

Maddon, long known as one of the best managers in the league, will finally be paired with a front office that doesn’t mind throwing around money when the circumstances call for it. With the Cubs rumored to make a run out of some of the big name free agents this year, this could be a quick turnaround.

While it was unfortunate that the Cubs had to let go of Renteria after only one year, it just wouldn’t have made sense for them to pass on a manager of Maddon’s caliber. With top-flight managers adding at least a handful of wins each year, the addition of Maddon should be a big one. How much closer do you think the Maddon hire pushes the Cubs towards contention?

Twins Choose Gardenhire’s Replacement

Along with the Maddon and the Rays separating, the Minnesota Twins decided to fire long-time manager Ron Gardenhire a couple of weeks ago. Much like the Cubs, the Twins didn’t waste much time in finding a new skipper.

In a move that may draw some ire from fans of Twin Cities baseball, the team is reportedly set to hire Hall of Famer Paul Molitor to be their new manager. Molitor has been a part of the coaching staff for the last year, which is something that upset many Minnesota fans.

While he has an extensive track record as a player, the fact that he has been within the organization that has struggled through four 90-plus-loss seasons in a row is a mark against him. Some new blood probably would have been preferred, but Molitor has the baseball acumen to be able to help facilitate this rebuild.

I personally think that someone like Dave Martinez, who extensively uses analytics and connects well with younger players, would have been a better choice, but Molitor should be a pretty safe option. With the talent that the twins have coming through system, Molitor should have them competing within the next couple of years. Was the hire of Paul Molitor a smart one for the Twins?

This Week’s MVP: Hunter Pence (.444/.500/.667, 1 HR, 5 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: Madison Bumgarner (2-0, 1 SV, 0.43 ERA, 17 K)

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