Table of Contents

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

My 2015 American League All Star Team

Continuing my annual look at the best players in baseball, here is my American league squad, which is based largely on past calendar-year splits.

Catcher

Russell Martin
Starter: Russell Martin (TOR: 5.9 WAR)
Reserve: Stephen Vogt (OAK: 3.8 WAR)

It still seems amazing to me that the Pirates were able to sign Martin to a discounted deal just a few years ago when he left the Yankees as a free agent.  He already had demonstrated significant upside in the major leagues at that point, and somehow had been relegated to a has-been pile despite just being 30 years old.  Now, at 32, he is playing at the best level of his career offensively, and his defensive numbers (particularly his framing) are always top-tier.

Stephen Vogt is the newcomer to the list.  He's a pretty interesting player; if the narrative in this post by Eno Sarris is correct, his emergence this year is thanks to a reversion to a more patient approach at the plate that he abandoned in the minor leagues at the behest of his coaches.  It's not like he was playing in some kind of backwards organization either: he came up with the Rays, and is now with the Athletics.  He's sure hitting now, though.


First Base

Starter: Miguel Cabrera (DET: 6.1 WAR)
Reserve: Jose Abreu (CHW: 4.1 WAR)

Miguel Cabrera continues to be a premier player, which is a good thing for Detroit because his 8-year extension doesn't even kick in until next season.

Jose Abreu is the newcomer; at this time last year, we were just starting to realize that he was for real.  Now we know that he's among the best power-hitters in baseball.  He's also the only White Sox position player who has posted more than 0.5 WAR this season (next closest: Geovany Soto with 0.4 WAR as a part-time catcher).


Second Base

Brian Dozier
Starter: Brian Dozier (MIN: 5.0 WAR)
Reserve: Jason Kipnis (CLE: 4.7 WAR)

Dozier nearly claimed the starting job last season, and now has claimed the top ranking honors among all second basemen.  Now in his age-28 season, he just continues to get better.  This season, he has already cleared 3 WAR, and is sporting a .262 ISO.  This edges him over the equally-impressive Jason Kipnis, who seems completely recovered from his struggles of last season and has once again asserted himself as a dominant hitter.  Dozier provides more power, while Kipnis has a .400+ OBP on the season.


Third Base

Starter: Josh Donaldson (TOR: 7.4 WAR)
Reserve: Manny Machado (BAL: 5.2 WAR)

Josh Donaldson is the best third baseman in baseball.  I know Oakland got quantity back for him when they traded him this offseason, and Donaldson was just entering his arbitration years and thus was starting to get expensive.  But given the salary that Oakland took on in their other deals this winter, I still just can't believe they made that deal.

Manny Machado missed a lot of time last season, but is back with a vengence and is still just 22!  As much as I love Todd Frazier, I see Machado as the only legitimate contender for Donaldson's title as best 3B in the game.  Machado, to this point in his career, has been a good hitter-great defender.  This year, he's hitting brilliantly as well.  He's one of the forces behind Baltimore's ascent to the top of the AL East.


Shortstop

Starter: Jose Reyes (TOR: 2.8 WAR)
Reserve: Brad Miller (SEA: 2.5 WAR)

As has been the case for a few years now, the AL crop of shortstops is a pretty thin bunch.  This year is thinner than most.  Jose Reyes clocks in with the top WAR over the past year, and has a history of excellence, so I went with him as the starter.  For the reserve, it was sort of a toss-up.  I tapped Brad Miller, primarily because Seattle needed a representative and he's performed well in limited playing time.  A league-average bat with solid defense at shortstop is a pretty decent player, and he's posted the second-best WAR totals in the league over the past year in just over 400 PA's.



Outfield

Mike Trout
Starters: LF - Alex Gordon (KCR: 5.5 WAR), CF - Mike Trout (LAA: 7.4 WAR), RF - Jose Bautista (TOR: 5.1 WAR)
Reserves: Lorenzo Cain (KCR: 5.5 WAR), J.D. Martinez (DET: 4.9 WAR), Michael Brantley (CLE: 4.6 WAR)

While the gap may have narrowed, I still consider Mike Trout the best player in baseball.  I love Alex Gordon, and I gave Jose Bautista the nod in right field because I trust his bat better than I trust Lorenzo Cain's fielding numbers (though I love Lorenzo Cain too).  I have a special affection for Michael Brantley because he seems like such an interseting player: good power, decent patience, all combined with brilliant contact ability.  There are other players who make contact like Brantley does, but they don't have his power.  He's pretty exciting.


Starting Pitchers

Corey Kluber (CLE: 7.1 WAR)
Chris Sale (CHW: 6.5 WAR)
David Price (DET: 6.2 WAR)
Dallas Keuchel (HOU: 5.8 WAR)
Sonny Gray (OAK: 5.3 WAR)

There has been a lot of turnover among AL Pitchers in the past year.  Max Scherzer and Jon Lester moved to the NL.  Yu Darvish is injured.  And we've seen the emergence of Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Dallas Keuchel, and Sonny Gray.  Kluber and Sale are a blast to watch because of their ridiculous strikeout totals.  I've watched several games by each of them this season.  Keuchel is pretty fun because his ground ball rate is so over-the-top compared to most other pitchers, and he combines it with good control and strikeout rates.  Gray I actually have overlooked a bit, and mostly still know him as a promising prospect.  He has almost 400 MLB innings under his belt now, however, and has been fabulous.  I certainly should know him.


Relief Pitchers

Wade Davis
Wade Davis (KCR: 3.4 WAR)
Dellin Betances (NYY: 3.3 WAR)
Andrew Miller (NYY: 2.4 WAR)
Joe Smith (LAA: 2.3 WAR)
Zach Britton (BAL: 2.2 WAR)

I think it's fascinating that three of the top four relievers in the American League over the past year, based on an average of FIP-WAR and RA/9-WAR, are not currently closers on their teams.  Someone has probably already done this, but it would be neat to track how closely the current dip in run scoring is attributable to improvements in relievers compared to starting pitchers.  I'll put that on my to-do list.


Pats on the Head

Tampa Bay Rays: Chris Archer, Starting Pitcher (4.4 WAR)
Chris Archer seems to have taken a step forward from his already-good performance last season, and is now posting ridiculous numbers: 11 k/9, 2 bb/9, 49% GB rate, and a 2.31 ERA (with other component ERA estimators matching that value).  I could have taken elite-fielding CF Kevin Kiermaier, but this is one of those cases where I don't trust fielding numbers enough to take someone who is generating 2.5 WAR by glove alone.  ...  at least, not when their are other viable options.

Boston Red Sox: Mookie Betts, Center Field (4.2 WAR)
After his phenomental half-season debut last year, Betts' 2015 season has been a bit disappointing.  His combination of good hitting and good fielding at a premium position has already been worth 2.3 WAR this year, however, which puts him at the top of the Red Sox leaderboard during the past year.

Texas Rangers: Adrian Beltre, Third Base (4.1 WAR)
Beltre hasn't been very good this year.  He has missed time with injury, and hasn't hit like he did last year (his totals here are entirely bouyed by his brilliant 2014 second half).  I think the bat is likely to come around, however, and he still posts good fielding numbers every year.  His contract has an option for the 2016 season, and it will be interesting to see if the Rangers pick it up.  If not, he seems likely to still get a job if he wants one.  I'll be interested to see how much support he gets for the Hall of Fame once he retires.


Organization Totals

(not including "pat on head" selections)
BAL - 2
CHW - 2
CLE - 3
DET - 3
HOU - 1
KCR - 3
LAA - 2
MIN - 1
NYY - 2
OAK - 2
SEA - 1
TOR - 4

The Blue Jays get the nod for most stars on their squad.  They are currently one game out of first place in the AL East, and I tend to think better things are in store for them down the stretch.  If they can find a left fielder and another starter on the trade market, they would seem poised to make a nice run.  Johnny Cueto might look pretty good in blue, and I'd enjoy watching him carry their team to a pennant.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

MLB Power Rankings: Orioles on the Rise

With methods described in this post, here are the latest MLB power rankings!


TPI = Team Performance Index (my ranking metric).  Based on wRC, DRA, DRS, and UZR.
W% = Team Winning Percentage (i.e. real life)
Py% = Pythagorean Winning Percentage (based on real RS and RA)

On-Paper Playoff Leaders

American League - East: Orioles, Central: Royals, West: A's, Wild cards: Tigers and Yankees
National League - East: Nationals, Central: Cardinals, West: Dodgers, Wild cards: Giants and Reds

The Baltimore Orioles shot past the Rays and Yankees to claim the top spot in the the AL East in this round of the power rankings.  They are in the midst of a 17-5 run, and about half of those games have come against AL East opponents (6 vs. Red Sox, 3 each against the Yankees and Blue Jays).  They are riding a resurgent Ubaldo Jimenez, who looks as good as he ever has looked during his career, and a brilliant first-half performance from Manny Machado, to push to the top of the AL East in both these rankings as well as real life.  I enjoy baseball more when the top of the AL East is not the Yankees or Red Sox, so this makes me happy.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Miami Series Preview: Giancarlo, Realmuto, and Yelich


Now running on LibreOffice!
Giancarlo Stanton can crush baseballs.
Photo credit: Corn Farmer


Following a much-needed rainout after Wednesday night's extra inning game, the Reds welcome the Miami Marlins to town.  The Marlins were a popular pick in the preseason as a team on the rise, thanks to a strong performance last year, a very good core that they've started to lock up, and some offseason acquisitions that signaled a "win-now" strategy.  Not the least among those was the acquisition of Mat Latos for Anthony DeSclafani, although the Reds will miss their former starter this go-around.

The Marlins have had ok relief pitching and have fielded well, but their offense has been pretty miserable all season outside of Giancarlo Stanton, and their starting pitching has been disappointing.  The preseason thought was that if they could just make it until Jose Fernandez gets back, they might have a shot.  At this point, though, they're 7 games behind the Mets, and are only "in" the race because no team has been particularly good in the NL East.


Position Players

I haven't watched many Marlins games this season, but I keep seeing clips of Giancarlo Stanton's master blasts.  And Dee Gordon has continued to exceed expectations, at least of those of the stats community.  He's been superb over the past season, though I do think it's fun to compare his baserunning totals to those of Billy Hamilton.  Gordon is the better hitter, though, and at this point in his career is the better all-around player.  I was surprised to see how badly Christian Yelich has struggled this year, because he seemed like a really nice player to lock up this spring when the Marlins signed him.  Finally, yes, the Solano brothers are actually brothers!  Neat, right?

The Rookie is J.T. Realmuto, the second rookie catcher the Reds have faced in as many series.  Realmuto was the Marlins #2 prospect entering the season according to most outlets.  The scouting report on him seems to be that he is a good athlete, that his receiving has dramatically improved over the past season or so and is now pretty solid (although note poor early returns), with a solid, contact-oriented bat.  ::shrug::

Have I mentioned that Todd Frazier has been the best third baseman in the NL the past two calendar years?  Oh, right, I have.  Good to see Jay Bruce's wRC+ push well up over the 100-mark after a strong series.  He could still end up with a decent season if he gets hot.  I'm been pretty encouraged by what I've seen from Eugenio Suarez thus far.  Brayan Pena has been hot lately as well, and would almost be at a full win over replacement if he wasn't so slow.  Did you see Ian Kinsler let a not-called infield fly drop last night to exchange Jay Bruce for Pena on the bases?  Clever move.  Glad to see Pena still score.

Probable Starters


If you go by this year's numbers, this doesn't look to like it will be a particularly well-pitched series.  The guy currently in the Marlins' rotation that I was most interested in seeing, Jose Urena, isn't throwing.  Koehler and Phelps are both late-20's guys.  Dan Haren is somehow only 34.  I figured he was pushing 40.

...I posted this on twitter the other night.  I'll just leave it at this:

Bullpens

Steve Cishek recently lost his closer gig to A.J. Ramos, who looks really good this year.  That's about all I have to say about their pen...

The Reds pen is huge right now, at least by sheer volume of names.  I think we're all pretty charged up about the job that Donovan Hand did last night.  Frazier deserves a lot of attention for his monster night, but Hand held a very good Tigers offense for three innings in his first big-league appearance in two years.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My 2015 National League All Star Teams

It's time to talk All Star voting once again, and so here are my annual picks for the midsummer classic exhibition extravaganza.  As in prior years, I'm basing my recommendations for the All Star game on past calendar year performance; I don't like the fact that we don't pay attention to second-half statistics when choosing our All Stars.  Fortunately, FanGraphs makes this super-easy to do, thanks to their past-calendar year split.

Below, bold-faced players did not appear on my 2014 teams.

Catcher

Buster Posey
Starter: Buster Posey (SFG; 6.6 WAR)
Reserve: Devin Mesoraco (CIN; 3.0 WAR; injured)
Alternate: Francisco Cervelli (PIT; 3.0 WAR)

Buster Posey has been magnificent over the past year, and has been worth approximately twice the value of any other catcher according to FanGraphs calculations.  Not only that, but he also tops Baseball Prospectus's rankings for Framing Runs added this year at 10 runs above average, so he's good at that as well.  He walks almost as much as he strikes out (and he has incredibly low strikeout rates), he hits for good power, and has played 147 games in the past year by manning first base.  There's talk that he might eventually have to move out from behind the plate, but that has to be a difficult proposition given how amazing he is back there.

Francisco Cervelli shocked me, but all of his PA's have happened in the past calendar year.  The last time he had even 300 PA's in a season was 2012 with the Yankees AAA affiliate.  But now that he's both healthy and being given a chance, he's showing himself to be a pretty nice hitter.  Sure, the .400 BABIP will come down, but a solid hitter and a top-tier framer?  The Pirates are looking pretty darn smart.

First Base

Anthony Rizzo (CHC; 5.7 WAR)
Paul Goldschmidt (ARI; 5.3 WAR)

Rizzo is the newcomer (he "merely" earned a pat on the head last year as the Cubs representative), but as the Reds just witnessed first-hand, he has really come into his own in Chicago and might just be the best first baseman in baseball.  He's at the top of the leaderboard, if nothing else.  Rizzo's calling card is his power, but he gets on base thanks to decent walk rates and excellent contact rates.

Second Base

Joe Panik (SFG; 4.0 WAR)
Howie Kendrick (LAD; 4.0 WAR)

Although their overall value pegs out as identical over the past year, Panik gets the nod here over Kendrick because he has done so in fewer PA's, because he's having the better 2015 season, and it's fun to vote for young guys.  I don't remember Panik being much of a prospect as far as ballyhoos go, but he's having himself a terrific start to his career with the Giants.  The 24-year old is hitting for good power this season (mostly doubles), has outstanding contact skills, and holds his own in the infield.

Third Base

Todd Frazier
Todd Frazier (CIN; 5.6 WAR)
Anthony Rendon (WAS; 4.4 WAR)

For the second-straight year, Frazier is my starter in the National League at the hot corner.  I really enjoy watching Frazier in the field; he has good hands, but for me what seems to set him apart is his ability to make such good, strong, accurate throws from almost any position.  Offensively, while he is an aggressive hitter and often seems to lunge at balls low and away, he somehow gets enough barrel on balls to hit them with power when he does so.  Or, at least, he can hit them in the air over the infielders heads.  2015 is, so far, easily the best year of his career.  Two causes: one, a lower strikeout rate, and two, a major drop in his ground ball rate.  Almost everything he hits goes into the air, and he has enough power to do serious damage.

There's a bit of a snub with the reserve here, where I took Anthony Rendon over Josh Harrison.  Harrison actually had slightly more WAR (4.5), but Rendon got his total despite missing time with injury.  And, frankly, he's a guy I really like.  And I picked him last year.  Still, with Harrison being a Princeton High grad, I feel a little bad about.  I ended up taking him as an outfielder below...kind of a stretch, but he has played there.

Shortstop

Jhonny Peralta
Jhonny Peralta (STL: 5.5 WAR)
Brandon Crawford (SFG; 3.5 WAR)

This is a pretty thin position.  Peralta, though, continues to be one of the most interesting players I've seen.  When with the Indians, he was moved off of shortstop due to significant concerns about his ability to field the position.  The Tigers signed him and plugged him back at shortstop, but just about everyone thought this was a foolish move; would he hit enough to make up for his defense?  Not only did he do that, but he actually has become one of the best fielders at his position.  The how is still a bit unclear to me, but a) he very rarely makes mistakes, and b) he seems to be incredibly good at both positioning and reading the ball off the bat (or, maybe, reading the bat before it even hits the ball?). Regardless, he's easily been the best shortstop in baseball over the past year.

Outfield

Starters: LF: Giancarlo Stanton (MIA: 5.2 WAR); CF: Andrew McCutchen (PIT: 5.0 WAR), RF: Bryce Harper (WAS: 5.7 WAR)
Reserves: Josh Harrison (PIT: 4.5 WAR), Starling Marte (4.2 WAR), Denard Span (4.0 WAR)

Of Harper's 5.7 WAR over the past 365 days, 4.6 of them have come this season.  He has nearly a full win lead over the next-best player (Josh Donaldson: 3.8 WAR), has an OBP we haven't really seen since Barry Bonds (.479), a 20% walk rate, an equal strikeout rate, and has shown a huge drop in his ground ball rate to help his other-worldly power play up.  I still think Mike Trout is a better ballplayer, but Harper's actually making me question that.  How fun; those two players have always been tied to one another, and now we're seeing both of them making good on their promise.

Starting Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw (LAD: 8.2 WAR)
Max Scherzer (WAS: 6.5 WAR)
Cole Hamels (PHI: 5.6 WAR)
Jacob deGrom (NYM: 5.5 WAR)
Jake Arrieta (CHC: 5.2 WAR)

Here I'm using an average of RA9-WAR (based purely on runs allowed per nine) and normal fWAR (based on FIP) in an effort to recognize that FIP doesn't catch everything that is within a pitcher's skillset.  Clayton Kershaw once again leads the way, and rightly so.  Jake Arrieta and Jacob deGrom were the two surprises for me.  Reigning rookie of the year deGrom has long been throwing well, but I guess I didn't realize how well.  And while I knew that Arietta had a great season last year, I overlooked him this year...likely because the Reds missed him when they faced the Cubs last week.

Relievers

Aroldis Chapman (CIN: 2.4 WAR)
Drew Storen (WAS: 2.3 WAR)
Ken Giles (PHI: 2.2 WAR)
Kenley Jansen (LAD: 2.1 WAR)
Jonathan Papelbon (PHI: 2.1 WAR)

Aroldis Chapman has seemed mortal in recent weeks, but over the past calendar year he has arguably been the best reliever in the league.  It's curious that one team recently rumored to be interested in him is the Washington Nationals, who control the second name on this list.  A Storen-Chapman combination, played to maximize platoon advantage, would be brutal in late innings.  I didn't expect the Phillies' bullpen to rank out so well.  Ken Giles, in particular, is a revelation.  He has been walking a few more this season, but the 24-year old has a 1.49 ERA (and a 2.27 SIERA) in 72 innings between this and last year.  I completely overlooked him in my recent Phillies preview.


Pats on the Head

(players selected as team representatives despite not making the cut above)

Freddie Freeman
Atlanta: Freddie Freeman, 1B (4.7 WAR)
Colorado: Nolan Arenado, 3B (3.7 WAR)
Milwaukee: Carlos Gomez, CF (3.0 WAR)
San Diego: Tyson Ross, SP (3.3 WAR)


Team Totals

ARI - 1
ATL - 0
CHC - 2
CIN - 3
COL - 0
LAD - 3
MIA - 1
MIL - 0
NYM - 1
PHI - 3
PIT - 4
SDP - 0
SFG - 3
STL - 1
WAS - 5
(not including pat-on-head selections)

After placing second in the "Star Counts," the Nationals take the lead this year.  They've had a fairly disappointing season thus far, but I still like them to take their division when it's all said and done.  They're only 1.5 games behind the Mets.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Tigers Series(es) Preview: McCann, Martinez, and Verlander

The Reds begin a fourish-game series against the Tigers today.  Or, rather, they start a set of four games against the Tigers.  Through an interesting quirk in the schedule, the teams will play the first two games in Detroit, and then fly to Cincinnati for games on Wednesday and Thursday.  It's probably happened before, but I can't remember a time.  I'm sure you folks can enlighten me.

The tigers were seen by many as the favorites in the AL Central coming into the season.  The Royals were expected to regress, and while the While Sox looked to have improved in the offseason, they probably weren't top-tier teams yet.  The Indians looked to be their toughest competition.  The Twins looked like basement-dwellers.  

Baseball being baseball, that's pretty much exactly NOT what has happened.  Through the first two and a half months of the season, the Twins and Royals are dukeing it out for the AL Central crown, with the Tigers three games back and just three games over .500.  While the Twins seem to be falling back to earth, the Royals seem to have legitimately improved this season, while the Tigers have been scrapping.  Still, despite their aging roster, they still have a lot of talent, and they still have a good shot to make the playoffs this season.  They hit well, and they catch 'n throw surprisingly well (this used to be a team that punted on fielding).  Their downfall thus far has been their pitching, which has been merely adequate.

Position Players


With injuries to Alex Avila and Victor Martinez, the Tigers are playing a pair of prospects most days.  James McCann, a 2nd-round pick in 2010, is more or less on schedule, having played a full season at AAA last year.  He held his own, but showed himself to be an aggressive hitter with only modest power.  Kiley McDaniel sees him as best-suited for a backup role on account of his fairly weak bat, but praised his defense.  His early framing numbers are not great (3rd-worst in baseball), but he has made up for that a bit with his throwing arm.

The other is Tyler Collins, who is their typical DH against right-handed pitching.  McDaniel rates him as an average bat with good plate discipline, but below-average fielding skills.  That more or less matches his performance so far, though his K & BB rates leave a lot to be desired.

Otherwise, looking over the roster, aside from future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera (who looks to have rebounded from an "off" year last year), I think the most interesting guy is J.D. Martinez.  Martinez came up as a mid-range prospect, but was released by the Astros at the start of last season. He signed on with the Tigers, and proceeded to have a superb 4-win series.  Eno Sarris had a nice article on him recently, describing how he transitioned from a flat swing to an uppercut swing as a result of studying hitters while he was out with an injury.  He'd already made those adjustments when the Astros released him last year, but I don't think anyone could have expected those adjustments would make such a difference.  The whole thing rings of Jose Bautista, and it makes me wonder how many other players with flat swings could transform themselves by adjusting their swing.  I'm sure that's easier said than done.

Probable Starters


Mercifully, for my own sensibilities, the Reds will miss Alfredo Simon in this series because he pitched yesterday.  Instead, we get to see the Tigers' current Big Three: David Price, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez.  And someone named Kyle Ryan.

The marquee matchup will unquestionably be Cueto vs. Price in Cincinnati on Wednesday night.  Those two are arguably the top two free agents-to-be this offseason, and both are pitching well; it should be a fun game.  Sanchez and Justin Verlander look like pale imitations of their former selves.  Verlander, in particular, has lost several mph off his fastball, isn't striking guys out anymore, is walking plenty, has a horrific 13% ground ball rate, and seems to be getting by on pure guile, with a lot of smoke and mirrors.  He has a .133 BABIP, and 83% strand rate, a 5.74 xFIP, and a 6.49 SIERA.  Yikes.

Bullpens

The guy who caught my eye here was Joba Chamberlain.  The former top Yankee prospect has carved out a good career as a setup guy, having last started a game in the major leagues in 2009.  He has seemingly traded in strikeouts for contact this season, with a drop in both strikeout rate and walk rate.  He has probably gotten a bit lucky, but he and Soria have very effectively shorted games thus far.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Did Burke Badenhop Find His Velocity?

Burke Badenhop was the Reds lone free agent signing this past offseason who received a guaranteed big league deal.  I heralded it as a superb signing: a highly effective, ground-ball machine for the bullpen with a very low salary.

Instead, he's been a disaster.  His velocity was way down at the start of the season (~87 mph on his fastball, vs. ~89-90 mph in 2013-2014), his already-low strikeout rate plummeted, and it seemed his lack of velocity also reduced the effectiveness of his sinker.  While watching last night's game, however, I noticed him regularly hitting 90-91 mph, he managed a pair of strikeouts on fastballs up in the zone, and worked around an error by Brayan Pena on a squibber in front of the plate.

Here are Badenhop's velocity measures, by game, this year and last year:
Over the last 5-7 games, his velocity has taken a big jump from where it had been in April and most of May.  It's back comfortably around 90 mph, though maybe still a slight tick off of where he averaged last season.  His results have been been a little bit better too: 4 K's and 2 BB's in 5 innings over his past five appearances, with 1 run allowed:

It's too early to know if he's really back.  But if Burke Badenhop can return to his 2014 form, it would be a nice shot in the arm for the Reds' bullpen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cubs Series Preview

The Reds head to Wrigley Field tomorrow to take on the Cubs in a long, four-game series.  The Cubs entered the season as a popular up-and-coming pick on the basis of both their outstanding cadre of almost-ready position prospects as well as an active offseason that saw the acquire or sign Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Dexter Fowler, and Miguel Montero.  Perhaps as expected, they have seemingly taken that step forward this season and are locked in a dead heat with the Pirates for second place in the NL Central, albeit well back of the seemingly untouchable Cardinals.  They've played almost exactly according to their preseason projections (record-wise, at least), and are projected to have a better-than-even chance of landing a wild card playoff spot.

As good as this season has been for them, however, their underlying numbers aren't quite as strong as their record.  Their offense has been well below-average thus far, with the Reds taking a clear advantage in power.  Their starters have been excellent and their relief corps has been "fine," but it would seem that they are in need of some offense if they want to make something of this season.  The nice thing about having the kind of youth they have, of course, is that one can hope for better things in the future.  I think they've got a realistic shot.

Position Players


Zack Cozart's injury was heartbreaking to watch today.  I'm no doctor (not that kind, anyway...), but it looked to me like he hyperextended his knee pretty badly when he slid/missed first base.  That makes one worry about an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, which is often repaired with surgery.  I don't know recovery times off-hand, but my hunch is "long."  It's so frustrating, because Zack Cozart had somehow transformed himself back into the player we all hoped he might be when he broke in with the Reds: a brilliant fielder and a solid hitter with very good power for a shortstop.  It was only 200 plate appearances, but it's hard to have watched the amazing turnaround he's experienced thus far in 2015 and not think that something has clicked for him.  With 1.6 fWAR, he's already topped his total from 2014, and has only received a modest boost from his fielding in that metric this year.  His .202 ISO is easily the best of his career, as is his walk rate (despite his claims about being more aggressive).  His ground ball rate is down, his strikeouts are down, and he's not even showing a strong BABIP (low for his career, though consistent with a more fly ball heavy approach).  Here's hoping he can completely heal from this injury, even if he misses the rest of the season, and doesn't see a loss of mobility sap his fantastic range.  Best wishes on a full recovery, Zack.

...As for the Cubs, Anthony Rizzo is fantastic.  Kris Bryant has been pretty much as-advertised and will be fun to watch this series.  Addison Russell has recovered pretty nicely from his disastrous start and almost has his batting line back to league average.  David Ross is the best catcher the Reds ever released.  And Starlin Castro probably needs to be worried about his job, as the Cubs have other middle-infield options in the minors and Russell looks ready to go.  The Reds catch a break this series with Reds-killer Jorge Soler on the DL.

Probable Starters


Tsuyoshi Wada is sort of the penultimate soft-tossing lefty, and there's an argument that the gap between his ERA and his peripherals is due to his low velocity.  I've long been a Jason Hammel fan (he's an old fantasy guy of mine), and it's great to see him having such a nice year.  He has the best xFIP of any starter in this series, and his duel against Johnny Cueto could be really fun to watch.  Finally, while I don't have much to say about Kyle Hendricks (a soft-tossing, control righty), I'm looking forward to a rematch between the pickoff-challenged Jon Lester and zippy skippy Billy Hamilton...assuming Hamilton is healthy enough to play by Sunday.

Bullpens


It's pretty hard to argue with with Reds' decision to demote Jumbo Diaz given his mind-numbingly frustrating tendency to give up the long ball this season.  But it was still the case that he has the best xFIP and best SIERA on the staff.  They stuck with him through June, however, and used him almost always in high-leverage situations.  Remember when he hit 102 mph in his last appearance, right before giving up the big hit?  I still just love that guy.  Hopefully he's ridiculous-dominant in AAA and makes it back up sooner than later.  I think the Reds would be foolish to give up on him.

Cubs pen: it's been pretty strong.  Justin Grimm has been a strikeout-and-walk machine this year, and looks like the bullpen suits him a lot better than the rotation.  They have a pretty impressive cadre of long-men between Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson.