Postseason Predictions

As usual, I’ve been a absentee blogger for a while. Mostly, that’s because I’ve started my PhD program and for obvious reasons, I’ve need to concentrate on that work. But it hasn’t helped that the Twins have been so godawful to watch and think about. At least we’ve got youth to look forward to, right?

On the other hand, I’ve watched plenty of baseball. One benefit of being in Oxford MS is that I get multiple markets on Uverse. That means Reds, Cardinals, and Braves games. I do have to work through the intolerable pain of listening to Chip Carey, but watching talented and fun teams compete hasn’t been an issue for me. So do I think one of those teams is going to win the World Series?

Well, ZIPS has the Tigers projected as the most likely winner. Those odds have Detroit at 17.6%, with Boston behind at 16%. Atlanta projects as the most likely NL winner at 13.8%, with Pittsburgh last at 2.8% now that the Rangers are out. With that, I wouldn’t simply just bet on the odds. As Ron Washington showed last night, managers matter in single games–at least, to the extent that they can hurt their teams chances of winning. Jim Leyland’s anti-sabermetric attitude puts him close to Washington’s company for managerial decision making–and that might hurt them in a close series. That has mean leaning closer to teams like Boston and the As with their fine use of platoons. With that, let me go ahead and get to my predictions:

AL Wild Card: Rays over Indians

NL Wild Card: Pirates over Reds

AL Divisional Series:

A’s over Tigers

Red Sox over Rays

NL Divisional Series:

Dodgers over Braves

Pirates over Cardinals

ALCS: A’s over Red Sox in 6

 

NLCS: Dodgers over Pirates in 6

World Series: A’s over Dodgers in 7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Twins Should Trade Glen Perkins

As we approach the All-Star break, it is a topic heating up lately. It isn’t just about the Twins situation, but the general question of whether non-contenders should trade a very good closer. And the answer, without a doubt, is yes.

Perkins is a great pitcher right now and he’s a pretty awesome player to follow. He runs a entertaining twitter account, he’s into sabermetrics (and trying to convert teammates), and he’s a hometown guy who used to play for the Gophers. The last three seasons, he’s done a great job out of the bullpen, posting ERAs (2.48/2.56/1.93), FIPs (2.41/3.17/1.84) and xFIPs (2.92/3.13/2.21) that are excellent and he’s been even better this year. His strikeout rate is up to 12.4/9 and he’s maintaining the high velocity of the last few years (averaging 94.7 mph). So why trade him?

Well, there are a few good reasons. For one, the points made by Dave Schoenfield, Buster Posey, Dave Cameron and others are hard to disagree with. Closers and relievers generally are quite volatile. Amazingly, among the 30 saves leaders from 2011, only four still have their jobs right now–5 if you count Heath Bell, who’s hold on his position isn’t exactly tight. Take a look at the 2010 All-Star team relievers as a example. Jonathon Broxton? No longer closing, now a overpaid, mediocre reliever for the Royals. Joakim Soria? Hasn’t pitched since 2011, injured. Andrew Bailey? 5.02 ERA the last two seasons, limited by injuries, and if you may recalled, traded in December 2011 by Oakland for Josh Reddick. Neftali Felix? Tommy John, moved to the rotation. Jose Valverde? Reinstalled as Tigers closer this year, lost the job in weeks. Brian Wilson and Matt Capps are not currently on major league rosters. Neither is non-closer Evan Meek. Billy Wagner and Arthur Rhodes are retired.

Keep in mind that it is quite obvious that mediocre or bad relievers can be fine closers. Do you know who leads the majors in saves the last two seasons? It is Jim Johnson of the Orioles, with 81. His stats? 3.03 ERA, 110 innings, 75/29 K/BB ratio. Not that impressive. Remember that in that time, scrap-heap pickup Twins reliever Casey Fien has a 2.64 ERA in 71 2/3 innings with a 72/16 K/BB ratio–he surely could take over more than adequately. Or Jared Burton, who has a 2.85 ERA in 101 innings with a 90/32 K/BB ratio. That’s all basic stat-work, but it proves a point. We have plenty of cheap relievers over the past few years who have been as good as the saves leader during that time–closers and relievers are everywhere, and yet remain overvalued.

The best evidence of this is in our own recent history. Most Twins fans are probably still mad about the Matt Capps trade and they should be. (Note, I know that Capps was and never has been as good as Perkins)  The trade that brought Capps in to replace Jon Rauch as Twins closer on July 29, 2010 was one of their worst. Rauch was not actually that ineffective (3.12 ERA), especially given that they gave up Wilson Ramos for Capps. Ramos was a Top 100 prospect for three straight years and was considered the future backup to Joe Mauer. He’s hit 273/.335/.446 so far in 619 major league at-bats. Capps did help the Twins in his 21 post-trade innings (2.00 ERA), but in the two years after, had a 4.07 ERA in 95 innings with a terrible 52/17 K/BB ratio. (In fairness, the walk rate was good but what an awful strikeout rate) This was, in other words, a pretty obvious mistake.

Why did we do it? Because teams still seem to operate on the assumption that a “proven closer” makes all the difference for whether they’ll achieve postseason success. A team like the Twins needs to take advantage the way the Nationals did to them just a few seasons back. Perkins is wonderful, but he’s a luxury for a team that is looking to breakout in the next year or two with a core of possibly otherworldly talent. When I hear like things about how the Twins want to keep Perkins to build this core around him, I shake my head at such warped thinking. Good teams aren’t built around closers or relievers–they are built on the backs on teams still thinking that way.

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Underrated Seasons at Break

Well, it is about the end of the first half of the baseball season and again I’ve failed to product much content. Only way to remedy that is to try and try again to produce more. Rather than write out a post off my All-Star picks, which I considered, I would rather write a little more in depth about a few seasons not enough people are talking about. Though, for the record, here are my picks right now for All-Stars:

AL: Joe Mauer (C), Jason Castro (C), Carlos Santana (C/1B), Chris Davis (1B), Edwin Encarnacion (1B), Dustin Pedroia (2B), Robinson Cano (2B), Jason Kipnis (2B), Jhonny Peralta (SS), J.J. Hardy (SS), Miguel Cabrera (3B), Manny Machado (3B), Evan Longeria (3B), Josh Donaldson (3B), Mike Trout (OF), Jacoby Ellsbury (OF), Jose Bautista (OF), Brett Gardner (OF), Colby Rasmus (OF), Alex Gordon (OF), Max Scherzer (SP), Anibal Sanchez (SP), Felix Hernandez (SP), Justin Verlander (SP), Yu Darvish (SP), Chris Sale (SP), Derek Holland (SP), James Shields (SP), Clay Buchholz (SP), Jesse Crain (RP), Drew Smyly (RP), Mariano Rivera (RP)

Injury replacements: Hishahi Iwakuma (SP, for Buchholz), Joe Nathan (RP, for Crain)

NL: Yadier Molina (C), Buster Posey (C), Russell Martin (C), Joey Votto (1B), Paul Goldschmidt (1B), Matt Carpenter (2B), Marco Scutaro (2B), Troy Tulowitzski (SS), Jean Segura (SS), Everth Cabrera (SS), David Wright (3B), Pedro Alvarez (3B), Carlos Gomez (OF), Carlos Gonzalez (OF), Michael Cuddyer (OF), Andrew McCutchen (OF), Gerardo Parra (OF),  Giancarlo Stanton (OF), Yasiel Puig (OF), Shin-Soo Choo (OF), Adam Wainwright (SP), Matt Harvey (SP), Cliff Lee (SP), Clayton Kershaw (SP), Jordan Zimmerman (SP), Mat Latos (SP), Jeff Samardjiza (SP), Homer Bailey (SP), Shelby Miller (SP), Stephen Strasburg (SP), Jason Grilli (RP), Mark Melancon (RP), Trevor Rosenthal (RP)

Injury replacements: Ian Desmond (SS, for Tulowitski)

Tulo is hurt right now so I’d probably add Ian Desmond to replace him. I also only have three relievers per squad and that’s a bias against them, but I am on the mind that I don’t really want to see a bunch of relievers at the All-Star game and I don’t believe most of them have that much surplus value.  With that in mind, I’m going to write a few blurbs on the players that stand out for me as having underrated seasons, Let’s start with some AL players.

Jason Castro, C, Houston Astros:

Castro has gotten some recent love on Fangraphs for being the best Astros player this year. Naturally, that seems like a backhand compliment, but Castro has had a solid breakout season so far. He’s hit .270/.331/.480 (124 OPS+/.294 TAv) with 12 HRs, good for a 2.4 rWAR/2.2 fWAR/2.4 WARP. Castro was a first-rounder for Houston in 2008 and though he has that pedigree, he never showed too much power in the minors. Thus, most projections don’t have him hitting for this kind of power (.210 isolated slugging). Nonetheless, Castro is, at 26, a bright spot for the Astros. He’s not a star by any means, but could he be the next Russell Martin if he adds pitch framing to his resume. At worst, he’s Jonathon LeCroy. Nothing wrong with that.

Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians:

Kipnis has seemed on the verge of stardom before with a few well-timed hot streaks in his past, but he hasn’t seemed to “break” out in narrative form yet. That is the natural limitations of being a Indian working out for you. Nonetheless, Kipnis has been one of the better players in the AL so far this season. His .295/.379/.517 line after an incredibly hot last month (.419/.517/.699 in June) is simply stellar for a second baseman. That amounts to a .384 wOBA/147 wRC+/151 OPS+/.319 TAv and when combined with his position and baserunning (19 steals), it is no surprise he’s toward the tops of WAR leader boards (3.8 rWAR/3.3 fWAR/3.3 WARP).

If anything, maybe Kipnis is good evidence that hitting streaks and hot starts are often overhyped because the media tends to miss stories like Kipnis’ June and his overall excellent campaign so far. That’s too bad because Kipnis is having the kind of season that made Ian Kinsler a star recently and I see no reason he can’t reach that value.

Colby Rasmus, CF, Toronto Blue Jays:

Rasmus’ identity as a obnoxious personality has been established for a while in the eyes of many writers and commentators and probably plenty of players and front-office personnel. I don’t really care to comment on that. Rasmus may well be an insufferable person. He also is having a pretty good season–one at least as good, if not better than Adam Jones’–but he’s getting no publicity for it. (2.6 rWAR/3.0 fWAR/2.5 WARP vs. 1.9 rWAR/1.6 fWAR/1.5 WARP for Jones)

As mentioned here by Jeff Passan, if you just look at their OBPs/SLGs, Rasmus’ and Jones’ offensive production look quite similar. Rasmus is hitting .250/.324/.476, while Jones is hitting .291/.314/.477, but they are doing it very different ways. Rasmus strikes out 31.5% of the time–really an astounding rate–but walks 9.0% of the time. Jones never walks (2.3%) and certainly doesn’t approach Rasmus’ strikeout rate. Jones is a contact hitter. Rasmus is swinging for the fences constantly, but he’s making it work, while playing above average center field defense, at least according to all the various defensive advanced stats. (I can’t claim personal knowledge, because I simply haven’t seen much of the Blue Jays this year) Jones has, on the other hand, been the spawn of much debates over those statistics because they continue to rate him as a poor fielder despite the vehement opposition of many who believe he’s rightfully a Gold Glover. Either way, Jones gets talked about plenty and Rasmus still finds himself with the image of a “bust,” even though he’s been All-Star worthy.

James Shields, SP, Kansas City Royals

I strongly considered putting a bit up about Derek Holland, who’s been quite impressive for Rangers, striking out plenty of hitters with a killer fastball/slider combo, but Shields is my choice for other reasons. That is, his record v. performance highlights the complete absurdity of paying attention to win-loss records. I don’t know that I would have advised the Royals to make their big offseason trade for Shields, but performance-wise, he’s been exactly what they expected–his numbers are eerily similar the last three seasons. Check out his ERA/FIP/xFIP in those three years: ERA (2.82, 3.52, 3.23), FIP (3.42, 3.47, 3.55), xFIP (3.25, 3.24, 3.64). You can see the ERA fluctuates a little, but the peripherals have remained quite consistent.

And his biggest skill–durability–has been right there. He’s thrown 122 1/3 innings so far this year, good for 1.8 rWAR/2.3 fWAR. His ERA+ is 127. In other words, he’s been pretty good. But, yes, the win-loss record. He’s 3-6. My guess is that makes him unlikely to be a All-Star and that’s a shame. Naturally, his game log suggests this isn’t close to his fault. He had a run of four starts this year, going 0-3 despite allowing just 6 runs in 31 innings, with a 30/5 K/BB ratio. What gives? Well, it is simple and obvious. The Royals are not a very good team. Their bullpen actually has some great pieces in Greg Holland and Luke Hochevar (seriously), but their offense (90 OPS+) is pretty awful.

Brian Kenny has been on a twitter trek lately to “kill the win” and recently tweeted this post. I highly suggest reading it and related post and following Kenny’s campaign.  Every day, Kenny has been posting great games by pitchers that have resulted in losses or no-decisions and the results have been stunning. Personally, I pay so little attention to win-losses that outside of Shields and Scherzer’s record (everyone wants to discuss 13-0), I don’t know anyone’s record. Because I honestly don’t care. Shields is just one example of why, but there are examples all over the place. We have so many great ways to access and consider the value of pitchers, but win-loss record simply isn’t one of them. It tells us nothing about what a pitcher did and as the post I linked suggests, it doesn’t even correlate well with pitching success outside of the record. The greatest thing I’ve heard lately is from Scherzer himself, who stated that his 13-0 record reflects luck and his teammates more than what he’s done–he knows he’s been on the other side of the coin before.

Carlos Gomez, CF, Milwaukee Brewers:

I love Go-Go. I also love baseball. I think these probably go together. As great as Puig has been to watch–and he has been and deserves to be at the All-Star game both based on a historically great start and the fact that he’s the kind of growing star the game needs to promote–Gomez has been sensational himself. Want highlight reel catches? Gomez, according to ESPN, has taken away four home runs this year going over the wall, including last night’s incredible takeaway from Joey Votto. By my own eyes, he makes great plays all the time in center, as I saw at a July 4th game against the Nats. Not surprisingly, his defensive rWAR (2.6), UZR (13.9), and FRAA (4.0) reflect that Gomez has been among the best defensive players in the game.

He’s also hit the ball pretty well. How about a .308/.349/.552 line (139 OPS+/.382 wOBA/.308 TAv) combined with 20 steals, 13 homers and 9 triples good for a 5.5 rWAR/5.0 fWAR/3.3 WARP? You saw that correct. Gomez might be the best player in baseball so far this season. It, of course, depends on how you feel about his defense (I’m convinced it is that good) and his .349 OBP (it is a negative), but being in that discussion is amazing for a guy who is such a joy to watch. I couldn’t be happier that he’s made the All-Star game. It is too bad he didn’t do it for the Twins, but at 27, he’s at the peak of his powers and it is awesome to see for baseball fans everywhere. My hope is that he’s still a potential MVP at the end of the season. I desperately want to advocate for him.

Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals:

A All-Star game without Strasburg is strange. Strasburg is obviously a rising star and he’s the kind of pitcher everyone wants to see and watch in the All-Star game–the opposite of Jeff Locke, for instance. Strasburg isn’t there for one reason: his win-loss record. As mentioned, he’s 4-6, but by all other measures, he continues to be amazing, countering this year’s narrative that Strasburg has been underwhelming. In 106 1/3 innings, Strasburg has a 107/33 K/BB ratio, which is excellent if not quite where he was last year. That’s good for a 2.45 ERA/3.22 FIP/3.41 xFIP/156 ERA+. His groundball rate is actually up to 51.1% and as most know, pitchers who have high groundball rates and strikeout rates are rare beasts that tend to dominate. He’s collected 2.4 rWAR/1.9 fWAR/1.3 WARP. He’s still averaging 95.4 MPH on his fastball. Yes, he hasn’t been quite as good, but Strasburg remains one of the best starters in the game. Somehow, that seems to have been missed and that appears to be more evidence that wins shouldn’t matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2013 Twins Preview

There is something funny about the confluence of opening day excitement and the perception of bloggers as a monolithic tribe of calculating drones with no emotional attachments. Now is the time where this is most strongly rebuffed because at this moment, most everyone can’t avoid showing what it is to be a fan. By that, I refer to the irrational core of being a fan that pushes us to find reasons to follow and dream for the glory of our teams.

Being a fan itself is an irrational experience. I often hear perfectly rational questions about why one would be loyal to a sponsored shirt essentially or perhaps to a geographic area. Is fandom just a microcosm of nationalism? The building of and maintaining of community certainly is part of it, but it is also a individual experience. Baseball, I think, is particular in that way. Because it is a game driven by the actions of individuals who play for a team over constant acting in concert (like say hockey or basketball), fans can really hone in on individual action during the game. That lets us follow as individuals highly idiosyncratic storylines.

For me, the history of baseball, as told by statistics as much as narrative, is what generally keeps me fanatically interested. But as a fan of the Twins, the beginnings of being a fan came with location, success, and learning to love the history of the team as much as the sport itself. What does that mean at the beginning of the season? It means that even if I am an analytics fan who is rationally convinced the team will not contend, there are plentiful storylines for me to follow. And those sometimes coalesce into wishful thinking. As Joe Posnanski likes to writes upon the beginning of the year, even a Royals fan finds reasons to believe his team can and will win. Bloggers and analysts, at the end of the day I believe, are some of the most intense fans out there and the ability to do objective statistical analysis cannot and does not displace that.

So, yes, the objective analyst in me says that the Twins will struggle. I believe that they’ll be among the worst teams in baseball this season. I think that because I do not think they have much pitching at all. I believe as well that within a season or two, they’ll be back to contention with great timing, as the Tigers will have aged enough as a core to start tumbling and leaving the Central wide open to competition again.  But, of course, there are ways that things can break the Twins way. My old blogging partner Nick Nelson, for instance, believes they can be the Baltimore Orioles of 2012 this year. With that, I’d like to think about what could go right in order for the Twins to possibly compete.

1) Starting Pitching has to rise well above last year’s woes

Last year, the Twins had historically awful starting pitching. And, frankly, the offseason adjustments don’t feel like much of a reshuffling of the deck. To be clear, I do like Vance Worley, whom the Twins acquired in the Ben Revere trade. Worley carries a 7.7 K/9 ratio in 277 2/3 major league innings and is only 25, but he did struggle some last year, with his ERA creeping up to 4.20, though his BABIP sailed to an unsustainably high .340 as well. He’s not a great pitcher and he doesn’t have great stuff (fastball clocked in at 89.8 average last year), but he’s a solid addition.

Kevin Correia, on the other hand, is not a solid addition. He’s 32, strikes out no one, has decent but not great control, and is entering the superior league. Most of us are still wondering why Terry Ryan gave him two years or $10 million. This is indicative of the problem. This is the most important element for the Twins to have hope of competing and its the one they are less likely to overcome. Not much has changed from last year and even last year’s best pitcher–Scott Diamond–is not only likely to regress, but also starts the year hurt.

What’s the optimistic point of view here? Well, I think it is that new guy Worley shows the Twins the form he had in 2011 and that help from the youth ranks arrives sooner than expected. Prospects from the Revere and Denard Span trades (Trevor May, Alex Meyer) have high expectations, but aren’t likely to join the club for a few years. But there is Liam Hendricks, who is just 24 and carries a 2.85 minor league ERA. Can he still turn into the next Brad Radke or even produce a year like Kevin Slowey did in 2008?  It seems within his talent, despite his pretty severe early struggles. There is also Kyle Gibson. Gibson is returning from major arm surgery (Tommy John) and is starting in AAA, but he did well in the Arizona Fall League and many scouts believe he’s throwing harder and better post-surgery. His upside is as high as any Twins starter who is likely to play at the major league level this season. Even Mike Pelfrey, a low-end signing who is also coming off of Tommy John, could surprise, but I am suspicious of his skill set (meddling control, low strikeout numbers) although his 48.6% career groundball rate is a skill worth highlighting. Nonetheless, Pelfrey is capable of producing a 2-2.5 WAR season, which doesn’t sound like much, but keep in mind that by fWAR, only Scott Diamond (2.2) produced such a season last year. No other starter even had 1.0 fWAR.

Speaking of which, Diamond himself will return from injury and his season will lend itself to intrigue. Diamond doesn’t strike out many hitters (that’s getting old already, isn’ t it?) at just 4.7 K/9, but his control was tops in the AL last year at 1.6 BB/9, so his FIP (3.94) and xFIP (3.93) weren’t that far off his ERA (3.54). Diamond also spotted a 53.4% groundball rate, which was 4th in the AL last year. While those he was behind–Justin Masterson, Henderson Alvarez, and Ricky Romero–struggled last year, they all either had significant control problems (Masterson, Romero) or average control and even worst strikeout ability (Alvarez). What’s interesting to me is another name from the NL on the Top 10–Tim Hudson. Hudson’s K rate (5.1/9) and BB rate (2.4/9) are similar as was his fWAR total (2.2). Hudson has had higher K rates throughout his career, but the point is that if Diamond can show a slight uptick in his K rate while sustaining his outstanding control, he can sustain his success with his groundball tendencies.

That’s a lot of ifs and it is unlikely things go smoothly for this starting staff. But, as noted at the beginning of this post, it also a lot of individual stories for Twins fans like myself to follow. As the great Lloyd Christmas once noted, “So you’re saying there’s a chance.”

2) The lineup is above average and is the team’s strength

Objectively, the most likely result is that the team’s lineup is a relative strength, but remains average at best. However, there are certainly some individual wild cards here that could allow the Twins’ lineup to be better than expected. Chris Parmalee, Aaron Hicks, and Trevor Plouffe are all definitely wild cards. Parmalee struggled last year at the major leagues overall, hitting just .229/.290/.380 in 210 PAs, but he killed AAA, hitting .338/.457/.645 in 282 at-bats with 17 HRs and a 51/52 BB/K ratio. Plouffe hit .235/.301/.455 overall, showing plenty of power (.220 isolated power, one of the best marks in the league) but bad plate discipline and real inconsistency. Plouffe killed it in June, hitting .327/.391/.735 with 11 homers, but in August, he hit .161/.232/.226. He also did most of his damage against lefties, hitting .242/.338/.573 off them while struggling to a .232/.285/.406 line against righties.

And Hicks is almost impossible to predict. Most players in his situation (23, no at-bats above AA) struggle in the majors, but that doesn’t mean anything definite. Last year, at AA, Hicks hit .286/.384/.460 with 13 homers, 11 triples, and 32 stolen bases, posting a 79/116 BB/K ratio and scoring 100 runs. Thus, Hicks shows some power, speed, and patience, but he also strikes out a good amount and his contact skills might not be outstanding. These three players could swing the offense’s performance significantly. Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, and Ryan Doumit’s performances should be relatively predictable and Justin Morneau is likely to improve some on last year’s numbers but never quite reach his career heights again. If Parmalee, Plouffe, and Hicks hit the lottery, the lineup could be quite good. If not, it will be because Parmalee and Plouffe have power but little discipline and platoon while contributing little on defense while Hicks draws walks and shows some speed, but hits for a low average and not much power.

This isn’t as big of an ask as having a much better starting rotation. One helpful thing already has been manager Ron Gardenhire’s decision to put Joe Mauer in the #2 spot in the order–a move that reflects long-time sabermetric thinking about the #2 spot being a place for your best hitter (i.e., highest OBP), not the #3 spot. It is hard to know how long Gardy will stick with that (he started 2008 doing so, but scrapped it after just 5 games), but at least we get to see it to start the season. The likelihood is that the Twins’ offense is around average, and thus not close to enough to offset pitching and defensive woes, but again, there are plentiful individual narratives to follow. Personally, I’m as ready as most Twins fans to embrace Hicks and hope for the next Twins star centerfielder on the scene starting today.

 

#3: The Bullpen remains a strength 

 

The bullpen was not the problem last year. It wasn’t the top of the league by any means, but Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, and Casey Fien did good work out of the pen. What the Twins need is for Perkins, Burton and Fien to not regress too much and for new blood like Josh Roenicke to have similar success. Relief success is, at least in my opinion, hard to predict, but I believe that the bullpen should continue to be at least solid. The optimist in me sees Perkins amping up his strikeouts even more and finding himself in the All-Star game (though more because relievers are overrated on the roster than anything else).

When broken down, there are a lot stories to follow as a fan and there is a way, when combining those threads, to produce enough optimism to think anything can happen. It is hard to be entirely dismissive of that optimism in the face of objective analysis when recent stories (last year’s Orioles, the Twins teams of 2008 and 2010) suggest that unlikely runs happen all the time in baseball. At the end of the day, that’s a big part of it. As a fan, you have already embraced that as much as you know, love, and utilize the various statistical means of accessing baseball, we know that the games still need to be played. Which is to say, one still needs to flip the coin no matter what the likely outcome is. And with that, let’s look forward to Game One and see what happens.

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2013 Predictions

Well, I literally haven’t posted since the end of the last season. What has kept me away? For one, posting consistently is one of the struggles of blogging. That’s especially true when you are still establishing any readership. For me in particular, I struggled because I was also trying to get back into school–again, this time to do a PhD program in history. So I choose for months to focus on that–and now that the process is more or less over, I’m going to try to go at it again. And this is always one of the more enjoyable posts to write, so why not start here?

I’m going to try a different format/approach then I’ve used in the past. I’m going to post all my predictions for each division followed by a comment rather than breaking down each team individually and I’ll do the same for the awards.  Let’s start with the AL, shall we?

AL East:

1. Toronto Blue Jays, 92-70

2. Tampa Bay Rays, 90-72

3. New York Yankees, 83-79

4. Boston Red Sox, 78-84

5. Baltimore Orioles, 74-88

The Toronto Blue Jays are possibly the biggest story of the offseason. The made two huge trades that significantly altered the look of their squad, acquiring R.A. Dickey from the Mets and seemingly every major league talent not named Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins. What stands out most about those moves is the depth it gives the Blue Jays. A healthy lineup now will include Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, and Melky Cabrera with a rotation of Dickey, Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow, and Mark Buehrle leading. They aren’t without holes, but the AL East is not even the strongest division these days in the AL. The Rays are right there with the Jays and I wouldn’t be surprised if they win the East with their rotation and defense. Besides 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price (I didn’t post on this, but I would have rewarded the Tigers’ Justin Verlander, who basically repeated his amazing 2011 season, but Price still had a worthy season), the Rays can call on Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Jeff Niemann with prospects like Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi waiting in the wings. I suspect they’ll be hurt, though, by having to start massive line-up holes like James Loney, Luke Scott, and Sean Rodriguez.

If you are like me, you are ready to see both “empires” in the East take a fall. The Yankees are, of course, good for baseball, but a down season isn’t going to cause them to stop bringing in fans and cash for the sport. It will just mean that we won’t have to hear about Derek Jeter’s clutch genes during the playoffs for once. I’ll take that reprieve. The Yankees have three things: pitching, money and age. Yes, the rotation (C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettite) is pretty good and they have Mariano back, but outside of Robinson Cano, the lineup is ugly. A-Rod is out and seriously regressing, Jeter is 39 and coming back from a serious ankle issue, Teixiera and Curtis Granderson  are out for weeks, and guys like Travis Hafner and Brennan Boesch aren’t making up for it.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, already were down last year and while I don’t think they’ll be as bad, they won’t be much more than mediocre. Dustin Pedroia is still a potential Hall of Famer at second and David Ortiz is the same at DH, but the team has far too many question marks. Will Jacoby Ellsbury be hurt and just above replacement level or MVP material? How bad has Shane Victorino regressed and how bad is his contract going to look within the first month? Was Johnny Gomes signed purely for his unsightly facial hair?

Like so many others, I don’t really buy what the Orioles did last year. Going 29-9 in one-run games is pretty obviously lucky and not the kind of thing that is likely to avoid regression. The thing is not just that they’ll be less lucky, it is also that they basically did nothing to improve their squad over the offseason. It just isn’t a very impressive group, though some of the pitching (Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, and uber-prospect Dylan Bundy) could impress. I just don’t think that will overcome their OBP issues.

AL Central:

1. Detroit Tigers, 91-71

2. Cleveland Indians, 82-80

3. Kansas City Royals, 78-84

4. Chicago White Sox, 73-89

5. Minnesota Twins, 67-95

The Central will remain the weakest division in the AL. The Tigers should have no issues repeating as champions of the central. They made only one significant addition (Torii Hunter), but they also kept Anibal Sanchez and have another year with a core of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister and they even have Victor Martinez returning from injury. Pretty good. I think Scherzer is a dark horse candidate for Cy Young, as he was close to the conversation last year with his amazing strikeout numbers. I’ll admit that after a year, Fielder’s contract doesn’t look quite as bad for two reasons. One is that contracts will only continue to go up and make this one look less onerous. The other is that even if Fielder’s deal is an albatross in the final years, it isn’t as sure a thing as I once thought because I underrated Fielder’s ability to play 162 games.

The Indians also made a flurry of moves, though I’m not sure all will pay off this season. I’m jealous that for a 31-year old Shin-Soo Choo, who was surely not resigning there as a Boras client, they managed to get Trevor Bauer and a useful player in Drew Stubbs. Stubbs’ bat ensures he isn’t much better than someone like Darin Mastrionni, but his defense has value. Bauer has real control issues with regards to his ability to stay in the zone, so he isn’t without question marks, but he certainly has ace potential and could make a mark this season. Michael Bourn, a big signing for the Indians along with Nick Swisher, should combine with Michael Brantley and Stubbs to make up a standout outfield defense. Swisher will improve the lineup as well, but I don’t really trust a rotation built around Ubaldo Jiminez, Justin Masterson and Brett Myers.

The Royals were a team I thought would surprise last year. They did, but not by winning games. No, it was mostly players like Eric Hosmer falling off a cliff. So did Jeff Francoeur, but that’s to be expected and what the Royals get for deciding to employ and regularly play him. The Royals made one of the biggest moves of the offseason, stirring up a late of debate in the process, when they traded for James Shields, giving up top minor league hitter Wil Myers along with three pitching prospects. Shields is a very good starting pitcher, but as many analysts have pointed out, he benefited over the years from the Tampa Bay defense and home park and while he won’t turn into a pumpkin, he may be more a solid starter than All-Star. After Shields, it gets ugly, with the likes of Bruce Chen, Erwin Santana, and Jeremy Guthrie. But hey, Kelvin Herrera will be fun to watch on the radar gun and the improvements of players like Hosmer, Salvador Perez and others will make them watchable if nothing else.

Perhaps I’m underestimating the White Sox. Chris Sale and Jake Peavy are a fine 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation and Gavin Floyd and John Danks have the potential to give them a very good rotation. But I’m not really impressed by their lineup. Paul Konerko is going to be 37 and there are indications that his decline is already here. Adam Dunn was a comeback story, but in truth, he hit .204/.333/.468 with 222 strikeouts and his decline into overpaid irrelevance continues. So, yes, the rotation could be good, but I doubt they hit much.

As for our Twins, I’ll make a whole separate post for them, but let’s just say that while there are plenty of reasons to watch (Mauer, Aaron Hicks, Glen Perkins), they still have what is likely the worst rotation in baseball (the Astros are the only competition) and the lineup is not even close to good enough to make up for it. The good news is that in a year or two, they’ll have a ton of young talent ready to carry to competition. The bad news is that we have to wait.

AL West:

1. Los Angeles Angels, 94-68

2. Oakland As, 91-71

3. Texas Rangers, 85-77

4. Seattle Mariners, 72-90

5. Houston Astros, 60-102

I don’t think that Tommy Hanson is going to do very well as an Angel and I think that Mark Trumbo is closer to Mark Reynolds than some want to admit. I also think that Albert Pujols is in decline and that the impossibly great player he was is now gone for good. I even think that Mike Trout can’t be quite as good as he was last year, when he had one of the greatest seasons of all time and somehow didn’t win the MVP. And, yes, new signing Josh Hamilton probably won’t hit 43 homers in that ballpark. Still, it’s a formidable team and even lesser versions of Trout, Pujols, and Hamilton make up the core of a standout lineup. Plus, they’ll be good defensively with Trout and Peter Bourjos in the outfield. Plus, staff leader Jered Weaver remains a Cy Young-caliber arm and CJ Wilson may now be underrated.

I admit that I have the As in the playoffs for personal reasons as much as anything else. I want them to win because I love what Billy Beane has done with the team and former Twin Pat Neshek deserves it after the horrible year he’s had in his family life. And I can find more rational reasons as well. The rotation, led by Brett Anderson and Jarrod Parker, is young and talented. Besides Neshek, with Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook, they’ve got good relievers. The lineup isn’t great, but it has upside and I love the moves the As made for John Jaso (high OBP catcher) and Chris Young (power, speed, good centerfield defense) in the offseason. Many also think Yoenis Cespedes is a superstar in the making who has 40/40 potential. I even like Scott Sizemore and Jed Lowrie in the infield if they can stay healthy (big if) and Josh Reddick did well enough last year to get himself notice with a Gold Glove. I’m nominating them to be the 2012 Orioles of 2013.

The Rangers also have some big upside players in Yu Darvish, who could win the Cy Young, and Jurickson Profar, who could win the Rookie of the Year, but they also have some big holes. Some of their everyday players are too old to trust (A.J. Pierzynski, even in that park, isn’t hitting 27 homers again, and Adrian Beltre could start his decline at 34) and I believe losing Josh Hamilton will hurt them more than some imagine. They’ll be a good team, but not good enough. The Mariners had quite an active offseason, but I don’t know that they improved much. Moving Jaso for a low OBP slugger with recent injury woes who’s 31 in Michael Morse was questionable. That’s representative for the Mariners’ issues–between Morse, Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Kyle Seager, Brendan Ryan, Jesus Montero, and yes, Jason Bay, who exactly is going to give them even an average OBP? I think this lineup has more power, but with such subpar on-base ability, they won’t score many runs. Pitching-wise, I love Felix Hernandez and their future arms are going to be good, but I doubt this year is the year.

The Astros are on the road down one of the most blatant rebuilding prospects we’ve seen before. Best I can say is that Jose Altuve could compete for a batting crown sooner than later and Chris Carter might pull off a young Adam Dunn kind of season–the three true outcomes player. Otherwise, the Astros know they are going to be bad. Thanks to Ed Wade and previous ownership, it will still be a while, but at least the new regime and sabermetric-friendly front office seems on the right path.

NL East:

1. Washington Nationals, 98-64

2. Atlanta Braves, 95-67

3. New York Mets, 81-81

4. Philadelphia Phillies, 75-87

5. Miami Marlins, 59-103

I am still living in the Washington area, so maybe I’m influenced by Nats-mania here, but I think they are more or less the consensus pick here. I’d love to make all my picks against the grain, but there is a reason they are a consensus pick. They have it all. Starting pitching? Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Dan Haren, and Ross Detwiler. Yeah, that’s deep. Dan Haren is their 4th starter. Bullpen? They signed Rafael Soriano to join Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. Lineup? Bryce Harper just had one of the greatest 19-year old seasons ever (maybe the best) and that tends to bode well for the future. Harper could have one of the greatest 20-year old seasons ever just after Mike Trout did. A 40/30 season is a real possibility. Ryan Zimmerman struggled with injuries early last season, but ended on a tear and remains a top tier third baseman. Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Adam LaRoche, and Ian Desmond aren’t stars, but add OBP skills (Werth, Span), power (LaRoche, Desmond) and speed (Span, Werth) to the lineup. And former Twin Wilson Ramos will be back from injury and he still has plentiful potential behind the plate.

As good as the Nats are, the Braves are right behind them among the best teams in baseball. Their rotation isn’t quite as good, but Tim Hudson remains a very good starter even if he’ll turn 37 this summer while Kris Medlen  seemed to quietly have an incredible season last year that he could build on as the next potential Roy Halladay (seriously). The rotation is rounded out by Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Paul Maholm, with Brandon Beachy returning from Tommy John eventually. Minor was a much better pitcher after the break last year and could be a breakout star himself. Their bullpen is even better, with Craig Kimbrel leading the charge (he of the record 16.6 K/9 last year) supported by Jonny Venters, Jordan Walden, and Eric O’Flaherty. Line-up wise, losing Chipper Jones and Martin Prado hurts, but Jason Heyward should continue to grew into a MVP candidate and Justin Upton is potentially one himself. B.J. Upton had a sub .300 OBP last year, but he has speed and power at center field while Andrelton Simmons is a potential star at shortstop. These two teams should make for some great competition over the season.

From there, the rest of the division isn’t very good. Many will believe that the Phillies will compete, but I think they are the Yankees of the NL–old with a good rotation but so desperate they signed Delmon Young to start for them (the NL equivalent of the Yankees’ trade for Vernon Wells). I believe Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are still aces, but I do think that Roy Halladay is no longer the same pitcher and the lineup that was once great is now filled with question marks. How bad does the Ryan Howard contract look right now?

The Mets on the other hand have a solid future, especially with starters Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler and top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, but even with David Wright’s production, they aren’t likely to contend this season, but I do think they’ll be better than many do. Ike Davis could hit 30 homers with solid OBP skills, Shaun Marcum will be a good starter when he can make starts, and Jonathon Niese is a underrated starter himself.

The Marlins, meanwhile, are an absolute embarrassment. I almost don’t want to make any baseball analysis here because I mostly just despise Jeffrey Loria, like most baseball fans do, especially after he tricked Miami-Dade county into funding his new ballpark. I don’t know what’s more offensive–his lying, his firesale, or the massive fish in the outfield that celebrates home runs. For now, at least they’ve got Stanton. I think he hits 50 home runs this year. Whoever is still a Marlins fan will enjoy that–but that will probably seal his fate too, as I predict doing so well will only ensure he’s traded.

NL Central:

1. St. Louis Cardinals, 93-69

2. Cincinnati Reds, 90-72

3. Chicago Cubs, 84-78

4. Pittsburgh Pirates, 77-85

5. Milwaukee Brewers, 73-89

The consensus pick here has been the Reds and while I have them making the playoffs, I think the Cardinals will be slightly better. David Freese’s injury hurts and Pete Kozma might be one of the worst everyday players in the big leagues, but the lineup is very good otherwise between Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holiday, Allen Craig and Jon Jay, with uber-prospect Oscar Tavares waiting in the wings. Their pitching is quite good too. Adam Wainwright should compete for the Cy Young this year. Chris Carpenter is out for the year, yes, but youngsters Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn should be solid with upside and Jamie Garcia is a injury risk but with plenty of upside himself. The bullpen will remain a strength, with Trevor Rosenthal getting a full year to showcase his blazing fastball in front of Jason Motte.

The Reds will be great, though perhaps I’m punishing them because I, like so many, am disappointed that we’ll never get to figure out if Aroldis Chapman is the second coming of Randy Johnson. The best we get now is the second coming of Billy Wagner perhaps, but that isn’t such a bad thing. I loved “Billy the Kid.” The Reds may not win the division, but they’ll make the playoffs. Joey Votto is the best hitter in baseball. I know most pundits like to say Miguel Cabrera is (or they use some vague wording like best “pure” hitter, whatever that means–as opposed to a “unpure” hitter? Are we discussing eugenics here?) the best hitter in the big leagues, but given that avoiding making outs is the single most important element to creating runs and thus winning games, Votto outpaces his competition by a notable margin. His .474 OBP last year in an injury-shortened season was the highest OBP of any hitter not named Barry Bonds in the last decade. Joe Mauer was next in the majors with a .416 OBP. That’s a wide gap. And he wasn’t exactly missing power. His .567 slugging percentage was behind only Giancarlo Stanton, Cabrera, Ryan Braun, and Josh Hamilton. Not surprisingly, the best single rate stats for offense (wOBA, wRC+, TAv) reflect this. Votto’s .438 wOBA bests Cabrera’s .417, his 177 wRC+ bests Cabrera’s 166 and his .347 TAv bested only by NL MVP Buster Posey’s .350 and should-have-been MVP Mike Trout’s .357. (Cabrera, if you are curious, chalks in at .332–great, but not as great)

So yes, I like the Reds and I like Votto. I think he’ll deserve the MVP this next year. The Reds lineup will improve with Shin-Soo Choo’s OBP skills at the top of the order (replacing a ghastly .254 leadoff OBP last year) even if he gives some back on defense. Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce are good, albeit overrated, players who will help the cause with power, speed and defense while the underrated Ryan Hanigan will remain behind the plate (with his defensive and OBP skills). With the rotation, I don’t entirely buy Johnny Cueto’s success and I don’t know how much Bronson Arroyo has left, but I think Mat Latos is a potential Cy Young contender and Homer Bailey has quietly started to live up to his top prospect status from years ago.

The Cubs have already had their issues (Scott Baker is already hurt and Matt Garza remains so), but I still like them to improve this season. Two younger players stand out. Jeff Samardzija and Anthony Rizzo. Former Notre Dame star Samardzija struck out 180 in 174 2/3 innings last year and I feel like he has the same tantalizing prospects Max Scherzer has for the Tigers–enough consistency and control that he could be dominate. Rizzo should some good hitting ability last year (.285/.342/.463 in 337 at-bats) after destroying AAA pitching again. I believe Rizzo is a star in the making and he will break out this year. Edwin Jackson was a underrated signing, as he’s not a great pitcher, but he’s never hurt and he’s now a reliable above-average contributor. This is by no means a playoff contender, but they could surprise.

On the other hand, I don’t believe the Pirates or Brewers will continue to surprise or contend. I love Pirates star center fielder Andrew McCutchen and believe he’s a MVP candidate for years to come. Signing him to a extension last year was a great move by the organization. Many believe top pitching prospect Gerrit Cole is a Rookie of the Year candidate, with fellow prospect Jameson Taillon right behind him. I still think their ability to help the team is at least a year away. A.J. Burnett will regress from last year, Starling Marte will struggle to walk 10 times, James McDonald will continue to frustrate (as will Jose Tabata), Clint Barmes will continue to be one of the worst everyday players around and while Pedro Alvarez will hit 30 home runs, he’ll do so with the limited effectiveness, as he’ll maintain a low OBP with bad defense. This will mean another year of mediocrity, but with a light at the end of the tunnel.

With the Brewers, I see no depth, lots of injuries, a bad minor league system and dark prospects ahead. I could see the MLB going hard after Ryan Braun in the Biogenesis investigation and suspending him this season. Without Braun, the Brewers have serious issues. Alex Gonzalez starts the season as their first baseman–36 and with a .292 lifetime OBP. Yuck. Corey Hart is hurt. Carlos Gomez is showing good power, but the OBP remains very weak. Rickie Weeks improved in the second half, but I simply don’t trust him to produce that well. Aramis Ramirez had a great 2012 (.540 slugging) but I am expecting the other shoe to drop soon. Kyle Lohse arrives to help a solid but unspectacular rotation with little help from the bullpen.

NL West:

1. San Francisco Giants, 91-71

2. Arizona Diamondbacks, 89-73

3. Los Angeles Dodgers, 85-77

4. San Diego Padres, 74-88

5. Colorado Rockies, 64-98

Obviously, I think the NL West will be close. Like so many, I questioned the moves the Diamondbacks made in trading Justin Upton and Trevor Bauer, but they remain a good club. The Giants are coming off of winning the World Series and the Dodgers spent what seemed like the economy of a small European country this last year in trading for contracts and signing free agents. So why am I going with the Giants? I like their balance. They have two top starters (Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner), a good bullpen (led by Sergio Romo’s beard and fantastically moving pitches), and a lineup led by last year’s MVP (Posey) along with Pablo Sandavol and breakout candidate Brandon Belt. They even have a wild card in Tim Lincecum, whose past greatness suggests he could bounce-back or his continued struggles in the spring could signal the early coming of the end. How sad would that be? Ryan Vogelsong might be a special weapon too, as he, like Cain, seems to have skills that befuddle the BABIP equation over the years–his skill being pitching with men on base.

The Dodgers have added a lot, but they’ve also added age and injury questions. Zack Greinke, of the 6-year, $147 offseason deal, already has elbow woes. Clayton Kershaw may have hip issues–a potentially serious problem. Carl Crawford is still coming back from his Boston-era injuries–even if he’s around, does anyone want an aging corner outfielder with a sub .300 OBP and suddenly poor defense? Hanley Ramirez is out for at least 8 weeks after a serious thumb injury. The Dodgers have depth with all they’ve spent, but I don’t think it is going to be enough to get to the postseason. It won’t be a Yankees-esque let down, but I would caution Dodgers fans’ expectations–I expect the Diamondbacks to be better.

Again, the Diamondbacks made some confusing and likely harmful offseason moves, but they have a skilled roster still. Martin Prado, whom they got for Upton, is a very good hitter and a solid defender at multiple positions. When Adam Eaton returns from injury, he’s a Rookie of the Year candidate with standout OBP skills. Paul Goldschmidt has breakout potential at first with speed and power, Miguel Montero is one of the best catchers in the game, Aaron Hill is hopefully more Jekyll than Hyde, and the rotation has plenty of talent between Ian Kennedy, Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, Randall Delgado and Wade Miley, with top prospect Tyler Skaggs not far behind. They have holes–they overpaid Cody Ross, who should be used against only lefties, and still have Jason Kubel as a starter, despite his platoon issues and subpar defense. They also still employ Willie Bloomquist–that’s disheartening in and of itself.

The Padres have a exciting system, but I don’t see them contending this year. Andrew Cashner, Anthony Bass, Casey Kelly, and Josh Luebke are a talented bunch, but there are a lot of injury issues in that mix as well. At least I think they’ll have the Rookie of the Year in Jedd Gyorko, who hit 30 home runs between AA and AAA last year. The Rockies, on the other hand, don’t have much light at the end of the tunnel. It is a quagmire at Coors Field that doesn’t seem like it will clear up anytime soon–it isn’t even clear who’s in charge. The Rockies still have great players like Troy Tulowitzski, still the best shortstop in the game, but they have very little pitching and the system, while not entirely barren, isn’t offering a lot of fruits.

Award Predictions:

AL MVP: Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

Maybe I’m going with the consensus because like so many, I believe he more than deserved it last year. I’m not going to rehash those arguments, because they’ve been more than played out at this point. Let’s just say that even if he takes a step back, he’s still the best player in the game. Great defender? Check. Speed? Perhaps the best around. Power? Plenty of that. Yeah, Trout is basically our generation’s Rickey Henderson. Which is to say he may end up one at Top 20 player all-time. He’s that good. My projection? .305/.390/.550, 35 HRs, 55 SBs.

AL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

As I just suggested in my assessment of Samardjiza for the Cubs, I believe Scherzer is ready to take the league by storm. Scherzer is 28, so he isn’t young per se, but with 231 Ks last year (11.1 K/9), he’s already shown what he can do. After the All-Star break last year, in 90 1/3 innings, he had 110 Ks and a 2.69 ERA. This is definitely a dark horse pick, but I like his chances.

NL MVP: Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

I think Votto is the best hitter in the league, so it follows that I think he’ll be the MVP.

NL Cy Young: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

I’m not sure if everyone noticed, but Wainwright had a great season last year returning from Tommy John surgery. His 3.94 ERA didn’t look great, but his 184/52 K/BB ratio in 198 2/3 innings was very good, as reflected by his 3.10 FIP/3.23 xFIP. Wainwright encountered some bad luck last year (67.8% strand rate, .315 BABIP vs.  a career .293 BABIP) that I’m guessing will revert this year. Looking past the ERA, his K rate (8.3) and walk rates are right there with his great 2009/2010 seasons. He’ll be great again this season.

AL Rookie of the Year: Aaron Hicks, CF, Twins

Because this is what I’ll be cheering for this season. Hicks is perhaps the most exciting story for Twins fans to follow this season and there are good reasons for that. He’s a promising package of speed, OBP skills, power and defense who’s likely to get a wealth of chances over the season. Playing-time can be a significant factor in these races, as is a worthy narrative, something I think Hicks can establish with a hot start, even if the league adjusts to him and causes him to drop later in the year.

NL Rookie of the Year: Jedd Gyorko, IF, Padres

He’s got power and again, opportunity, on a team that isn’t likely to contend. That usually is a good mix for these races. Sure, Petco has often hurt power hitters, but they moved the fences in and scouts seem to think that Gyorko’s power won’t be so easily contained. It is true that Chase Headley blocks Gyorko at third for now, but Gyorko is playing some second and Headley, who’s 29 in May and has never shown the kind of power consistently he showed in the second half of last year, could be moved from a non-contender to give Gyorko his chance. I think he’ll get it.

Postseason Predictions:

AL Divisional Round:

As over Tampa Bay in Wild Card Game

Detroit Over As

Toronto over Angels

AL Championship: Detroit over Toronto

NL Divisional Round:

Atlanta over Reds in Wild Card Game

Atlanta over Giants

Nats over Cardinals

NL Championship: Nats over Atlanta

World Series Winner: Washington Nationals in 7

I have the two most complete teams in my opinion from each league slugging it out over seven games, with the Nats inching out the win. I think the truth is that the baseball fan in me really just wants to see a Game 7 matchup of Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg. How amazing would that be?

With that, I’ll be coming up next tomorrow with a preview of the Twins season. I’ll start off on a good note–Joe Mauer will be hitting #2, which is a surprising and heart-warming development–before getting into all the reasons the Twins won’t contend then.

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Postseason Predictions

As of tomorrow, the postseason will finally be here. And it will be in new form, as there will be two play-in wild cards games between the Cardinals and Braves in the NL and the Orioles and Rangers in the AL. Looking back at my own predictions for the season, I managed to get seven of ten teams accurate for the postseason. I most accurately predicted the NL Central while missing on the AL Central–the Royals young studs struggled, the Indians had no pitching and only a mediocre offense, while the White Sox were one of the stories of the season. I missed big on the Orioles and As, but who didn’t? Those were real surprises while Arizona’s mediocrity and the Nats’ postseason birth weren’t nearly as surprising. About the only award I’m likely to get right was the AL Cy Young (David Price), but again, I’m not sure that many people foresaw Mike Trout’s season for the ages (more about the MVP in a upcoming post).

Those surprises are now in the books. The As, on the last day of the season playing the Rangers, managed to take the AL West crown. This despite a team .310 OBP that ranked 24th in the majors. Similarly, the Orioles nearly took the AL East crown, settling for a wild card position despite owning a run differential of only +7 and ranking 23rd in OBP with a .311.  The Nationals, whom I had the pleasure of watching here in DC, won 98 games, the most in the majors, on the back of a absurdly talented  young rotation. Without Stephen Strasburg, however, while they be able to take the World Series? Here are my picks for the season:

AL Wild Card: Rangers over Orioles (starting Joe Saunders just can’t work, can it?)

NL Wild Card: Braves over Cardinals (Kris Medlen’s changeup is better than Kyle Lohse’s, although Lohse had a pretty impressive season–never would have guessed that)

ALDS:

Tigers over As (Tigers are a solid offensive team with a three-headed monster of a rotation in Verlander, Fister and Scherzer. Not sure As magic can continue.)

Yankees over Rangers (Yankees are right behind the Rangers in run scored, but have a significantly advantage in pitching)

NLDS:

Reds over Giants (the Reds have Joey Votto, who I believe is still the best hitter in baseball as attested to by his .474 OBP in 475 PAs/111 games this year, but otherwise their offense is poor.  However, the Reds rotation of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and yes Bronson Arroyo is deep and their bullpen with Aroldis Chapman gives them the advantage.)

Nationals over Braves (Nats have a balanced offensive attack with only catcher as a clear weakness, while their rotation even without Strasburg remains a strength with Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman leading it.)

ALCS:

Tigers over Yankees (this is a gut pick more than anything–the matchup is close. Yankees have a more balanced lineup and good pitching, but the Tigers have the highest talent between Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer and Prince Fielder. I’ll take the talent.)

Nationals over Reds (Also believe this is a close matchup and here I’m going with my local team. Again, I’m taking the higher end talent–I just don’t think the Reds can score enough against the Nats to win a series against them.)

World Series:

Nationals over Tigers in seven games

Yes, this is a optimistic and hopeful pick as much as anything. Why would I want to pick our AL Central competitors over the admittedly feel-good story of the Nationals? Strasburg is unlikely to appear in the postseason, but one has to think that a Strasburg-Verlander matchup in the postseason would be a dream spectacle. Regardless, it would be fun to see the hyper-active Bryce Harper take on Verlander. I think the Nats still have the latent to win it all and would be glad to see them do so, but I do hope that Strasburg makes an appearance. Having said that, I sadly wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the Yankees who win it all this year. Let’s just hope they don’t.

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AL MVP debate: Has sabremetrics truly won?

Twitter is currently all over the AL MVP debate that has heated up over the last few weeks. The question, of course, is what team are you on? Team Trout or Team Cabrera? The Angels’ Mike Trout and the Tigers Miguel Cabrera are the top candidates and it is abundantly clear that the MVP will come down to a choice between the two of them. It is also obvious that the choice will hinge on whether or not voters have accepted the key precepts of the sabremetrics revolution.

Take Jon Paul Morosi’s take from today.  Morosi’s take can best be summarized as “Cabrera could win the Triple Crown, so how can he not be the MVP?” Well, that and the fact that Trout didn’t play a game until April 28th. The later point can be dismissed more easily I believe since Trout has been great ever since he came up–in limited time he’s done historically amazing things (as I’ll get to). And in the games missed, Cabrera has had time to create 54 more outs in 60 more plate appearances. Additionally, Morosi’s suggestion that Cabrera is having a hot September and should win should be easily tossed aside. The MVP is for the full season. So he wants to give credit for extra games in April while also counting September games as more important? Too bad Trout’s OBP is only .375 this month.

What about the Triple Crown?  One interesting note is that, if Cabrera wins it, it would be the second time, going back to 1878, that a winner was not the leader in refWAR. In other words, Triple Crown winners do tend to be great players and almost always invariably deserve the MVP. As Keith Law noted in a chat today, here are the following things not included in the Triple Crown: Walks, HBP, the outs created in sac flies, the extra-base value of doubles or triples, stolen bases, other baserunning value, defense, positional value, park effects. The issue is that they are great players not necessarily because of the Triple Crown they won, but their overall play. RBI is probably the statistic that stands out among the three as the poorest representative of a player’s offensive value.

For instance, Morosi wants to take into account Cabrera playing in 21 more games. That has meant more RBI chances–415 in total–for Cabrera. He’s driven in 31% of his total baserunners, while Trout has driven in 28%–both above by a good margin the average of 15%. Trout, of course, has had only 274 such chances, so his RBI total sits at only 77. Cabrera’s RBI opportunities as a result of batting order and playing time has also allowed him to rack up a AL-worst 28 GIDPs, though yes, he’s had 138 chances to Trout’s 75. But as Dave Cameron mentions at Fangraphs, writers like Morosi can’t have it both ways. If you want to give Cabrera a advantage for his counting stats like RBI as a result of his place in the batting order and games played, he has to also be hurt by the negative impact of grounding into 28 double-plays.

By refWAR, Trout is having a season that puts him in the pantheon of baseball’s elite. 20 hitters have had seasons by refWAR of 10 or greater. 16 are in the Hall of Fame. The others are Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez. Trout is number 20. His 10.3 refWAR equals him, for instance, with Willy Mays in 1954. Noting that he’s just turned 21 is merely icing on the cake. Cabrera, by refWAR, has had a very good season with 5.6, but nothing close. By fWAR, Trout sits at 9.4, with a .420 wOBA, 6.1 baserunning runs, and 13.0 UZR. Cabrera has 6.6 fWAR, with a .420 wOBA, -2.9 baserunning runs and -9.4 UZR. By Baseball Prospectus’ numbers, Trout has 8.0 WARP, a .355 TA, 71.0 VORP, 4.5 FRAA and 10.3 BRR while Cabrera has 5.6 WARP, a .334 TAv, 55.6 VORP, -3.0 FRAA and -5.2 BRR. By BP’s numbers, Trout has every advantage.

WAR, of course, is always worth breaking down into it’s component parts. Just how good of a baserunner has Trout been, for instance? Take this stat on: the average play scores 31% of the time when he is on-base. Trout does that 45% of the time. For reference, Cabrera does it just 28% of the time. Or break it down another way. There are the raw statistics–Trout has 46 stolen bases in 50 attempts and 118 runs scored in 125 games. Runs scored is a problematic statistic in and of itself, but it’s fair to say that when a player scores nearly a run a game, it’s representative of their talent. As Cameron mentions, with less chances, Trout has gone first to third on plays 13 more times than Cabrera and has scored from second to home 5 more times.

That doesn’t even mention the defensive aspect. This is the most debatable aspect of all WAR statistics and that’s fair. Many writers don’t buy into them and they are right to be skeptical. However, when the aggregate of defensive stats show Trout to be a great center fielder defensively and he more than passes the “eye test” (or, perhaps, the “highlight” test) and Cabrera is the opposite at third base, it should remain a advantage for Trout. You don’t need to cite UZR here. I think it’s fair to simply note that Trout is a superb defensive player by most accounts at a key defensive position whereas Cabrera should be a first baseman or DH. As Cameron notes, the response that Cabrera “helped” his team unselfishly by moving to third is silly, since it has meant that the awful Delmon Young has gotten more DH starts and a cadre of terrible players have gotten starts in the outfield replacing Young. It’s a negative for his team. Anyways, didn’t Trout’s arrival mean the rightful banishing of Vernon Wells to the bench?

The MVP shouldn’t be the “best WAR” award. Trout shouldn’t win just because of his incredible WAR totals. He should win, instead, because of why those totals are so high and what we’ve learned since 1967, when Carl Yazstremski was the last player to win the Triple Crown (and he rightfully won the MVP). We know that OBP is a better representative of offensive value than batting average, that slugging percentage accounts better for power than the raw statistic of home runs and that RBI totals reflect opportunity as much as anything else But it’s more than that, since Cabrera actually has a advantage in slugging and is equal in OBP. We’ve also learned to incorporate baserunning and defense into our analysis of player value and that has been reflected by efforts like WAR to create single stats to represent player value. When considering all those things one by one, Trout seems to be the obvious candidate. Too bad that writers like that think that the opposite is still true.

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Why Don’t the Twins Call up Esmerling Vasquez?

The Twins have spent the season confusing fans and analysts with their moves. Some they’ve made have been quite defensible and intelligent. For instance, picking up Darin Mastroianni on waivers has worked out quite well, as he’s played good defense and has hit .287/.349/.426 with 14 steals in 115 at-bats so far. Mastroianni may even end up getting a shot at second at the end of the season and with his ability to contribute some offensively, that’s not such a bad thing. Scott Diamond was a pickup from last year who has turned out well, the only real positive story in the rotation, with fantastic control (1.3 BB/9) allowing him to overcome a meddling strikeout rate (5.04 K/9) to produce fine numbers (3.81 FIP/3.69 xFIP, 2.0 fWAR). And Jared Burton and Casey Fien have been good scrapheap pickups in the bullpen.

However, they’ve always given shots to likes of Luis Perdomo, P.J. Walters, and yes, Sam Deduno. Deduno is baffling, as anyone walking more than they strikeout is not likely to maintain any positive level of success, but he has so far. But if Deduno, a 28-year pitcher with long-time control issues with his third club, gets a shot with good enough statistics at AAA, why not give that shot to Vasquez, who arguably has much more impressive stats over significantly more innings?  Vasquez is also 28, has also had control issues to go along with impressive strikeout numbers, but was also a reliever the last few years and has seen his move back to the rotation come with improved control. 3.4 BB/9 still isn’t great, but when combined with a 8.9 K/9 rate, it may be enough.

In 88 1/3 innings at AAA, Vasquez has a 2.85 ERA, having allowed 65 hits while striking out 87 and walking 33. Yesterday, he struck out 10 in one of his best performances of the year. Vasquez is just the kind of player the Twins should be giving a shot to. When you are willing to give someone like Walters, a 27-year old who’s never really impressed in multiple seasons at AAA, several starts, it’s a little confusing why Vasquez is not getting the same chance when the Twins rotation is historically bad. I’d ask the same question about Cole De Vries, though I recognize that the local angle had to have played a role in his shot at the rotation. My point is more that if De Vries gets a shot, shouldn’t another older non-prospect get a shot when he has significantly better numbers at AAA?

Of course, this is a overall problem. The Twins seem to have this issue with Anthony Slama too, who’s now 28 and has produced great numbers again (back from injury, he has a 0.73 ERA in 24 2/3 innings with 41 Ks and 13 BBs) but is passed up in favor of the likes of Fien (who’s, as mentioned, been fine at the majors, but he was rather mediocre at AAA, with a 4.30 ERA in 46 innings, 42/14 K/BB ratio) and Perdomo (28-year old, 0.93 ERA in 19 2/3 innings at AAA, 18/2 K/BB ratio, though he’s now been sent down again). Arguably they are having that issue now with Chris Parmelee.

Today, it was confirmed that 31-year old veteran outfielder and minor leaguer Matt Carson was getting the call up over Parmelee. Though frustrating, this is actually likely the right decision by the Twins. Carson isn’t really a good hitter, as he’s hit .277/.339/.443 this year in 405 ABs at AAA with a 102/33 K/BB ratio. Over 5 partial AAA seasons and 1846 ABs at AAA, he’s hit .280/.342/.500 with a 430/152 K/BB ratio. He’s nothing impressive, but for a bench bat, he may provide some power. And while Parmelee has been nothing short of a revelation at AAA this year (putting up numbers not seen at Rochester before of .346/.465/.676 in 185 ABs), bringing him up again to sit on the bench as they did earlier this year would be even more frustrating. The team is better off for the future bringing him up to give him a real shot at regular starts in September. Ultimately, they’ll have to make a move they’ve been putting off for whatever reason–namely trading Justin Morneau–to give him a long-term shot he’s earned at this point, but for now, this is probably the right move.

The Twins have been maddeningly inconsistent in their roster maneuvering this season, sometimes understanding the long-term needs of a rebuilding club and other times being way off the mark. They’ve been perfectly right to give lots of opportunities to older, non-prospects in a awful rotation and to give guys like Mastroianni shots on the bench. But they need to be more consistent. While that doesn’t mean not calling up Parmelee right now is an error, it does mean that if guys like Deduno get a shot, so should Vazquez. He’s earned it.

 

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Repeating Past Mistakes?

I’ve written in the recent past on this blog about Twins GM Terry Ryan taking the right attitude when it comes to the 2012 Twins season. The offense is certainly improved–right now, Justin Morneau is looking particularly reawakened–but the pitching remains downright awful. In the midst of all this, Ron Gardenhire suggested that starter Nick Blackburn would be definitely back next year and Ryan commented that Blackburn would “be in the mix” for the 2013 rotation. Sigh.

Blackburn has been unquestionably terrible this season. He is probably the worst starter in the major leagues. In 93 1/3 innings this year, he has a 7.33 ERA/5.98 FIP/5.04 xFIP, good for -1.9 rWAR/-0.6 fWAR (56 ERA+). His strikeout rate is a unfathomably putrid 3.95 K/9, while he’s walking 2.41 BB/9–good, but not good enough when you strike no one out. He’s allowed 21 home runs and 132 hits in that time, and his .326 BABIP isn’t particularly high given that his career BABIP is .310. Blackburn is just plain hittable. His only competition for worst pitcher might be the Angels’ Erwin Santana, who has a 5.82 ERA/5.86 FIP/4.68 xFIP in 128 1/3 innings, good for a -0.7 fWAR. But hey, at least he strikes out 6.1/9.

Of course, part of the truth here is that Blackburn will be owed $5.5 million next year when he’s 31 due to a foolish extension the Twins gave him through his arbitration years after he had initial, but ultimately unsustainable success in the majors. One might suggest that the Twins didn’t realize that such success was fleeting due to their seeming ignorance of many advanced statistics, but that’s a discussion for a different day.

The fact that Blackburn is owed money can’t make the decision here. Neither can loyalty, another factor that the Twins place a premium on (though I’m not saying that’s always a bad thing). Blackburn has been a bad pitcher for a while now and a team like the Twins can’t simply go around and make casual guarantees like this to such a player. Their starting pitching is historically bad. Repeating the same mistakes is not what they should be doing by any means. Instead, Terry Ryan’s words from a few weeks back before the trade deadline should be guiding: no one should be safe.

Especially Blackburn. There is no guarantee that someone like Kyle Gibson will be ready for next year and the Twins may need stopgap players as they wait on the development of pitching–that’s what rebuilding teams have to do. But Blackburn has been around and we know exactly what he is. A pitcher with decent but not great control who strikes no one out and is utterly hittable. He’s a batting practice pitcher dressed up as a major league starter.

The past mistakes here is loyalty in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Thankfully, in another situation, the Twins finally gave in to the obvious with their devastatingly bad Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka.  Nishioka has been so awful in his Twins tenure that it really doesn’t bear repeating or even assessment–everyone knows that he couldn’t even hit or field at AAA, let alone the big leagues. The Twins have seemingly finally swallowed their pride and money, sending him back to AAA today when they recalled Trevor Plouffe. If they can do this with Nishioka, they should be able to do the same with Blackburn.

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What we can learn from the trades so far

So far, with the trade deadline looming, the market has not exactly been on fire. A few trades of significance have happened, but there have mostly been rumors and little action. On the other hand, a contender in our own division (the Tigers) did make a trade for a pitcher (Anibal Sanchez) and backup infielder (Omar Infante) that could give Twins fans an idea of what they might expect in a trade for Francisco Liriano. Same goes for the trade the Pittsburgh Pirates made for Houston’s Wandy Rodriguez. Even a trade that didn’t happen (the Ryan Dempster trade to Atlanta) tells us something.

As Jayson Stark’s recent rumblings article suggests, Liriano is expected to be moved by the deadline following his next start–with the hope he does well enough to raise his price a bit.  (Interestingly, Stark’s column also suggests that the Twins are asking way too much for a player they should be more willing to move for less–Justin Morneau. Morneau’s value isn’t that on the market because he just hasn’t been that valuable this year, especially given his salary and woeful struggles against left-handed pitching.)

In the Tigers’ trade, they gave up their #2 prospect, pitcher Jacob Turner, along with catcher Rob Brantly, and Brian Flynn, a lefty starter and 7th round pick from 2011. Turner is the real prize here, as he was up until this year considered the Tigers’ best prospect before they rushed him to the majors. He’s been listed in three consecutive years as a top prospect by Baseball America, ranking #26 in 2010, #21 in 2011 and #22 in 2012. Overall, he’s got a 3.21 ERA in 330 2/3 minor league innings, with a 269/89 K/BB ratio and 7.3 K/9. At AAA this year, he’s maintained a good ERA (3.16), but the control and Ks have been suspect (5.7 K/9, 3.4 BB/9). Although Nick Castellanos has passed him for many evaluators, sites like Fangraphs had Turner in the Top 20 and as the Tigers’ best prospect coming into the season. He’s made eight major league starts and the results have been ugly: 25 innings, 34 hits, 11 walks, 15 Ks, 23 earned runs (8.28 ERA). Neither Brantly nor Flynn have had particularly standout minor league careers so far-it’s Turner that matters.

As for Sanchez, the Tigers got themselves a underrated pitcher who’s major downside is that he’s a free agent at the end of the season and the Tigers will not get compensation since they got him in a trade. In the last two seasons, he’s struck out 312 batters in 317 1/3 innings while walking only 97, with a 110/33 K/BB in 121 innings so far this year. The ERA over 2011 and 2012 (3.77) and this year (3.94) have been deceptive. He’s accumulated 6.2 fWAR over that time, as his FIP (3.35, 3.25) and xFIP (3.25, 3.51) have been excellent the last two seasons. Even in 2010, when he had a lower K rate (7.25 K/9) and a higher walk rate (3.23/9), his FIP (3.32) was good enough to give him 4.4 fWAR. With a swinging strike rate of 9.7%, his ability to get hitters to miss is legitimate. As with Doug Fister last year, the Tigers aggressively moved to get a pitcher that had been underrated.

Infante for his part is a better hitter and far superior defensive option to the Tigers current second base options of Ryan Raburn (.172/.227/.255) and Ramon Santiago (.216/.298/.294) with his .287/.312/.442 line with Miami. What the Tigers gave up was a desirable but somewhat struggling pitching prospects, two non-prospects and compensation for free agents for a strong mid-rotation starter and a useful bat and glove in the middle infield. For a team that has plenty of reasons to be in a win-now mode, it was pretty sensible.

What about the Pirates trade? They gave up Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens, and Colton Cain for Wandy Rodriguez. Rodriguez has not been a great pitcher this year, with his K/9 falling to 6.1/9, but over the last five years, he’s thrown 859 2/3 innings, striking out 757 while walking 276, good for a 7.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, a 3.45 ERA, and a 116 ERA+, with 11.8 rWAR/13.5 fWAR. He’s been a good pitcher and continues to be solid, even if he’s in decline. Unlike Sanchez and Liriano, he’s signed through 2013 with a 2014 option and with Houston paying most of the salary ($17.7 million of the $30 million he’s owed).

Houston’s object here was to deal with their minor league depth and thus, they picked up several B/C level prospects but none of Pittsburgh’s top prospects, like Gerrit Cole or Starling Marte. Grossman is the best of the bunch, a center fielder currently at AA who’s hitting .266/.378/.406 there. Grossman was coming off a .418 OBP at A ball the year before and had cemented himself among the better Pirates prospects coming into the season. As Keith Law has noted, he’s hit .329/.443/.490 since June 1 after coming back from a hamate bone injury. Owens, a lefty, was a AAA All-Star this year, but his numbers (117 1/3 innings, 85 Ks/25 BBs, 3.14 ERA/3.87 FIP) are more solid than anything. It probably sounds familiar that his walk rate (1.8 BB/9) is the most attractive aspect of his minor league career. Cain is a lefty struggling at A+ right now who’s more a gamble at upside than anything due to his height and the fact that back issues have gotten in the way of his career so far. Law calls him merely “organizational depth” with below-average stuff. In other words, Houston’s real victory here was to move Rodriguez’s contract while picking up one significant prospect and some organizational depth.

Lastly, though the trade was rescinded by Dempster, the Braves and Cubs did agree last week in principle to trade Dempster for top prospect Randall Delgado. Without question, Julio Teheran is the Braves’ top pitching prospect,but Delgado is among the best in their system as well. He’s been solid at the major league level for his age (22), with a 4.42 ERA/4.11 FIP/4.18 xFIP, 0.9 fWAR, 7.17 K/9 and 4.12 BB/9. His 8.8% swinging strike rate is a positive as well. His control has left a lot to be desired, but that was an issue for him in his minor league career, so Delgado is a pitcher who needs further development, but has some obvious upside.

Dempster is a pitcher who in 104 innings this year has posted a 2.25 ERA, which has raised it’s value higher than maybe it should be for a 35-year old pitcher. His 3.40 FIP/3.69 xFIP suggest he’s been a little lucky, but plenty good over the season, as do his K rate (7.18 K/9) and BB rate (2.34 BB/9). Over the last five seasons, he’s accumulated 9.6 rWAR/17.3 fWAR in 928 1/3 innings, with 841/336 Ks/BBs. Between 2008 and 2011, he reached 200 innings in each season, so he’s been durable. That’s Dempster’s value–a durable starter with questionable control and above average strikeout ability, but one who’s older and losing velocity and will be a free agent at the end of the year meaning that if he’s traded midseason, a team in the Braves’ position would not get draft pick compensation if he leaves.

So, if Dempster and Sanchez can fetch top pitching prospects, should Twins fans expect that or should they expect more of what the Astros managed for Rodriguez? I’d suggest the latter. Liriano has certainly been a very valuable pitcher at times in his career, but without question, those other pitchers have been much more consistent and a pitcher like Sanchez has at least as much upside as Liriano if not more.  Let’s use one potential suitor as a example of what the Twins might get with the Baltimore Orioles, who are the latest rumored team to be seeking out Liriano’s services.

Twins fans should first know that they are not getting Dylan Bundy, who might be the best pitching prospect in the minors. They are also not likely getting top SS prospect Manny Machado. But the Orioles do have another top middle infield prospect who has struggled some at AA this year in 20-year old Jonathan Schoop, who was the #82 prospect coming into this season according to Baseball America.  Schoop has spent 179 games in the minors at short, but has spent most of this season at second. He’s hit .244/.303/.392 with 12 home runs but a ugly 26/75 BB/K ratio at AA after hitting .316/.375/.514 in 212 at-bats at A ball and .271/.329/.375 in 299 at-bats at A+ last year. He be struggling, but he’s a player experts like John Sickels believe will develop a very good bat in the middle infield, wherever he settles positionally. Similarly, they could look at 3B Jason Epsosito, a 2nd round pick last year who has struggled at single-A, hitting .223/.278/.293 with a 22/84 BB/K ratio in 368 at-bats.

As for pitchers, they could seek out Bundy’s older brother, who had done well in the minors up until this year at AA, where he’s had a 6.25 ERA with a 64/35 K/BB ratio in 80 2/3 innings. They could do the same with 20-year old Parker Bridwell, a struggling pitcher whom scouts love anyways (6.30 ERA, 84 1/3 innings at A-ball) due to his high-ceiling arm and sinking fastball. Or 19-year old lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who’s had a very good minor league career so far and has a 3.58 ERA in 78 innings at A-ball, with a 56/21 K/BB ratio. They could also shot for a former top prospect who’s struggled, like Jake Arrieta.

Arrieta’s has a 3.02 ERA in 176 career innings at AAA with a 7.8 K/9 ratio but also a 3.8 BB/9 ratio. Arrieta has a 5.27 ERA in 321 major league innings so far,  including a 6.13 ERA this year. However, he’s improved this year, even if his ERA doesn’t show it, with a 7.9 K/9 and a 2.75 BB/9, leading to a 4.01 FIP/3.81 xFIP that suggests the 26 year-old deserves more of a shot with his 94 mph fastball and nasty breaking ball. As this Fangraphs article suggests, there is good reason to still believe in Arrieta. Similarly, they could do the same with one-time top 5 prospect Brian Matusz.

With that, would a package of say Arrieta, Rodriguez and Epsosito be enough for Liriano? Yes, yes it would. I think a package like that the Pirates gave to the Astros is plenty for a enigmatic lefthander who struggles with control. Remember that for all his improvement over the last few months, he still has a 109/55 K/BB ratio in 100 innings over the year.  With a high K rate, his FIP (4.22) and xFIP (3.93) indicate he’s better than his ERA–like Arrieta–and he’s certainly looked different since April, but for a soon-to-be free agent with real inconsistency issues as shown by his last start, one should not expect to get a package much different than what the Astros got for Rodriguez. That means rolling the dice on upside players who have struggled and not expecting to get a organization’s best prospects. Even better pitchers like Dempster and Sanchez aren’t getting the best prospects in return–just very good ones. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the Twins need to improve their minor league depth just like Houston, but it is something that fans and perhaps management need to keep in mind. Sorry, but Dylan Bundy is not heading this way anytime soon.

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