Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Cinicinnati Reds 2020 Season Preview 2.0

       Yesterday's season preview was the new and improved White Sox. However, no team improved more than the Reds this offseason. They dished out big deals to improve their lineup and pitching staff. Playing in a tough NL Central, it will not be easy for the Reds to jump up in the standings.

       Offseason additions: IF Mike Moustakas, OF Nick Castellanos, OF Shogo Akiyama, LHP Wade Miley, RHP Pedro Strop, RHP Justin Shafer, OF Travis Jankowski, RHP Nate Jones, RHP Tyler Thornburg, IF Matt Davidson

       Offseason subtractions: IF Jose Peraza, SS Jose Iglesias, LHP Alex Wood, RHP Kevin Gausman, RHP David Hernandez.

The Reds have their ace in Luis Castillo, a 27 year old with a hard fastball. Castillo made his first all-star team in 2019, striking out 226 batters with a 3.40 ERA in 190.2 innings. However, he also allowed 22 home runs and walked 79 batters. His fastball averages more than 96 miles per hour, but he uses his change-up more often to get soft contact. That change-up struck out 155 batters with a .199 slugging against last year. Sonny Gray was an all-star for the first time since 2015. He allowed just 6.3 hits per nine innings, striking out 205 batters with a 2.87 ERA in 175.1 innings. His curveball, which has a 2988 rpm spin rate, held opponents to a .131 batting average. The Reds traded Taylor Trammell, one of their top prospects, at the deadline in a package for Trevor Bauer. Bauer was awful in Cincinnati, making 10 starts with a 6.39 ERA. Overall, Bauer made 34 starts with a 4.48 ERA and 253 strikeouts in 213 innings. The outspoken pitcher throws six pitches, mostly his fastball. The heater was crushed last year, allowing 20 home runs. He is a free agent after the season. Anthony DeSclafani has had issues staying on the field. He made 31 starts in 2019, his most since he made the same number of starts in 2015. He struck out 167 batters in 166.2 innings with a solid 3.89 ERA. Opponents had an expected batting average of .238, a career best for DeSclafani. He will be a good 4th starter. The Reds gave Wade Miley $15 million over two years to be their 5th starter. A journeyman lefty, Miley had a 3.98 ERA in 33 starts for the Astros last season. He is the only Reds starter with less strikeouts than innings pitched last year. He makes up for that and his 90.8 mph fastball with a potent change-up, which had an exit velocity against of just 82.3. Tyler Mahle started in 25 games last year, striking out 129 batters in 129.2 innings.

Former starter Raisel Iglesias had his worst season yet as Reds closer. While his 34 saves were a career high, his 4.16 ERA was a tick higher than his 2015 starting numbers. On the plus side, Iglesias' 12 K/9 ratio was a career high. His 8.2 hits per nine was a career worst. So was his 1.224 WHIP. Iglesias abandoned his sinker, his most common pitch in 2018. He went from using it 31.8% to 10.6% of the time. It was a drama filled season for Amir Garrett, topped with some fights, including his Amir Garrett vs the world performance against the Pirates late in the season. On the field, Garrett had a career season. He had a 3.21 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 56 innings. His main issue is the walks. He walked 5.6 batters per nine innings. Garrett's most common pitch is his slider, which was 58% of his pitches. That pitch had an elite whiff rate of 54.3%. Michael Lorenzen has gained traction as a two-way player. As a pitcher, Lorenzen had a 2.92 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 83.1 innings, with seven saves. He played in 100 games total. His outfield numbers are not good. He hit one homer with a .581 OPS in 53 Plate Appearances. He throws a fastball averaging over 97 miles per hour, but educes very soft contact, with an 84.5 mph average. Entering 2019, Pedro Strop had gone five consecutive seasons with a sub-3 ERA, and seven out of eights seasons. He bombed with the Cubs last year, with a 4.97 ERA in 41.2 innings. His 10 saves was the second most of his career to 2018, and his 10.6 K/9 was his most since 2016. Now 34, Strop will have to work his way up from a middle relief role. Robert Stephenson had a career season, with a 3.76 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 64.2 innings. He might have been baseball's most underrated reliever last year, with an expected ERA of 2.70, a slider with a whiff rate of 52.1%, and an expected slugging of .311. Matt Bowman excels at allowing soft contact, with a career average exit velocity against of 84.8 mph. He had a 3.66 ERA in 27 games last year. Justin Shafer pitched in 39.2 innings for Toronto last year. He struck out 39 batters with a 3.86 ERA. His fastball has an above average spin rate of 2460 rpm. Non-roster invitee Nate Jones is always hurt. In his first eight seasons, all with the White Sox, Jones had a 3.12 ERA with 318 strikeouts in 291.1 innings. His once-potent slider has became more hit-able. A pitch with an average against under .100 in 2015 and 2016, batters hit .273 against Jones' slider in 2019. Cody Reed and Lucas Sims will fight for the final spot when rosters revert to 26. Reed, a lefty, played in just three games last year, allowing one run in 6.1 innings. Sims is more of a swingman. In 24 games (4 starts) Sims had a 4.60 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 43 games.

Tucker Barnhart hit a career high 11 home runs in 2019. He still had an 82 OPS+, and his total extra-base hits was his lowest since his 81 game 2015 season. He hit fastballs well, with a .528 slugging against the pitch. Curt Casali hit eight home runs with a .251 average and .741 OPS. While he hit more home runs than he did in 2018, everything else seemed to get worse offensively.

Former MVP and six time all-star Joey Votto is not at his best anymore. He walked 76 times last year, his first time in a full season not walking at least 100 times since 2012, when his 94 walks still led the league. His .357 OBP was the worst of his career. So was his .768 OPS. He struck out 123 times, his most since 2015. His 15 home runs was more than his 2018 total, but his power seems to be gone. Votto had an average of under .200 against off-speed pitches and breaking balls. 2020 might actually be Votto's last shot at the playoffs while he is still a league average player. The Reds gave Mike Moustakas $64 million over four years to play second base. Moustakas played second base for the first time in the MLB in 2019, playing 47 games for the Brewers. Moustakas hit 35 home runs with a career high .845 OPS. That was due to a .329 OBP, the second best of his career. He also had a career high in barrel percentage, with 10.3%. Freddy Galvis had 18 home runs in 115 games for the Blue Jays when the Reds claimed him off waivers late last year. Galvis struggled afterwards, with five homers in 32 games with a .696 OPS. He had 11 outs above average at shortstop and one at second base. His 23 total homers were a career high. Eugenio Suarez had an insane season that went mostly unrecognized. Suarez hit 49 home runs, the most ever for a Venezuelan. However, he struck out a league leading 189 times. He had a .930 OPS and a .572 slugging percentage, with a high 14% barrel percentage. Kyle Farmer played in 97 games at six positions, including pitcher and catcher. Farmer hit nine home runs with a .410 slugging percentage. He walked just 10 times in 197 Plate Appearances, and struck in 30.3% of them.

The Reds might have eight MLB outfielders, and they have 10 on the 40-man roster. The team gave Nick Castellanos a four year, $64 million deal. Castellanos hit a career high 27 home runs with an .863 OPS. His 58 doubles with the Tigers and Cubs lead the MLB. He took off after a trade deadline deal to Chicago. He hit 16 home runs with 21 doubles in 51 games, with a 1.002 OPS. The team gave 31 year old Shogo Akiyama $21 million over three years for him to come over from Japan. Akiyama hit .303 with a .864 OPS and 20 home runs for the Saitama Seibu Lions last year. Former top prospect Nick Senzel made his big league debut. An infielder that was moved to center field, Senzel hit 12 home runs with a .742 OPS in a mediocre 104 game season. His most impressive stat was his 29.4 ft/s sprint speed. Jesse Winker has a .285 average with an .845 OPS in his three year career. He hit a career high 16 homers last year. In 2018, his walk rate was actually higher than his K rate. Aristides "The Punisher" Aquino pummeled baseballs, hitting 19 home runs in 56 games. With the Reds' crowded outfield, he might not make the team. He also stole seven bases with an .891 OPS. Scott Schebler hit 30 home runs in 2017, but hit .123 with a .475 OPS in 30 games last year. His exit velocity decreased from 90.2 in 2018 to 86.5 mph. Phil Ervin had a career high .271 average and .791 OPS in 94 games, with an OPS+ over 100 for the first time last year.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
CF Shogo Akiyama (L)
1B Joey Votto (L)
3B Eugenio Suarez (R)
2B Mike Moustakas (L)
RF Nicholas Castellanos (R)
DH Jesse Winker (L)
LF Aristedes Aquino (R)
SS Freddy Galvis (S)
C Tucker Barnhart (L)

       Projected Rotation
Luis Castillo (R)
Sonny Gray (R)
Trevor Bauer (R)
Anthony DeSclafani (R)
Wade Miley (L)

       Projected Bullpen
Raisel Iglesias, closer (R)
Amir Garrett (L)
Michael Lorenzen (R)
Pedro Strop (R)
Robert Stephenson (R)
Justin Shafer (R)
Matt Bowman (R)
Nate Jones (R)
Cody Reed (L)
Lucas Sims (R)
Tyler Mahle (R)

       Projected Bench
C Curt Casali (R)
CF Nick Senzel (R)
OF Scott Schebler (L)
UT Kyle Farmer (R)
OF Phil Ervin (R)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats
38-48 record, 4th in NL Central
Most home runs: Nicholas Castellanos (18)
Highest batting average: Jesse Winker (.275)
Highest OPS: Jesse Winker (.867)
Best ERA, starters: Trevor Bauer (3.43)
Best ERA, relievers: Cody Reed (2.88)
Most innings pitched: Sonny Gray (111.2)
Most strikeouts: Trevor Bauer (129)
Best K/9: Robert Stephenson (15.4)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 28-32
2018: 21-39
2017: 29-31
2016: 22-38
2015: 28-32

The Reds made major improvements this offseason. Their rotation might be the best in the division, and their bullpen is also in the top-3. The lineup looks potent now, and they have plenty of outfielders to spare. The Reds have leap-frogged the Cubs in the NL Central power rankings. The Brewers lost just about everyone except for Christian Yelich, and the Cardinals are doomed for a setback. I think that the Reds will finish 2nd in the NL Central, and just barely make the playoffs.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Chicago White Sox 2020 Season Preview 2.0

       Every year, there is a team that sticks out to everyone in Spring Training. That might be the White Sox this year. They already have a talented farm system, with former first rounders and big-money international players coming up to join the team this year. To help out their young talent, they have supplemented them by signing veterans stars, who will mentor them as well as win the team some games. Their big issue will be their shallow bullpen, but if Chicago can figure that out, they are legitimate AL Central contenders.

       Offseason additions: C Yasmani Grandal, LHP Dallas Keuchel, DH Edwin Encarnacion, OF Nomar Mazara, RHP Steve Cishek, LHP Gio Gonzalez, LHP Adalberto Mejia, RHP Bryan Mitchell, UT Cheslor Cuthbert, UT Andrew Romine.

       Offseason subtractions: RHP Ivan Nova, LHP Josh Osich, RHP Juan Minaya, C Welington Castillo, OF Ryan Cordell, OF Jon Jay.

The White Sox might have found their ace in Lucas Giolito. A former 1st rounder who was once baseball's top pitching prospect, Giolito struggled in his first full season, with the worst ERA in baseball. He rebounded in 2019, with a 3.41 ERA and 228 strikeouts in 176.2 innings. He also had three complete games with two of them being shutouts, both the most in the league. Giolito's 131 hits allowed were the least in the American League among qualifiers, and second least in MLB to Sonny Gray of the Reds. He made the all-star team and finished 6th in AL Cy Young voting. The White Sox signed former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel to a four year deal. In his one year in Atlanta, Keuchel had a 3.75 ERA and a 121 ERA+ in 112.2 innings. Keuchel does not throw hard (no pitches averaging 90 miles per hour or more) and puts less spin on his slider than a lot of guys have on their fastball, which means he relies on soft contact to get outs. When his average exit velocity against was a career high 88 miles per hour in 2019, signs point to a regression for Keuchel. A great fielder, Keuchel is a four time Gold Glove winner. Twelve year veteran Gio Gonzalez is in his third stint with the White Sox, but had not played with the team yet. He made just 17 starts last year with two relief appearances for the Brewers, posting a 3.50 ERA. Like Keuchel, he does not throw hard, and needs soft contact to succeed. Gonzalez was more successful in inducing soft contact last year, with an 86.3 exit velocity. Carlos Rodon, the 3rd overall pick in 2014, is always hurt. Currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Rodon should make Opening Day. He has only qualified for the ERA title once, in 2016. He had a 5.19 ERA in seven starts with 46 strikeouts. Reynaldo Lopez had an encouraging 3.91 ERA in 2018, but struggled in 2019, finishing the season with an ERA of 5.38 over 33 starts. He allowed a league leading 110 earned runs. His slider failed him, as the pitch that was dominant in 2018 was thrown 24 more times in 2019 than in 2018, and allowed 10 home runs, while it allowed none in 2018. Batters' slugging against the pitch went up from .268 to .500. Dylan Cease, acquired with Eloy Jimenez for Jose Quintana in 2017, had a rough debut. He had a 5.79 ERA in 14 starts, but he did finish with a 10 K/9. His fastball averages 96.5 miles per hour with a good spin rate of 2449 (better than Keuchel's slider), but he still got crushed with it. Opponents hit .356 with a .637 slugging against Cease's fastball, a pitch he threw 646 times. He could get pushed to the bullpen. Top pitching prospect Michael Kopech is back from Tommy John surgery. He made his debut at the end of 2018, making four starts. Expanded rosters should help Kopech make the Opening Day team.

The White Sox acquired Alex Colome last offseason and held onto him at the trade deadline in hopes of being competitive this year. Colome posted a 2.80 ERA with 30 saves and 55 strikeouts in 61 innings. Batters hit Colome hard, with an exit velocity of 90.7 mph on average. However, they haven't gotten great results out of that, as opponents had a .261 wOBA against him last year. The White Sox locked up set-up man Aaron Bummer, signing the southpaw to a five year deal. Bummer had a breakout 2019 season, limited both righties and lefties to an average under .200, and posting a 2.13 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 67.2 innings. Bummer has an elite sinker that he threw 67.7% of the time. Conveniently, two-thirds of batted balls versus Bummer were ground-balls. The team poached Steve Cishek from the cross-town Cubs. Cishek saved seven games last year, striking out 57 with a 2.95 ERA in 64 innings. Batters don't hit the ball hard against Cishek (84.5 exit velocity against), and even when they do, it isn't often, as he allows hard contact only 25.9% of the time. Evan Marshall was a good set-up man, with a 2.49 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 50.2 innings. Lefty Jace Fry struck out 68 batters in 55 innings, and while his 7.2 H/9 was good, his 7.0 BB/9 was among the worst in the league. It lead to an inflated 1.582 WHIP. His cutter is very good, with a .296 slugging against, but his curveball got crushed, with a 1.059 slugging. Former Royals closer Kelvin Herrera hasn't been the same since leaving Kansas City midway through 2018. He had a career worst 6.14 ERA for the White Sox last year. Herrera still throws hard with a fastball over 96 miles per hour, and his exit velocity against of 85.8 mph was actually a career best. He is still only 30 years old. The White Sox claimed Jimmy Cordero from the Mariners in June. He was solid the rest of the way, pitching in 30 games with a 2.75 ERA and 31 Ks in 36 innings, aided by a 97.4 mph sinker. Ian Hamilton had a AAA ERA of 1.71 in 2018, but allowed 18 runs in 16.1 AAA inning last year before missing the rest of the season with an injury. He is Chicago's 18th best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Carson Fulmer was picked 8th overall in 2015, but has a 6.56 ERA in 44 career games (15 starts).

The White Sox went out and signed Yasmani Grandal to a four year deal. One of the best catchers in the game, Grandal is a good defender, and hit 28 home runs with a career high .848 OPS in his only season with the Brewers. That OPS was boosted by a career high 17.2% walk rate. James McCann was a surprise all-star, with career highs in home runs (18), batting average (.273) and OPS (.789). However, betting on a regression would be wise, especially after a transition from starter to backup. He does not walk much and strikes out too much. Plus, he is not a good pitch framer.

Jose Abreu was a free agent, but took the qualifying offer before signing an extension. There was no chance he was leaving. He hit 33 home runs with a league leading 123 RBIs, plus a .284 average and .834 OPS. However, his batting average and OPS were actually lower than his career averages. His average exit velocity was 92.1 mph, a career best. Second base will be Nick Madrigal's spot. In a 162 game season, Madrigal wouldn't debut until May due to service time reasons, but in a 60 game year, he will be starting all year. He has Gold Glove potential and stole 35 bases with a .311 batting average in High-A, AA and AAA last year. 26 year old utility infielder Danny Mendick would have been the starter at second, but will transition back to a bench role. He hit two home runs with a .308 average and a .787 OPS in 16 games last year, his first time in the majors. He is Chicago's 19th best prospect. Tim Anderson was a 20-20 player in 2018, and while he didn't reach 20 home runs or 20 stolen bases in 2019, his improvements were more important, raising his batting average by 95 points, up to .335 to win the batting title. His .865 OPS was also a career high by over 100 points. He stole 17 bases and hit 18 home runs. With a 2.9 BB%, his game isn't perfect. Yoan Moncada, once MLB's top prospect, also saw major improvements. His 217 strikeouts in 2018 led the league, but he rebounded with a career high 25 home runs, with 10 stolen bases, a .315 batting average and a .915 OPS. He had a .602 and .606 slugging against fastballs and off-speed pitches, respectively. Andrew Romine is worth having around because he can play every position. His hitting needs improvement. He did not hit a home run in 72 games for Seattle last year, and his .210 batting average and .504 OPS were the worst of his career in a full season. Edwin Encarnacion can spell Abreu a day at first, but will be a primary DH. Encarnacion has hit at least 32 home runs in eight consecutive seasons. He has a career .851 OPS with 414 homers. His K rate and BB rate both improved from 2018.

Eloy Jimenez made the Opening Day roster last year as the club's top prospect. He hit 31 home runs with an .828 OPS. Jimenez hit the ball hard a good 47.9 percent of the time. He finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting. Luis Robert is in a very similar situation. The club's top prospect this year, Robert had one interesting twist from Jimenez's situation. He already signed an extension, before his first MLB game. In three different minor league levels Robert hit 32 home runs, stole 36 bases, had a .328 batting average with an OPS of 1.001. Robert and Jimenez will be in center and left field for a long time. The White Sox acquired Nomar Mazara from the Rangers. A 24 year old with four years of MLB experience, Mazara hit exactly 20 home runs in his first three seasons, but hit only 19 in 2019. However, his .268 average and .786 OPS last year were career highs. Mazara hit .387 versus off-speed pitches in 2019. Leury Garcia can play the infield as well as the outfield. He led the league with 11 sacrifice hits last year. A seven year veteran, Garcia played in over 100 games for the first time in 2019. He stole 15 bases and his .279 batting average was a career best. Adam Engel is very fast, with a 30.0 ft/s sprint speed, and has a great glove in centerfield. However, he stole just three bases last year. Engel's .242 average was a career high.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
SS Tim Anderson (R)
2B Yoan Moncada (S)
1B Jose Abreu (R)
DH Edwin Encarnacion (R)
C Yasmani Grandal (S)
LF Eloy Jimenez (R)
CF Luis Robert (R)
RF Nomar Mazara (L)
2B Nick Madrigal (R)

       Projected Rotation
Lucas Giolito (R)
Dallas Keuchel (L)
Gio Gonzalez (L)
Carlos Rodon (L)
Reynaldo Lopez (R)

       Projected Bullpen
Alex Colome, closer (R)
Aaron Bummer (L)
Steve Cishek (R)
Evan Marshall (R)
Jace Fry (L)
Kelvin Herrera (R)
Jimmy Cordero (R)
Ian Hamilton (R)
Dylan Cease (R)
Carson Fulmer (R)
Michael Kopech (R)

       Projected Bench
C James McCann (R)
UT Leury Garcia (S)
IF Danny Mendick (R)
UT Andrew Romine (S)
OF Adam Engel (R)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats:
42-43 record, 3rd in AL Central
Most home runs: Nomar Mazara (24)
Highest batting average: Eloy Jimenez (.291)
Highest OPS: Yasmani Grandal (.974)
Best ERA, starters: Lucas Giolito (2.22)
Best ERA, relievers: Ian Hamilton (1.64)
Most innings pitched: Lucas Giolito (109.2)
Most strikeouts: Lucas Giolito (159)
Best K/9: Lucas Giolito (13.0)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 29-31
2018: 20-40
2017: 26-34
2016: 30-30
2015: 28-32

The White Sox are a promising team. They saw Eloy Jimenez debut last year, and will have Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal start out in 2020. The starting lineup is great, the pitching staff has their ace, and the bullpen has some good relievers. However, I do not think that they can be a playoff team until their rotation has better depth, which will come if Cease and Kopech can grab spots next year and perform, and their bullpen, well, also gets better depth. After Colome, Bummer, Marshall and Cishek, there is a big drop-off, which will depend on if Herrera can return to his old form. Until then, the White Sox aren't a playoff team, and will finish in 3rd place in the AL Central.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Chicago Cubs 2020 Season Preview 2.0


       It is hard to imagine having a great shot at a wild card spot, then going 2-8 in your last ten games, missing the playoffs by five games, not bringing back your manager and having your entire team on the trade block. It may seem excessive, but it was not a fun September-October for Cubs fans. Expecting a busy offseason that could see their core get split up, the Cubs were relatively quiet, waiting until after the new year to make their first major league signing. They still have a talented lineup, but the rotation is aging and the bullpen does not look strong. It could be another heartbreak year for the Cubs.

        Offseason additions: OF Steven Souza Jr., RHP Jeremy Jeffress, 2B Jason Kipnis, RHP Ryan Tepera, RHP Dan Winkler, RHP Casey Sadler, RHP Jharel Cotton, RHP Jason Adam, LHP Tyler Olson, C Josh Phegley, IF Hernan Perez, IF Carlos Asuaje, IF Corban Joseph.

        Offseason subtractions: OF Nicholas Castellanos, LHP Cole Hamels, IF Addison Russell, RHP Pedro Strop, UT Ben Zobrist, UT Tony Kemp, RHP Brandon Kintzler, RHP Steve Cishek, C Jonathan Lucroy.

The Cubs enter 2020 with a rotation of 30+ year olds who have regressed. The ace figures to be Kyle Hendricks, who had a 3.46 ERA but struck out only 150 batters in 177 innings. It was the second worst ERA of his career. At 87.2 miles per hour, he has one of the slowest fastballs in the league, but excels at not walking batters (4.4 BB%) and forcing soft contact (average exit velocity against of 85.2 mph). At age 30, he is Chicago's youngest starter. Yu Darvish's second season in Chicago since he signed a big contract wasn't as bad, as he made 31 starts and struck out 229 batters in 178.2 innings. Still, he had a 3.98 ERA, disappointing compared to previous seasons. At 11.1, his career K/9 is an all-time record. Darvish threw eight different pitches last year, including an Eephus twice, averaging 63.7 miles per hour. Jon Lester has alternated between good and bad seasons the last four years. That is good news for Cubs fans, as he needs to rebound. Lester had a 4.46 ERA while allowing a league leading 205 hits in 171.2 innings. His 1.497 WHIP was his worst since his rookie season of 2006. He is 36, and his fastball has lost two miles an hour since 2016. Jose Quintana has been a giant letdown after being acquired from the White Sox for budding star Eloy Jimenez and more. His 4.68 ERA in 2019 was a career worst, and he allowed 10.1 hits per nine innings. In two and a half seasons for the Cubs, Quintana has a 4.23 ERA after posting a 3.51 ERA in nine seasons for the other Chicago team. Tyler Chatwood will compete for a rotation spot after a decent season as a swingman. In 38 games (five starts) Chatwood had a 3.76 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 76.2 innings. Of the 208 batted balls against him, only six were barrels. He has an exceptional spin rate on his fastball (2479 rpm) and curveball (3092 rpm). 25 year old Adbert Alzolay debuted late last year, posting a 7.30 ERA with 13 Ks in 12.1 innings.

The Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel midseason to give their bullpen a boost. He could be the only lock to make the bullpen. The seven time all-star struggled when he finally arrived in June, posting a 6.53 ERA with 30 strikeouts and 13 saves in 20.1 innings. Opponent's expected batting average rose 98 points from 2018, up to .270. While his fastball's average velocity decreased by .9 mph, the pitch's average exit velocity against rose 3.7 miles per hour, to a very high 93.6 mph. He lost all four of his decisions. Lefty Kyle Ryan made 73 appearances, striking out 58 in 61 innings with a 126 ERA+. A major concern with Ryan is that none of his pitches average 90 miles per hour or more, and he allows hard contact 42.1 percent of the time. Rowan Wick posted an impressive 2.43 ERA over 31 games, with a 9.5 K/9 ratio. 19 of his 35 strikeouts came from his fastball, which averages just under 96 miles per hour. Lefty Brad Wieck, acquired midseason from San Diego, has been diagnosed with testicular cancer and an abnormal heartbeat in the last two Februarys. The heartbeat was this year, and he had surgery to fix that. Wieck struck out 18 with a 3.60 ERA in 10 innings post-trade. Jeremy Jeffress was an all-star in 2018, finishing the season with a 1.29 ERA in Milwaukee. However, he had a terrible 2019 with a 5.02 ERA and his K/9 ratio went down by 2.4. One thing that did improve from 2018 was opponent's exit velocity, which decreased from 88.1 miles per hour to 86.2. Ryan Tepera also had a decent 2018, but not as good as Jeffress'. For Toronto last year, Tepera played in just 23 games, posting a weak 4.98 ERA. His K/9 went from 9.5 to 5.8, a drastic change. He saw a dip in velocity in every pitch but his slider, a pitch he threw just 16 times. Another Blue Jay last year, Jason Adam, was impressive down the stretch, with a 2.91 ERA in 23 games. His fastball has good velocity, at 94.4 mph, but the pitch has a more impressive spin rate of 2580 rpm, more than his curveball. Alec Mills is in play for the 5th rotation spot. In nine games (four starts) Mills struck out 42 batters in 36 innings with a 2.75 ERA. Dan Winkler is another player with a strong 2018 and weak 2019. He had a 3.43 2018 ERA, and like Tepera, had a 2019 ERA of 4.98. He has a career 10.3 K/9. The Cubs picked up Casey Sadler after he had an impressive 2.14 ERA for the Dodgers and Rays last year in 46.1 innings, going up and down between AAA and MLB. He has a good curveball, as opponents hit .157 against the pitch that has a 2911 rpm.

There were some trade rumors regarding Willson Contreras during the offseason. They did not make much sense, as there is not a great reason for the Cubs to trade Contreras. Contreras has been an all-star in two straight seasons, hitting a career high 24 home runs with an .888 OPS in 2019. His main issue is that he does not hit the ball hard (career exit velocity of 87.5), so his expected batting average, slugging and wOBA are all less than his actual numbers. At 27.8 ft/s, he is one of baseball's fastest catchers. The Cubs picked up Martin Maldonado and then Jonathan Lucroy last year to play when Contreras got hurt twice. However, backup Victor Caratini had career highs in home runs (11), batting average (.266) and OPS (.794). He hit the ball harder than Contreras, with an 89.6 average exit velocity.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo had his option picked up. A three time all-star and Gold Glover, Rizzo has hit at least 23 home runs in seven consecutive seasons. He hit .293 with a .924 OPS in 2019. The former was a career high and the latter was very close to being one. His 14% strikeout rate was very good. The second base race is wide open. Jason Kipnis is in camp as a non-roster invitee. A nine year veteran in Cleveland, Kipnis hit 17 home runs last year, seven stolen bases and a .245 average. His -6 outs above average at second could push him back to a bench role. If he makes the team then the team will likely lose a player that they won't want to. That could be Daniel Descalso, a veteran presence who can play all around the infield. His offense in 2019 suggests that it is best for the club to DFA him. He had a .173 batting average, .250 slugging percentage and a .521 OPS in 82 games last year. David Bote can also play around the infield. Bote hit 11 home runs with five stolen bases and a .785 OPS for the Cubs. Javier Baez is a star, and is on the cover of MLB the Show 20. Baez hit 29 home runs and stole 11 bases with a .281 batting average and an .847 OPS, which were all drop-offs from 2018. He was at the top of the league with 19 outs above average. Third baseman Kris Bryant lost a grievance case in the offseason, meaning he will be a free agent after 2021. Bryant, who was also reportedly in play for a trade, made the all-star team for the first time since his MVP season of 2016. Bryant hit 31 home runs with a .282 average and a .903 OPS. He crushed fastballs, hitting 24 home runs with a .307 average and .584 slugging off of one pitch. Top prospect Nico Hoerner will start the season with the Cubs, and if he stays, will force one of Kipnis or Descalso to be DFAd. He hit three home runs with a .282 average in a 20 game trial last year.

Kyle Schwarber had his best offensive season yet, hitting 38 home runs with an OPS of .871. His 156 strikeouts were a career high, but it is fine because he had 100 more Plate Appearances than he had in 2018, when he struck out 140 times. He will love the new DH rule, as his -10 outs above average can be pushed into a batting only role. He hit the ball hard 51.2% of the time, for an average exit velocity of 92.7 miles per hour. Five time Gold Glove winner Jason Heyward hit 21 home runs, his most since 2012. While he hit .305 against fastballs, he had a putrid .171 batting average against off-speed pitches and breaking balls, combined. His .772 OPS was his best as a Cub. Steven Souza Jr. signed with the team. He hit 30 home runs in 2017 with the Rays, but was traded after the season. He played in 72 games in the two years since, all coming in 2018. He has a .740 OPS in his career. Albert Almora hit a career high 12 home runs, but his .236 average was a 50 point drop-off from 2018, and his .651 OPS was a career low by 50 points as well. He doesn't hit the ball hard (85.2 average exit velocity), and he doesn't walk (4.4 BB%). Ian Happ had a career high .898 OPS in a career low 58 games. A 24 home run hitter in 2017, Happ hit 11 in 2019, for a 160 game pace of 30. He can connect with the ball, with a career barrel percentage of 12.9%.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
RF Jason Heyward (L)
SS Javier Baez (R)
3B Kris Bryant (R)
1B Anthony Rizzo (L)
DH Kyle Schwarber (L)
C Willson Contreras (R)
CF Ian Happ (S)
LF Steven Souza Jr. (R)
2B Jason Kipnis (L)

       Projected Rotation
Kyle Hendricks (R)
Yu Darvish (R)
Jon Lester (L)
Jose Quintana (L)
Tyler Chatwood (R)

       Projected Bullpen
Craig Kimbrel, closer (R)
Kyle Ryan (L)
Rowan Wick (R)
Jeremy Jeffress (R)
Brad Wieck (L)
Ryan Tepera (R)
Jason Adam (R)
Daniel Winkler (R)
Alec Mills (R)
Adbert Alzolay (R)
Casey Sadler (R)

       Projected Bench
C Victor Caratini (S)
IF David Bote (R)
IF Daniel Descalso (L)
OF Albert Almora (R)
IF Nico Hoerner (R)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats
32-52 record, last in NL Central
Most home runs: Kris Bryant (19)
Highest batting average Kris Bryant (.273)
Highest OPS: Kris Bryant (.951)
Best ERA, starters: Kyle Hendricks (3.68)
Best ERA, relievers: Craig Kimbrel (3.67)
Most innings pitched: Kyle Hendricks (102.2)
Most strikeouts: Yu Darvish (79)
Best K/9: Brad Wieck and Craig Kimbrel (11.7)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 34-26
2018: 36-24
2017: 30-30
2016: 42-18
2015: 33-27

The Cubs won the World Series in 2016 as a young team that looked like they could have a dynasty. Their main team still remains, but they are all older, and that shows in the pitching staff. The lineup can still win them games, but the old rotation and weak bullpen will lose more games than win. In a tough NL Central, the Cubs don't stand a chance. I think they will fall to 4th in the division, and miss the playoffs.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Boston Red Sox 2020 Season Preview 2.0

       A World Series hangover is not a real thing. Well, tell that to Red Sox fans. The team was dominant in 2018, leading to a World Championship. However, the team started off slow in 2019 and could never get it going fully, leading to an 84-78 season, finishing third in the AL East, missing the playoffs. They fired GM Dave Dombrowski mid-season, and due to his involvement in the Astros' cheating scandal, Alex Cora was gone in the offseason. Even worse, when payroll issues became apparent, new head of the front office Chaim Bloom was forced to trade away 2018 MVP winner Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, with former Cy Young winner David Price going with him. Now with Bloom and manager Ron Roenicke in charge, it will be very different in Boston, with the expectations lower. Even so, the Red Sox have a very good chance at making the playoffs, although a tough schedule will hurt them.

       Offseason additions: OF Alex Verdugo, OF Kevin Pillar, IF Jose Peraza, C Kevin Plawecki, LHP Martin Perez, RHP Austin Brice, RHP Collin McHugh, C Jonathan Lucroy, RHP Trevor Hildenberger, LHP Jeffrey Springs, 1B Tommy Joseph, OF Cesar Puello, LHP Matt Hall, RHP Phillips Valdez.

       Offseason subtractions: OF Mookie Betts, LHP David Price, RHP Rick Porcello, IF Brock Holt, RHP Andrew Cashner, C Sandy Leon, RHP Travis Lakins, RHP Jhoulys Chacin, IF Chris Owings, 1B Steve Pearce, 1B Sam Travis, OF Gorkys Hernandez.

The Red Sox will be without their ace, Chris Sale, for the shortened season. Figuring that the season wouldn't be long, Sale and the Red Sox decided to go ahead and end Sale's 2020, as he had Tommy John surgery. Sale had an injury riddled 2019, but when he was healthy, the results weren't there. He had a 4.40 ERA in 25 starts, about a full run higher than his previous career worst 3.41 ERA. However, he continued to strike out batters at an enormous rate. He K'd 218 batters in 147.1 innings. The team trading away David Price will hurt, as Eduardo Rodriguez will have to step in and be the ace. Rodriguez had a career best 3.81 ERA, 213 strikeouts and 203.1 innings. However, he also walked a league leading 75 batters. Rodriguez threw his change-up and cutter a combined 40% of the time, more often than he threw his fastball. This lead to a lot of soft contact, as Rodriguez was in the top six percent of pitchers in average exit velocity against (85.7 miles per hour) and hard hit percentage (28.5%). Nathan Eovaldi was a postseason hero in 2018, but he had a 5.99 ERA in 23 games (12 starts). The Red Sox tried to use him as a closer, but it didn't work, and he never recorded a save. His 70 strikeouts in 67.2 innings led to a career high 9.3 K/9. Despite elbow problems, Eovaldi's average fastball velocity did not go down. Instead, it slightly went up to 97.5 mph. He allows a lot of hard contact, with balls leaving bats at an average of 90.6 miles per hour. A dramatic walk rate increase from 4.4% in 2018 to 11.6% last year did not help. The Red Sox will need him to go back to 2018 form. The Red Sox signed Martin Perez to a one year deal. A 28-year-old lefty with eight seasons under his belt, Perez hasn't had an ERA under 4.50 since 2016. For the Twins last season Perez had a 5.12 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 165.1 innings. It was a career high for him in Ks. Perhaps Boston sees Rodriguez in him. Both are lefties, and statcast shows that Perez and Rodriguez are similar pitchers. Perez allows even softer contact than Rodriguez, with an average exit velocity of 85.4 miles per hour. 28 year old Ryan Weber will get a rotation spot after Sale's surgery. In 18 games (three starts), Weber had a 5.09 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 40.2 innings. His sinker is the pitch he throws the most, and while it got hammered last year (.313 batting average against), it's expected batting average against of .258 shows that Weber was unlucky. The 5th spot could go to Collin McHugh. Recovering from an elbow injury, McHugh might not make Opening Day. There is also a chance that someone else opens for McHugh. He had a bad 4.70 ERA last year. He is the rare pitcher that relies on an offspeed pitch or breaking ball more than his fastball, throwing his slider 43.4% of the time. He had a 9.9 K/9 last year, but he also wasn't starting most of the time. Matt Hall and Tanner Houck could pick up some of the workload. The latter is a 2017 1st round pick and Boston's 10th best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

Brandon Workman was a solid reliever prior to 2019, but became Boston's closer last year. He struck out 104 batters over 71.2 innings with 16 saves and a 1.88 ERA. His .173 expected batting average and .233 expected slugging were both in the top 1% of pitchers. His walk rate of 15.7%, however, was in the bottom one percent of pitchers. With Craig Kimbrel gone, the Red Sox needed him badly last year. After Ryan Brasier was a success story and posted a 1.60 ERA in 2018, he struggled in 2019 and ended up back in the minors. The righty had a 4.85 ERA with 61 Ks in 55.2 innings with seven saves. Matt Barnes has never had an ERA under 3.00 in a season, with 3.78 in 2019 being very close to his career high. He has appeared in at least 62 games in four straight seasons. He struck out 110 batters in 64.1 innings in 2019. He throws his slider and fastball 98% of the time. The fastball averages 96.6 miles per hour, while opponents had a .183 batting average and .226 wOBA against the slider. 30-year-old Marcus Walden, in his first full season, had a 3.81 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 78 innings over 70 games. He can evade good contact, as his 2.8% barrel percentage was in the top two percent. Righty Heath Hembree has already been on the team for six years. He struck out 46 with a 125 ERA+ in 39.2 innings last season. Throwing his fastball nearly 70% of the time, batters hit just .172 against the pitch. In his rookie season, Josh Taylor had a 3.04 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 47.1 innings. He had a 159 ERA+. 23 year old lefty prospect Darwinzon Hernandez made his debut last year, striking out 57 batters in 30.1 innings. Batters had an expected batting average of just .159 against him. Colten Brewer had a respectable 4.12 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 54.2 innings. Austin Brice had a respectable season for the Marlins last year, with a 3.43 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 44.2 innings. He has a great curveball, with an average spin rate of 2903 rpm. The pitch had a batting average against of .172. Josh Osich pitched in 57 games for the White Sox last year, and lowered his walk rate to 5.5%. Matt Hall, another lefty, could eat up innings. His curveball has an exceptional spin rate of 2927 rpm.

A big surprise for the Red Sox last year was light hitting catcher Christian Vazquez's breakout season. He hit 23 home runs, raising his career high by 18. He also hit .276 with a .798 OPS. It was his first season with an OPS+ over 100, at 103. He is an above average pitch framer. Two thirds of the Red Sox old three catcher tandem are gone, with Blake Swihart and Sandy Leon leaving in the last year. Kevin Plawecki is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster. The former Met and Indian has hit 17 homers with 92 RBIs and a .636 OPS in his 296 game career. His pop time to second base is in the 5th percentile among catchers, but his pitch framing is in the 98th percentile. Former all-star Jonathan Lucroy is in camp as a non-roster invitee. He has played for six teams since the start of 2016. He hit eight home runs with a .660 OPS for the Angels and Cubs last year.

Mitch Moreland is back for his 4th season in Boston. His .835 OPS last year was a career high. He has hit 56 home runs with a .782 OPS in his three years for the Red Sox. He hits the ball hard, with a 90.8 mph average exit velocity. He will likely platoon with Michael Chavis, a sophomore who was originally a third baseman but can play first and second as well. The "Ice Horse" hit 18 home runs last year, and got off to a hot start with 15 homers in 69 games, but struggled in the second half, playing in just 26 games, with a .649 OPS. He strikes out too much, with a K rate of 33.2%. Chavis can take away some playing time from speedy second baseman Jose Peraza, signed from the Reds. Peraza stole 67 bases from 2016-18, but stole just seven bases last year, with six home runs and a .631 OPS. He had a .288 batting average in 2018 and a .742 OPS. The left side of the infield is where things get good. Former top prospect Xander Bogaerts finally broke out in his age 26 season, and his 7th season overall. He hit 33 home runs with 117 RBIs, a .309 average and a .939 OPS, plus a 140 OPS+ and a .390 wOBA. He is a terrible defender at shortstop (-3 outs above average) but his offense cancels that out. Rafael Devers is improving on defense at third base. He went from -7 outs above average in 2018 to 7 in 2019. At age 22 Devers led the league with 54 doubles, while hitting 32 home runs with 115 RBIs, eight stolen bases, a .311 average and a .916 OPS. He hits the ball hard and often, with a 92.1 miles per hour average exit velocity, and a 47.5% hard hit percentage. Both Devers and Bogaerts received MVP votes. Rule 5 pick Jonathan Arauz can play all over the infield. He hit 11 home runs with a .707 OPS in High-A and AA in the Astros system. He has always been very young for his league, explaining his low offensive production. He is more of a fielder anyways. The final roster spot is between Marco Hernandez and Tzu-Wei Lin. Lin is on the 40-man roster, giving him the edge. Both are weak hitters, but Hernandez's speed (29.4 ft/s) is valuable.

Without Betts here, writing about the Red Sox outfield seems weird. Andrew Benintendi is now the face of it. He had a down 2019, with just 13 home runs and 10 stolen bases, plus a mediocre .266 average and .774 OPS. To show how average he was, his OPS+ is exactly 100. Jackie Bradley Jr. has a great glove in center field, but his hitting can get better. He did hit 21 home runs in 2019, but he hit just .225 with a .738 OPS and struck out a career high 155 times. After a spectacular 50.1% hard hit percentage in 2018, that scaled back to 43% in 2019. He has not had an OPS+ of at least 100 since his all-star 2016 season. Alex Verdugo, the main return in the Betts trade, was a top prospect coming off an encouraging rookie season. He hit 12 home runs with four stolen bases, a .294 batting average and an .817 OPS. He doesn't strike out too much, with a 13.7% K rate. The Red Sox signed Kevin Pillar to be one of the, if not best 4th outfielders in the game. Maybe a better defender than Bradley, Pillar hit 21 home runs with 14 stolen bases, a .259 batting average and a .719 OPS. The numbers are good, plus he had great defensive numbers, but somehow that led to him finishing 22nd in MVP voting in the National League. A longtime Blue Jay, he has seen the Red Sox and the rest of the AL East a lot of times. He also is very durable, playing in an average of 152 games over the last five years. Like Verdugo, he doesn't strike out often (13.8% K rate), but he does not hit the ball hard, with an average exit velocity of 86 miles per hour. JD Martinez's decision to not opt out of his contract might have cost Boston Betts. He is an outfielder, but is much better off at DH. He hit 36 home runs with 105 RBIs with a .304 average and a .939 OPS last year, and that was all worse than his first Red Sox season, 2018. He has an average exit velocity of over 91 miles per hour in each of the last five years.

       Projected Lineup
LF Andrew Benintendi (L)
3B Rafael Devers (L)
SS Xander Bogaerts (R)
DH JD Martinez (R)
1B Mitch Moreland (L)
C Christian Vazquez (R)
RF Alex Verdugo (L)
CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (L)
2B Jose Peraza (R)

       Projected Rotation
Eduardo Rodriguez (L)
Nathan Eovaldi (R)
Martin Perez (L)
Collin McHugh (R)
Ryan Weber (R)

       Projected Bullpen
Brandon Workman, closer (R)
Ryan Brasier (R)
Matt Barnes (R)
Marcus Walden (R)
Heath Hembree (R)
Josh Taylor (L)
Darwinzon Hernandez (L)
Colten Brewer (R)
Josh Osich (L)
Austin Brice (R)
Matt Hall (L)

       Projected Bench
C Kevin Plawecki (R)
IF Jonathan Arauz (S)
IF Michael Chavis (R)
OF Kevin Pillar (R)
IF Marco Hernandez (L)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats (at the time of writing):
36-47 record, 3rd in AL East
Most home runs: Rafael Devers (19)
Highest batting average: Jose Peraza (.301)
Highest OPS: Xander Bogaerts (.879)
Best ERA, starters: Eduardo Rodriguez (3.75)
Best ERA, relievers: Matt Barnes (2.25)
Most innings pitched: Eduardo Rodriguez (112.2)
Most strikeouts: Eduardo Rodriguez (122)
Best K/9: Matt Barnes (15.2)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 31-29
2018: 41-19
2017: 33-27
2016: 35-25
2015: 27-33

The Red Sox are a very average team. Their outfield used to be the best in baseball, but with a departed Betts, they will need Benintendi to have a monster season for them to be in the top-5. Devers and Bogaerts are very good, but the rest of the lineup is meh. The starting rotation is awful, and the bullpen heavily relies on Barnes and Workman. With the Sox playing against good teams like the Yankees, Rays, Mets, Braves, Phillies and Nationals all season, they will have a hard time keeping up in their division. The Red Sox will not be challenged by the Blue Jays, but still ultimately finish 3rd in the AL East, missing the playoffs.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Baltimore Orioles 2020 Season Preview 2.0

       There were two things about 2019 that were good for the Orioles. The first was that they drafted Adley Rutschman first overall in June, and the second is that they didn't finish last in the MLB. The Tigers beat the Orioles to the first overall pick this June, while Baltimore settled for second, selecting University of Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad, who hit 37 home runs with an OPS of 1.011 over a three year career (150 games played). Despite moving up in the standings one place from 2018 to 2019, the Orioles' rebuild is not even close to being over. They have some good players in Trey Mancini and John Means, but it isn't guaranteed that they will still be decent players by the time the Orioles ever turn it around, when Rutschman and Kjerstad make the starting lineup. It is all about helping the minor league teams now.

       Offseason additions: SS Jose Iglesias, LHP Wade LeBlanc, RHP Kohl Stewart, LHP Tommy Milone, SS Richard Urena, RHP Travis Lakins, RHP Cole Sulser, IF Andrew Velazquez, IF Pat Valaika, C Bryan Holaday.

       Offseason subtractions: IF Jonathan Villar, RHP Dylan Bundy, RHP Dan Straily, OF Joey Rickard

The Orioles had just one player finish the season with the team with at least 10 innings pitched and an ERA under 4.00. That was John Means, a 26 year old rookie with an elite change-up, but not the strikeout stuff. Means struck out just 121 batters in 155 innings with a 3.60 ERA. Using his change-up 28.8% of the time helped Means have a hard hit percentage of just 30.5%, putting him in the top ten percent of the league in that category. The rest of the rotation is a big question. Former Rays second starter Alex Cobb started the season on the IL with a groin strain, then suffered a lumbar strain and later a hip impingement, which required surgery, ending his season after three starts. Cobb struck out eight batters and allowed 15 earned runs in 12.1 innings. He also somehow allowed nine home runs. In his last full season of 2018, Cobb was not good. According to baseball savant, Cobb was in the bottom ten percent among pitchers in hard hit percentage, expected batting average, whiff rate, and strikeout rate. His opponent's exit velocity, expected ERA, expected wOBA against, expected slugging against, barrel % and fastball velocity and spin were also in the bottom half of the league. If you don't understand what that means, just know that Cobb was really bad in 2018. The Orioles signed 2013 4th overall pick Kohl Stewart to a major league deal. In 17 career games (six starts), Stewart has a 4.79 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 62 innings. Even as a AAA starter last year Stewart had a 5.14 ERA. His best pitch is his slider. In his nine MLB games last year, Stewart went to it 32.1% of the time, and finished seven of his ten strikeouts with the pitch. Another former first rounder, Asher Wojciechowski, is more of a wild card. In 82.1 innings last year, Wojciechowski struck out 80 batters and allowed just 80 hits. However, 17 of those hits were home runs, helping inflate his ERA to 4.92. The Orioles gave Wade LeBlanc a minor league deal. A journeyman with a 3.72 ERA in 162 innings for Seattle in 2018, LeBlanc struggled last year, with a 5.71 ERA in 121.1 innings, and lost his spot in the rotation. Now on a much worse Orioles team, LeBlanc gets another shot. LeBlanc's Mariners teammate Tommy Milone is also in camp. Milone pitched 100 innings last year, the first time he's done that since 2015. The Orioles gave two Rule-5 picks in Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker a look in Spring Training 1.0, but sent them back to the Astros and Cubs, respectively.

Closer Mychal Givens failed to pitch 70 innings for the first time since his first taste of the MLB in 2015. His 4.57 ERA was over a half run worse than his previous career worst. He saved only 11 games, but his 86 strikeouts in 63 innings led to a career high 12.3 K/9. Richard Bleier never had a season with an ERA over 2.00 entering 2019, but after the season, his career ERA went all the way up to 3.05. A lefty with a career 4.3 K/9, Bleier allowed six home runs in 55.1 innings, six more home runs than he allowed in 2018. Even though he won all three of his decisions, Bleier had an awful 5.37 ERA. On the bright side, hitters facing Bleier had a barrel percentage of just 3.1 percent, putting Bleier in the top 3% of the league. Hunter Harvey, a 24 year old first rounder in 2013, finally debuted late in 2019, allowing one run while striking out 11 in 6.1 innings (1.42 ERA). Harvey looks like the potential future closer. Speaking of potential future closers, Toronto thought Miguel Castro was exactly that, when he had four saves in his first 13 career games in 2015. However, he saved his first game since then last season. His K/9 went from 5.9 in 2018 to 8.7 in 2019. However, his ERA raised from 3.96 to 4.66. The six-foot-seven righty throws a sinker with an average of 97 miles per hour. Lefty Paul Fry allowed lefties to have an .839 OPS, but righties had just a .679 OPS. He excels in forcing ground balls, with a 58.4 ground ball percentage. The Orioles claimed Travis Lakins from the Red Sox. He didn't have good AAA numbers, but he had a respectable 3.86 ERA in 23.1 innings last year. Shawn Armstrong had a 5.74 ERA in 58 innings, striking out 63. Tanner Scott, Dillon Tate, David Hess, Evan Phillips and Cole Sulser will fight for three spots to make the 30-man team.

The Orioles picked up Pedro Severino from the Nats in Spring Training, and he was not bad offensively. He hit 13 home runs with a .740 OPS, okay for a catcher. He also had a 1.2 bWAR. Chance Sisco, once a decent catching prospect, hit eight home runs, but also had a weak .210 average and .729 OPS. Sisco has a career .203 batting average. Veteran catcher Bryan Holaday is a non-roster invitee. He hit a career high four home runs in 43 games for Miami last year. He had a solid .278 batting average and a .779 OPS. If it weren't for the pandemic, there would be a great chance of Rutschman debuting in '21, but I think that his debut will be delayed to either really late 2021 or 2022, if there isn't a future COVID related stoppage. There is a very good chance that he will be on Baltimore's 60-man "taxi squad".

Former 53 home run hitter Chris Davis was usurped by Jeff Mathis as the worst hitter in baseball. Davis was still terrible in 2019, with a .179 average and .601 OPS. While when he connects with the ball it is normally good (10.5% barrel percentage, just outside the top quarter of the league), that has not happened often, as his K rate rose to a career high 39.5%, and he missed almost half of the breaking balls he swung at, and over half of off-speed pitches. Trey Mancini was the best hitter for the squad last year, after he had a breakout season, hitting 35 home runs with 97 RBIs, a .291 average and .899 OPS. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer in Spring Training, and will most likely miss the entire season. The Orioles took a chance on second baseman Hanser Alberto, and he hit 12 home runs with a .305 average. He hit .398 against lefties, ranking among the league's best. The numbers show that Alberto's 2019 was likely a fluke. His 82.8 average exit velocity and 18.3% hard hit percentage were both in the first percentile among hitters. However, if he continues with his 99th percentile 9.1 K%, then he will have no trouble finding a job somewhere. The Orioles traded away Jonathan Villar, who was at one point the team's best player. His replacement is Jose Iglesias, a good defender who hit 11 home runs with a .288 average for the Reds last year. Like Alberto, Iglesias doesn't hit the ball hard but won't strikeout. His 12 outs above average at shortstop last year put him in the 97th percentile. Rio Ruiz hit 12 home runs, but his other offensive numbers weren't good. Richie Martin, a Rule 5 pick last year, spent the whole year with the team, and hit .208 with a .581 OPS. He can play shortstop, second and third base. His sprint speed of 29.5 ft/s puts him among the league leaders. Andrew Velazquez isn't a good hitter, and only stole three bases in AAA last year. However, he has some MLB experience and stole 29 in AAA in 2018. Renato Nunez can play corner infield, but he is more of a DH. He hit 31 home runs in his first year with the team.

Switch hitting outfielder Anthony Santander hit 20 home runs in 93 games after hitting one home run in his previous 46 career games. He also had a .773 OPS. Austin Hays was called up in September and hit four home runs with a .309 average and .947 OPS. He crushed fastballs, with a slugging percentage of .750 against them. 2015 first rounder DJ Stewart had a weak .698 OPS, but will get a good chance to be the left fielder. His K rate of 18.3% was good for 2019 baseball. Dwight Smith Jr. had a .241 batting average with 13 home runs. Fighting with Stewart for the left field nod, Smith was a negative fielder, with -10 outs above average. Stevie Wilkerson can play all over the field. Mostly at center field, Wilkerson hit 10 home runs but had a .225 average and .286 OBP. The best part of his game is his sprint speed of 28.3 ft/s.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
2B Hanser Alberto (R)
RF Anthony Santander (S)
DH Renato Nunez (R)
LF DJ Stewart (L)
CF Austin Hays (R)
C Pedro Severino (R)
SS Jose Iglesias (R)
1B Chris Davis (L)
3B Rio Ruiz (L)

       Projected Rotation
John Means (L)
Alex Cobb (R)
Asher Wojciechowski (R)
Kohl Stewart (R)
Wade LeBlanc (L)

       Projected Bullpen
Mychal Givens, closer (R)
Richard Bleier (L)
Miguel Castro (R)
Hunter Harvey (R)
Paul Fry (L)
Travis Lakins (R)
Shawn Armstrong (R)
Tommy Milone (L)
Cole Sulser (R)
David Hess (R)
Tanner Scott (L)

       Projected Bench
C Chance Sisco (L)
IF Andrew Velazquez (S)
SS Richie Martin (R)
OF Dwight Smith Jr. (L)
UT Stevie Wilkerson (S)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats (at the time writing):
33-49 record, 5th in AL East
Most home runs*: Anthony Santander (20)
Highest batting average: Austin Hays (.277)
Highest OPS: Austin Hays (.807)
Best ERA, starters**: Alex Cobb (4.77)
Best ERA, relievers: Mychal Givens (5.12)
Most strikeouts: Hunter Harvey (62)
Best K/9: Hunter Harvey (11.9)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 19-41
2018: 19-41
2017: 31-29
2016: 36-24
2015: 30-30

The Orioles are not a good team. That is shown by their last two seasons. It is also evident by the fact that the simulation has them in last place, while their team is carried by players that will not play for them in 2020 (see bottom). The Orioles are destined for another last place finish, and things won't turn around until their pitching staff improves, and when Hjerstad and Rutschman make the team.

*All offensive categories were actually lead by Trey Mancini, but I did not put him as the leader because of his unavailability for the 2020 season.
**Similarly, most pitching categories were lead by players that will not play for the Orioles in 2020. Fake free agent signee Aaron Sanchez lead in starter ERA and strikeouts (with current free agent Keyvius Sampson in second place), while Eduardo Paredes, Addison Reed and Quintin Torres-Costa, all not on the team, in the top three spots for reliever ERA.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Atlanta Braves 2020 Season Preview 2.0

From Sports Illustrated
       Entering 2019, it was an almost unanimous opinion that the NL East was the strongest division in baseball. But, the Braves were able to fend off the surging Nationals, the new-look Phillies and the self destructive Mets to win the division. However, the Braves lost in the NLDS to the Cardinals after a terrible Game 5, while the Nationals won the World Series. The offseason wasn't easy either, as the Braves made many additions, but lost multiple star players. The Braves still have a very young core, so their window is not close to closing.

       Offseason additions: LHP Will Smith, OF Marcell Ozuna, C Travis d'Arnaud, LHP Cole Hamels, RHP Felix Hernandez, OF Peter O'Brien, IF Yangervis Solarte, OF Shane Robinson, 1B Yonder Alonso, LHP Chris Rusin

       Offseason subtractions: 3B Josh Donaldson, LHP Dallas Keuchel, RHP Julio Teheran OF Matthew Joyce, RHP Kevin Gausman, RHP Anthony Swarzak, LHP Jerry Blevins

The Braves cut ties with former ace Julio Teheran in the offseason, because Teheran is now a third starter type. But, the Braves have their own new ace. As a rookie, Mike Soroka had a 2.68 ERA with 142 strikeouts in 174.2 innings. He had a WHIP of just 1.11, while allowing 7.9 hits per nine. Mark Melancon was the only Braves pitcher with at least 20 innings pitched with a HR/9 under Soroka's 0.7, and Melancon pitched in just 21 innings. Soroka finished 6th in Cy Young voting and 2nd in Rookie of the Year. With Dallas Keuchel gone for Chicago, Max Fried will have to step in to be the number two starter. Fried and his great curveball struck out 173 batters in 165.2 innings with a 4.02 ERA in his first full MLB season. The aforementioned curveball, averaging 74.5 miles per hour, struck out 68 of those 173 batters, more than any other of his pitches. He went to it 24.7% of the time, with an average rpm of 2844, good enough to land in the 91st percentile among all curveballs in the league. Mike Foltynewicz had a career season in 2018 with a 2.85 ERA, but made just 21 starts in 2019, and went back to his prior struggles, with 105 strikeouts in 117 innings and a 4.54 ERA. His 100 ERA+ means that he was a league average pitcher. The Braves signed four time all-star and World Series MVP winner Cole Hamels to a one year deal, and the pandemic meant that he would not miss the first couple of weeks of the season with a shoulder injury. He struck out 143 batters in 141.2 innings with a 117 ERA+ for the Cubs last season at age 35. Sean Newcomb was a big part of the rotation in 2018, making 30 starts with a 3.90 ERA. He was moved to the bullpen in 2019, and had career highs in ERA (3.16) and ERA+ (144). He is probably best suited for the bullpen, but he will try to make the rotation. Young prospects Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright are also candidates. They both struggled in little play last season. Former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez is in camp. However, he has flamed out by now.

The Braves gave Will Smith $40 million over three years to be their closer. The best available reliever in free agency, Smith had a 2.76 ERA with a career high 34 saves and 96 strikeouts in 65.1 innings. He will be a welcome addition for a Braves team whose closer most of last season was Luke Jackson. However, Jackson was a pleasant surprise for the Braves. A former Texas supplemental first rounder, Jackson was traded to the Braves for two lowly regarded prospects in December 2016. Last year, he struck out 106 batters in 72.2 innings with 18 saves and a 3.84 ERA. However, Jackson lost the closer job to Mark Melancon after he was acquired from San Fransisco at the trade deadline. Melancon, who had 98 saves from 2015-16, saved 11 games for the Braves and struck out 24 batters in 21 innings. The Braves acquired both Shane Greene and Chris Martin at the trade deadline as well. Greene had a 1.18 ERA and a 10.2 K/9 in 38 games with the Tigers, but struggled after the trade, with a 4.01 ERA and a 7.7 K/9 in 27 games. Martin is a success story that walked one batter and struck out 22 in 17.2 innings for the Braves. However, he also allowed eight earned runs for them. Combined with his '19 stats for the Rangers, Martin threw in the zone a career high 53.3% of the time, but saw batters hit the ball in the zone less, with a personal best 79.8% zone contact percentage. Darren O'Day was acquired at the 2018 trade deadline but didn't make his Braves debut until late 2019. The submariner allowed one run in 5.1 innings. There are two more spots to be filled if-or-when rosters revert to 26 men, and more than two competitors. Josh Tomlin is a non-roster invitee. He had a 3.74 ERA in 79.1 innings over 51 games (one start). Jacob Webb had an amazing rookie season, with a 1.39 ERA and a 329 ERA+ in 32.1 innings before an injury ended his year. The problem is that Smith would be the only lefty on the roster. AJ Minter saved 15 games for the team in 2018, but had a terrible 7.06 ERA in 29.1 innings. Former Rockie Chris Rusin is in camp on a minor league deal. He only pitched an inning in the big leagues last year. He has starting experience and is a lefty, so he could be an alternate to Tomlin. Southpaw Grant Dayton broke his toe playing a game of catch, and missed over a month. He allowed two earned runs in 3.2 innings when he returned, rising his season ERA to a still respectable 3.00 in 12 innings.

The Braves saw veteran Brian McCann retire after the team's loss to St. Louis. They went out and signed former 1st rounder Travis d'Arnaud to a one year deal. d'Arnaud started out 2019 by going two-for-24 for the Mets and Dodgers before catching on with the Rays. d'Arnaud then broke out, hitting 16 home runs with a .782 OPS in 92 games. He was helped out by a career high 90 miles per hour average exit velocity. However, his 85 strikeouts were 21 more than his previous career worst. Tyler Flowers is entering his 5th season with the team. His first two were great, but he has been bad since, with averages under .230 and and OPS under .750 in both 2018 and 2019.

The Braves had one of baseball's best infields in 2019. Even after Josh Donaldson walked in free agency, it is still shaping up well. Freddie Freeman is still a top three first baseman in baseball. He had career highs in home runs (38) and RBIs (121) with a .295 batting average and a .938 OPS while swiping six bags. He finished with 59 barrels, 8th most in the league, the highest rank of his career. Somehow, his Silver Slugger win was only his first. Ozzie Albies also won a Silver Slugger award, hitting 24 home runs, stealing 15 bases and hitting .295 with an .852 OPS. His home plate to first base time was 4.04 seconds on average, the fastest of his career. Former first overall pick Dansby Swanson is still inconsistent, but had his best season at the plate. He hit 17 homers, stole 10 bases, hit .251 with a .748 OPS. Johan Camargo had a breakout 2018 at third base, but struggled after Donaldson took his spot. He had a terrible .663 OPS in 98 games. He fights Austin Riley for the starting position. Riley plays third base and left field, like Camargo can. Riley hit 18 home runs in his 80 game rookie season. However, he hit just .226 with a .750 OPS. His 13.7% barrel rate was higher than Freeman's 12.5%. Adeiny Hechavarria is known as a great defender with a weak bat. However, in 24 games for the Braves last season, Hechavarria hit four home runs with a .328 average and a 1.039 OPS. Charlie Culberson can play seven positions. He has played over 100 games for the Braves in the last two years, but is in camp as a non-roster invitee. He was very bad offensively, with a .731 OPS. Despite playing in 108 games, Culberson made just 144 Plate Appearances. Yonder Alonso has a shot at the 30th roster spot. He hit 51 home runs over a two year period from 2017-2018 (and went to one all-star game), but hit just 10 last year. He had a .199 average and a .641 OPS, but things picked up in his last 54 games, when he signed with the Rockies after the White Sox released him. It could be due to Coors Field, but Alonso had an .837 OPS for Colorado.

Ronald Acuna Jr. has usurped Freeman as the face of the franchise. The former Rookie of the Year winner flirted with a 40-40 season, hitting 40 home runs and stealing 37 bases, the latter leading the league. Acuna also lead the league in Plate Appearances (715) and runs (127). He ended the season 5th in MVP voting and with a Silver Slugger. His 46.9 hard hit % was not in the top 10% of the league, but was an improvement on his 2018 mark, which was in the top-nine percent of baseball. The Braves poached Marcell Ozuna from the Cardinals after he beat them in the playoffs. Ozuna hit 29 home runs with an .800 OPS in his second season in St. Louis. Ender Inciarte won three consecutive Gold Gloves leading up to 2019. However, he played in just 65 games, stealing seven bases, a career low. He has 113 stolen bases in six years. However, he is not a good hitter, with a career high OPS of .759. Nick Markakis chose to re-sign in Atlanta, which would have likely ruining his outside shot at 3,000 hits. However, the addition of the DH in the National League will move Ozuna away from the field most of the time. The 36 year old Markakis has 2,355 hits in his career. Two time 30 home run hitter Adam Duvall played in 41 games, hitting 10 home runs with an .882 OPS.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
LF Ronald Acuna Jr. (R)
2B Ozzie Albies (S)
1B Freddie Freeman (L)
DH Marcell Ozuna (R)
RF Nick Markakis (L)
C Travis d'Arnaud (R)
CF Ender Inciarte (L)
SS Dansby Swanson (R)
3B Johan Camargo (S)

       Projected Rotation
Mike Soroka (R)
Max Fried (L)
Mike Foltynewicz (R)
Cole Hamels (L)
Sean Newcomb (L)

       Projected Bullpen
Will Smith, closer (L)
Mark Melancon (R)
Shane Greene (R)
Chris Martin (R)
Luke Jackson (R)
Darren O'Day (R)
AJ Minter (R)
Josh Tomlin (R)
Jacob Webb (R)
Grant Dayton (L)

       Projected Bench
C Tyler Flowers (R)
SS Adeiny Hechavarria (R)
3B/LF Austin Riley (R)
1B Yonder Alonso (L)
UT Charlie Culberson (R)
OF Adam Duvall (R)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats (at time of writing):
45-36 record, 2nd in NL East
Most home runs: Marcell Ozuna (15)
Highest batting average: Ozzie Albies (.352)
Highest OPS: Ozzie Albies (.956)
Best ERA, starters: Bryse Wilson (2.58)
Best ERA, relievers: Mark Melancon (2.92)
Most innings pitched: Max Fried (100.1)
Most Strikeouts: Bryse Wilson (93)
Best K/9: Will Smith (13.8)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 33-27
2018: 35-25
2017: 27-33
2016: 18-42
2015: 29-31

The Braves are a really good team. However, they have not been great in their first 60 games in recent years. I think that because of that, they will not win the NL East, although I did not predict they would win it in a 162 game year. I think a win total in the 34-35 range is reasonable, and so is picking up the 2nd wild card spot in the National League.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Arizona Diamondbacks 2020 Season Preview 2.0

        Unless you are living under a rock, you know that sports have been gone for over three months now. That will soon end, as you probably know. In about a month, MLB will have their Opening Day. In late February, I started my season previews for each and every MLB team leading up to the original start of the year at the tail end of March. Due to a certain pandemic, I never finished them. For at least once a day until Opening Day, I will be re-doing my team previews. For the teams from Arizona to Miami, the preview will be similar but still different from the original. After the Marlins, I will finish everyone else's squad. Starting off once again, just one day off from exactly 4 months after the original post, will be the Arizona Diamondbacks.

           Who would have thought that the Diamondbacks would find a taker for Zack Greinke. The team was able to trade the expensive starter to Houston for four good prospects. But when that trade happened, no one expected it to lead to Madison Bumgarner. The team went out and signed the former Giants star to a five year, $85 million deal. The team finished just four games back of the second wild card spot, and now they have the deepest rotation they've had in a while. They might be your 2020 surprise team, especially if they can start where they left off. They finished the season with a 21-11 record in their last 32 games, and they would have forced a game 163 if instead of getting swept by the Mets from September 9-to-the-12th, they won all four games vs a team that finished with one more win than them.

           Offseason additions: LHP Madison Bumgarner, OF Starling Marte, OF Kole Calhoun, C Stephen Vogt, RHP Hector Rondon, RHP Junior Guerra, C John Hicks, OF Jon Jay, OF Trayce Thompson, RHP Edwin Jackson, LHP Matt Grace

          Offseason subtractions: OF Adam Jones, RHP Matt Andriese, RHP Yoshi Hirano, OF Jarrod Dyson, C Alex Avila, LHP TJ McFarland

The addition of Bumgarner brings the Diamondbacks a replacement ace for Greinke. However, Bumgarner might not fill the role. While he was healthy for the first time since 2016, Bumgarner had a career worst 3.90 ERA and allowed his most hits since 2014. However, his K rate was up, and his walk rate was down. A three time World Series Champion and two time Silver Slugger winner as a pitcher, Bumgarner should still fit in fine. He is entering his 11th season, but he's only 30. Plus, all those years were spent with the Giants, so he knows the opponents on the rival Padres, Rockies and Dodgers, plus his own ex-teammates. He will not like the universal DH rule. The Diamondbacks decided to hold onto Robbie Ray while trading Greinke. A free agent at the end of the year, Ray's ERA has gotten worse in the two seasons since his breakout 2017. However, he was finally healthy, starting a career high 33 starts and tying his career high in innings with 174.1. He also had a 12.1 K/9, really good for a starter. If the team starts the season slow, then Ray could be the first one to be traded, especially if the team isn't so confident, with the trade deadline being about 35 games in. In his rookie season as a 30 year old, Merrill Kelly led the team in innings with 183.1. However, he had a weak 4.42 ERA and led the league in losses with 14. His 101 ERA+ indicates that he is a league average pitcher. In his rookie season, Zac Gallen had an impressive 2.72 ERA in seven games with the Marlins, before being traded to Arizona at the trade deadline. Gallen continued his good play, with a 2.89 ERA in eight starts. The team went out and got Mike Leake from Seattle to take Greinke's spot in the rotation. Leake does not strike out guys and allows a lot of hits. He had a 102 ERA+ last season and has a career 99 ERA+, showing that he, like Kelly, is very average. A 2015 2nd rounder, Alex Young impressed, with a 3.56 ERA in 17 games (15 starts) with a 125 ERA+. Luke Weaver has dealt with injuries in the past, and missed most of 2019 with right forearm tightness. In 12 starts, he had a 2.94 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 64.1 innings.

Archie Bradley held the closer role for the second half of the season after Greg Holland struggled and was eventually DFA'd. Bradley finished the season with 18 saves and 87 strikeouts in 71.2 innings, and a 3.52 ERA. Yoan Lopez is not a strikeout pitcher, with 42 Ks in 60.2 innings in 2019. But, he had a 3.41 ERA and allowed 7.7 hits per nine in his first full MLB season. It will be interesting to see how the three batter minimum rule affects lefty Andrew Chafin. Chafin appeared in 77 games in 2019, but pitched just 52.2 innings, striking out 68 batters. The team signed former Cubs closer Hector Rondon to a one year deal. Normally a big strikeout guy, Rondon punched out just 48 batters in 60.2 innings with a 3.71 ERA for Houston in 2019. Former starter Junior Guerra transferred to the bullpen last year, and struck out 77 batters with a 3.55 ERA in 83.2 innings. Kevin Ginkel is a nice dark horse bullpen candidate. Debuting at age 25, Ginkel had a 1.48 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 24.1 innings, plus an inflated 304 ERA+. MLB Pipeline ranks Ginkel as Arizona's 27th best prospect. In his rookie season, Taylor Clarke pitched in 23 games (15 starts), and finished with a terrible 5.31 ERA. If he makes the team it will be in the bullpen. The same can be said for Jon Duplantier. A third round pick in 2016, Duplantier struck out 34 batters in 36.2 innings with a 4.42 ERA. Sinkerballer Stefan Crichton played in the MLB for the first time since 2017, and pitched in 28 games, with a 3.56 ERA and 33 strikeouts.

Carson Kelly, who came over from St. Louis with Weaver for star Paul Goldschmidt, broke out with an .825 OPS and 18 home runs in 365 Plate Appearances. In a league where catchers just don't tend to hit for power, Kelly is a luxury for the D-Backs. Two time all-star Stephen Vogt was hurt for all of 2018, but returned with the Giants in 2019, hitting 10 home runs with an .804 OPS. He will be a very good backup catcher if healthy. The Diamondbacks used four catchers last year, but three of them (Alex Avila, John Ryan Murphy and Caleb Joseph) are gone. The third catcher, if needed, would be former Tiger John Hicks, who hit a career high 13 home runs last year and is with the team as a non-roster invitee.

The Diamondbacks found their replacement for Paul Goldschmidt, the former face of the franchise, in an odd way. Christian Walker, a then 28 year old rookie who debuted back in 2014 but barely played, hit 29 home runs with a .259 batting average and an .825 OPS. It was a welcome surprise for Arizona. Ketel Marte moved to center field last year, and had an MVP-caliber breakout season. Marte hit 32 home runs, stole 10 bases, hit .329 with a .981 OPS and a 149 OPS+. He finished 4th in NL MVP voting. He will move back to second base with the acquisition of Starling Marte (no relation). Nick Ahmed signed an extension in the offseason. Always a great defender, Ahmed had career highs in home runs (19), batting average (.254) and OPS (.753) among other categories. He also has won back-to-back Gold Gloves at shortstop. Another breakout infielder was Eduardo Escobar. With a move to third base for good, Escobar hit 35 home runs with 118 RBIs and an .831 OPS. He also lead the league with 10 triples. Jake Lamb hit 59 home runs from 2016-2017, but has been awful since with a 12 home runs in the combined two seasons. Lamb had a .193 batting average in 2019. He will still be the backup corner infielder. Ildemaro Vargas is the utility infielder. In his first full season he hit six home runs with a .269 batting average while playing third base, shortstop, second base and both corner outfield positions. Kevin Cron will compete for a roster spot. Cron hit six home runs with a .790 OPS in his first taste of MLB experience last year. A 27 year old first baseman, Cron has a .319 average with 60 home runs and a 1.057 OPS in his AAA career.

The D-Backs' big trade this offseason was getting Starling Marte from the Pirates. Marte is a power and speed threat in center field. He hit 23 home runs and stole 25 bases with a .295 batting average and an .845 OPS. All they had to give up for him was 2019 33rd round pick Brennan Malone and 19-year-old Dominican shortstop Liover Peguero, plus some international signing pool bonus money. Arizona also brought in Kole Calhoun on a two year contract. His 33 home runs and .792 OPS for the Angels last year were career highs. David Peralta rebounded to a breakout season poorly, with just 12 home runs. However, he still had an .804 OPS. He played in just 99 games last season. The D-Backs did not bring back Jarrod Dyson, who stole 30 bases for the fifth time last year. However, their fourth outfielder is arguably better. Tim Locastro returns after stealing 17 bases without being caught once in his rookie season. He can play all four outfield positions. Baseball savant has Locastro and Dyson as similar hitters. Locastro had an average sprint speed of 30.8 ft/second, 2.4 ft better than Dyson. Josh Rojas, acquired in the Greinke deal, has mostly played left field, but he can also play right field, third base and second base. Making his debut just after the trade, Rojas' numbers weren't good. He hit two home runs in 41 games, and had a matching OBP and slugging percentage at .312.

          Projected Opening Day Lineup
CF Starling Marte (right handed hitter)
2B Ketel Marte (S)
3B Eduardo Escobar (S)
1B Christian Walker (R)
LF David Peralta (L)
C Carson Kelly (R)
RF Kole Calhoun (L)
SS Nick Ahmed (R)
DH Jake Lamb (L)

          Projected Rotation
Madison Bumgarner (L)
Robbie Ray (L)
Luke Weaver (R)
Zac Gallen (R)
Mike Leake (R)

          Projected Bullpen
Archie Bradley (R), closer
Yoan Lopez (R)
Andrew Chafin (L)
Hector Rondon (R)
Junior Guerra (R)
Kevin Ginkel (R)
Alex Young (L)
Merrill Kelly (R)
Stefan Crichton (R)
Jon Duplantier (R)

          Projected Bench
C Stephen Vogt (L)
OF Tim Locastro (R)
IF Ildemaro Vargas (S)
LF Josh Rojas (L)
1B Kevin Cron (R)
C/1B John Hicks (R)

Baseball-Reference OOTP simulator stats (at time of writing):
40-41, 3rd in NL West
Most home runs: Eduardo Escobar (10)
Highest batting average*: Ketel Marte (.318)
Highest OPS*: Ketel Marte (.872)
Best ERA, starters**: Madison Bumgarner (3.75)
Best ERA, relievers***: Andrew Chafin (2.08)
Most innings pitched: Madison Bumgarner (108)
Most Strikeouts: Robbie Ray (119)
Best K/9***: Archie Bradley (13.9)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 30-30
2018: 32-28
2017: 35-25
2016: 25-35
2015: 28-32

The Diamondbacks have a good roster. It is not better than the Dodgers, Nationals, Cardinals, Braves, Brewers and Mets, and depending on health, probably not the Phillies and Reds. In a 60 game season, anyone can get hot. And while I do not think that they have a chance at the NL West title, they could easily squeeze into a wild card spot. However, I am not predicted that outcome, and think that they will once again finish second in the division, but outside the postseason.

*Qualifiers only. This leaves out Christian Walker, who has only played in 38 games in the sim, but leads the team in batting average and OPS.
**You must have 12 starts to qualify.
***You must have pitched in 20 games to qualify. All qualifications were made up by me.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

What will need to happen for the MLB season to start?

From the Associated Press

          The NBA and NHL have a plan to return to action, after the season shut down with about a month left before the playoffs. Due to the fact that they wouldn't want to completely waste a season, there was some urgency to return. But, even though losing the playoffs would have been a huge revenue hit, the leagues would have been fine if next season was when games picked back up. However, they were able to come up with an agreement fairly quickly, and are in a safe spot right now. Major League Baseball has everything to lose. Their season was weeks away from starting when sports died, and the negotiations from MLB and the MLBPA will go on for longer than the figurative season itself. It is getting to the point where these negotiations feel more like labor negotiations over a new CBA rather than about a public health crisis. Commissioner Rob Manfred was already looking bad prior to the shutdown, but has put himself in a worse spot to the public eye, especially in the last week.

           Since being named Commissioner in late January of 2015, Manfred has dealt with many unpopular issues. Many new rules have been put in place regarding the pace of play, including limiting mound visits. A playoff proposal from early February led to players being unhappy with Manfred, most notably Trevor Bauer of the Reds and Didi Gregorius of the Phillies. The handling of the Astros sign-stealing investigation (more specifically the lack of a major punishment in the eyes of opponents) was also a sour point in Manfred's tenure. But the last months have been ridiculous, and when it seems like we have a deal, everything gets blown up again. The last few weeks have been pretty simple: the owners submit a terrible proposal, the players counter-proposal is similar, but the owners still hate it, and come up with something better than their original, but has very few games. The players just raise the amount of games played, the league hates it and we are back to square one. This is best shown by former MVP and Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who has tweeted three separate times in a span of five days "lol", starting on June 8th. Talks seemed to heat up after Manfred guaranteed something then very quickly went back on that comment. On Wednesday, the night of the MLB Draft, Manfred said that “I can tell you unequivocally we are going to play Major League Baseball this year …. 100%.” That didn't age well, as in an ESPN article from Monday, he said that "I can’t tell you that I’m a 100% certain that’s gonna happen.” This led to a "tell us when and where" campaign by the players, and now more intense negotiations.

               Congratulations, you are now caught up. During the recent negotiations, ideas have been brought up that will make traditionalists have a heart attack, even worse than Player's Weekend (the AUDACITY that they have to wear green cleats).

               The one change that they could probably wrap their heads around is an expanded playoffs for 2020 and 2021 (to help make back revenue, especially if next year is delayed). A 16 team playoffs will be weird, although the NBA and NHL have had it. Over half the teams in the league will be in the playoffs, but if it helps bring back baseball, then I am all for it. This really helps teams that always seem to just miss the playoffs, like the rest of the AL West (not including the Astros), the Mets and Phillies, Diamondbacks and one of the Cubs-Cardinals-Brewers group. However, I wouldn't like to see this for more than a year or two, as stretching out the playoffs after a really long season isn't a great idea.

                  I have a very similar attitude towards the next issue, corporate sponsorships on team jerseys. People made a big deal about Nike's swoosh on the front of uniforms they made months ago, so seeing Subway and Honda join them would definitely cause a fit. I personally don't love the idea, but once again, if it is temporary and is just there to help teams financially recover for a loss this year, than it is fine. The only rule should be to not allow political campaigns as advertisements*. The NBA has had this for a couple of years and people are no longer caring about it.

                 The last element of the proposal is something that if it happens, will be here to stay. The universal DH has been something that the league has been wanting to implement for years. Your stance on this likely belongs on your favorite team, as American League fans are supportive of a change, unlike National League backers. I personally think that the universal DH should happen. National League teams have been kept from many consistent 30-40 home run hitters like Edwin Encarnacion and Nelson Cruz for years because they mainly are DHs. There probably have been pitchers that have intentionally chose AL teams in free agency because they didn't want to go to the NL and hit. Shohei Ohtani could be a generational talent, and was pretty much required to go to the AL due to his lack of defensive training and skill. Finally, pitchers known as "great hitters" aren't actually even good hitters. This is best shown in Madison "Mason Saunders" Bumgarner, who went eight-for-63 (.127 average) with a .458 OPS and two home runs last year. Even Michael Lorenzen, the Reds' reliever and outfielder, had a measly .596 OPS in 2019. The days of hitting pitchers has to go, and this is a perfect opportunity for that.

*Of course, Class President campaigns are excluded from this.