Baseball News Source Mon, 24 Nov 2014 19:40:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Red Sox Sign Hanley Ramirez to four-year deal Mon, 24 Nov 2014 19:39:41 +0000 NLDSYou can’t say the Boston Red Sox are taking the holiday week off. Already in agreement with free-agent Pablo Sandoval, the Red Sox have reached an agreement with Hanley Ramirez on a four-year $88 million deal that will bring the talented but injury prone 30 year old back to Boston.

Ramirez was dealt  to the Marlins as part of the trade package that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston back in 2005.

Ramirez, is a career .300 hitter, batted .283 with 13 homers and 71 RBIs in 128 games last season. Ramirez projects as the everyday Red Sox third baseman, but is open to changing positions, perhaps to the outfield with Sandoval on board.

More likely than not, the Red Sox will look to trade from a a crowded outfield, that includes a mix of mix of Yoenis CespedesRusney CastilloShane VictorinoAllen CraigBrock HoltJackie BradleyMookie Betts and Daniel Nava in an attempt to land a front line starter.

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Seattle Mariners, Kyle Seager Reach Agreement on $100 million Extension Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:44:39 +0000 seagerThe Seattle Mariners have reached an agreement with third baseman Kyle Seager on a seven year extension worth approximately $100 million. Seager, 27 posted career highs in home runs (25), RBI (96), batting average (.268), slugging percentage (.454) and OPS (.788) in 2014.

He has a .262/.328/.429 slash through his first four seasons in the majors.

Seager also made his first All-Star team in 2014 and won a Gold Glove Award.

The contract includes an eighth-year club option that could be worth up to $20 million, based on Seager achieving certain escalators. Seager must pass a routine physical before the deal is final.

Seager would join Mike Trout, Buster Posey and Freddie Freeman as the only players in their first arbitration-eligible season or before to lock in a $100 million-plus deal.

With  Robinson Cano, starting pitcher Felix Hernandez and Seager, the Mariners will have committed more than half a billion dollars to three players.

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Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox Reach Agreement on Five-Year Deal Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:02:54 +0000 sandovalThe Boston Red Sox and free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval have reached and agreement on a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $100 million, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

The Red Sox are close to a deal with Hanley Ramirez, as well. Ken Rosenthal of reported he is on the verge of a deal with Boston and is traveling to Boston to finalize an agreement.

The Red Sox could “win” the trifecta if former ace Jon Lester returns. Boston’s initial offer is believed to be about $110 million to $120 million for Lester, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported.

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Braves Trade Heyward, Walden To Cardinals for Miller, Jenkins Mon, 17 Nov 2014 20:11:47 +0000 Braves NewsThe St Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves have executed the first major trade of the offseason. Atlanta sent outfielder Jason Heyward and right-handed reliever Jordan Walden to the Cardinals in exchange for starting pitcher Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins. With the move the Braves added depth to a rotation that projected to be one of the weakest in baseball, and the Cardinals found a corner outfielder.

The 25 year-old Heyward will hit free agency next offseason. Though he hasn’t quite lived up to the sky-high expectations that were set for him when he made his major league debut as a 20 year-old, he’s still a very good player. Heyward has never posted monster offensive numbers, but he possesses a .262/.351/.429 career slash line for a 117 wRC+. He’s also a very good defender that runs the bases well.

Heyward has dealt with injury issues in his five-year career, and with the exception of the 2012 season he’s never reached 150 games in a year. 2012 was his best offensive campaign as Heyward clubbed 27 home runs and managed a .269/.335/.479 slash line. This past year he hit just 11 home runs and produced a lowly .113 ISO. Still, thanks to a good walk rate and a reduced strikeout percentage, Heyward managed a .351 on-base percentage and a 110 wRC+.

Steamer projects a .271/.355/.449 line for Heyward and 4.8 fWAR. Those are very good numbers, and he should instantly become one of the Cardinals top players. If they can sign him to a contract extension, this trade could reap benefits for years.

Jordan Walden is another flamethrower in a bullpen that has plenty of heat. He has a career 28.6 percent strikeout rate and his average fastball velocity is just shy of 97 miles per hour. He’ll team up with Trevor Rosenthal and possibly Carlos Martinez to conquer the late innings.

Top Rookies 2013Shelby Miller is just 24 and is under team control for another four seasons. However, he’s likely not nearly as good as his career 3.33 ERA might suggest. Miller authored a 3.06 ERA in his rookie season of 2013, and struck out 23.4 percent of hitters. But, he faded down the stretch, and the Cardinals kept him on ace for the entire postseason.

He got off to a disastrous start in the 2014 season. Even with some better performances in the last two months of the season, Miller’s 4.54 FIP was one of the worst marks in baseball. His strikeout rate dipped to 16.6 percent and his walk rate inflated to 9.6 percent.

While his 3.74 ERA was significantly better, it was still worse than the major league average. Projections don’t think he’s much more than a replacement level pitcher. The Braves are betting that he still has some upside left and can regain his form from the first half of 2013.

Tyrell Jenkins is a lanky 22 year-old hurler who was picked 50th overall out of high school in 2010. He struggled to put away hitters in High-A this year and fanned just 13.3 percent. Jenkins has size and athleticism on his side, and the Braves are hoping he can put it together.

It seems that the Braves could have gotten a bigger return for Heyward, even if he is entering his walk year. He’s only a year older than Miller, and if the power aspect of his game comes together, he could put together a monster year. Even without big offensive numbers, he’s still a very good player. Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak did well.

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Miami Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton Reach Agreement on Mega Deal Mon, 17 Nov 2014 15:31:16 +0000 stanton5The Miami Marlins and  Giancarlo Stanton have reached an agreement on a record-setting 13-year, $325 million contract extension, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman.

While the deal hasn’t yet been made official, Heyman reports “there is a clear understanding the deal will be finalized.

Stanton, 25, will receive an opt-out clause in addition to a no-trade provision, according to those sources. first reported the sides were talking about a deal for $300 million or more.

A press conference to celebrate the mega deal is expected to be held in the middle or later part of this coming week, perhaps Wednesday or Thursday.

More to come

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Miami Marlins Closing in on Huge Deal with Giancarlo Stanton Sat, 15 Nov 2014 03:22:03 +0000 stantonThe Miami Marlins are closing in on a 13 year, $325 million dollar deal with slugger Giancarlo Stanton, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The deal would be the largest in baseball history. It would reportedly contain both a no-trade clause and an opt-out clause, giving Stanton the power to control where he would go in the event the Marlins considered moving him and the flexibility to hit free agency earlier.

There’s no doubt that Stanton is one of the best players in the major leagues. He’s also just 25 years old and will be under team control for two more years. Despite missing the final three weeks of the season after he was hit in the face with pitch, Stanton led the National League with 37 home runs. He produced an excellent .288/.395/.555 slash line and racked up 6.1 fWAR in 145 games.

Stanton made his big league debut at the age of 20 in 2010. In 100 games he smashed 22 home runs and compiled a solid .259/.318/.507 slash line with 2.3 fWAR. Since then he’s established himself as one of the most fearsome hitters in baseball. Even with the missed time, he’s hit 154 home runs since 2010. Only Jose Bautista and Miguel Cabrera have hit more home runs in that time span.

Overall, Stanton owns a career .271/.364/.540 batting line. His 143 wRC+ ranks 10th in the major leagues since 2010. His 2015 projection calls for a batting line of .278/.379/.556 with an astounding 41 home runs and 6.0 fWAR. Still, while Stanton is an outstanding player who should have his prime years ahead of him, there are concerns.

Stanton has suffered several injuries during the course of his young career. 2014 was just his second season of at least 600 plate appearances. He missed a good chunk of both the 2012 and 2013 seasons, and appeared in only 239 games total. A frightening beaning caused him to miss the final weeks of the 2014 season. Signing Stanton to a 13 year deal would put him under contract through the 2027 season, and buy out 11 years of free agency.

Stanton should continue to be one of baseball’s best hitters over the next few seasons, but if injuries have their way, his aging curve could be quite steep. At $25 million per year, he should still be undervalued for the first several seasons of his career. It’s odd that the Marlins, a franchise known for being extraordinarily stingy are bent on giving Stanton the richest contract in baseball history.

Stanton is a great player, and a $325 million extension isn’t ridiculous given that he just turned 25 last week. But, the Marlins might not be the right team to give him this deal. While there are reasons for optimism in Miami as the franchise has some exciting young players, Jeffrey Loria is notoriously unpopular and difficult to deal with. Getting Stanton under wraps for the long-term would give Marlins fans hope for the future.

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MLB Free Agents: Pirates Reunited with A.J. Burnett Sat, 15 Nov 2014 03:20:59 +0000 Pirates NewsThe Pittsburgh Pirates are reunited with starting pitcher A.J. Burnett. The 37 year-old hurler signed a one-year deal worth $8.5 million according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Burnett previously played for the Pirates from 2012-13.

In his two seasons with the Pirates, Burnett posted some of the best numbers of his career. He managed a 3.41 ERA with strikeout and walk rates of 23.6 percent and 7.8 percent, respectively. In addition, he had one of the highest ground ball rates in the major leagues. All of these factors contributed to a stellar adjusted xFIP of 82, which ranked 11th in the major leagues over that time frame. Furthermore, he helped the Pirates end a playoff drought of more than 20 seasons.

The Pirates declined to extend a qualifying offer to Burnett last offseason, and the right-hander mulled retirement. He ended up testing the market and signed a one year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies that included a $12.75 million player option for the second year. Burnett’s numbers in Philadelphia weren’t nearly as impressive.

The veteran hurler’s strikeout rate dipped from 26.1 percent to 20.3 percent, and his walk rate rose to 10.3 percent. His 4.59 was his highest mark since the 2011 season with the New York Yankees. While his 3.95 xFIP was more encouraging, it was still more than a full run higher than the previous season. He pitched the entire season with a hernia that required surgery in the offseason. That likely factored into his poor performance. The Pirates are hoping a healthy Burnett can return to his 2012-13 form.

While Burnett’s decision to turn down his option cost him more than $4 million, he’s reunited with the Pirates and their pitching coach, Ray Searage. This isn’t the first time the Pirates have bought low on Burnett. After disastrous 2010 and 2011 seasons with the Yankees, the Pirates acquired him in what was basically a salary dump for the Yankees, sending away low-level prospects. He cost the Pirates just $13 million and produced two excellent seasons.

Burnett rejuvenated his career with Pittsburgh. He’ll turn 38 in January, but he’s getting another shot in the Pirates rotation after a difficult season with the Phillies. They’ve had success with reclamation projects in the past. Pitching coach Ray Searage has been credited with turning around Burnett in his first go-round with the Pirates, Francisco Liriano had two strong seasons in Pittsburgh, and Edinson Volquez turned in a surprisingly low ERA on a one-year deal.

It’s a good signing for Pittsburgh, who faces the potential departures of Liriano and Volquez, both of whom are free agents. Gerrit Cole sits atop their rotation, and Vance Worley and Jeff Locke could also factor in. Beyond that there are a lot of question marks, though the Pirates figure to be active in attempting to acquire veteran arms.

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MLB Free Agent Profile: Nelson Cruz Thu, 13 Nov 2014 14:11:11 +0000 cruzMajor League Baseball’s reigning home run king is on the free agent market. Nelson Cruz is reportedly seeking a five year deal. After declining the qualifying offer tendered by the Baltimore Orioles, the 34 year-old Cruz is looking to cash in on an excellent season.

Cruz saw his stock plummet last offseason after the Texas Rangers tagged him with the qualifying offer. He started out looking for a five year deal worth around $75 million, and ended up settling for a one-year deal with the Orioles for $8 million. The prospect of surrendering draft pick compensation along with the stigma of a PED suspension which caused him to miss the final 50 games of the 2013 season combined to scare a lot of teams away.

In the end, the Orioles were the winners. They signed Cruz to an inexpensive deal and saw the veteran outfielder post his best offensive numbers since 2010. He drilled a career-high 40 home runs, and managed a .271/.333/.525 slash line for a 137 wRC+. Cruz added two more home runs in the ALDS, as he helped the Orioles sweep the Detroit Tigers.

The O’s would like to bring Cruz back. They reportedly offered him a three year deal during the season. While he is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, Cruz doesn’t come without risk. He’s a 34 year-old outfielder who is bested suited at designated hitter. What is more, his bat was less than stellar in the three seasons prior.

From 2011-13, Cruz hit 80 home runs, but managed just a .319 on-base percentage. In that time he produced +4 fWAR, with a 114 wRC+. There’s no good reason to think that Cruz has suddenly figured something out this late in his career. He’s a solid hitter and a decent player, but a multi-year contract for an aging, bat-only slugger has all kinds of potential for disaster.

Steamer projects a .258/.320/.478 line for Cruz which comes out to a 122 wRC+. That’s good to be sure, and while his defense is poor, that still amounts to 2.4 fWAR. But, numbers along those lines don’t justify a multi-year deal in the range of $15 million per year.

The Orioles benefited from seeing Cruz’ free agent market dry up. They got excellent production from a player who cost them just $8 million and a draft pick. If Cruz is asking for $15 million per year the O’s should count their blessings and part ways. Doubling down on their investment could very well come back to bite them. Unless they have good reasons to believe that Cruz can be significantly better than his projections, it’s time to look elsewhere.

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MLB Free Agent Profile: Max Scherzer Tue, 11 Nov 2014 14:11:27 +0000 Tigers NewsMax Scherzer is the prize of the free agent market. The right-hander is likely to secure the biggest contract awarded this offseason. He turned down a big contract extension offer by the Detroit Tigers and after having another excellent year on the mound, he’s going to turn out a winner on that gamble.

The 30 year-old Scherzer has spent the last five seasons with the Tigers after being acquired in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In those five seasons, he’s produced 22.9 fWAR, which ranks 6th in the major leagues. Scherzer has been particularly strong in the last three years.

In 2012 Scherzer’s strikeout rate rocketed up from 20.9 percent to 29.4 percent. His ERA dipped all the way from 4.43 to 3.74, and his FIP and xFIP were an even more impressive 3.27 and 3.23, respectively. Scherzer used the same pitch mix as in past seasons, but he bumped his fastball velocity up to 94.2 miles per hour, an increase of nearly one full mile per hour.

The next season his strikeout and walk rates remained essentially the same, but opponents managed just a .259 in-play batting average, compared to .333 the prior year. As a consequence, Scherzer’s ERA plummeted to 2.90. He took home the Cy Young award and earned 21 victories as well.

The big right-hander nearly replicated his 2013 success in 2014. He authored strikeout and walk rates of 27.9 percent and 7.0 percent, respectively. His ERA rose to 3.15, thanks to an in-play batting average of .315. His FIP and xFIP were almost identical to his numbers from 2013.

Over the last three seasons, only Yu Darvish has a higher strikeout rate than Scherzer’s 28.6 percent rate. His K-BB rate of 21.5 percent is only a tick behind Clayton Kershaw‘s 21.5 percent mark. Even with the Tigers less than stellar defense behind him, opposing hitters have batted just .226 against Scherzer. He’s now gone six consecutive seasons of at least 30 starts.

Only the big money teams will have a shot at Scherzer. The Boston Red Sox will be looking for pitching, as Clay Buchholz is the only remaining hurler from last year’s Opening Day rotation. The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers can never be counted out with regards to big-name free agents.

While the Los Angeles Angels have big money committed to Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson, it’s hard to imagine them passing up an opportunity to make a run at a top notch starting pitcher. Also, it seems inevitable that the Chicago Cubs will sign Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields. They have cash aplenty, and look like they are not far from contending.

Wherever he goes, Scherzer is sure to get a lot of money. A deal for seven years and $175 million is an appropriate baseline.

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MLB Free Agent Profile: Hanley Ramirez Mon, 10 Nov 2014 15:02:39 +0000 NLDSLos Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez will be heavily sought after this offseason. Though he’s been injury-prone, Ramirez has been a very productive player while on the field. He’ll turn 31 in December and may not be best suited for shortstop anymore, but Ramirez has expressed a willingness to play third base, a position he occupied in 2012.

Ramirez burst onto the scene as a 22 year-old with the then Florida Marlins in 2006. He quickly established himself as one of the top players in baseball. In his first four major league seasons, only Albert Pujols and Chase Utley accumulated more fWAR. The young shortstop would have another solid year in 2010, though it was a drop off from his lofty standards.

In 2011, Ramirez appeared in just 97 games, and had a poor .243/.333/.379 batting line. He hit only 10 home runs after ripping at least 20 in each of the past four years and produced just 1.0 fWAR. The next season Ramirez would be moved to third base as the Miami Marlins signed Jose Reyes to play shortstop. Ramirez’ play was uninspiring, and the Marlins decided to blow things up. They traded him to the Dodgers, who positioned him at third.

Overall, Ramirez hit .257/.322/.437 in 2012, and played in 157 games. His 2.9 fWAR was decent, but it seemed that his peak years of 2006-10 were a thing of the past. While injuries limited Ramirez to just 86 games in 2013, he was the best player in baseball when he was on the field. The Dodgers moved him back to shortstop after the failed Dee Gordon experiment, and he handled the position adequately. More importantly, he had a monster year at the plate.

Ramirez smashed 20 home runs, and batted an impressive .345/.402/.638. That rounds out to an incredible 191 wRC+, which would have put him on par with Miguel Cabrera. Despite the limited playing time, he had 5.0 fWAR. Injuries would hamper Ramirez again in 2014, and this time he played just 128 games. His numbers while on the field were less shocking, but still strong, though his shortstop defense was subpar. Hanley hit just 13 home runs, but also ripped 35 doubles, and managed a .283/.369/.448 slash line for a 135 wRC+.

Going into this offseason, Ramirez is the prime position player on the market. He’s poised to command a large contract, probably in the range of seven years and $140 million. Several teams will be interested in him. The Dodgers are of course flush with cash, and would like to bring him back. When big money is involved, the New York Yankees can never be counted out, and neither can the Boston Red Sox.

A very interesting possibility, and one that has been suggested elsewhere, involves the Colorado Rockies sending away Troy Tulowitzki and then signing Ramirez. A move like that would be a longshot, but the Rockies would be flush with cash after giving away Tulo’s contract, and they’re used to injury-prone, slugging shortstops. That might not happen, but it would be one of the biggest moves of recent offseasons.

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MLB Free Agent Profile: Jon Lester Thu, 06 Nov 2014 14:55:27 +0000 lesterAlong with Max Scherzer, Jon Lester is the biggest prize of this offseason’s free agent market. The 30 year-old left-hander is coming off a career year and is sure to command a big payday. His salary demands will likely price out a lot of teams, but the bidding will be fierce for Lester.

Lester is a workhorse who has made at least 31 starts in every season since 2008. Over that time he’s been one of baseball’s best pitchers. He ranks 6th in fWAR. In the last two years he’s 7th in fWAR, just behind David Price. Furthermore, he’s had a history of dominance in the postseason. His performance last October against the St. Louis Cardinals helped the Boston Red Sox bring home the trophy.

Lester struggled in 2012, and many wondered if his career was on the downturn. He pitched to an ugly 4.82 ERA, and his strikeout rate dropped for the third consecutive season, to 19 percent. However, his secondary statistics indicated that he pitched better than his ERA. The Sox left-hander managed a 3.82 xFIP, and his fastball velocity averaged a steady 92.6 miles per hour.

After struggling early in the year in 2013, Lester ended up putting together an excellent season. His strikeout and walk rates were only marginally better than the prior year, but he allowed far less home runs, and stranded more runners. These factors combined to drop his ERA by more than a full run. With a phenomenal postseason in which he surrendered just six runs in five starts and 34.2 innings, Lester regained his ace status.

Over 32 starts between the Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, Lester authored a 2.46 ERA, which is more than a run lower than his career mark. He boosted his strikeout rate up to 24.9 percent, while dropping his walk rate all the way down to 5.4 percent. Only four pitchers, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez and Johnny Cueto, had a better adjusted ERA than Lester.

Lester relied on his cutter more than in previous seasons and it paid off. His swinging strike rate of 9.9 percent was his best since 2010. Despite his fastball velocity dropping down to 91.5 miles per hour, he also got more swings and misses with that pitch as well. Looking to next season and beyond, it’s unlikely that Lester will continue to produce +6 fWAR seasons on the mound, but he nevertheless projects as one of the best ten pitchers in baseball.

The Chicago Cubs will certainly be interested in Lester, as they have cash to spend and pitching spots to fill. Lester’s old team, the Red Sox will also be in the hunt, though they seem leery of committing multiple years to anybody over 30. Of course the New York Yankees will be in talks with Lester’s agent as well. He’ll command at least $20 million per year, and likely 6-7 years.

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MLB Free Agent Profile: Russell Martin Wed, 05 Nov 2014 16:04:12 +0000 martinThe Pittsburgh Pirates tagged catcher Russell Martin with a qualifying offer this Monday, which he is likely to decline. The 31 year-old catcher has the option of accepting a one-year contract with the Pirates for $15.3 million, but it’s more likely that he will test free agency. After a career year at the plate, it’s likely that Martin can find a multi-year deal.

The Pirates signed Martin to a two year deal worth $15 million in the 2012 offseason. Martin was coming off two seasons with the New York Yankees where he provided some home run pop but less than stellar offense. His deal with the Pirates turned out to be a huge bargain.

Martin’s 2013 campaign wasn’t eye-popping, at least from an offensive standpoint. He hit .226/.327/.377 with 15 home runs, which comes out to a 102 wRC+. More importantly, he threw out 36 baserunners and rated as one of the best pitch-framers in baseball. While the traditional batting numbers weren’t great, his defensive presence was invaluable to the Pirates, and he helped propel them to their first playoff berth in over 20 years.

Martin missed a big chunk of the season in 2014. His 111 games played were his fewest since the 2010 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. While he didn’t receive enough plate appearances to qualify, he was just one of four players in baseball that recorded an on-base percentage of greater than .400. His .290/.402/.430 slash line was his best since the 2007 when offense was much more prevalent.

The Pirates‘ backstop posted a 140 wRC+, which would have ranked 17th in baseball, right alonside Freddie Freeman and just a shade behind Buster Posey. He threw out 37 baserunners and rated very highly on StatCorner‘s catcher framing list. All in all it was a career year for Martin, who posted 5.3 fWAR. That’s only a few decimal points behind Posey, who received nearly 150 more plate appearances.

Looking forward it’s unlikely that he’ll continue to produce at this level. Even with significant regression, Martin is still an above-average offensive catcher. His Steamer projection is a .240/.341/.392 line. That pales in comparison with his 2014 slash line, but it amounts to a 109 wRC+. With his defense, that’s translates to +3 fWAR.

Going into this offseason Martin is sure to attract plenty of interest, even if he is an older catcher. The Chicago Cubs could be looking to upgrade from Wellington Castillo, and they’ll have money to spend. Likewise, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Los Angeles Dodgers, Martin’s original team, should be in the running. Draft pick compensation will deflate his market some, but there aren’t any other starting catchers available in the free agent market.

Martin will hit payday. Don’t be surprised if he gets something in the range of $12-15 million per year over 4-5 years.

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MLB Free Agent Profile: Pablo Sandoval Mon, 03 Nov 2014 13:43:37 +0000 sandovalThe San Francisco Giants are fresh off winning their third World Series title in five years. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval played an integral part in the Giants’ playoff run. He collected 26 hits, which set a new postseason record. Sandoval notched 20 of those hits between the NLCS and Fall Classic, batting a combined .417/.472/.542 with six doubles. He’s a free agent this offseason, and at the age of 28, he should have several good years left.

Sandoval broke into the big leagues in 2008, and had an impressive 41 game stint, batting .345/.357/.490. The next year he held down the Giants third base job and finished with a .330/.387/.556 slash line, 25 home runs and 5.1 fWAR. The Kung Fu Panda dropped off significantly the following season, posting a meager .268/.323/.409 line and just 1.4 fWAR.

Despite missing a good chunk of the 2011 season with an injury, Sandoval was one of the best player’s in baseball. He played excellent defense at the hot corner and smashed the ball to the tune of a .315/.357/.552 line, accumulating 23 home runs and 5.5 fWAR in only 117 games. Sandoval’s performance has settled in a more consistent range over the last three years. He’s hit about 10 to 20 percent better than the MLB average, and played good defense at third base, putting him right around +3 fWAR each year.

There’s no question Sandoval is an unorthodox player. He consistently posts one of the highest swing rates on pitches outside of the strike zone, yet also managed excellent contact rates along with respectable walk rates. Despite his weight struggles, he’s a good defender with agility that belies his round frame.

Sandoval’s weight issues might scare some teams away. Whether it’s fair or not, his poor 2010 season and injury-plagued 2012 season are often attributed to trouble controlling his weight. He’s never going to be small, but he’s been a very productive major league player while sitting around 240 pounds or more. For a free agent he’s relatively young, and should have solid years ahead of him.

Steamer currently is projecting a .281/.337/.451 slash line for Sandoval in 2015. Along with decent defense that comes out to nearly +4 fWAR. Expect plenty of teams to be interested in Sandoval. The Giants will struggle to replace him if he goes elsewhere, as they don’t have a strong in-house candidate to take his spot.

The Boston Red Sox would be a good fit for the Panda. They’re committed to using Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, and Will Middlebrooks might be on his way out after poor performance and injuries have derailed his last two seasons. There’s a need, and the Sox won’t be shy about spending this offseason. Likewise, the Yankees will be interested.

Chase Headley played well for them down the stretch after they nabbed him from the San Diego Padres, but he too is a free agent. Headley is a couple years older and not as accomplished with the bat, so he likely won’t get a deal of more than 4-5 years.

Don’t be surprised to see Sandoval get 5-6 years of at least $15 million and probably closer to $20 million per year. To the victor go the spoils, and Sandoval’s postseason performance certainly didn’t hurt his case.

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Madison Bumgarner Caps Historic Postseason with Game 7 Win Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:50:49 +0000 bumgarnerThe San Francisco Giants edged the Kansas City Royals by a score of 3-2 to bring home the World Series title. It’s the third time in five years that the Giants have hoisted the trophy. Pitching on two days rest, Giants ace Madison Bumgarner worked five scoreless innings in relief to help the Giants hold on.

The Giants got out to an early lead in the second inning. Pablo Sandoval was hit by a pitch to open the inning, and Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt followed with singles. Michael Morse and Brandon Crawford hit sacrifice flies to give the Giants a 2-0 lead against Jeremy Guthrie.

However, the Royals would get those runs right back in the bottom half of the inning. Alex Gordon doubled to drive home Billy Butler, who had led off with a single. Omar Infante hit a sacrifice fly later in the inning. Alcides Escobar singled, which brought on Jeremy Affeldt, who kept the score at 2-2 by getting Nori Aoki to ground out.

In the top of the 4th the Giants threatened again as Sandoval and Pence hit singles. A flyout by Belt moved Sandoval to third, and Kelvin Herrera took over for Guthrie. Morse greeted him with a single, which puts the Giants in front. Affeldt worked 2.1 scoreless innings before handing the ball over to Bumgarner in the bottom of the 4th.

Bumgarner was untouchable. He surrendered a single to Infante to lead off the 5th, and a bunt by Escobar moved him into scoring position but the Giants ace managed to strand him. From there he would retire 14 batters in a row. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th Gordon knocked a single to left, and when Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez kicked the ball around in the outfield he made it to third. For a moment it looked like there might be a play at the plate, but Gordon held at third.

Bumgarner proceeded to retire catcher Salvador Perez on a popout to third in foul territory. He worked Perez almost exclusively up in the zone, and his last fastball clocked in at 93 miles per hour. With his outing Bumgarner surpassed Curt Schilling‘s record for most innings thrown in a postseason, which was set in 2001.

Overall Bumgarner threw 52.2 innings, allowing just seven runs, six of which were earned. He fanned 45 batters while issuing just six walks. Opponents managed a miserable .153/.188/.219 line against the Giants ace. In his World Series career, he’s allowed just a lone run in 36 innings. It goes without saying that he was named the Series MVP.

Bumgarner’s fantastic performance overshadowed a valiant effort by the Royals bullpen. Herrera threw 2.2 innings with four strikeouts. Wade Davis followed with two shutout innings and three strikeouts, and Greg Holland threw a 1-2-3 9th with a couple of punchouts. In the postseason these three combined to work 40.1 innings. They allowed only six runs, and struck out 51 batters.

The Royals bullpen was dominant, but baseball fans will remember the 2014 postseason for Bumgarner’s heroic performance.

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Royals’ Bats Explode to Force Game 7 Wed, 29 Oct 2014 13:45:05 +0000 royalsAfter having dropped two consecutive games to the San Francisco Giants, the Kansas City Royals were facing elimination Tuesday night. Their offense responded by racking up 10 runs in a shutout victory. The series will continues as Game 7 takes place Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium.

Seven of the Royals runs were plated in the second inning as Jake Peavy was knocked from the game. The big blow came from Lorenzo Cain who hit a two-out, bases loaded single off reliever Yusmeiro Petit that brought in two and expanded the Royals lead to 4-1. Eric Hosmer followed with a two-run double and Billy Butler ripped a double as well to close the scoring.

From there the Royals coasted to victory. Cain recorded two hits, including one of the Royals six doubles. He also walked twice. In the World Series he’s hitting .318/.423/.409. Overall in the postseason the Royals speedy outfielder has compiled a .339/.397/.429 batting line. Mike Moustakas had two hits as well including his first home run of the series. After looking lost at the plate for most of the postseason, catcher Salvador Perez is batting .381/.381/.571.

Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura wasn’t at his sharpest, but he managed to shut the Giants out for seven innings. Ventura issued five walks but the Giants could only manage three hits against him. His heater reached triple digits on several occasions and sit in the upper 90s throughout the game.

Veteran pitchers Tim Hudson and Jeremy Guthrie will match up in Game 7. Guthrie worked five innings in Game 3, earning the win despite not striking out a batter. Hudson took the loss in that game, going 5.2 innings and surrendering three runs on four hits with two strikeouts and one walk.

The bullpens will likely factor heavily into this game. In Game 3 the Royals went to their pen after allowing Guthrie to work through the order twice. With ace relievers Kelvim Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland all rested after a blowout victory, expect manager Ned Yost to use a similar tack. That trio can be expected to get at least 12 outs, and possibly more. Brandon Finnegan or Danny Duffy could be used in early relief if Guthrie runs into trouble.

Similarly, the Giants should dip into their pen early. Madison Bumgarner could be available on two days rest. This would normally be his day to throw in between starts, so it’s possible Bruce Bochy could call on him for an inning or two. Petit should be available as well. Late-innings relievers Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla have been used sparingly throughout the series. It’s all hands on deck, and both managers will be wise not to ask their starting pitchers to work through the opposing lineup more than twice.

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Giants’ Madison Bumgarner Continues Postseason Dominance Mon, 27 Oct 2014 13:44:23 +0000 The San Francisco Giants prevailed 5-0 over the Kansas City Royals on Sunday night. Ace Madison Bumgarner twirled a four hit shutout. With the win the Giants take a 3-2 series edge as the competition heads back to Kansas City. For Bumgarner it was his fourth victory of this postseason.

The 25 year-old Bumgarner racked up eight strikeouts without walking a batter. He needed 117 pitches to finish the shutout. While he had thrown a career-high 256 innings going into the game, his fastball showed no signs of fatigue, sitting in the low to mid 90s. 41 of his 52 fastballs went for strikes, and he registered eight swings and misses.

Bumgarner’s cutter and curveball were working as well. Each pitch netted eight whiffs. Of the eight cutters the Royals put in play, just one went for a hit. It’s been a dominant postseason for Bumgarner. He’s thrown 47.2 innings in six starts, and allowed only seven runs. In that time he’s struck out 41 batters and walked only six.

The 25 year-old left-hander has already made 13 postseason appearances. His ERA is a remarkable 2.27, and his strikeout and walk rates are 22.5 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively. In four World Series starts those numbers are even more impressive.

Bumgarner’s first World Series start came in 2010 as the 21 year-old fired eight shutout innings against the Texas Rangers. In 2012 he had another scoreless outing against the Detroit Tigers, helping the Giants to another World Series title. He gave up his first October Classic run in game one against the Royals, though he earned the victory with seven strong innings. Sunday’s shutout lowered his ERA to 0.29. Over 31 innings he’s allowed just a lone run. At the same time, he has 27 strikeouts and just one walk.

The Giants are on the verge of winning their third World Series in five years. After dropping games two and three and falling behind early in game four, they appeared to be on the ropes. However, an explosion of offense against the weaker members of the Royals bullpen and strong relief from Yusmeiro Petit led them to an 11-4 victory. Bumgarner’s dominance put them within one game of taking home the title.

Bumgarner turned 25 not quite three months ago. He’s already made a name for himself with his superb postseason performances. The left-hander is one of the best pitchers in baseball and he’s signed through at least 2017 at an extremely team-friendly rate. The Giants couldn’t be happier with the results they’ve gotten. The Royals couldn’t be happier that they won’t see him start again. But, don’t rule out a possible game seven relief appearance.

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Giants’ Buster Posey Still Looking for his First Extra-base Hit Fri, 24 Oct 2014 18:10:41 +0000 poseyHeading into a three-game stretch at home, the San Francisco Giants are tied at one game apiece with the Kansas City Royals. Giants catcher Buster Posey, the best player left in this postseason, has struggled to provide punch to the middle of the Giants order. 12 games into the postseason, Posey has yet to record his first extra-base hit.

Since winning the starting catcher job for the Giants in 2010, Posey has established himself as the best catcher in baseball, and one of the top handful of players overall. As a 23 year-old rookie he helped the Giants take home the World Series in 2010, hitting .300/.333/.450 against the Texas Rangers.

Two seasons later, Posey was at it again. He had a monster regular season, batting an impressive .336/.408/.549. Posey ripped 24 home runs en route to taking home the National League MVP award. The Giants swept the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, and Posey hit his third home run of the postseason.

Posey had a hot first half in 2013, but ended the year with a whimper. After the All-Star break, he managed a mediocre .244/.333/.310 batting line with just two home runs and nine extra-base hits as the Giants finished 76-86. The first half of Posey’s 2014 season was less than spectacular. His .277/.333/.423 batting line was good for a catcher, but well below his lofty career standards.

However, the second half of the season saw Posey catch lightning in a bottle. He smashed the ball to the tune of a .354/.403/.575 line. His 181 wRC+ and 3.7 fWAR after the break were the best in baseball. While the Giants as a team posted a 35-31 record in the second half, Posey thrived.

This postseason has been underwhelming for Posey. He did enjoy a strong NLDS against the Washington Nationals, going 7-18. But, his overall 2014 playoff numbers are a pedestrian .288/.333/.288. 12 games into the playoffs, he’s still searching for his first extra-base hit. Only four times in his career has Posey gone longer than 12 games without an extra-base hit. Last season he endured a 15 game streak in August without recording an extra-base knock. He did the same thing in 2011.

From May 16 to June 3 of this year, Posey recorded a miserable .190/.191/.190 batting line. In his next 15 games he produced a .345/.355/.517 slash line. Overall Posey’s lack of power this postseason is more of an interesting anomaly than something that carries significant meaning going forward. He’s endured dry spells before, just like any other baseball player. His next three to five games could just as easily feature him lighting up Royals pitchers.

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Royals Salvador Perez Bouncing Back in the World Series Fri, 24 Oct 2014 00:20:34 +0000 perezSalvador Perez helped propel the Kansas City Royals to victory over the San Francisco Giants Wednesday night. His two-run double off Hunter Strickland helped the Royals break open a 3-2 game. The next batter, Omar Infante, slammed a two-run home run, giving the Royals a 7-2 edge which would hold up.

Perez struggled mightily in the ALDS and ALCS. He had just one hit in the wild card game, but his line drive past a diving Josh Donaldson would give the Royals a walk-off victory. In 29 plate appearances between the ALDS and ALCS he reached base just four times, with three singles and one walk.

The Royals backstop has already accumulated more total bases in the World Series than he has in the rest of the postseason. In game one he accounted for the Royals only run, with a solo home run. His double in game two opened the floodgates in what ended up being a five run inning for Kansas City.

Just 24, Perez has been a workhorse behind the plate for the Royals. Including playoffs he’s appeared in 160 games this season, with all but four of them at the catcher position. Perez receives accolades for his defensive work, and he features a very strong arm. Pitch-framing numbers don’t love him, and it’s clear he’s not as adept in that area of the game as his World Series counterpart, Buster Posey.

Offensively Perez has dropped off somewhat from his first two seasons as the Royals starting catcher. During his injury-shortened 2012 season in which he played in just 76 games, he hit .301/.328/.471, good for a 126 wRC+. He struck out in just 8.9 percent of his plate appearances, and popped 11 home runs.

While his power output dropped last year Perez still produced above-average numbers offensively. He had a slash line of .292/.323/.433, for a 106 wRC+, sound numbers for a catcher. This year Perez has taken his free-swinging ways to a whole new level.

Since the All-Star break, Perez has swung at over 50 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone. His 3.6 percent walk rate this season was the lowest of his career. While his 14 percent strikeout rate was still significantly lower than the major league average, it was the highest of the young catcher’s career. Overall he hit just .260/.289/.403, for a 92 wRC+. In the second half, he hit a miserable .229/.236/.360 with just three walks.

In the playoffs pitchers have been able to exploit Perez’ swing-happy ways by consistently pitching him outside of the strike zone. During the ALDS and ALCS he looked hopeless against sliders low and away. The Royals have to hope that his first two games are a sign that he’s made an adjustment.

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Kansas City Royals: James Shields Continues to Struggle Wed, 22 Oct 2014 21:49:44 +0000 shiledsThe San Francisco Giants knocked off the Kansas City Royals in game one of the World Series, as Madison Bumgarner turned in another excellent postseason performance. Royals ace James Shields was not up to the task. Nicknamed “Big Game James” Shields has struggled in this postseason. This outing was his worst yet.

In four playoff outings this postseason, Shields has surrendered 15 earned runs in 19 innings. With the exception of a six inning start against the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS in which he went six innings and allowed just two runs with six strikeouts, he’s pitched poorly.

Against the Giants Shields lasted three-plus innings. Of the 16 hitters he faced, he retired just eight of them, with only one strikeout. 10 of the batters he faced hit line drives. That’s been a theme for Shields, as he’s surrendered 28 hits this postseason, and three home runs. Over 40 percent of the contact he’s allowed has been a line drive.

His strikeout and walk rates of 17.7 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively, aren’t too far off his regular season rates of 19.2 percent and 4.7 percent. However, hitters have clobbered his pitches. Line drive rate isn’t terribly predictive, and for his career Shields has allowed an average rate of line drives, home runs per fly ball and hits per ball in play. Looking at things retrospectively Shields’ performance has been troubling, but it’s unreasonable to expect batters to hammer his pitches in the fashion they have been this October.

Considering that he’s thrown nearly 250 innings this season, it’s fair to ask whether Shields might be suffering from fatigue. Any fatigue isn’t surfacing in the form of reduced velocity, as Shields has held steady in the low 90s. Perhaps the extra wear on his arm is contributing to his command struggles. Or, it might be nothing more than the usual variation that occurs throughout a long season. In October everday ups and downs and magnified.

Earlier in the postseason Shields struggles were easier to glance over. The Royals scored 25 runs in his previous three outings, and the bullpen picked him up with dominant performances. When they score just one run, it’s difficult to overlook Shields struggles. When their ace goes missing, the flaws in the Royals starting rotation are much more evident.

Unless Shields is hiding an injury, he’s still the Royals best starting pitcher. Three poor starts in October shouldn’t change that. It’s easy to draw sweeping conclusions, but it’s more likely that Shields is having a temporary slump, and not an indication that he’s lost his ability to pitch. In the event of a game five, you can be sure Ned Yost will trot him out there. The Royals just have to hope that his command resurfaces.

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Alcides Escobar’s Reemergence Key for Royals Sat, 18 Oct 2014 21:49:11 +0000 EscobarAfter earning a Wild Card berth, the Kansas City Royals have gone on a tear. They bested the Oakland Athletics in a dramatic comeback, and have proceeded to sweep the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles. The bullpen has been dominant, and Lorenzo Cain had a huge ALCS, recording eight hits and reaching base 10 times. However, the solid play of shortstop Alcides Escobar has been key to the Royals‘ success both in the regular season and the postseason.

A native of Venezuela, Escobar was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers as an international free agent in 2003. He made a brief showing in the big leagues as a September callup in 2008, and earned 134 plate appearances the following season. 2010 was Escobar’s first full year in the major leagues. Offensively he was a lightweight, hitting .235/.288/.326.

In the offseason, the Brewers sent him to the Royals along with Lorenzo Cain in the trade that netted them Zack Greinke. Escobar had a slightly better year in 2011. He blossomed offensively in 2012, hitting .293/.331/.390, for a respectable 97 wRC+. Escobar also swiped 35 bases in 40 attempts.

Last season the speedy shortstop’s offensive production plummeted to .234/.259/.300 for a miserable 49 wRC+. His glove and the Royals lack of alternative options kept him on the field for 158 games.

This year the Royals shortstop has put it together offensively and defensively. He’s essentially replicated his batting line from 2011, while playing stellar defense and stealing 31 bases in 6 attempts. Escobar has 34 doubles, which is a career-high, and his .285/.317/.377 line rounds out to a 94 wRC+. With his defensive contributions, he’s accumulated 3.5 fWAR, easily the best number of his career. Among American League shortstops, only Erick Aybar had more fWAR.

Against the A’s Escobar knocked two singles in four plate appearances, and also made two successful sacrifice bunts and stole a base. He didn’t do much with the bat against the Angels, netting just two singles and a double in 14 trips to the plate with five strikeouts. But, his excellent defense served to take away hits on more than one occasion.

Escobar shined against the Orioles, putting up a .278/.316/.500 slash line. His home run in the 3rd inning of Game One gave the Royals a 1-0 lead. It was a rare display of power for someone who hit just three home runs during the regular season and has never five home runs in a season.

Manager Ned Yost has been utilizing Escobar at the top of the Royals lineup. That approach has worked out for the Royals, though they would be better served to place a hitter with a higher on-base percentage in that spot. Teammates Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon have received a bigger share of the spotlight, but Escobar has been very important to the Royals success.

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Kansas City Royals: Lorenzo Cain’s Star Shining in ALCS Wed, 15 Oct 2014 13:17:59 +0000 cainWith a 2-1 victory on Tuesday night, the Kansas City Royals have taken a 3-0 series lead on the Baltimore Orioles. Seven games into the postseason, the Royals have yet to lose a game. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain has emerged as a star this postseason.

A former 17th round draft pick out of Tallahassee Community College, Cain was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in the Zack Greinke trade in the 2010 offseason.

That trade, which cost the Royals Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt, also netted the Royals starting shortstop Alcides Escobar and Jake Odorizzi, who was a piece in the James Shields-Wade Davis trade. Cain spent most of the 2011 season at Triple-A, appearing in just six games for the big league club.

The speedy outfielder played in 61 games the next year, posting a respectable .266/.316/.419 batting line. More importantly, he flashed some of his phenomenal centerfield defense. Cain’s playing time increased to 115 games and 442 plate appearances in 2013. Though he managed to hit just .251/.310/.348, his sensational defense allowed him to produce 2.7 fWAR.

Cain has blossomed in 2014, his age-28 season. He’s put up career-highs in batting average and on-base percentage with a .301/.339/.412 line. Also, he’s swiped 28 bases while being caught just five times. Along with his excellent defensive play, he’s been worth 4.9 fWAR in only 502 plate appearances.

In his first taste of postseason play, Cain has impressed greatly. He collected two hits against the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card game including a double that brought home two runs. While he managed only two singles in three games against the Los Angeles Angels, he made several diving catches to save runs.

Cain has gone on a tear. Before being retired in his final two plate appearances on Tueday night, he had reached base 10 times in 12 trips to the plate. Overall he owns a .667/.714/.833 batting line in 14 ALCS plate appearances. In this postseason Cain has a .387/.412/.484 slash line.

The Royals have shocked the rest of baseball-watching America. They snuck into the playoffs via the Wild Card. During the regular season they hit the fewest home runs in the major leagues. Not a single player on the team hit 20 home runs, and just three reached double digits. Yet, after reaching the postseason for the first time since 1985, they are on the brink of hosting the World Series.

It’s been a fantastic postseason for the Royals. Lorenzo Cain’s exciting play has made him an emerging star this postseason. His speed and exciting outfield defense epitomize the Royals. He’s the easy favorite for the ALCS MVP should the Royals manage to close out the series.

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Andrew Freidman Will Leave Rays To Join Dodgers Tue, 14 Oct 2014 18:03:46 +0000 andrew_friedmanTampa Bay Rays GM Andrew Freidman will leave the team to join the Los Angeles Dodgers as their new president of baseball operations. Speculation over the Dodgers pursing Freidman began shortly after the regular season ended.

Ned Colletti, who has been the Dodgers general manager since 2005, will remain with the club in a new role as senior advisor to the president and CEO of the Dodgers, Stan Kasten.

Friedman, in his role as president of baseball operations, will have the ability to hire a general manager.

In Los Angeles, where the Dodgers had the highest payroll in baseball last season and an ownership group that’s shown a willingness to spend since purchasing the team for $2.15 billion in 2012, Friedman will have no such financial pressures to manage.

Freidman had previously declined opportunities with the Los Angeles Angels and Houston Astros.

Matt Silverman will assume the responsibilities as the Rays President of Baseball Operations.

“I thank Andrew for all he has done for the Rays organization,” team owner Stuart Sternberg said in a news release. “We have enjoyed great success together, and that’s largely due to the deep and talented organization that Andrew has helped to assemble both on and off the field. While we will miss Andrew, we have prepared ourselves for this possibility, and I have great faith in Matt and Brian in their new roles.”

Said Friedman in the same release: “As I embark upon my next journey, I have only thanks and gratitude to the Rays organization and the Tampa Bay region for a wonderful 10 years together. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have been part of something so special and for the passion and support of this exceptional fan base.

“The Rays organization is loaded with talent from ownership to players and everyone between. We were able to create together an unbelievable culture that no doubt will continue, and I am absolutely confident that the successes we achieved will continue into the future.”

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St Louis Cardinals: Matt Carpenter’s Big October Tue, 14 Oct 2014 14:36:10 +0000 carpenterThe St. Louis Cardinals downed the San Francisco Giants 5-4 Sunday night, knotting up the NLCS at one game apiece. Once again Matt Carpenter played a huge role in a Cardinals postseason victory. After hitting eight home runs in 158 regular season games, the Cardinals infielder has drilled four in six postseason matches.

Carpenter burst onto the scene in 2013, his first full season as a second baseman. He led the National League in hits, runs score and doubles. The former 13th round draft pick posted a gaudy .318/.392/.481 slash line and played solid defense. At the end of the year, he totaled 6.9 fWAR, and finished fourth in the MVP voting. After the season, the Cardinals rewarded him with a contract extension covering six years and $52 million.

This season Carpenter didn’t produce the same power numbers, but he led the NL in walks and managed a strong .272/.375/.375 batting line. Carpenter’s versatility allowed the Cardinals to let rookie Kolten Wong take over at second while he replaced David Freese at third.

Carpenter came up big for the Cardinals in the NLDS. He notched the big hit in the Cardinals game one rally against Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, roping a bases-clearing double. The 28 year-old leadoff man also hit home runs in the first three games of that series. For that series he ripped the ball to the tune of a .375/.412/.1125 line, with three doubles and three home runs. After owning the second-lowest first-pitch swing rate during the regular season, he ambushed the Dodgers with two home runs and a double on first pitches.

In the NLCS, Carpenter was held to a lone single in the first game against the Giants as Madison Bumgarner and the Giants bullpen combined for a shutout. However, he hit another home run the next day, one of four on the night for the Cards, as they won in walk-off fashion.

After hitting just 102 home runs during the regular season, the fewest in the NL, the Cardinals have relied on the long ball this postseason. Matt Adams home run against Kershaw propelled them to a series-clinching win against the Dodgers. Wong drove home the winning runs the night before with a two run home run, and his walk-off blast Sunday night tied up the series.

This October hasn’t been short on the dramatic. The Cardinals are heading to San Francisco with the series tied. Matt Carpenter has fueled their offense from the leadoff spot.

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Chris Tillman, James Shields Match Up in Game 1 of ALCS Fri, 10 Oct 2014 15:40:43 +0000 tillman-shieldsAfter two days off, baseball is returning Friday night with the first game of the ALCS. The Baltimore Orioles will send Chris Tillman to the mound while the Kansas City Royals will counter with James Shields. It’s a matchup of postseason unbeatens, as the Royals beat the Oakland Athletics in the wild card game before sweeping the top seeded Los Angeles Angels, while the O’s knocked off the Detroit Tigers in three straight.

Shields, who has been one of the steadiest starting pitchers in the American League since his first full season in 2007, struggled for much of 2014. In his first 21 starts, Shields allowed 69 runs in 136.1 innings, for an RA-9 over 4.50. Since July 23 Shields has been much stronger. He allowed only 26 runs over 13 starts, a stretch in which he’s thrown his changeup more often.

Perhaps that’s coincidental, as Shields’ strikeout rates were very similar over both periods. The moniker Big Game fits more because it rhymes with his first name than because of his postseason performance. In eight postseason starts Shields possesses a 4.96 ERA. He turned in a solid outing against the Angels, allowing two runs in six innings with six strikeouts.

While Shields is a workhorse who averaged nearly seven innings a start, Royals manager Ned Yost would be wise to get into his bullpen rather than stretch Shields out. Led by the trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera, the Royals have an excellent bullpen.

Like Shields, Tillman has pitched much better later in the season. Over the season’s first half he authored a pedestrian 4.11 ERA with a woeful 4.74 xFIP. His strikeout and walk rates were just 14.3 percent and 9.3 percent. In the second half he’s pitched to a 2.33 ERA with strikeout and walk rates of 21.5 percent and 5.1 percent.

Overall, Tillman’s peripherals are less than spectacular, though he’s had a history of his ERA outperforming his strikeout, walks and ground ball rates. One thing that is important to note is that Tillman is nearly impossible to run on. Baserunners have stolen a total of two bags against Tillman in the last two seasons, while they’ve been caught 11 times. The Royals have run wild thus far in the playoffs, but they might have to put that aspect of the game on hold.

Still, that bit of information will probably receive far more than its share of airtime. Though the Royals led the major leagues in stolen bases, that created just 11.5 additional runs over the regular season.

Showalter will probably go to his bullpen early. Against the Tigers Tillman was lifted after five innings, despite the fact that he had allowed just five baserunners. Though he’s pitched very well in the second half, he’s far from an elite pitcher, and the Orioles have several good relievers. Expect the bullpens to do a lot of work in this series.

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Orioles Agree to Three-Year Extension with J.J. Hardy Fri, 10 Oct 2014 02:37:05 +0000 JJ HardyThe Baltimore Orioles agreed to a three-year contract extension with shortstop J.J. Hardy worth $40 million. Hardy was set to become a free agent after the season. The Orioles are set to host the first game of the ALCS against the Kansas City Royals Friday night.

The Orioles acquired Hardy in a trade with the Minnesota Twins that took place during the 2010 offseason. His first year with the Orioles was his best offensive season since 2008 when he was a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. Over the last three years, he’s earned a relatively modest $21 million, which has given the O’s plenty of surplus value. With his new deal, he’s set to double that total.

Hardy slammed a career-high 30 home runs in 2011, batting .269/.310/.491 with a 113 wRC+. He totaled 4.3 fWAR despite playing in only 129 games. Since then he’s been unable to recreate that level of offensive success, though his glove provides plenty of value.

Since 2012, Hardy owns a .255/.298/.399 slash line for an 89 wRC+. That puts him on par with shortstops such as Yunel Escobar and Everth Cabrera. Over the course of his career, Hardy has provided solid pop with a .161 isolated slugging percentage. With the exception of his big 2008 season with the Brewers, his on-base percentage has never been strong, sitting at .312 for his career.

This season Hardy has struggled to hit for power, posting just nine home runs and a .104 isolated slugging percentage. He didn’t hit his first home run until June though he drilled five in August alone. Hardy hit another home run against Detroit and managed a .300/.417/.600 batting line in three games.

While his offensive performance is held back by a lower OBP, Hardy ranks 7th among shortstops with 9.5 fWAR since 2012. He’s an exceptional defender. By Ultimate Zone Rating only Andrelton has better defensively over the past three seasons. Hardy has taken home the Gold Glove award in 2012 and 2013.

The Orioles are paying for Hardy’s glove. He’s likely to provide average offense for the shortstop position. Steamer projects a .253/.297/.392 line for the 2015 season with 17 home runs. That’s a little better than the average major league shortstop, but Hardy’s glove is the main reason for this money. It’s a contract that projects to fit right in at market value, and with the free agent crop of shortstops being particularly thin this offseason, Hardy might have commanded even more.

It’s been a charmed year for the Orioles. Going into the season they were afterthoughts in a division that featured perennial powerhouses in the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. However, they ran away with the division and then disposed of the Detroit Tigers in three games in the ALDS. For Hardy this season got even better.

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Kansas City Royals Speed, Defense Key to Success Thu, 09 Oct 2014 13:42:13 +0000 DysonIt’s been quite a run for the Kansas City Royals. Just last week they were down four runs in the 8th inning in a wild card elimination game. By the end of the week, they had won that game and proceeded to sweep the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS. They’ll match up with the Baltimore Orioles Friday night in the ALCS, who swept the Detroit Tigers.

 Speed and defense has been key for the Royals, who hit just 95 home runs during the regular season, the fewest in the major leagues. Left fielder Alex Gordon clubbed 19 home runs to lead the team, and only two other players, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas, reached double digits.

The Royals led the major leagues with 153 stolen bases. Jarrod Dyson, who received just 290 plate appearances, led the team with 36. His steal of third in the 9th inning against the A’s allowed Nori Aoki to tie the game up with a sacrifice fly. Shortstop Alcides Escobar nabbed 31 bags, and center fielder Lorenzo Cain stole 28. September callup Terrance Gore is 3-3 in stolen base attempts as a pinch runner in the playoffs.

The potential impact of the Royals running game might be a little overstated after they’ve run wild in the playoffs. During the regular season they finished with just +1.1 base running runs, which ranked 12th in the major leagues. While the Orioles pitching staff and catchers Nick Hundley and Caleb Joseph will have to pay attention to the Royals running game, the Royals speed has a bigger impact on defense.

Defensive metrics rated the Royals outfield as the best in baseball by a wide margin, and one of the best in recent history. Left fielder Gordon had a fantastic season. He showcases very good range and a very strong and accurate arm. After piling up 54 assists from 2011-13, teams have been less inclined to run on him.

In center field Cain has demonstrated his exceptional range in the playoffs. In a part-time role Dyson has graded out as one of the best defenders in baseball. Aoki is solid in right, and made two very good catches to keep the Royals alive in Game One against the Angels.

Up the middle the Royals have Salvador Perez who gunned down 30 percent of base runners and picked off seven. Escobar handles shortstop with aplomb.  The Royals excellent defense has helped their pitching staff post a 3.51 ERA despite having the 7th lowest strikeout rate during the regular season.

The Royals have combined below-average hitting with speed, great defense, decent starting pitching and a dominant bullpen. It’s an unconventional formula, but it’s got them to the championship series.

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Giants Squeeze by Nationals, Advance to NLCS Wed, 08 Oct 2014 13:49:09 +0000 giantsThe San Francisco Giants ousted the Washington Nationals Tuesday night to advance to the NLCS. With the St. Louis Cardinals downing the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier in the day, the Giants will face the Cardinals in the NLCS for the second time in three years. In their last matchup, which took place in 2012, the Giants prevailed on their way to a World Series title.

The Giants got strong pitching again. This time it was Ryan Vogelsong, who worked through 5.2 innings while allowing just one run on two hits and two walks with four strikeouts. The last batter he faced, Jayson Werth, almost drove the ball out of the ballpark, but Hunter Pence went back for a great catch. Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez was lifted in the 5th for a pinch hitter. He surrendered two runs in the second inning.

After retiring Brandon Belt on a popup, Brandon Crawford singled and Juan Perez reached on an error by Gonzalez. Vogelsong attempted to sacrifice, but the Nationals were unable to get an out, and the bases were loaded. Gonzalez issued a free pass to Gregor Blanco, which pushed home a run. Rookie second baseman Joe Panik grounded out, bringing home another run.

The Nats got on the scoreboard in the top of the 5th when Bryce Harper ripped a double to left, bringing home Ian Desmond who had singled. However, Harper was stranded at second. Their bullpen kept the Giants at bay, and in the 7th Harper turned around a 97 mile per hour fastball from Giants reliever Hunter Strickland and sent it over the fence in right, tying the game.

The score would not be tied for long, as Panik and Buster Posey hit one out singles in the bottom half of the inning. Hunter Pence worked a walk to load the bases, and Panik hustled home on a wild pitch. Rafael Soriano entered and managed to avoid further damage, but the Giants 3-2 lead would be too much to overcome. Harper drew a two-out walk in the 9th, but the Nats were unable to muster a rally.

The Giants pitching staff held the Nationals offense at bay throughout the series. In four games and 45 innings worth of baseball they allowed only nine runs. With the exception of Harper, who hit three home runs and slashed .294/.368/.882, the Nats bats were cold. Anthony Rendon notched seven hits in the series, but all were singles. Werth had only one hit as did Adam Laroche and Denard Span had two. None of those players registered an extra-base hit.

The Giants-Cardinals series features strong starting pitching and solid bullpens. Don’t expect a lot of scoring in the NLCS. But, if this October has taught baseball fans anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.


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Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright will Square off in Game 1 Fri, 03 Oct 2014 13:50:23 +0000 Dodgers Kershaw , no-hitterClayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright will face each other in Game One of the National League Division Series as the Los Angeles Dodgers host the St. Louis Cardinals. The Dodgers ace led the National League and all of baseball with a 1.77 ERA, while Wainwright’s 2.38 mark ranked third in the NL.

The 26 year-old Kershaw captured his third consecutive ERA title, and will almost certainly win yet another Cy Young award. Despite battling arm soreness and missing his primary catcher, Yadier Molina for a good chunk of the season, the 33 year-old Wainwright posted the best ERA of his career.

Kershaw has been a dominant pitcher since his first full season in 2009. But, he’s taken his game to the next level this season. He missed six starts with a back injury yet still managed to lead the major leagues with 7.2 fWAR. His strikeout rate jumped more than six percentage points to an MLB-best 31.9 percent. At the same time he cut his walk rate to 4.1 percent and also boosted his ground ball rate to 51.8 percent.

Kershaw has always possessed a good fastball, and it averaged 93 miles per hour this year, a bit faster than the previous season. He’s well known for his curveball, and it’s one of the best in the game. This year he’s thrown his slider about 2.5 miles per hour harder, and the results have been devastating for hitters. Overall batters hit .150/.175/.238 against Kershaw’s slider, and they whiffed on the pitch 30 percent of the time.

Cardinals NewsWhile Wainwright did have the best ERA of his career, his strikeout and walk rate declined from the previous season. This year he fanned 19.9 percent of batters while walking 5.6 percent, compared to 22.9 percent and 3.7 percent the year prior. He suffered when Molina was on the disabled list as his pitch-calling and receiving abilities were missed. Also, the claims of arm fatigue are validated by a drop in average fastball velocity from 91.1 miles per hour to 90.2 miles per hour. After all, Wainwright threw nearly 280 innings between the regular season and postseason last year, and he’s thrown 227 more this season.

Though there are some indicators that Wainwright is tiring, he’s still an excellent pitcher. His fastball command is pinpoint, and he has a great 12-6 curveball. Between Kershaw and Wainwright expect to see a bevy of pretty breaking pitches. Wainwright will have his hands full with a very good Dodgers lineup that was red hot in September.

It’s game one of the NLDS, but at least on paper this might be the best pitching matchup of October.

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Orioles Use Eight Run Eighth to Pull Away from Tigers Fri, 03 Oct 2014 13:47:52 +0000 cruzThe Baltimore Orioles downed the Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards in the first game of the ALDS. A solid outing from Chris Tillman, four good innings from the bullpen, key home runs from Nelson Cruz and J.J. Hardy and a huge 8th inning led to a 12-3 victory.

Cruz started the scoring with a two run shot against Tigers starter Max Scherzer. Leadoff hitter Nick Markakis singled, and Alejandro de Aza was hit by a pitch. After Adam Jones bounced into a double play, Cruz blasted a first-pitch heater over the center field fence.

That lead wouldn’t last long for the Orioles, as Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez hit back-to-back home runs to right field. In the bottom half of the inning, singles by Jonathan Schoop and Markakis brought home Ryan Flaherty, who reached on a walk.

The Orioles 3-2 lead remained stable until the bottom of the 7th when Hardy slammed a solo shot to lead off the inning. Tillman departed after five innings, having allowed the two home runs but only two other hits. He struck out six and walked one. Andrew Miller recorded five outs while notching three strikeouts. Darren O’Day allowed a solo home run to Miguel Cabrera, the fifth home run of the game, and the Tigers crept to within 4-3 going into the bottom of the 8th.

The O’s offense exploded in the bottom of the 8th. Markakis lined out, but De Aza doubled, chasing Scherzer. He worked 7.1 innings, surrendering five runs on seven hits with six strikeouts and one walk. Joba Chamberlain pitched to two hitters, with Jones reaching on a fielding error and Cruz singling to center. Joakim Soria allowed a single to Steve Pearce, intentionally walked Hardy before giving up a single to Flaherty, an RBI groundout to Nick Hundley and a two-run double to Schoop. Phil Coke walked Markakis and allowed another double to De Aza before finally ending the inning on a groundout by Jones.

After the O’s outburst, a 4-3 game became a 12-3 blowout. Closer Zach Britton, who got the final out in the 8th, was lifted in favor of Tommy Hunter who finished the game.

Friday’s game, which begins at noon, will feature Justin Verlander against Wei-Yin Chen. 2014 has been a rough year for Verlander, but he’s revved up the velocity in his last couple of outings. The Tigers better hope he can carry them, because their bullpen has been dismal all season long. After Thursday’s game, they would prefer not to ask too much of their much-maligned relief corps.

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Royals Down A’s in Wild Card Thriller, Advance to Play Angels Wed, 01 Oct 2014 13:37:50 +0000 royalsThe Kansas City Royals downed the Oakland Athletics in a thriller Tuesday night, and will advance to play the Los Angeles Angels in the Divisional Series. This 12 inning affair featured 28 hits, 17 runs, and two big comebacks by the Royals. Catcher Salvador Perez provided the biggest hit, a single to left that scored Christian Colon from second, giving Kansas City a walkoff victory.

With ace pitchers Jon Lester and James Shields taking the hill, conventional wisdom suggested this would be a low scoring game. However, the A’s struck early with a two run home run by designated hitter Brandon Moss. In the bottom of the first the Royals scored a run on two singles and a walk, but the inning ended when Eric Hosmer was caught stealing home in a failed early break play with Billy Butler at first.

KC would pick up two runs in the bottom of the third with three hits, including a double by Lorenzo Cain. That would hold up until the 6th inning. After starter James Shields allowed a single to Sam Fuld and a walk to Josh Donaldson, manager Ned Yost turned to Yordano Ventura, who had been in the starting rotation during the year and was working on one days rest. Moss turned around a 98 mile per hour fastball from Ventura and drove it out to center field to give the A’s a 5-3 lead.

Two batters later Kelvin Herrera entered the game, but the A’s would reap two more runs before the rally ended. Lester held down the Royals offense for the next two innings, and the game went to the bottom of the 8th with the A’s leading 7-3. The Royals exploded in the bottom of the 8th.

After two singles and a walk, Lester exited the game with a 7-4 lead, having worked 7.1 innings. Luke Gregerson allowed an RBI single to Billy Butler and a wild pitch Alex Gordon at the plate allowed another run to score. He struck out Perez and Omar Infante to stop the bleeding. But, the Royals had closed the gap to 7-6 thanks to three singles, two walks and four stolen bases.

Greg Holland worked out of a bases loaded jam in the top of the 9th, and the A’s turned to closer Sean Doolittle. Pinch hitter Josh Willingham started with a single, and Jarrod Dyson pinch ran. Alcides Escobar sacrificed him to second and Dyson proceeded to steal third, setting the stage for Nori Aoki to tie the game with a sacrifice fly.

The game remained tied at 7-7 until the top of the 12th when pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo drove home Josh Reddick with a single. In the bottom half of the inning, Eric Hosmer roped a one out triple, and Colon brought him home with an infield hit. Left-handed specialist Fernando Abad retired Gordon on a pop out. The A’s replaced him with Jason Hammel. Colon swiped second. Perez greeted Hammel with a single to left that got just past the dive of Donaldson, and the Royals walked off with their biggest win since 1985.

The end result couldn’t have been any better for Kansas City fans who have waited 29 years for October baseball. If this is any indication for the rest of the month, October should be riveting.

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Giants Ace Madison Bumgarner a Tall Task for Pirates Offense Tue, 30 Sep 2014 20:31:14 +0000 bumgarnerThe San Francisco Giants will host the Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday night in the wild card round with the winner advancing to the NLDS to face the top-seeded Washington Nationals. Because they used top pitcher Gerrit Cole this weekend in an attempt to catch the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, the Pirates will send Edinson Volquez to the mound. Meanwhile, the Giants will trot out ace hurler Madison Bumgarner.

2014 has been another strong year for Bumgarner, who has been one of the top pitchers in baseball since the Giants plugged him into their rotation in 2010. The 25 year-old left-hander has thrown at least 200 innings and made at least 31 starts in each of the last four seasons. Over that span he ranks 15th in fWAR and 13th in ERA. His strikeout rate is an impressive 23.8 percent and he’s maintained a low 5.9 percent walk rate.

This year those numbers have been even better, as Bumgarner has fanned 25.1 percent of hitters while walking a career-low 4.9 percent. His fastball velocity has ticked up to 92.1 percent, and he’s improved his first-pitch strike rate to 66.7 percent. In the second half of the season, he walked only 11 hitters, while striking out 91.

The Pirates lineup is one of the best in baseball. Excluding pitchers, they had a .269/.340/.421 slash line, which rounds out to a 116 wRC+. That ties them with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the highest team mark in baseball. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen had another phenomenal season, posting a .314/.410/.542 batting line with 69 extra-base hits. Catcher Russell Martin reached base at a .402 clip, and super utility man Josh Harrison had a fantastic season, hitting .315/.347/.490. Starling Marte leads off with his 30 stolen bases and .356 on-base percentage. Neil Walker is also a threat, and Jordy Mercer has hit well after a terrible start to the season.

Against left-handed pitching, the Pirates numbers are a little less impressive. Their team slash line decreased to .270/.333/.388 which amounts to a 105 wRC+. However, four important right-handed hitters in Marte, Harrison, McCutchen and Martin, have the platoon advantage against Bumgarner, who has noticeably better numbers against same-handed batters.

Bumgarner presents a big challenge to this Pirates lineup. He might live in the shadow of his NL West counterpart, Clayton Kershaw, but he’s one of the top two or three left-handed pitchers in the National League. The Pirates offense is one of the toughest in baseball, but they will have their hands full against Bumgarner. If they can muster some support for Volquez, look for manager Clint Hurdle to hand the ball to the bullpen early.

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Big Game James Shields Set To Go in Wild Card Game for Royals Tue, 30 Sep 2014 15:54:49 +0000 Royals NewsThe Kansas City Royals will appear in the postseason for the first time since 1985 when they host the Oakland Athletics Tuesday night in the Wild Card game. If the Royals win, they will play the Los Angeles Angels, who won a major league-best 98 games. A loss sends them home before October begins.

The Royals will trot out their ace, James Shields, who has acquired the moniker “Big Game James.” Shields has put in another workhorse season, making 34 starts and pitching 227 innings. He’s authored a 3.21 ERA, which is marred slightly by 14 unearned runs.

While his strikeout rate has dipped for the second consecutive year to 19.2 percent, his 4.7 percent walk rate is his lowest since the 2008 season.

Shields has pitched at least 200 innings and made at least 31 starts in every season since 2007. Even with that workload, his fastball velocity has been steady, and actually increased to a career-best 92.4 miles per hour this year.

Though he hasn’t missed as many bats with the Royals, he’s benefited from an exceptional defense. The Royals outfield features Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and Nori Aoki

Shields’ changeup has long been his go-to pitch, but for the first time, he used his cutter more frequently than the change. Perhaps he’s lost something on the changeup, and its swinging strike rate his dipped again to 16.3 percent. More likely the decreased usage is a result of an emphasis on throwing strikes. His zone rate on the cutter is 55 percent, compared to 34 percent on the changeup. Essentially Shields has managed to compensate for some of the lost strikeouts by walking fewer hitters.

In any case, the cutter and changeup give Shields two weapons against left-handed batters. For his career, he’s allowed a .248/.301/.403 line against left-handed batters. Right-handed hitters have actually fared better, with a .260/.308/.422 slash line. Those numbers have held up in the 2014 season. That may present a challenge for the A’s, who depend heavily on gaining the platoon advantage with their versatile lineup.

While Shields has averaged nearly seven innings per start this year, manager Ned Yost shouldn’t be afraid to turn to the bullpen. With Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the Royals have the most formidable late-inning arms in baseball. In addition, left-handed reliever Brandon Finnegan, a 2014 draft pick who was added to the roster in September, has been dominant with the big league club.

This could be the last game Shields will pitch in a Royals uniform. He becomes a free agent after the season, and he’ll almost certainly command more money than Kansas City will be able to offer. Shields isn’t the prize that Max Scherzer or Jon Lester are, but he’s likely to get something in the arena of $100 million. The Royals are hoping that he has a few more games left with them before he leaves for more lucrative pastures.

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Jordan Zimmermann Fires No-Hitter in Washington Nationals Season Finale Sun, 28 Sep 2014 20:28:44 +0000 ZimmermanThe Washington Nationals ended the regular season with a bang, as Jordan Zimmermann threw his first career no-hitter against the Miami Marlins. Zimmermann faced just one batter over the minimum, as he fanned 10 in a 1-0 victory. With the victory, the Nats close out the season with a 96-66 record, the best in the National League. It was the first no-hitter in the Nationals young history.

Zimmermann, who was dealing with shoulder soreness, was given a couple extra days rest before making his final start of the regular season. He retired the first 14 Marlins batters before issuing a full count walk to Justin Bour. From there he would put away the final 13 hitters, notching five strikeouts. The Nationals hurler needed only 104 pitches for his fourth career shutout.

Shortstop Ian Desmond hit a solo home run with one out in the second inning, giving Zimmermann all the support he would need. The Nationals would muster 11 hits, but were unable to push any more runs across the board. Bryce Harper continued his strong play with two hits, including a double. Even in the 9th inning, Zimmermann’s fastball was still humming in at 94-95 miles per hour.

The 28 year-old Zimmermann quietly posted the best season of his six year career. Over 32 starts he authored a 2.66 ERA with career-best strikeout and walk rates of 22.8 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively. Zimmermann finished 11th in the majors in ERA and 10th in fWAR. Since 2011, the former Division III University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point product has been one of the top pitchers in the majors. The no-hitter puts a nice cap on what has been a fantastic season.

The Nationals will play a five game series with the winner of the NL wild card game, which will feature the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Francisco Giants. Despite some early season struggles, they will enjoy home field advantage throughout the playoffs. With a rotation that features Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and either Tanner Roark or Gio Gonzalez, they will be very difficult to beat.

In addition, their lineup is very deep. Bryce Harper is finally healthy and rounding into form, Ryan Zimmerman is also back from the disabled list. While the Los Angeles Dodgers are also very strong, the Nationals are the favorite to advance to the World Series.

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Derek Jeter’s Impact on a Generation Sat, 27 Sep 2014 21:51:31 +0000 Yankees NewsBeing born in New York and growing up in NJ, I never really had a choice to root for any team except the Yankees. My family has actively been attending games at Yankee Stadium for close to 80 years and I’ve followed Baseball since the very end of 1993, when my dad started watching games with me when I was a six-year-old.

It wasn’t until 1995 where a few things stuck out to me. I remember Don Mattingly being the first player I actively rooted for. I remember the first ever wild card race with the Yankees beating the Blue  Jays to clinch a spot and I remember the extent of the ALDS heartbreaking loss. Everyone was excited the Yankees made the playoffs, but everything before 1996 culminated with my Dad explaining to me the season doesn’t continue because Ken Griffey Jr. scored after I had gone to sleep.

In Spring of 1995, my family went on vacation to visit my Grandmother in Florida and we traveled to Ft. Lauderdale as a side trip to see the Yankees lose to the Mets in Spring Training. After the game I went to an area for autographs and was spurned by Tate Seefried. Upset, I approached a young looking player and asked for his instead. The man happily signed it and it wasn’t until we looked in a player’s guide we realized his name was Derek Jeter.

I was a fan.

And it would only intensity the following season.

Later that year I had attended my first real game in person. The Yankees beat the Orioles 3-0. It was August 7th, 1995. Someone named Mike Mussina, pitched for Baltimore and someone named Tony Fernandez was playing shortstop and went one for three with a run scored. This was the start of my engaged fan timeline.

What I remember most about Derek Jeter’s early years was he was a rebirth to the franchise. New York obviously had other guys like Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada who would emerge onto the scene but Jeter was a shortstop and was somehow more special. He replaced Tony Fernandez, who’s time was so quickly running short in New York, I vividly remember a fan next to me asking  out loud if Tony’s brother was in the stands because a fan had dropped a foul ball.

Naturally, I went to two more games in 1996. The first was May 14th, 1996 when Dwight Gooden threw a no-hitter cementing my status as a fan for life. The second was September 21st when that young shortstop I had forgotten about from the previous spring collected his first ever walk-off hit. The Yankees beat the Red Sox that day, 12-11 after trailing 11-7 and 7-1 earlier. Jeter was officially my favorite player.

He was our source of comfort throughout that season en route to the first championship I ever saw. Throughout the 90’s was somewhat of a Fairy tale for Yankees’ fans. It was the part of a movie where the action is great and the conflict hasn’t happened yet. Jeter emerged as a top player in the league and the Yankees became a dynasty.

As Jeter’s career grew, I grew with it. In eighth grade, I sat with my family, same seat every night, eating out of the same dish just in case, while Jeter hit his infamous World Series home run against the Mets. The Subway Series was serious business in central Jersey and I was glad I could continue attending middle school once it was over.

In 2001 I was a full-fledged teenager and still remember being in the basement of one of my crush’s and watching “The Flip” as if it was in slow  motion. When the ball was hit into the corner I knew the Yankees had no shot at keeping the game from being tied. Mussina started that game for New York and it was the best playoff game he ever pitched.

As that play developed I quickly thought in terms of being a first baseman, as it was the last season I played the sport myself. It should have been cut off, it should have been up the line, Jeremy Giambi should have slid. That play should have been anyting except what it was, which was a shortstop running like he was superimposed onto the screen, grabbing a bouncing baseball on the run, contorting his arms into a perfect flipping motion and executing what had to have been a work of perfection in order to get the job done.

I was silent and so was everybody else when that play happened. We simply didn’t know what to make of what had just happened.

After Jeter became “Mr. November”, my trips to the stadium started to become less and less frequent. We lost our connection to tickets and I was busy with school most of the time. I returned to the stadium, June 30th, 2004, to see the game where David Ortiz had a line drive go through his glove. The Yankees won that game, 4-2. The next day, Jeter dove head first into the stands.

The next season I saw the Yankees beat the Cubs on June 17th, 2005, a birthday gift to me.  The next day, Jeter hit his first and only Grand Slam, an early birthday gift for himself, as he celebrates his two days before I do.

Fast forward to 2009 and I was graduating from college. My dream was to see the Yankees win a World Series while I could celebrate on a campus in Connecticut. Instead, the Red Sox won in 2007 and the Yankees won mere months after I graduated. At the time, that championship felt like a coming of age. I was spoiled and too young to realize it when I was a little kid. I thought championships were something that happened when you rooted for the Yankees.

I imagine Jeter felt something similarly and when New York won in 2009, it was a relief. It was my “adult” championship and I appreciated it differently, including funding my own way to see the Yankees clinch Jeter’s final pennant up close when I watched the Yankees finish off the Angels in six games in person. It was the second loudest I ever heard the new stadium.

In 2011, I splurged for a partial season ticket package. I was working full-time and living in Stamford, a mere train ride away from the stadium. The Yankees won most of the games I attended but as it headed towards the second half of the season attending the games became more and more difficult and the weather hotter and hotter.

Jeter was hurt for part of the year and creeping in on 3,000 hits. One of the games on my season ticket package was against the Rays in mid-July, violating my policy of trying to avoid July games at all costs. Naturally, after  a rain out earlier in the week, I realized there was an outside chance Jeter would have a chance at his big hit that day. After no hits the night before, Jeter was at 2,998 and I knew I had to attend at all costs.

I have seen a no-hitter, a clinched pennant, walk-off hits, Yankees-Red Sox battles and much more in person. I have never experienced anything like I did that day. Jeter’s first hit made it feel like the stands might collapse. His second hit, a home run, and I thought the whole stadium might explode. It was pure joy with the swing of a bat. It was years of being a Yankees fan in the Jeter generation redeemed in a flash.

It was magic.

I would move to Florida before the end of the year, coming back once a season to watch the Yankees. When Jeter announced his retirement in Spring Training, I knew I couldn’t make a trip this season after switching jobs, supplanting myself in the middle of the “wedding circuit” and simply not having the time to do it.

So I said goodbye to Derek Jeter’s career and my childhood as a 27-year-old at Tropicana Field. Jeter reached base and the Yankees came back to win again. Many of us loudly saluted and quietly nodded in understanding as the 40-year-old walked off the field. Sitting in my home with a sleeping girlfriend for Jeter’s final home game I couldn’t help but reflect. I “met” him when I was eight-years-old, and it seemed like every time I witnessed something special, he was somehow involved.

You do not often see an athlete play for 20 years in the same market. You don’t often see someone sustain greatness for most of your life and rack up championships in the process.

For anyone under the age of 30, Derek Jeter is really all we know as Yankees’ fans. He is a timeline for our lives.

Truth be told as soon as Adam Jones homered in the ninth inning I knew how this had to play out. The frightening part is it actually happened. The Orioles, the team I first saw as an opponent, tied it with two outs in the ninth inning. Jeter responded by doing what I saw him do for the first time in his career, hitting a walk off single in his final at-bat at the stadium.

And there it was again.

A silent nod to the end of an era.

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Derek Jeter is Everything Keith Olbermann Should Want Fri, 26 Sep 2014 15:32:34 +0000 jeterFor nearly seven minutes straight, America’s best version of an agenda-pushing, media shill threw caution into the wind by arguing about something he entirely made up right before opening his mouth.

In case you were busy doing…Anything else, Keith Olbermann has been back with ESPN and has his own show. He starts shows with opening monologues and used one on Tuesday night to absolutely blast someone who has been near and dear to the majority’s hearts for the past two decades.

Let’s get a few things straight right off the bat: Derek Jeter is not the best player of all time, and nobody ever claimed he was. Jorge Posada, Jeter’s best friend and teammate of over a decade said he considers him the best Yankee of all time, but it’s hardly a reliable or objective source, so using that as an argument would seem pretty foolish. Olbermann did it anyway.

Derek Jeter did announce his retirement at the very beginning of this season. He did receive gifts everywhere he went, he did get selected to an All-Star Game he didn’t deserve (and played a terrific game anyway) and he will likely stay retired unlike his former teammate and close friend, Andy Pettitte.

But this is what always cracks me up about that argument, what is Jeter supposed to do? He knew he was going to retire, was he supposed to not reveal it until it was “appropriate”? If so, when was that going to be? Some point to Lou Gehrig giving a speech for one game and that being that. But it was before national television, before social media, before ticket prices were outrageous, before traveling to see your favorite player was commonplace. If you’re making comparisons about player etiquette that are twice Jeter’s age, you’ve already lost your argument. You think Babe Ruth would have lasted in the majors if everything he allegedly did in his day was constantly out in the open? Mickey Mantle? Ty Cobb?

On one hand you could do it late in the year and rob 20 years’ worth of fans from being able to plan a time to say goodbye. On the other hand, you can be Derek Jeter. So let’s cross that off the list of things in his control, he made the right decision, he didn’t orchestrate the media frenzy which previously had followed Mariano Rivera as recently as last year and even players like Chipper Jones before that.

But the main problem with Olbermann’s rant is the intense irony clouding it. Jeter was too over the top? Too flashy? Too full of himself? What was that Olbermann rant which was on a show named after himself lasting three times as long as it needed to be? Why did Olbermann make those points now, in the final week of Jeter’s career instead of early in the year when it was evident all teams would celebrate him and you knew it would last a full season? Ratings?

The chance to play Devil’s Advocate and stand out from a crowd? Of course it was all of those things because Keith Olbermann is the worst. He’s a self absorbed, egomaniac who could learn a few lessons from Jeter off the field. But first let’s focus on it.

Olbermann pointed out quite a few players he considered better than Jeter, and quite a few “stats” to back it up. I’m going to choose to ignore all of Jeter’s accomplishments that can directly tie into his teams. You can argue his leadership played a role but we can’t quantify that so we’ll omit it. This means, none of his five World Series rings play a role, nor his runs scored (2nd in Yankees’ history) nor his Gold Gloves (which he didn’t deserve), nor his postseason cumulative stats.

Olbermann starts off implying Jeter was never the clear cut best player on his team or in the league and this is mostly true. He wasn’t a stolen base guy like Rickey Henderson, a slugger like Babe Ruth or a prolific run producer. He also batted second and played shortstop, two positions not directly responsible for any of those things. Also, why did he have to be elite at any one thing?

Can’t he be among the best in most things and that still make him elite? Can’t being starter worthy, leading some categories at times, averaging 151 games a year until he was 38 and being sixth in something 18,000 players have attempted and not done as well, be elite?

Then Olbermann continues: Jeter wasn’t a leader even for longevity among other players who played around the same amount of games, again, for some reason, sighting: HR, RBI, SB etc. Olbermann is too smart and has watched too much baseball to be this stupid.

Yankees News

Let’s focus on some stats more directly tied to Jeter’s career.

Hits: 1st
Singles: 1st
Doubles: 1st
Runs: 2nd
Walks: 4th
RBIs: 6th
Home Runs: 9th
Total Bases: 3rd
Batting Avg: 8th
Stolen Bases: 1st

Those are Jeter’s numbers compared to other Yankees. Olbermann found a way to make Jeter the 11th best Yankee and based it on WAR, a stat still being debated even by those who helped create it and make it mainstream.

If you noticed, it was the only stat Olbermann used when comparing Jeter to other Yankees’ players.

When you’re top 10 in every major category, it’s part because you stayed relevant for 20 years and part because you were pretty good. Like for instance, nobody helped Jeter deliver the most singles, doubles and stolen bases as a Yankee. The most prolific franchise of all-time and Jeter is top 10 in 10 of the most important categories and we’re criticizing this?

Hits: 1st
Runs: 1st
Doubles: 4th
Home Runs: 3rd
Total Bases: 3rd
RBIs: 6th
Walks: 5th
Batting Avg: 6th
On-Base %: 7th
Slugging %: 11th
OPS %: 5th

That’s Jeter compared to any other SS in MLB history ever. This is what happens when we compare him to his position and actually evaluate statistics effectively. Is it OK to compare him to all time greats now?

Where Jeter ranks amongst all Yankee Shortstops:
Runs: 1st
Singles: 1st
Doubles: 1st
Triples: 1st
Home Runs: 1st
Total Bases: 1st
RBIs: 1st
Walks: 1st
Stolen Bases: 1st
Batting Avg: 1st
On-Base %: 1st
Slugging %: 1st
OPS %: 1st

These are Jeter’s numbers against any other Yankees’ Shortstops. Is it OK to proclaim him kind of important to the franchise now?

Here’s some more stats per Jayson Stark:

“Jeter is the only player in major-league baseball history with at least 3,000 hits, 350 stolen bases, 250 homers and 1,300 RBI”.

Olbermann found a way to make SB, HR and RBI look like a disadvantage to Jeter, but he forgot to add them all together as one player. He also conveniently ignored hits, which if nothing else, makes Jeter an automatic first ballot Hall of Famer, which automatically makes him elite. Jeter is sixth in total hits. Sixth. Out of well over 18,000 players. You don’t luck your way into over 3,400 hits.

“Jeter and Hank Aaron are the only two players in MLB history with 16-or-more seasons of at least 150 hits, 20 doubles and 10 homers.”

Jeter isn’t special?

How about this stat:

“In 158 postseason games (roughly one season) Jeter has 200 hits, 18 stolen bases, 32 doubles, five triples and 20 homers”.

I would say that’s a pretty nice sample size to imply Jeter rises to the occasion on the sport’s biggest stage against the hardest competition.

So the final verdict is this: Derek Jeter played very well for 20 years and when you add those two things together you get a player we may never see again. Derek Jeter stayed healthy, he played elite baseball in the regular and postseason and he did it all with one team, which happens to be the biggest market in the sport.

Olbermann should learn to be more like Jeter. Maybe then he won’t be fired every five seconds from every major market and excel in nothing. Even when Olbermann is at the top of his game he learns how to sabotage his talents. Instead of worrying about what the media and fans are doing or feeling in regards to Jeter, Olbermann can focus on why everyone is reacting this way. Maybe then he can fix his own career and personal relationships one day.

Until then, he should just learn how to keep his mouth shut and enjoy watching history in a sport which glorifies it more than any other.

Derek Jeter is Baseball.



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Minnesota Twins Phil Hughes’ Record-Setting Season Thu, 25 Sep 2014 21:10:59 +0000 hughes2014 has been another rough year for the Minnesota Twins, who will miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Still, there were some bright spots. Brian Dozier emerged as a solid all-around player, Trevor Plouffe had a nice season, and Danny Santana hit .319/.355/.477 in 97 games at the shortstop position. But, the most impressive year of all was had by Phil Hughes, who the Twins signed to a three year deal this offseason.

Prior to signing with the Twins, Hughes had a seven year tenure with the Yankees. He was a very highly hyped prospect, topping out at No. 2 on Baseball Prospectus Top 100 list before the 2007 season. He reached the big leagues that year and had a no-hit bid in just his second major league outing before an injury cut him short. Unfortunately, 2008 was a disappointing year for Hughes who pitched to a 6.62 ERA in just eight starts.

Overall, Hughes owned an ugly 4.53 ERA in seven seasons and 780.2 innings with the Yankees. He made a solid contribution out of the pen in 2009, and had a strong first half of the season as a starter the next year, but his 2013 season saw him post a 5.19 ERA.

In Yankee Stadium Hughes was undone by his flyball tendencies. His ground ball rate of 33.5 percent with the Yankees was one of the lowest in the major leagues. If there was a glimmer of hope, it was that his road ERA was more than a run lower than his home ERA.

The Twins took a plunge in the offseason and signed the big right-hander to a three year deal worth $24 million. In his first season, Hughes has richly rewarded the Twins front office for their faith in him. Over 32 starts he’s thrown 209.2 innings and mustered 6.1 fWAR, the third best mark in MLB. Most impressively, he’s issued only 16 walks for a 1.9 percent rate, while fanning 186 hitters. That comes out to an 11.6 K/BB ratio, which is the best mark in major league history.

Hughes has simply gotten more aggressive. With spacious Target Field hosting half of his outings, his HR/FB ratio has dipped down to 6.2 percent. After allowing 59 home runs in 2012-13, Hughes has surrendered just 16 this season. While he’s always thrown a high rate of strikes, this year his zone rate is up to 61.1, which is a full four percentage points higher than the next closest pitcher, Bartolo Colon.

He’s throwing the same number of fastballs as in previous seasons, but he’s reverted to his cutter, which he had avoided in 2012-13. Though Hughes is missing bats at the same rate, the increase in strikes has allowed him to raise his strikeout rate from 18.9 percent to 21.8 percent. A change of scenery has done Phil Hughes a world of good. This hasn’t been a good year for the Twins, but the Hughes signing is looking like a very good move already. One year after the Yankees relegated him to the bullpen, he’s authored the best K/BB ratio in baseball history.

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Little Jose Altuve’s Big Season for Houston Astros Thu, 25 Sep 2014 01:13:35 +0000 AltuveIt’s been a season of controversy for the Houston Astros. They showed some real promise in June, with rookie right fielder George Springer making a big splash, and pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh posting ace-like numbers. However, shortly after Sports Illustrated declared them the “2017 World Series champs“, things began to unravel. Top prospect Carlos Correa was lost for the season with a broken ankle, and they failed to sign the top pick Brady Aiken, in what turned out to be a messy dispute.

In the midst of these issues, second baseman Jose Altuve is having a fantastic season. The undersized Altuve is leading the major leagues in batting average at .343 and hits with 221. He’s also stolen the most bases in the American League. It’s been a phenomenal season for Altuve, who is a fan favorite.

Altuve broke onto the scene in 2012 with a big first half. He posted a .303/.344/.438 slash line, and was named to the All-Star team for his efforts. The second half wasn’t as kind to Altuve, as his average dropped to .274, and his slugging percentage decreased to .351. Despite his All-Star status, he accumulated just 1.5 fWAR over the course of the year, due to poor defensive ratings at second base.

His numbers dropped in 2013. Altuve hit a respectable .283, but his on-base percentage fell from .340 to .316, and his slugging percentage fell from .399 to .363. While he stole 35 bases, he was also caught 13 times.

This season has been a career year for Altuve in every category. He’s ripped 46 doubles, and his .113 isolated slugging percentage is higher than players such as David Wright, J.J. Hardy and Billy Butler. While Altuve has always had a knack for putting the bat on the ball, he’s trimmed his strikeout rate all the way down to 7.7 percent, which is nearly five points lower than the previous year. Only Victor Martinez has a lower strikeout rate.

Furthermore, Altuve has 54 stolen bases in 63 attempts. His +6.7 base running runs is one of the top marks in the major leagues. Altuve’s defensive ratings are still subpar, but his offensive production has more than made up for his deficiencies on the other side of the ball. Overall he’s produced +5 fWAR, which puts him among the top 20 position players in baseball.

Altuve is under contract for the next three seasons for a total of $10.5 million, with team options for $6 million and $6.5 million for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. That’s a huge bargain, even if he performs closer to his 2012-13 levels. The second baseman is just 24 years of age. If the Astros young players develop as the organization hopes, Altuve will be a crucial piece on a contending team.

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Detroit Tigers Victor Martinez’ Fantastic Season Tue, 23 Sep 2014 20:13:17 +0000 "MLB:The Detroit Tigers have endured several bumps in the road during the 2014 season. Nevertheless, they have a one game lead on the Kansas City Royals with six games remaining, and are virtually assured of at least a wild card berth. Designated hitter Victor Martinez has been a rock in the middle of their lineup. After an unimpressive 2013 season, Martinez has turned in one of the top offensive seasons of 2014.

Martinez was signed to a four year deal worth $50 million in the 2010 offseason. His power numbers took a hit in his first year in Detroit, and he hit only 12 home runs. However, he helped to compensate by hitting .330 with a .380 on-base percentage. But, in offseason training he would tear his ACL and miss the entire 2012 season.

While Martinez maintained his usual low strikeout rate when he returned in 2013, his power numbers continued to decline, as his isolated slugging percentage fell from .141 to .129. Overall he managed a .301 batting average, but his .355 on-base percentage and .430 slugging percentage were rather pedestrian for a designated hitter. Martinez appeared to be in serious decline.

This season the 35 year-old has experienced an impressive resurgence. He’s tied for 9th in the major leagues with 31 home runs, which represents a new career high. At the same time, he’s set a career low with a 6.5 percent strikeout rate. Martinez and Jose Bautista are the only players that have walked more times than they have struck out.

His .407 on-base percentage is tied with Bautista for the best mark in the major leagues. Only Jose Altuve has a higher batting average than Martinez’ .336 mark, and only Mike Trout and Jose Abreu have a higher slugging percentage than his career-best .566.

All in all V-Mart has been a huge offensive force for the Tigers. His 166 wRC+ is tied with Abreu for second behind Trout’s 170 wRC+. In the month of September he’s been absolutely phenomenal. Martinez is batting .397 with a .476 on-base percentage and .644 slugging percentage. Over 84 plate appearances he’s struck out only once. His swinging strike rate is a minuscule 1.9 percent in the month of September.

With teammate Miguel Cabrera also producing excellent numbers in September, the Tigers offense has been ferocious. This team doesn’t have a ton of depth in their lineup, and the bullpen has been a mess, but with top end offensive talent in Cabrera and Martinez as well as a surprising J.D. Martinez, they have scored the third most runs in baseball.

Much has been made of Justin Verlander‘s decline, but with Max Scherzer, David Price and Rick Porcello along with Anibal Sanchez coming out of the bullpen, this is a team that should fare well in October even if Verlander doesn’t bring his best stuff. If they can avoid the wild card game by holding off the Royals, the Tigers will be the team to beat in the American League.

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Washington Nationals Lineup Makes Them Favorites in the NL Tue, 23 Sep 2014 13:02:41 +0000 RendonDespite some injury-fueled early season struggles, the Washington Nationals are sitting pretty. With a 91-64 record, they own the best record in the NL, and will rest their starters as they head into the postseason, where they will await the winner of the wild card game, which will likely feature the San Francisco Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Nationals rotation has received a lot of attention, and it features four starters who are having strong seasons in Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark as well as an established veteran in Gio Gonzalez. However, the strength of this team has been their position players.

At first glance, the Nationals cumulative batting line of .252/.319/.393 seems unimpressive. But, much of that can be attributed to the lackluster contributions of injury replacements. While Ryan Zimmerman recovered from injury, 350 plate appearances went to Danny Espinosa, who hit a woeful .219/.283/.356. Jose Lobaton appeared in 64 games, most of them while starting catcher Wilson Ramos was recovering from a hand injury. Kevin Frandsen and Nate McLouth saw nearly 400 plate appearances between them when Bryce Harper was out.

With a lineup that is back to full strength, the Nationals are very formidable. Centerfielder Denard Span is having a fantastic season at the top of the order. He’s reached base at a .352 clip, and has added 31 stolen bases. With his 9.9 percent strikeout rate, he’s a very tough out. Second year player Anthony Rendon is also having a terrific year. The Rice product is batting .286/.347/.471.

Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman compose the middle of the order. Werth is doing his best to make the mega contract he signed back in 2011 sane. He’s been the Nats top offensive threat, and owns a .389 on-base percentage that ranks third in the NL. Desmond has overcome some early season struggles, and is second on the team with 23 home runs. Zimmerman has been hampered with injuries but he remains a solid hitter. Though he has only five home runs to his credit, his .288/.350/.470 slash line is solid, and he’s hammered 19 doubles in only 54 games.

Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos round out the Nats lineup. LaRoche leads the team with 25 home runs, and thanks to a 14.1 percent walk rate that is the second highest mark in the NL, he has a .359 on-base percentage. In the first half Harper struggled with injuries and was unproductive when he did manage to stay on the field. Lately he’s producing numbers that are more in line with his career marks. Since he returned from the disabled list, he owns a .285/.350/.458 batting line. Ramos has dealt with injuries of his own, but he’s managed to accumulate a .271/.305/.411 batting line that is above-average for a catcher.

In addition, the Nationals have Asdrubal Cabrera on the bench, who they acquired from the Cleveland Indians. Cabrera has an above-average career batting line, and has helped to fill in when Zimmerman missed time. He provides needed depth and a veteran bat off the bench. Overall this is a very deep lineup. Besides their good numbers at the plate, they’ve been better than anyone else on the basepaths with +13.3 base running runs and have flashed good team defense. They will be a difficult opponent in October.


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Boston Red Sox Youth Movement – Largely Disappointing Fri, 19 Sep 2014 18:23:08 +0000 BogaertsA year ago the Boston Red Sox had the oldest roster in the major leagues. That season ended with them winning the World Series. Then, they allowed center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to depart in free agency, Stephen Drew went unsigned until June and Jarrod Saltalamacchia signed with the Miami Marlins. Youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley won starting jobs out of spring training. After a host of trade deadline activity, the Sox dealt away pitchers Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront and replaced them with an array of young arms. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski was released and Christian Vazquez was summoned from Triple-A to take his place.

The 2014 season hasn’t been kind to the Sox, who have never been more than one game over .500, and that occurred on May 14. How has the youth movement fared?

Bogaerts, who entered the season as the No. 2 ranked prospect in baseball, hasn’t quite lived up to the almost impossibly high expectations Sox fans had. He got off on the right foot in the first month of the season, hitting .287/.387/.378, and followed that up with a red-hot May where he produced a slash line of .327/.407/.490.

However, the next three months were not so kind to the 21 year-old, as he batted just .161 over the months of June, July and August with a woeful .206 on-base percentage and only five home runs. September has been far more encouraging, as Bogaerts has ripped the ball to the tune of a .338 batting average with four home runs. Overall his numbers are rather pedestrian, but it’s important to remember that most players his age are in the low minors. Other than a 20 and 21 year-old Alex Rodriguez, there hasn’t been a shortstop that has starred this early in their career.

Bradley Jr., while displaying excellent defense, has looked overmatched at the plate. Among players with at least 400 plate appearances, his .203 batting average is fourth worst, and his .272 slugging percentage is more than 20 points lower than the next worst mark. Despite his excellent defense, it’s hard to imagine him factoring into the Sox long-term plans.

Catcher Christian Vazquez has displayed a big-time arm, and he’s caught 12 of a potential 26 base stealers. He does an excellent job in other aspects of the game including receiving and blocking pitches, and is likely already one of the game’s best defensive backstops. But, he’s struggled mightily with big league pitching, hitting just .217 with a .278 on-base percentage and no home runs. His defensive prowess will give him an extended look, but his future might be as a backup.

Utility player Brock Holt plugged several holes for the Red Sox and performed at a very high level. After hitting .327 in the first half, his performance has predictably slowed down. Going forward he’s more of a super sub than a Ben Zobrist type who stars at several positions.

Mookie Betts has given Sox fans something to get excited about. After tearing up minor league pitching, the undersized 21 year-old has more than held his own at the major league level. Through 43 games he’s hitting an impressive .283/.363/.428. Betts has a good batting eye, strong contact skills and more power than his frame (listed generously at 5’9 and 155 pounds) would suggest. Furthermore, he can play second base and all three outfield spots. If the Sox make a run at Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, expect Betts to serve as the centerpiece to any deal. If they decide to retain him, he’s a promising young player that could have a big impact for years to come.

The Red Sox stable of young pitchers has been underwhelming. Rubby de la Rosa has been serviceable, but he lacks a third pitch to back up his hard fastball and changeup. Between the trio of Brandon Workman, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo, none has managed an ERA below 5.17. Workman has made only 15 starts, and Webster and Ranaudo have just 15 starts between the two of them, but it appears the Sox will be active in trying to acquire starting pitching this offseason. Joe Kelly, a 26 year-old hard-throwing right-hander obtained from the St. Louis Cardinals in the Lackey deal, has struggled with his control. Edwin Escobar, who was acquired from the San Francisco Giants in the Peavy trade, has drawn good reviews for his work in the minor leagues.

While the Red Sox youth movement has been largely disappointing, there have been some bright spots, most noticeably the play of Mookie Betts. Expect the Sox to be very active this offseason. Swinging a trade for Stanton and signing a big name pitcher or two is not out of the question. With a couple savvy moves and returning talent in David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Yoenis Cespedes, 2015 could be another turnaround year for the Sox.

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Have Billy Beane’s Trades Hurt the Oakland Athletics? Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:50:32 +0000 lester_gomes_cespedesThe Oakland Athletics headed into July with the best record in baseball, and sizeable division lead. They made the first big deal of the trade season, sending 2013 first-round draft pick Billy McKinney and consensus top 10 prospect Addison Russell along with Dan Straily and a player to be named later to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Next, they swung a big deadline deal with the Boston Red Sox, trading power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes for a few months of Jon Lester.

Even into the beginning of August, the A’s were rolling. On August 9 they owned a 72-44 record, and a four game lead in the American League West. Since then things have gone sour. The A’s have gone 11-24, and while they still own a two-game lead in the wild card race, their World Series odds have dropped to eight percent.

A’s hitters have struggled mightily since the Cespedes trade. Over the last 30 days, they own a miserable .224/.293/.332 batting line. They have scored just 92 runs in that stretch. That’s a far cry from what they were producing earlier in the year. In the first half of the season, they had a .251/.328/.400 slash line and had scored 466 runs, the second-highest total in baseball.

While the Cespedes trade and the A’s offensive declined have followed roughly the same timeline, it’s foolish to suggest that one caused the other. Sure, the A’s have been hurt by the loss of Cespdes, who was their best right-handed power threat. However, he’s hardly tearing it up with Boston. Though his overall offensive production was solid, it was hardly better than the average A’s hitter.

Lester has been excellent for the A’s, and has provided a much-needed boost to a tiring pitching staff. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year, and the A’s won’t have the cash to resign him. Cespedes on the other hand, has an additional year of team control. With his $10.5 million salary for 2015, the A’s would likely have shopped him this offseason in any case.

Surrendering Russell, who is one of the best prospects in baseball for Samardzija, who is under team control through 2015 and Hammel, who has pitched terribly, is looking like a poor deal at this point. Samardzija was among the NL leaders in ERA with the Cubs, and he’s performed admirably with the A’s. But, he’ll command a sizable chunk of the A’s payroll with his 2015 arbitration salary, and will be a free agent after the year. Meanwhile, the Cubs have six years of cost-controlled performance from Russell, who tore up Double-A pitching as a 20 year-old. The A’s paid a high price for the Shark, and they may regret it.

The A’s recent collapse has made Billy Beane’s trades look significantly worse then when he made them. He paid dearly to acquire Samardzija and Hammel, and dealing away the popular and exciting Cespedes hasn’t won him any fans. This collapse can’t be pinned solely on his shoulders, but if Russell blossoms into a star for the Cubs, A’s fans won’t be happy.

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Jake Arrieta Emerges as an Ace for Chicago Cubs Wed, 17 Sep 2014 21:15:31 +0000 cubs-arietaJake Arrieta dominated the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday night. The Chicago Cubs hurler threw his first career shutout, surrendering just one hit and one walk while fanning 13 hitters. It was the best performance in what has been an excellent season for the 28 year-old right-hander.

Arrieta broke into the major leagues with the Baltimore Orioles in 2010. In parts of four seasons with the O’s, he authored an ugly 5.46 ERA in 358 innings. He did show some promise in 2012, as he displayed a 22.0 percent strikeout rate and 3.65 xFIP despite a 6.20 ERA. However, after five ugly starts in 2013, in which he allowed 19 runs and walked 17 hitters in just 23.2 innings, the Orioles sent him to the Cubs along with Pedro Strop in exchange for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman.

He made nine starts with the Cubs in 2013, and was mediocre. Though his 3.66 ERA was solid, he had a pedestrian 17.4 percent strikeout rate and his walk rate of 11.3 percent was one of the higher marks in the majors. 2014 has been a different story. While he hasn’t thrown enough innings to qualify, his adjusted ERA is 11th best among hurlers that have thrown at least 140 innings, and his adjusted FIP is second best. Only Clayton Kershaw has been better on a per-inning basis.

Overall Arrieta has an enviable 26.7 percent strikeout rate to go with a solid 6.8 percent walk rate. He’s got a sparkling 2.65 ERA and an even better 2.30 FIP. While he didn’t pitch in a major league game until May 3rd, he has been consistently good since then.

Arrieta started grabbing everyone’s attention with a three start stretch from June 18 to June 30. First of all, he dominated the Miami Marlins, fanning 11 hitters in seven innings of one run ball, issuing just one walk. He followed that up with a strong performance against the Reds, notching nine punchouts in seven innings, while allowing two runs. Then, he faced off against the Boston Red Sox, and came within four outs of getting a no-hitter, adding in ten strikeouts.

Arrieta has emerged as a legitimate ace. His ZiPS and Steamer projections are on par with those for Oakland Athletics hurler Jeff Samardzija, who the Cubs traded away. The big right-hander has relied heavily on a cutter/slider. After throwing it on just 15 percent of his pitches last year, he’s nearly doubled his usage to 29 percent this year. It’s whiff rate is a strong 14.7 percent. That’s not too big a jump from prior seasons, but by throwing it more often, Arrieta has effectively complemented his mid 90s fastball. On a per pitch basis, it’s been one of the best breaking pitches in baseball.

The Cubs have found that one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure. They’ve scooped up pitchers such as Feldman, Arrieta and Jason Hammel for pennies on the dollar. They flipped Feldman and Hammel in trades, and Arrieta has emerged as an ace. With a host of talented young position players, this team could be very dangerous in 2015.

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Do the Oakland Athletics Have Enough Pitching? Wed, 17 Sep 2014 03:33:56 +0000 lesterThe Oakland Athletics got off to a very strong start, and on August 9 they had a four game lead on the Anaheim Angels. Their 72-44 record was the best in baseball, and after acquiring Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs, they had recently traded for ace pitcher Jon Lester from the Boston Red Sox. From that point, the A’s have a woeful 11-22 record. While they are all but assured of a playoff spot, it’s a wild card berth they are looking at, rather than home field advantage all the way through.

Despite all the pitching the A’s have acquired, there are some big questions about their rotation. Lester has been as good as advertised. In nine starts he’s authored a 2.30 ERA with strikeout and walk rates of 22.7 percent and 5.6 percent. He’s one of the top starters in the American League.

Samardzija has also been very good, and while his ERA hasn’t been spectacular, his park-adjusted xFIP is actually better than Lester’s. He’s attacking the zone more than ever before, and has a minuscule 3.4 percent walk rate over 13 starts with the A’s. With a big ballpark, he’s pounding the zone with confidence.

However, the A’s have some issues beyond those two pitchers. Sonny Gray appears to be tiring. After striking out over 20 percent of hitters in the first four months of the season, his K-rates have dipped to 17.1 percent and 16.3 percent in August and September. The 24 year-old has seen his fastball velocity decline in that time. He’s already thrown more innings than last season, and may be running on fumes.

Oakland A'NewsLikewise, teammate Scott Kazmir has seen his second half strikeout rate drop seven percentage points to 16.4 percent. In the same time, his walk rate has climbed from 5.9 percent to 8.8 percent. His fastball velocity is also dropping. Kazmir hasn’t thrown more than 152 innings since 2007, so there’s understandably some concern at this point. Right now he’s at 173.2 innings, and is making his 30th start for the first time in seven years.

Hammel, who was excellent with the Cubs, has imploded with the A’s. He’s authored an ugly 4.76 ERA in 11 starts, with an even worse 5.76 FIP. Right now it looks like the A’s bought very high on half a season of a pitcher that has a career ERA- of 108 in over 1100 innings. The right-hander is unlikely to have a spot in the A’s postseason rotation, meaning they will have to rely on the tiring Gray or Kazmir.

Of course, the A’s may not be so fortunate to have to deal with the issue of who makes their postseason rotation. They won’t catch the Angels, and as a result will have to focus on holding off the Kansas City Royals or the Seattle Mariners for the top wild card spot. They might have some magic left, but their position is much weaker than it was just five weeks ago.

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Ian Kinsler Proving to be Key Acquisition for Detroit Tigers Mon, 15 Sep 2014 23:16:03 +0000 kinslerThe Detroit Tigers currently enjoy a 1.5 game lead on the Kansas City Royals in the American League Central. With just 13 games remaining, the Tigers odds of winning the division sit at 75 percent, and they are virtually assured of a playoff spot. Though they endured an extended rough patch, this team should be dangerous in the playoffs.

The Tigers have plenty of star power. Their pitching staff features Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello. Meanwhile on the other side of the ball they have the slugging Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, who is having a fantastic year. However, the contributions of second baseman Ian Kinsler cannot be overlooked.

Kinsler was acquired from the Texas Rangers this offseason in exchange for Prince Fielder and his bloated salary. He was coming off two consecutive seasons of decent, but less than stellar production. While Kinsler’s offensive production hasn’t rebounded to its 2010-11 levels, he’s having a very good year. His 4.8 fWAR leads the Tigers, though it’s just fractions ahead of Cabrera.

Kinsler is batting .278/.311/.418. That comes out to a 102 wRC+ which is average overall. It’s significantly better than second basemen as a whole, who are batting .251/.309/.364. He’s no slouch with the bat, and his 11.4 percent strikeout rate makes him a tough out, but his contributions are more subtle.

The Tigers second baseman has long held a reputation as an excellent baserunner, and this season is no different. He only has 15 steals in 18 attempts, but he’s phenomenal at taking the extra base. His +9.2 base running runs is just a shade behind Ben Revere, and ahead of speedsters such as Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton.

Furthermore, he plays very good second base defense. Per Ultimate Zone Rating, only Dustin Pedroia has been a better fielding second baseman. While the Tigers are still a below-average defensive team, Kinsler has helped them improve significantly.

While Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski has been deservedly criticized for not doing enough to upgrade the bullpen and getting a mediocre return for Robbie Ray, the trade for Ian Kinsler was a great move. In one move the Tigers helped to address their deficiencies in defense and baserunning. Meanwhile, Fielder suffered a major neck injury after only 42 games.

On a team with three Cy Young winners and two MVP winners, Kinsler might not be getting the attention he deserves. But, he’s been just as important to the Tigers success as any of the big ticket names on this team. Despite all of their struggles, the Tigers have the second-best world series odds of any team in baseball, behind only the Washington Nationals. Kinsler won’t appear on any MVP ballots, but he’s very important to this team.

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Jordan Zimmermann Having Career Year in Loaded Nats Rotation Mon, 15 Sep 2014 18:16:41 +0000 ZimmermanThe Washington Nationals starting pitchers have had a remarkable year. Their 14.5 fWAR leads the National League. Stephen Strasburg is among the league leaders in strikeout rate, Tanner Roark has a sub 3.00 ERA, Doug Fister has accumulated 3.5 RA-9 WAR despite missing a large chunk of the season, and Gio Gonzalez has a strikeout rate just shy of 25 percent. However, the best performance has come from Jordan Zimmermann.

The 28 year-old Zimmermann broke into the major leagues in 2009. But, he suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, and he missed the remainder of that season and most of 2010. He returned to full strength in 2011, and from 2011-13, he authored a 3.12 ERA with 10.2 fWAR. Zimmermann relied on a strikeout rate that was in line with the major league average and a 4.9 percent walk rate that was one of the lowest in MLB.

This season Zimmermann has managed to cut his usually low walk rate to a miniscule 3.8 percent. At the same time, he’s boosted his strikeout rate to 22.6 percent, which is a solid four percentage points higher than the previous year. As a consequence, he’s dropped his ERA to 2.93, and his xFIP to a career low 3.07, which is nearly half a run lower than his previous best. His 4.3 fWAR is a career-high, and he ranks 11th in the major leagues in that category.

Zimmermann has made two significant changes. First of all, he is throwing his fastball more often. At 69.5 percent, only five qualified starting pitchers utilize their heater more frequently than Zimmermann. With an average velocity of 94 miles per hour, only ten pitchers have a harder fastball. He’s getting more whiffs with the pitch. It’s missing bats at an 8.3 percent clip as compared to 6.2 percent, and he’s also getting more infield pop flies.

Also, Zimmermann is throwing his slider harder. Zimmermann’s slider has long been his best secondary pitch, and he usually throws it around 86 miles per hour. This year he has bumped that velocity up to 87.5 miles per hour and as a result he’s getting more swings and misses. Batters have a whiff rate of 18.5 percent on Zimmermann’s slider, as compared to 16.3 percent the prior year and 13.9 percent in 2012. In addition, they are chasing the pitch nearly half the time when it’s located out of the strike zone, a big jump from past seasons.

Thanks to the fastball and the slider, Zimmermann’s overall whiff rate has increased from 8.7 percent to 10.2 percent. Interestingly enough, while his first-pitch strike rate and walk rate have improved, his zone rate is down. He’s been able to get ahead of hitters and then use his slider to expand the zone. Jordan Zimmermann has been a very good pitcher for the last three seasons, but the increase in whiffs has helped turn him into an ace.


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AL Cy Young Candidates: Chicago White Sox Chris Sale Fri, 12 Sep 2014 20:13:20 +0000 salePitchers have dominated in 2014. The average ERA for a major league starting pitcher is just 3.86, and strikeout rates are just a shade under 20 percent. A host of pitchers are having excellent seasons, including Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber and Jon Lester. One pitcher that might be getting overlooked in the American League Cy Young conversation is Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale.

Sale was dominant in his first four starts of the season, allowing only seven runs in 27.1 innings, with 29 strikeouts. However, he suffered an elbow injury, and missed more than five weeks of the season. He came back with a vengeance, racking up 10 strikeouts while allowing just one hit in six shutout innings in his first start since getting off the disabled list.

Since then Sale hasn’t missed a beat. While he’s notched about 50 fewer innings than Hernandez and Kluber, he’s accumulated 5.4 fWAR, which is only a few tenths behind those two hurlers. His 30.3 percent strikeout rate leads the American League, as does his 24.9 percent K-BB rate.

Opposing hitters are managing a woeful .197 batting average against Sale. The White Sox left-hander has a 1.99 ERA which is the lowest in the AL. After factoring his hitter-friendly home park, US Cellular Field into the equation, his ERA is on par with that posted by Clayton Kershaw.

Sale has always possessed a good fastball, and this year his average velocity is up to 94 miles per hour. From his low arm slot, his sweeping slider is nearly unhittable for left-handed batters. Righties struggle with the pitch as well. Overall the slider has a 14 percent swinging strike rate, and when hitters offer at sliders outside the zone they’re coming up empty on 55 percent of their swings.

However, the changeup has perhaps become Sale’s favorite secondary pitch. He’s effectively traded sliders for changeups. Last year he threw his slider 29 percent of the time, and his changeup 19 percent of the time. This year those rates have been reversed.  The changeup has a swinging strike rate of 20.5 percent, a solid increase from the previous year. Hitters are offering at 45 percent of the changeups Sale throws outside of the strike zone, and they’re whiffing on half of those swings.

All those extra whiffs means that Sale’s swinging strike rate is up to 13 percent, from 10.8 percent in 2013. By throwing more changeups, he’s giving his arm a better chance at staying healthy, and he’s been more effective to boot. While Sale hasn’t received the same acclaim that Kershaw has, his season has been nearly as impressive. King Felix has been a tough act to follow, and Kluber and Lester are also deserving of the Cy Young award. But, Sale has put together a resume that is at least as impressive.

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Jose Bautista Keeping Blue Jays in Wild Card Race Fri, 12 Sep 2014 13:00:51 +0000 bautistaThe Toronto Blue Jays got off to a hot start in the 2014 season. One June 6 they owned a 38-24 record and enjoyed a six game lead in the American League East. As late as July 2 they were in sole possession of first place. However, things have unraveled from there.

The Baltimore Orioles have all but clinched the division, while the Jays are clinging on to slim hopes in the Wild Card race. At 76-69, they are 3.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers for the second wild card berth.

One player that has helped the Jays stay in the race is right-fielder Jose Bautista. The 33 year-old has stayed mostly healthy for the first time since 2011, and is having a fantastic season. He’s posting a .286/.398/.529 slash line that comes out to a 156 wRC+, which ranks 6th in the major leagues. Along with Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez, he’s one of two players that has walked more than he’s struck out.

Bautista burst onto the scene in 2010, mashing 54 home runs for the Jays and posting a .617 slugging percentage. Previously he had hit just 59 home runs in parts of six largely mediocre seasons. He followed up his remarkable 2011 season with an even better 2011 year in which he hit 43 home runs while walking in an astounding 20.9 percent of his plate appearances. His .447 on-base percentage led baseball.

While on the field, Bautista was a productive offensive player in 2012 and 2013. However, his wRC+ marks of 137 and 133 were not on the same level as his 2010-11 performances. Injuries hampered him and he missed over 100 games in that span.

Bautista isn’t quite the same hitter now as he was in 2010-11. While he still brings a lot of power to the table, his .243 isolated slugging percentage doesn’t jump off the page like his .300+ marks. But, he’s compensated by bringing his strikeout rate down to 14.5 percent in a time when league strikeout rates are hovering around 20 percent. His contact and plate discipline skills are exceptional, particularly for someone that swings with the ferocity that he does.

In nine September games, Bautista has mashed the ball to the tune of a .324/.390/.622 slash line with three home runs. The Blue Jays have not made the postseason since 1992. Along with Edwin Encarnacion, he’s formed a very formidable duo in the middle of the Jays lineup. With 3.5 games to make up and only 17 games remaining, they are a long shot. Bautista is doing all he can to get them there.

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Pittsburgh Pirates Offense Is Carrying Them Towards the Playoffs Tue, 09 Sep 2014 21:46:29 +0000 McCutchenAfter enduring a difficult start to the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates have fought their way back into the second Wild Card spot. At 75-68, they have a 1.5 game lead on the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers for the last playoff berth. A big reason for their success has been their offensive prowess.

In terms of runs scored, the Pirates rank ninth in the major leagues, and third in the National League. by wRC+, a park-adjusted batting metric, the Pirates 107 mark is third-best in the major leagues. However, the fact that they carry a near-automatic out in their lineup puts them at a significant disadvantage relative to the two teams ahead of them, the Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers. If the inquiry is limited to position players, the Pirates have a team wRC+ of 115, which is three points higher than the Angels mark.

Centerfielder Andrew McCutchen is having another sensational year at the plate. He leads the Pirates in the traditional categories of home runs, runs, and runs batted in, and his 163 wRC+ is the best mark on the team and the top mark in the NL. A huge surprise has been the outstanding play of utility man Josh Harrison.

After three years of part-time play in which he topped out at a .290 on-base percentage and .409 slugging percentage, Harrison has been one of the most productive hitters in baseball. In 124 games he owns a slash line of .315/.348/.513. He’s drilled 53 extra-base hits and stolen 17 bags while playing outfield, second base and third base.

Catcher Russell Martin is also having a great year. While injuries have limited Martin to 96 games, he’s managed to accumulate 4.6 fWAR. He owns a .287/.408/.409 batting line and is playing his usual strong defense. Second baseman Neil Walker is also having a career year. Walker has ripped 19 home runs and possesses a .278/.349/.465 batting line.

Starling Marte is reprising his strong 2013 season with a .279/.348/.438 slash line. He’s also contributed a team-leading 25 stolen bases. Even retread Travis Snider is having a good year at the plate with a .255/.324/.411 line that rounds out to a 109 wRC+. With rookie outfielder Gregory Polanco not progressing as quickly as the Pirates have hoped, Snider has been a valuable piece in the outfield. Ike Davis and Pedro Alvarez have low batting averages, but they represent the 7th and 8th Pirates batters with a wRC+ of over 100.

The Pirates pitching staff has struggled in a big way. Closer Mark Melancon leads the team with 1.6 fWAR. Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton are all a shade over +1 fWAR. No other pitcher has reached that mark, and arms such as the departed Wandy Rodriguez, Jason Grilli and Ernesto Frieri have all contributed negative value.

Despite the struggles of their pitching staff and injuries to key players such as McCutchen and Martin, the Pirates are in strong shape to make the playoffs. This is a very deep lineup that also possesses star power. It should give opposing pitching staffs fits.

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Buster Posey Riding Extended Hot Streak for Giants Mon, 08 Sep 2014 22:03:45 +0000 poseyThe San Francisco Giants have a three game lead on the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first Wild Card spot. With 19 games remaining, their playoff odds sit at a cool 94 percent. Buster Posey has been instrumental in helping to lead the Giants to October.

Posey started off the season slowly. On June 13, the 27 year-old catcher and first baseman was hitting a rather pedestrian .267/.329/.401. Those are decent numbers to be sure, but far below his career standards. Considering that he posted a .244/.333/.310 line in the second half of 2013, fans and analysts alike were concerned.

Posey has allayed their fears over his last 70 games. In that span he owns a remarkable .342/.390/.565 slash line. He’s popped 34 extra-base hits, including 12 home runs. After displaying a lack of power in 2013’s second half that continued through the first 2.5 months of the 2014 season, Posey has posted the second-best full season isolated slugging percentage of his career.

In the last 30 days, Posey has been even hotter. He’s batting .382/.407/.686 for a 211 wRC+. He’s hit seven of his home runs and owns baseball’s highest wRC+. Also, his 2.0 fWAR leads baseball. If there was any doubt t

All in all, Posey has produced a .300/.362/.492 batting line with 20 home runs. That comes out to a 143 wRC+, which is a better mark than any other catcher this season. He’s totaled 5.2 fWAR, and that doesn’t include pitch-framing, an aspect of the game in which Posey excels. According to StatCorner, he’s been worth 13.3 runs above average in that department, which is the 7th most in baseball.

Posey is bringing back shades of his fantastic 2012 campaign with this extended hot streak. In that season he .336/.408/.549 for a 164 wRC+ and 7.7 fWAR. Given that he’s been a bona fide star since 2010, when he helped lead the Giants to the World Series title, it’s easy to forget that Posey is only 27.

In the 2012-13 offseason, the Giants wisely locked up Posey nine year deal worth $167 million. For a stretch it might have looked like the Giants had made a poor investment. However, that’s all it was, a stretch. Posey is demonstrating once again that he is one of the best handful of players in the National League. He’s an outstanding defensive catcher who is also one of the top hitters in baseball.

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AL Cy Young Candidates: Cleveland Indians Corey Kluber Sun, 07 Sep 2014 16:00:22 +0000 Indians KluberCleveland Indians pitcher Corey Kluber turned in a dominant performance Saturday night, hurling a complete game against the Chicago White SoxKluber registered eight strikeouts without issuing a walk, and allowed one unearned run on five hits. It was the latest in a string of dominant performance for Kluber, who has posted a 1.49 ERA in the second half, with a 28.6 percent strikeout rate.

While Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez has seemed to have a death grip on the Cy Young award, Kluber is a legitimate challenger. Hernandez has struggled as of late, and with Saturday’s performance, Kluber now has 5.7 fWAR, which leads AL pitchers. Of course, that’s not the end of the story, and Hernandez’ ERA is nearly three-tenths of a run lower.

Cleveland’s big right-hander is having a fantastic season. However, this shouldn’t be totally unexpected. The 28 year-old showcased some very impressive stuff in 24 starts in 2013. While his 3.85 ERA didn’t stand out, he had excellent strikeout and walk rates of 224. percent and 5.4 percent, respectively. This year, Kluber has improved on those numbers.

This season Kluber has increased his strikeout rate to 27.0 percent, while maintaining a low walk rate of 5.6 percent. He’s also boosted his ground ball rate to 48.9 percent. His park-adjusted xFIP of 72 is tied with David Price for the second-best mark in the AL, and is just four points behind Hernandez.

Last year home runs and hits on balls in play were Kluber’s achilles heel. Slightly over 12 percent of the fly balls Kluber allowed left the yard, and opponents hit .329 on balls in play. Pitchers generally have less control over these aspects of the game than strikeout, walk and ground ball rates. This year, only eight percent of fly balls have left the yard against Kluber, and opponents are hitting .307 on balls in play.

2014 has been a phenomenal season for Kluber, who has relied heavily on his slider. The pitch has quickly become one of the best offerings in the major leagues. It’s had almost equal effectiveness against left-handed and right-handed pitchers. Along with his curveball and changeup, which he uses seldomly, Kluber has three offerings with a swinging strike rate of at least 19 percent.

The Indians found a diamond in the rough in Kluber, who was originally drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 4th round back in 2007. They acquired him in 2010 as part of a three-team trade in which they gave up veteran Jake Westbrook, who would have one more solid big league season before retiring this year.

With the Indians Kluber has blossomed into a legitimate ace. Hernandez is still the favorite for the AL Cy Young award, but Corey Kluber is just as deserving. The last few starts for each could be the difference. Either way, it’s been a great year for the right-hander who didn’t even make the All-Star team.

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