Monday, March 29, 2021

NHL Trade Review: Senators and Kings make a swap

 


       The Ottawa Senators have acquired forward Michael Amadio from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for defenseman Christian Wolanin. 

This is merely a swap of depth players between the two NHL teams closest to the salary cap floor. This is not a big NHL trade, but both players have a good amount of NHL experience with AHL success. Both have also played a good amount of time in the NHL this year. Wolanin was recently waived by the Senators, and cleared. When he gets to Los Angeles, Wolanin could easily become their new seventh defenseman. The Kings only have six defenseman on their roster, but three on their taxi squad, which is also a place where Wolanin could go. He is a better option than Austin Strand and Daniel Brickley, who do not have a ton of NHL experience. Wolanin probably would be below recent first rounder Tobias Bjornfot on the depth chart. He is still relatively young, and the former 4th round pick has had trouble breaking into Ottawa's starting lineup after success at the University of North Dakota and the AHL. 

Wolanin, 26, has three assists in 15 NHL games, and no points in one AHL game in 2020-21. He had 31 points in 40 AHL games in 2018-19. In his NHL career, all in Ottawa, Wolanin has scored five goals with 13 assists for 18 points in 58 games. 

The Senators do not have a shortage of young, or at least capable NHL forwards, so Amadio will have to work his way up. A 3rd round pick in 2014, he has struggled in a good amount of NHL time this year, and last played in the NHL on March 14th. Since then, Amadio has spent some time playing for the AHL's Ontario Reign. Starting in Belleville (Ottawa's AHL affiliate) seems like the most likely situation for Amadio right now. He is a couple of years younger than Wolanin, and can play on the Senators' fourth line. 

Amadio, 24, has just two assists in 20 games for the Kings in 2020-21, with the same number of assists in two games for Ontario this year. In his NHL career, all in Los Angeles, Amadio has scored 16 goals with 23 assists for 39 points in 168 games. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

NHL Trade Review: Kings acquire Lemieux

 


       The Los Angeles Kings have acquired forward Brendan Lemieux from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2021 4th round draft pick.

The son of former instigator Claude Lemieux, the younger Lemieux plays like his father did. While Claude scored 41 goals in one season, Brendan is not a goal scorer. He is a fourth line player who has gotten some power play time, but really should not play on special teams. He can fight, and be a physical presence on Los Angeles' fourth line. The price of a 4th round pick is not much, especially when Lemieux is under contract through 2021-22, with a $1.55 million cap hit. Even when that expires, Lemieux will be a restricted free agent. At the time of the trade, Lemieux's 59 penalty minutes lead the NHL, six above Trent Frederic, who has become quite acquainted with Lemieux this year. 

The Rangers are not completely out of the playoff picture, but that does not mean that selling off a player makes no sense. The Rangers have a lot of skaters, especially with Phillip Di Giuseppe and Brett Howden returning from injury. Also, Vitali Kravtsov is returning to North America soon. Lemieux is not great on offense or defense, and he is very expendable. They also can clear a little bit of cap space for next year. 

Lemieux, 25, has scored two goals with five assists for seven points in 30 games this year, with 61 hits. In his NHL career for the Rangers and Winnipeg Jets, Lemieux has scored 21 goals with 22 assists in 43 points, plus 366 hits in 161 games. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

NHL Trade Review: Habs acquire Staal

 


       The Montreal Canadiens have acquired forward Eric Staal from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2021 third round draft pick and a 2021 5th round pick. The Sabres also retained $1.625 million, or 50% of Staal's salary.

This is act one of the everything must go sale for another Sabres rebuild. Staal was the second biggest name expected to be traded, behind winger Taylor Hall. Like every other member of the Sabres, who currently have a 15 game losing streak and a .250 points percentage, Staal has had a pretty terrible season. While he is sixth on the team in points, he is on his way to a career low point total, as Staal's 0.31 points per game is a career worst. The veteran is good at face-offs, although his 48% win rate on them right now is low for his standards. He can play on the power play, and boost Montreal's bottom-six as they try to finish in the top four in the North Division. He has just a 5.1 shooting percentage and a 91.5 PDO, so things can easily get better. Staal's 51.2 CF% is well above his old team's average. We will probably see a lack of trades between American and Canadian teams because of the mandated quarantine time between borders, but that was limited to just seven days from 14 earlier today for NHL players, which helps Staal and the Canadiens out. Both teams win here, as the Sabres get a decent mid-round pick and a mid-to-late-round pick for Staal, who was going to leave as a free agent after this season, and the Canadiens get a good bottom-six player for under $1.7 million (after retention), and they still have two third round picks and two fifth round picks in this year's draft.

Staal, 36, scored three goals with seven assists for 10 points in 32 games for Buffalo this year. In his NHL career for the Sabres, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes, Staal has scored 439 goals with 592 assists for 1031 points in 1272 games. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

NHL Trade Review: Ducks acquire Volkov


 

       The Anaheim Ducks have acquired forward Alexander Volkov from the Tampa Bay Lighting in exchange for F Antoine Morand and a 2023 conditional seventh round draft pick. The pick can transfer to a 2024 7th rounder depending on conditions from a draft day 2020 trade with Columbus.

This is the first trade of the trade deadline season, and it is certainly not a blockbuster. Volkov is a decent prospect who just fell out of favor after Ross Colton impressed the Lightning with four points in his past seven games. Drafted in the second round (48th overall) in 2017, Volkov had 30 points in 46 AHL games last year, and scored exactly 23 goals for the Syracuse Crunch in both 2017-18 and 2018-19. He made his NHL debut last year, and he also played in one playoff game. That one playoff game happened to be Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and Volkov drew a tripping penalty that led to the Cup-winning goal. Anaheim gets a young player who can fit into their bottom-six if given a chance. It is probably worth it for them, as the Ducks are 9-19-6, with minimal production from their bottom-six.

Volkov, 23, has scored three goals with two assists for five points in 19 games for Tampa Bay this year. In his two year NHL career, he has three goals with three assists in 28 games. 

The Lightning clear up an NHL roster spot here, and they get some value back. Morand was drafted just 12 spots after Volkov in 2017, but his career has not progressed like Volkov's. After posting 70 points in 62 QMJHL games in 2018-19, Morand went to the San Diego Gulls of the AHL, where he has really fallen off. Still, Morand is young, albeit undersized. The seventh round pick is just some additional value for the Bolts.

Morand, 22, has scored one goal with five assists for six points in 21 games for the Gulls in 2020-21. In his AHL career, Morand has scored six goals with 16 assists for 22 points in 75 games. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Washington Nationals 2021 Season Preview

 


       We are finally at the end of my season previews for 2021. This year, the Nationals do not have their roster all official by the time I finished my preview for them, since I started these a week earlier than I normally do. For the team themselves, they really disappointed, as the reigning World Series champions finished in last place, while playing in the same division as the Phillies and their bullpen. You would think that this could just be a 60-game blip, but there are enough reasons to believe that Washington may not recover.

Offseason additions: OF Kyle Schwarber, 1B Josh Bell, LHP Brad Hand, C Alex Avila, LHP Jon Lester, IF Jordy Mercer, OF Gerardo Parra, LHP Luis Avilan, LHP TJ McFarland.

Offseason subtractions: RHP Anibal Sanchez, C Kurt Suzuki, 1B Eric Thames, LHP Sean Doolittle, IF Asdrubal Cabrera, OF Adam Eaton, IF Howie Kendrick, IF Brock Holt.


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: None.

Traded: None.

2020 record: 26-34

2020 placement: 5th (tied)

2020 WAR leader (batter): Trea Turner

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Max Scherzer


Starting Pitchers

The rotation entered 2020 as Washington's strength, but it oddly became a weakness as the season progressed. Three-time Cy Young winner and future Hall-of-Famer Max Scherzer finished outside the top-5 in Cy Young voting for the first time since 2012. Scherzer didn't even receive a vote, as he had a 3.74 ERA with 92 strikeouts in 67.1 innings. He had a 4.33 xERA, with an uncharacteristically high 9.4 H/9. His 7.8% BB% was a big raise from 2019. Scherzer's velocity on his pitches stayed the same, but he is 36 years old, so age could play a role in his deterioration. The one slumping player who I am worried about is Patrick Corbin. Corbin's sinker and fastball velocity decreased to just over 90 mph last year, while his slider's whiff rate dropped by over 10 percent. The high-strikeout pitcher had just 60 Ks with a 4.66 ERA in 65.2 innings. No National League pitcher allowed more hits than Corbin, who allowed 85, for an 11.6 H/9. He had a 5.17 xERA while batters had a .289 xBA against Corbin. The first season of Stephen Strasburg's seven year, $245 million contract was a waste, as he made just two starts and missed the rest of the season with a hand injury. He had just two strikeouts while allowing six runs over five innings in those two starts. Strasburg has had a calf issue this Spring Training, but he should not miss any regular season time. His last healthy action was in 2019, when he won World Series MVP, and had a 3.32 ERA with 251 strikeouts in a league leading 209 regular season innings. Since the rotation wasn't already old enough, Jon Lester was brought in. Lester lead the NL in wins in 2018 (take what you want from that), but has not been good in 2019 or 2020. He had just 42 strikeouts in 61 innings with a 5.16 ERA for the Cubs. He had a 12.3 barrel percentage and a .517 xSLG against. Lester's high-80s fastball was extremely awful, with a .767 xSLG against and an 8.2 whiff rate. The big rotation fight will come with the fifth spot, as there are multiple candidates. Erick Fedde had a 4.29 ERA in 11 games (eight starts), but he struck out just 28 in 50.1 innings, for an awful 12.6 K%. Fedde throws a sinker that had just a 1836 rpm with a 7.6 percent whiff rate, and his highest whiff rate on a pitch was 28.1%. Joe Ross was the favorite for the fifth starter spot last year before he opted-out of the season. He split time between the rotation and bullpen in 2019, and did not pitch well, with a 5.48 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 64 innings. He had an 87.5 mph average exit velocity against, although he also walked 11.2 percent of batters. Since Ross didn't pitch last year, he could start out in the bullpen. Austin Voth is also an option after he was pretty good in limited time in 2019. Voth could not carry that over to 2020, as he had a 6.34 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 49.2 innings. His 5.52 xERA was an improvement, but still not very good. He also had a pretty bad 1.510 WHIP. 

Relief Pitchers

After Brad Hand's option was declined by the Indians, the Nationals were wise to pick him up in free agency. The three-time all-star led the AL in saved with 16 last year, with a 2.05 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 22 innings. He walked just 4.7% of batters, with a .174 xBA against and a 2.56 xERA. Batters had just a .486 OPS against Hand, who has had an ERA+ of at least 130 in each of the past five seasons. He should step in to be the new closer after Daniel Hudson struggled in the role last year. Hudson did have 28 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, but he also had a 6.10 ERA and a 12 BB%. There were some positives to Hudson's season, as he had just a 6.5 H/9 and and a .185 xBA. Hudson's slider had a 48.1 K%, which was a 16% improvement from his great 2019. Tanner Rainey throws a slider that is one of baseball's most underrated pitches. He threw the pitch over 39 percent of the time, and batters went 1-for-20 with 16 strikeouts and a 75.5 whiff rate. Rainey throws a high-90s fastball, and he had a 2.66 ERA in 20.1 innings. He struck out 32 batters with a .180 xBA. Veteran Will Harris could miss the beginning of the season because of a blood clot in his arm. While he had a 3.06 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 17.2 innings, Harris' season was not that good. He allowed 21 hits and walked nine, for a 1.698 WHIP, after he had a 0.933 WHIP in 2019. He had a 5.13 xERA, with a 91.2 mph average exit velocity. After many years of battling in the minor leagues, Kyle Finnegan made his MLB debut less than two months before his 29th birthday. Finnegan's first season went well, as he had a 2.92 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 24.2 innings, allowing just 21 hits. He also had just a 28.6 hard hit percentage against. Finnegan did walk 12.9% of batters, and his split finger had a 995 rpm spin rate, which honestly may be more impressive than a 2500 rpm spin rate. He may not be the best relief pitcher, but Wander Suero is good at striking out batters. He has a 9.8 K/9 in his career, and Suero had 28 strikeouts in 23.2 innings with a 3.80 ERA. His 27.9 hard hit percentage in 2020 was a career best. His cutter velocity dropped by nearly two miles per hour on average, down to 91 mph. Of Fedde, Ross and Voth, the two who don't make the rotation will probably be in the bullpen. Sam Clay has a 2.57 ERA in seven Spring Training innings, and the lefty got a major league deal after he had a 3.25 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 69.1 innings. Ryne Harper had 25 strikeouts in 23.2 innings for Washington last year, but he also had a 7.61 ERA. Harper's fastball was terrible, with a .486 average against (18-for-37). 

Catchers

Veteran catcher Yan Gomes won back the starting catcher job from Kurt Suzuki, who left in free agency. Gomes had a .787 OPS and a 107 OPS+, while his .286 xBA and 18.3 K% were big improvements on previous seasons. Gomes still only hit four home runs in 30 games, but that is actually a 20 homer pace in a 150 game season, so don't read too much into that. He was not a good pitch framer. Alex Avila has had an odd mix of good and bad offensive seasons, but he has caught three of the Nationals' four main starters (Scherzer in Detroit, Corbin in Arizona, Lester in Chicago, credit to MLB.com for that stat). In 23 short games for the Twins last year, Avila was on the bad side of his hitting spectrum, with a .184 average and a .641 OPS. 

Infielders

The big trade of Washington's offseason was when they acquired Josh Bell from Pittsburgh. Bell had a great start to 2019, and finished with 37 home runs and an all-star appearance. He tailed off towards the end of the season, and that carried over into 2020, as he hit eight home runs with a .226 average and a .669 OPS. The switch hitter had a career high 26.5 K%, with a career low 9.9 BB%. Bell still did hit the ball hard, with an average exit velocity of 91.7 mph. Returning for his 16th season in D.C. is Ryan Zimmerman, who has been the greatest position player in franchise history, and by WAR he actually is first since the team moved from Montreal, just barely edging out Scherzer. The 4th overall pick in 2005 opted-out of the 2020 season, and after the way his 2019 season went, Zimmerman will be a bench bat and backup to Bell at first. He hit six home runs with a .736 OPS in 2019. In the Statcast era, Zimmerman has a 92 mph average exit velocity. Four time all-star Starlin Castro broke his wrist early on in 2020, and never returned. He was playing fine in his first 16 games, with a .754 OPS. One area where Castro needs to improve is getting on base, as he had a .300 OBP in 2019 despite a decent .270 average. He has never won a Gold Glove, but the former shortstop is a good defensive second baseman. He had two outs above average in 2020, and nine in 2019. Trea Turner received MVP votes for the first time in his career, as he had a league leading 78 hits with a .335 average, a .986 OPS and 12 home runs while also swiping 12 bags. Turner had an elite sprint speed of 30.1 ft/s. Turner's average sprint speed has never dropped below 30. Turner also had a career best K% of 14.2 percent. Carter Kieboom was a top prospect, and the Nationals depended on him after Anthony Rendon left in free agency. So far, he has not followed through, as Kieboom hit .202 with a .556 OPS in 33 games. He did have a solid 14.4 walk rate, and he had a .902 OPS at AAA in 2019. Josh Harrison, who should be a lot older than 33, is entering his second season with the Nationals. He played corner outfield, second and third base last year. Harrison had a 105 OPS+ in 33 games, which was actually the second base in his career. While he only struck out 13.2 percent of the time, Harrison does not hit the ball hard, with an 83.8 mph average exit velocity. 20 year old Luis Garcia took over at second base when Castro was injured, but he had a .668 OPS, meaning that he could use some more minor league time. Garcia had just an 83.5 mph exit velocity, a 3.6 walk rate and -7 outs above average. 

Outfielders

While his -2 outs above average may have stopped him from leading the team in WAR, Juan Soto showed just how ridiculous he is. Soto hit 13 home runs in 47 games, and led the National League with a .351 average. Soto's .490 OBP, .695 slugging and 1.185 OPS all led the Major Leagues. He had a 17.9 barrel percentage, with a .697 xSLG. He struck out just 14.6 percent of the time, with an insane 20.8 walk rate. Soto's on-base was the best since Barry Bonds set the all-time record in 2004 (.609). The next best OBP since 2009 was also in 2020, as Freddie Freeman had a .462 OBP. Plus, Soto turned 22 in October. That is one year younger than Victor Robles, who had a solid 2019 rookie season before regressing last year. Robles hit three home runs with four stolen bases and a .608 OPS. His sprint speed dropped by over one ft/s, and he had an awful 82.2 mph average exit velocity, with a 22.9 hard hit percentage. Robles had just a .280 xSLG. Robles had three outs above average, and with Soto and new acquisition Kyle Schwarber in the corners, he will need to be elite defensively. Schwarber hit 38 home runs with an .871 OPS in 2019, but he did not carry that over to 2020, as he hit 11 home runs with a .188 average and a .701 OPS. Schwarber's 29.5 K% was his worst since 2017, although he did have an increased 13.4 percent walk rate. He also had a 92.8 mph average exit velocity. Schwarber had -4 outs above average in left field, and is so bad defensively that the Nats would rather move Soto over to right field than experiment with Schwarber in right. Gerardo Parra's "Baby Shark" walk-up song was a fan favorite when the team won the World Series in 2019, but he spent 2020 in Japan. Back in Washington on a minor league deal, Parra had a .688 OPS for Yomiuri last year. He stole six bases with a .747 OPS while playing all three outfield positions and first base for the team in 2019. Andrew Stevenson followed up being great in a very small sample size in 2019 (.953 OPS in 30 games) by being, well, great in a very small sample size. The left-handed hitting outfielder hit two home runs with two stolen bases and a 1.179 OPS in 15 games. 

Projected Rotation
Max Scherzer (R)
Patrick Corbin (L)
Stephen Strasburg (R)
Jon Lester (L)
Erick Fedde (R)

Projected Bullpen
Brad Hand (L)
Daniel Hudson (R)
Tanner Rainey (R)
Will Harris (R)
Kyle Finnegan (R)
Wander Suero (R)
Joe Ross (R)
Austin Voth (R)

Projected Lineup
SS Trea Turner (R)
2B Starlin Castro (R)
RF Juan Soto (L)
LF Kyle Schwarber (L)
1B Josh Bell (S)
C Yan Gomes (R)
CF Victor Robles (R)
3B Carter Kieboom (R)
Pitcher

Projected Bench
C Alex Avila (L)
UT Josh Harrison (R)
1B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
OF Gerardo Parra (L)
OF Andrew Stevenson (L)


Projection

The Nationals have a lot of big questions entering 2021, so it would be easier to go over what isn't a question, and Soto and Turner are basically it. The rest of the lineup is not great, the bullpen is not elite, just average, and the rotation, the guiding force in 2019, is aging. If Scherzer, Corbin and Strasburg cannot all regain their old form, then the team will be in trouble. They are not completely out of the playoff picture, but the Braves and the resurgence of the Mets will hurt their chances. As of now, they are not a playoff team. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Toronto Blue Jays 2021 Season Preview


 

       This year there are about 3-4 teams that I am not sure just how to predict. The Blue Jays are certainly one of them. They nearly beat out the Yankees for second place in the AL East, and they still made the playoffs. The team was also determined to spend money in the offseason, and while they missed out early in the offseason, they were able to improve with an amazing second half. That included one of the biggest fish on the market, center fielder George Springer.

Offseason additions: OF George Springer, IF Marcus Semien, RHP Kirby Yates, LHP Steven Matz, RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP David Phelps, LHP Francisco Liriano, LHP Tommy Milone, LHP Travis Bergen.

Offseason subtractions: RHP Anthony Bass, RHP Taijuan Walker, RHP Chase Anderson, RHP Matt Shoemaker, 3B Travis Shaw, RHP Sean Reid-Foley, OF Derek Fisher, IF Jonathan Villar.


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: LHP Robbie Ray, IF Jonathan Villar, RHP Ross Stripling.

Traded: LHP Travis Bergen.

2020 record: 32-28

2020 placement: 3rd

2020 WAR leader (batter): Cavan Biggio

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Hyun-Jin Ryu


Starting Pitchers

The biggest area for concern with the Blue Jays entering 2021 is easily their rotation. They do have a legitimate ace, but afterwards things really fall off. Hyun-Jin Ryu proved that his 2019 NL Cy Young runner-up season was not a fluke, as he finished 3rd in AL Cy Young voting. Ryu had a 2.69 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 67 innings. He had just a 6.2 walk rate, with a 29.2 hard hit percentage. Ryu's main pitch is a slow curveball, which had a .185 average and a .261 slugging against, and it had just a 1478 rpm spin rate. The Blue Jays really need Ryu to stay healthy, because things will get ugly if he is injured. Robbie Ray always had walk issues, but those became more than issues last year. Ray was acquired at the trade deadline after he had a 7.84 ERA with 31 walks in 31 innings. Despite only making seven starts, he still allowed more walks than anyone in the National League. Add his 14 walks in 20.2 innings with Toronto, Ray walked an MLB leading 45 batters. He had a 6.62 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 51.2 innings. Batters also had a 91.6 mph average exit velocity against the lefty. Tanner Roark had been a dependable starter for a number of years, but his debut season in Toronto was easily his first. He struck out 41 batters in 47.2 innings, with a 6.80 ERA and a 6.53 xERA. Batters had a .539 xSLG against Roark, who also allowed a 13 barrel percentage. Batters also hit at least .300 against Roark's main three pitches each. The Blue Jays gave up three players for Steven Matz, who lost his spot in the Mets' rotation last year. Matz had a 9.69 ERA while striking out 36 in 30.2 innings. He also had a 7.09 xERA, a .302 xBA against and a .570 xSLG. Matz could not even limit hard contact, with a 49 hard hit percentage, and a 13.5 barrel percentage. At the very least, Matz has had a good Spring Training, striking out 12 while allowing one run in 10 innings. Closing out the Blue Jays' great rotation from 2016-17 is Ross Stripling, who was acquired from Los Angeles at the trade deadline. Stripling was a pretty good swingman for a few years, but had a rough 2020. Combined between two teams, he had a 5.84 ERA with a 6.49 xERA and a 91.2 mph average exit velocity. He could either start or come out of the bullpen, and that probably depends on Nate Pearson's health. Pearson walked 13 in 18 innings with a 6.00 ERA, but the team's top prospect can hit 102 mph, and he had a 2.30 ERA with 119 strikeouts in 101.2 minor league innings in 2019. Injuries have been a problem for Pearson, and he could start in AAA, or the alternate training site. 

Relief Pitchers

The Blue Jays are betting that Kirby Yates' elbow injury has healed. Yates allowed six runs with eight strikeouts in 4.1 innings before missing the rest of the year. Yates was arguably the best reliever in baseball in 2019, with a 1.19 ERA, 101 strikeouts and a league leading 41 saves in 60.2 innings. He had a .170 xBA and a .254 xSLG against, and his main two pitches, a split-finger and fastball, almost exactly spilt his strikeouts while each had a whiff rate of exactly 34.4%. Rafael Dolis pitched for the Cubs from 2011-2013, but reinvented himself from 2016 to 2019 in Japan, earning him a deal with Toronto. It worked in year one, as Dolis split closing duties with Anthony Bass, and had a 1.50 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 24 innings, while only allowing 16 hits. Dolis had a .170 xBA with an 85.4 mph average exit velocity, but he also had a 14 percent walk rate. Leading the Toronto bullpen early last year was Jordan Romano, before he missed time with a middle finger injury (yes, I am serious). Romano had a 1.23 ERA in 14.2 innings, while striking out 21 and allowing just eight hits. His high-90s fastball really showed off, as batters went 1-for-20 with a 52.4 percent whiff rate against the pitch. Ryan Borucki was a productive starter in his rookie season of 2018, but he missed almost all of 2019, before moving to the bullpen last year. Borucki struck out 21 in 16.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA. Batters went 2-for-26 with 14 strikeouts against Borucki's slider. His sinker averaged 94.8 mph, and in 2018 that averaged 91.5 mph. Tyler Chatwood can also be a starter, but after succeeding out of the 'pen in 2019, he will start there. Chatwood had 5.30 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 18.2 innings over five starts for the Cubs last year. His pitches have amazing spin rates, as his curveball had a 2977 rpm spin rate, and his cutter was at 2739 rpm on average. David Phelps had a 2.77 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 13 innings for the Brewers last year, but was traded to the Phillies and immediately experienced their bullpen curse. Phelps did strikeout 11 batters in 7.2 innings, but allowed 11 runs. He had an 85 mph exit velocity against despite a terrible barrel percentage of 14.6 percent. AJ Cole may be in camp on a minor league deal, but his performance for Toronto last year should earn him a spot. Cole had a 3.09 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 23.1 innings, but he had a 2.48 xERA with a three barrel percentage and a .292 xSLG. While his fastball dropped by one mph from 2019, its slugging against dropped by over 200 points. Another player who could start or come out of the bullpen is Tom Hatch, who had a 2.73 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 26.1 innings after an impressive camp. Hatch allowed an 86.4 mph average exit velocity, and his fastball had an average spin rate of 2598 rpm. Veteran Francisco Liriano did not pitch in 2020, but he had a pretty good season out of Pittsburgh's bullpen in 2019. Liriano had a 3.47 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 70 innings. Liriano had 60 hits allowed, but he walked 11.9 percent of batters. He had a 29 hard hit percentage and an 85.8 mph average exit velocity. Tim Mayza was a big part of their 2019 bullpen, but missed 2020 with Tommy John surgery. Mayza pitched in 68 games, and struck out 55 in 51.2 innings. He has allowed just one baserunner in 3.2 Spring Training innings. 

Catchers

The Blue Jays have an interesting catcher race, as it is possible for one player to start, or not make the team. 22 year old Alejandro Kirk skipped AA and AAA, and played in nine games last year. Kirk had a .400 OBP with a .983 OPS. He walked 56 times while only striking out 39 times in Single-A and High-A in 2019. If the team keeps Kirk down, then Danny Jansen will start. Jansen hit six home runs with just a .671 OPS last year. He did have a 14.3 percent walk rate, but Jansen's 85.1 mph average exit velocity was 10 mph less than Kirk's. He is the only catcher who is a lock to make the team, so at least he has that going for him. Reese McGuire had an .872 OPS in 30 games in 2019, but he went just 3-for-41 last year. He has just a 4.9 walk rate in his career as well. McGuire is out of options, so he could be DFA'd so the team could bring up one of the non-roster invitees like Cole or Liriano. 

Infielders

Entering 2019, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was easily baseball's top prospect after hitting .381 with a 1.073 OPS in the minors the year before. His first two seasons have not been so eye-popping, aside from the 2019 Home Run Derby. He played in all 60 games last year, hitting nine home runs with a .791 OPS, a 50.8 hard hit rate and a 92.5 mph average exit velocity, while striking out just 15.6 percent of the time. That is above-average, but it doesn't compare to the second best prospect at the time, Fernando Tatis Jr. After -19 outs above average at third base in 2019, Guerrero moved to first base, where he had -2 OAA. Don't freak out, since Guerrero just turned 22. Bo Bichette followed up his great debut in 2019 by having a good 29 games in 2020. Despite walking just 3.9 percent of the time, he had an .840 OPS with five home runs and four stolen bases. Bichette had a .292 xBA while improving defensively. A right knee sprain cost him half of the season. 2019 MVP finalist Marcus Semien will move from shortstop to second base after signing with the Blue Jays. His OPS dropped to .679 in 2020 from .892 the year before. Semien had just a .203 xBA with a 28.6 hard hit percentage. His defense at short really fell off, with -7 outs above average, so moving away to an easier position should help. Semien's arrival will move Cavan Biggio to third base. Biggio decreased his strikeout rate to 23% in 2020, with a 15.5 walk rate. He hit eight home runs with six stolen bases and an .807 OPS. Biggio's versatility will help the Blue Jays a lot, as they do not have many bench spots. He can play second and third base, as well as all three outfield positions. Semien can also play short and third, while Joe Panik fills in as a utility backup infielder. Panik had a .640 OPS in 41 games for the Blue Jays last year. From 2015-2019, his highest strikeout rate was 9.7%, but that rose all the way to 19.1 percent in 2020. At the very least, it came with a career best walk rate of 14.2 percent. He was strictly a second baseman with the Giants and Mets, but the Blue Jays tested his versatility, playing him at third and shortstop. Another option is Santiago Espinal, a shortstop who had a .641 OPS in 26 games last year. Rowdy Tellez will be the backup first baseman, a DH option and a good pinch-hitter option. Tellez hit eight home runs with an .886 OPS, while nearly cutting his strikeout rate in half, down to 15.7%. He had a 90.7 mph average exit velocity, and a 95.8 mph against fastballs. 

Outfielders

The Blue Jays' signing of George Springer will complicate the outfield picture, as now the team has four good outfielders. After hitting 39 homers with a .974 OPS and winning a Silver Slugger in center field, Springer was one of the few Astros to not slow down last year, hitting 14 home runs with an .899 OPS. He walked 10.8 percent of batters with a .290 xBA and a .560 xSLG. Springer only stole one base, but he had an above average sprint speed of 28.2 ft/s. There are concerns with Springer not being able to be a center fielder for the long-run, but he did have two outs above average last year. The right fielder Silver Slugger went to Teoscar Hernandez in 2020 after he had a career season. Acquired in 2017 from Houston for now-teammate Francisco Liriano, Hernandez hit 16 home runs with six stolen bases, a .289 average and a .919 OPS. Hernandez also had a .294 xBA with a .608 expected slugging. He crushes baseballs, with a barrel percentage of 18%, a 93.3 mph average exit velocity, and a 53.1 hard hit rate. Two things that he did not do well was play defense, with -5 outs above average, and not strikeout, with a 30.4 K%. The arrival of Bichette in late 2019 pushed Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to left field, but he just kept hitting. In 57 games last year, Gurriel hit 11 home runs with a .308 average and an .882 OPS. He had a 49.4 hard hit percentage, and slugged .616 against breaking balls. Randal Grichuk is an above-average hitter, and he will have to split time between DH, the bench, and any open outfield space. He hit 13 home runs with a .793 OPS last year, which would have been higher if not for a 5.6 BB%. Grichuk had a pretty good 11.2 barrel percentage and a .463 xSLG. Jonathan Davis has good speed, and has seven stolen bases with a .582 OPS in 70 career games. He can be a 5th outfielder if the team needs one. 

Projected Rotation
Hyun-Jin Ryu (L)
Robbie Ray (L)
Tanner Roark (R)
Steven Matz (L)
Ross Stripling (R)

Projected Bullpen
Kirby Yates (R)
Rafael Dolis (R)
Jordan Romano (R)
Ryan Borucki (L)
Tyler Chatwood (R)
David Phelps (R)
Tom Hatch (R)
AJ Cole (R)
Francisco Liriano (L)

Projected Lineup
CF George Springer (R)
SS Bo Bichette (R)
RF Teoscar Hernandez (R)
1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (R)
2B Marcus Semien (R)
LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (R)
DH Randal Grichuk (R)
3B Cavan Biggio (L)
C Alejandro Kirk (R)

Projected Bench
C Danny Jansen (R)
1B Rowdy Tellez (L)
IF Joe Panik (L)


Projection 

Last year I didn't pick the Padres or White Sox to make the playoffs if they weren't expanded, because I felt that they were one year away. Now with the Blue Jays in a similar situation, I'm making the same mistake again. The Blue Jays can definitely make the playoffs, and I won't be surprised. But that rotation is just awful, and you can't win with one good starter, even if that starter is not just good, but great. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Texas Rangers 2021 Season Preview

 


       The Rangers are definitely a sleeper team. To make the playoffs? No, not even close. I am talking about them being a sleeper team to finish last in baseball. People's minds float to the Pirates, Orioles and Tigers when thinking about the league's worst teams, but the Rangers are in that conversation. Their team has seen a lot of changes over the past few years, and now new GM Chris Young has to rebuild the team from scratch. 

Offseason additions: DH Khris Davis, OF David Dahl, RHP Mike Foltynewicz, RHP Dane Dunning, 1B Nate Lowe, C Jonah Heim, IF Brock Holt, OF Delino DeShields Jr., IF Charlie Culberson, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Hunter Wood, RHP Nick Vincent, RHP Justin Anderson, C John Hicks, C Drew Butera.

Offseason subtractions: RHP Lance Lynn, OF Shin-Soo Choo, IF Elvis Andrus, C Jeff Mathis, RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Rafael Montero, RHP Jesse Chavez, RHP Nick Goody, IF Derek Dietrich, OF Danny Santana. 


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: OF Marcus Smith, IF Dustin Harris.

Traded: LHP Mike Minor, C Robinson Chirinos, IF Todd Frazier.

2020 record: 22-38

2020 placement: 5th

2020 WAR leader (batter): Isiah Kiner-Falefa

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Lance Lynn


Starting Pitchers

Lance Lynn carried the rotation last year, and now that he is gone, there is no one left. Kyle Gibson has already been announced as the Opening Day starter, and Gibson has just one season with an ERA+ over 100 in the last five years. That year came in 2018, when Gibson still had a 4.30 xERA. In 2020, he struck out 58 in 67.1 innings with a 5.35 ERA. Gibson had a 5.70 xERA, and walked ten percent of batters, and had a 1.530 WHIP. Batters had a .283 xBA and a .450 xSLG against him. Mike Foltynewicz also was great in 2018, with a 2.85 ERA, but his career has come crashing down since then. He had a 4.54 ERA in 21 starts in 2019, and after getting crushed in his first start of 2020, Foltynewicz was DFA'd, never to see the field again that year. A massive concern with Foltynewicz's first start was that his fastball was sitting 91 mph, four mph below his average in 2019. The most promising prospect in Texas' rotation is Dane Dunning, part of MLB Pipeline's top 100 prospects who was acquired for Lynn. 2020 was Dunning's rookie season as a member of the White Sox, and he had a 3.97 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 34 innings. He also had a 3.68 xERA, and a 32.6 hard hit percentage. Dunning's best pitch is a slider, which had a .116 xBA against with a 43.5 percent whiff rate last year. 28 year old Kohei Arihara comes from the Japanese League, where he had six successful seasons. For Nippon Ham in 2020, Arihara struck out 106 batters in 132.2 innings with a 3.46 ERA. He also had a 2.0 BB/9 and a 0.7 HR/9. Six-foot-seven right-hander Kyle Cody has a really good chance to make the rotation after he was productive in eight games last year. Cody had a 1.59 ERA while striking out 18 batters in 22.2 innings, allowing just 15 hits. Cody allowed just two barrels all season, and he had a .198 xBA and a .309 xSLG against. His primary two pitches are his fastball and slider, which both had an average against under .130. Kolby Allard has a 3.37 ERA in 40 AAA starts, but could not put things together in the Rangers' rotation last year. Allard had a 7.75 ERA while walking 13.2 percent of batters. He did have a 4.80 xERA, which is a big improvement considering what his actual ERA was. Taylor Hearn could also make the rotation, but he spent all of 2020 in the bullpen, and also could easily go back there. Hearn had a 3.63 ERA while striking out 23 in 17.1 innings. Hearn also had a 3.30 xERA while limiting batters to a .182 xBA and a .294 xSLG. His main issue was walks, which he did at a 14.5 percent rate. 

Relief Pitchers

The Rangers closer role is a bit of mystery after Rafael Montero was traded to Seattle. The favorite is Jose Leclerc, who was the closer in 2019 before missing just about all of 2020. While he had a 4.33 ERA in 2019, Leclerc was much better than that, striking out 100 in 68.2 innings, and having a 2.99 xERA. His .164 xBA against was among the league's leaders, as was his .266 xSLG and 28.3 hard hit percentage. Both Leclerc's slider and changeup had a whiff rate over 40 percent in '19, and his fastball averaged 96.8 mph. The breakout star of last year's bullpen was Jonathan Hernandez, who could miss some time with a UCL sprain, although at the moment Tommy John surgery is not in the plans. Hernandez had a 2.90 ERA while striking out 31 in 31 innings last year. He also had a 2.66 xERA and a .291 xSLG. His slider had a 47.7 percent whiff rate, while his changeup was at 51.7 percent. Hernandez's sinker may have only had a 16.7 percent whiff rate, but it averaged 97.7 miles per hour. Joely Rodriguez had a nice return to the MLB from Japan, before a hamstring injury made him miss time. Rodriguez had 17 strikeouts in 12.2 innings, with a 2.13 ERA. Batters went 0-for-16 against Rodriguez's changeup, with seven strikeouts. He also had a .215 xBA against. Left-hander Brett Martin pitched in 51 games as a 24 year old in 2019, but was much better in 2020, with a 1.84 ERA and a .170 xBA against. Martin only struck out eight batters in 14.2 innings, but also allowed just eight hits. Unfortunately, Martin also walked nine batters. Jordan Lyles had a 2.45 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch of 2019 with the Brewers, earning him a contract with the Rangers. His first year in Texas did not go well, as Lyles had a 7.02 ERA with just 36 strikeouts in 57.2 innings. Lyles' 45 earned runs allowed was more than any other American League pitcher. His fastball got hammered, with a .330 average against and a .651 slugging plus a 90.5 mph average exit velocity and just an 8.5 percent whiff rate. Former Royals closer Ian Kennedy is in camp on a minor league deal. Kennedy was terrible in 2020, allowing 17 runs in 14 innings with 15 strikeouts. He was a good closer in 2019, as Kennedy saved 30 games with a 3.28 xERA, a .217 xBA against and 73 strikeouts in 63.1 innings. Wes Benjamin debuted in 2020, and he had a 4.84 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 22.1 innings. Benjamin also had a 3.85 xERA, and his fastball had a .255 slugging against. Jimmy Herget is in camp on a minor league deal, but he was one of Texas' better relievers in 2020. Herget had a 3.20 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 19.2 innings. He walked 16.1 percent of batters, but he limited batters to a 27.8 hard hit percentage. 

Catchers

Top prospect Sam Huff has never played in AA or AAA, but he played really well in 10 MLB games last year. Huff had a .355 average and three home runs in the majors. Huff also had an average exit velocity of 95.7 mph. While he may not start the year on the team, Huff deserves a shot after what he did last year. If he does make the team, then Jose Trevino will probably be his backup. Trevino, whose alma mater is in the news or something, had a .715 OPS in 24 games last year. Another backup option, either for Huff or Trevino, is Jonah Heim, who debuted last year for the A's. In 35 AAA games in 2019, Heim hit four home runs with a .358 average and a .968 OPS. 

Infielders

The Rangers have a pretty big positional battle going on right now between Ronald Guzman and Nate Lowe, with the loser going to the bench. Guzman is an above-average defensive first baseman, and his .750 OPS in 26 games led the team (minimum 20 games). Still, Guzman struck out 27.9 percent of the time, and his 86.3 average exit velocity is not good. While he is not the favorite for the job, Guzman has made a good argument in Spring Training, hitting .346 with three home runs. Lowe was brought in to start at first, but he has gone just 4-for-25 so far this spring. He has 11 home runs with a .770 OPS in 71 career games, and he hit 16 home runs with a .929 OPS in 93 games at AAA in 2019. Rougned Odor has a lot of power, but his last season with an OPS+ over 100 was 2016. Odor hit 10 home runs in 2020, but he struck out at a 31.8 percent rate while only walking 4.7 percent of the time. He hit .167 with a .209 OBP last year, and while Odor usually hits the ball hard, his average exit velocity was just 86 mph last year. Odor may lose his second base spot to Nick Solak, while one of them plays third base. A 2016 2nd round pick of the Yankees, Solak had an .884 OPS in 33 games in 2019, which earned him a role in 2020. Playing in 58 games, Solak hit just two home runs with a .671 OPS. He only struck out at an eighteen percent rate, and Solak showed off his speed, swiping seven bags with a sprint speed of 28.6 ft/s. He was a terrible defender, with -8 outs above average, and -6 at second base. Isiah Kiner-Falefa has caught games in the past, but moved to third base last year, where he had six outs above average and won a Gold Glove. Kiner-Falefa will now take over for Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Offensively, he is not as good, with a .699 OPS. He did steal eight bases, and only had a 14 percent strikeout rate. The backup infielder spot is a fight between Brock Holt and Charlie Culberson, two utility players who are non-roster invitees. Holt played more in 2020, and is the favorite. He hit .262 in 20 games for the Nationals, but also went 3-for-30 in Milwaukee. Holt hit .297 with a .771 OPS for the Red Sox in 2019. Culberson only had seven at-bats last year, and had a .731 OPS in 108 games for Atlanta in 2019. 

Outfielders

Joey Gallo's skill set is so odd and unique, as he is so good at some things, and terrible at other things. Gallo was great in 2019, with a .598 slugging and a .986 OPS in 70 games. But, he hit just .181 with a .679 OPS in 2019. Gallo had a 94.8 mph average exit velocity in 2019, but that dropped by over three mph in 2020. He struck out 35 percent of the time, which sadly was a career best. Gallo also walked 12.8 percent of the time. He had two outs above average in right field, and he won his first Gold Glove. He has a 21.5 barrel percentage in his career. Former all-star David Dahl was non-tendered by the Rockies after he had a .470 OPS in 24 games. Dahl only played in 100 games in 2019, but he hit 15 home runs with a .302 average and an .877 OPS, earning him the all-star nomination. Dahl can play all three outfield positions, but he will start in left field for the Rangers. One of the team's top prospects is Leody Taveras, whose cousin Willy stole 68 bases for the Rockies in 2008. Leody is also a speed demon, swiping eight bags with a 29.1 ft/s sprint speed. Taveras had a .703 OPS in 33 games, and while he had a 10.4 walk rate, he also struck out 32.1 percent of the time. Willie Calhoun hit 21 home runs with an .848 OPS in 83 games in 2019, but he had a -1.0 WAR with a .491 OPS in 29 games in 2020. He had -2 outs above average in left field, and Dahl's arrival probably signifies Calhoun's end as a starter. For the second consecutive season, Calhoun had a 15.7 percent strikeout rate. He could alternate at DH with Khris Davis, who had two rough final seasons in Oakland. Davis was once elite at hitting the ball hard, but he just had an 87.7 mph average exit velocity and a 31.7 hard hit rate last year. He hit just two home runs in 30 games, with a .632 OPS. Eli White, who had a .460 OPS in 19 games last year, is in the race for the 4th outfielder spot after a good Spring Training. So is speedster Delino DeShields Jr., who is back with the Rangers on a minor league deal. 

Projected Rotation
Kyle Gibson (R)
Dane Dunning (R)
Mike Foltynewicz (R)
Kyle Cody (R)
Kohei Arihara (R)

Projected Bullpen
Jose Leclerc (R)
Jonathan Hernandez (R)
Joely Rodriguez (L)
Brett Martin (L)
Taylor Hearn (L)
Ian Kennedy (R)
Jordan Lyles (R)
Jimmy Herget (R)

Projected Lineup
CF Leody Taveras (S)
3B Nick Solak (R)
RF Joey Gallo (L)
DH Khris Davis (R)
C Sam Huff (R)
LF David Dahl (L)
2B Rougned Odor (L)
1B Jorge Guzman (L)
SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa (R)

Projected Bench
C Jose Trevino (R)
UT Brock Holt (L)
1B Nate Lowe (L)
OF Willie Calhoun (L)


Projection

Yes, this team is awful. The Rangers just do not have a strength. The rotation, bullpen and lineup are all terrible, and it is just a matter of time until they get the recognition they deserve for being the league's worst team. At least the Pirates have Ke'Bryan Hayes. The Rangers don't have that guy yet, as Huff has played in just 10 games, and no AA games. Even in a weak division, the Rangers will be baseball's worst team in 2021. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Tampa Bay Rays 2021 Season Preview

 


       We had all figured out that the Rays are able to fix players by some sort of sorcery called analytics before, but 2020 confirmed it to the rest of the world. The Rays seemed to hit on every single player, then ran away with the AL East division, before going all the way to the World Series. The final game of the season is when people started asking questions about their methods, when Blake Snell was pulled early, leading to a team loss. Then again people were confused when Snell was shipped off to San Diego soon after. But, Tampa Bay has proved in the past that they shouldn't be questioned, so we will see if that stands for 2021.

Offseason additions: RHP Chris Archer, LHP Rich Hill, RHP Michael Wacha, C Francisco Mejia, LHP Jeffrey Springs, RHP Chris Mazza, RHP Hunter Strickland, RHP David Hess.

Offseason subtractions: LHP Blake Snell, RHP Charlie Morton, OF Hunter Renfroe, LHP Aaron Loup, RHP John Curtiss, RHP Aaron Slegers, LHP Jose Alvarado, C Michael Perez, 1B Nate Lowe.


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: OF Brett Phillips, LHP Cody Reed, RHP Edgar Garcia.

Traded: 1B Jose Martinez, SS Lucius Fox, IF Daniel Robertson.

2020 record: 40-20

2020 placement: 1st

2020 WAR leader (batter): Brandon Lowe

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Ryan Yarbrough


Starting Pitchers

As Snell and Charlie Morton moved to San Diego and Atlanta, Tyler Glasnow was left alone to be the ace of the rotation, with a few question marks around his teammates. Glasnow has amazing stuff, but was not able to put it all together in 2020, as he had a 4.08 ERA before struggling in the postseason. Still, Glasnow had 91 strikeouts in 57.1 innings, with a 3.28 xERA and a .189 xBA against. He can touch 100 mph on his fastball, and batters went 10-for-83 with 58 strikeouts against Glasnow's curveball, which had a high 2939 rpm average spin rate. The only other returning member of the Rays expected to be in the rotation is Ryan Yarbrough. A left hander who had a 3.56 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 55.2 innings, Yarbrough is elite at forcing soft contact. Batters had an average exit velocity of just 82.6 mph with a 25.1 hard hit percentage against him in 2020. With the Rays being a high-velocity team, Yarbrough's fastest pitch averaged just 87 miles per hour. Making his way down to Tampa Bay is 41 year old Rich Hill, who is actually underrated thanks to his age. The Rays will be Hill's 10th team, after he spent 2020 in Minnesota. Since turning his career around in 2015, Hill has been a strikeout pitcher, but only had 31 in 38.2 innings last year. He had a 3.03 ERA but a 5.10 xERA. Hill's 10.9 BB rate was his worst in the Hill Success Era™. Hill had a 29.9 hard hit percentage against. Chris Archer returns to the Rays, where he spent his first seven seasons as the team's ace, before being traded in a lopsided deal for Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Shane Baz. Archer was falling off when the Rays traded him, before jumping off a cliff in Pittsburgh. He missed 2020 with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, but he had a 5.19 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 119.2 innings in 2019. Archer also had a career worst 4.1 BB/9, with a 5.45 xERA and a .472 xSLG against. Another project for the Rays' pitching staff is Michael Wacha, the former all-star who last had an xERA under 4.00 in 2017. Wacha was a Met in 2020, and had a 6.62 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 34 innings. But, he had a 4.61 xERA, while walking just 4.5 percent of batters. While his fastball had a .400 average against, Wacha's changeup is a plus-pitch. The low-spin change had a .199 xBA against with a 40.8 percent whiff rate, finishing off 24 of Wacha's strikeouts. Luis Patino likely will not make the Rays, but he was the headliner in the Snell trade. He struck out 21 batters in 17.1 innings out of the bullpen for San Diego last year. Another rotation option is Shane McClanahan, who debuted in the playoffs and struck out seven batters while allowing one baserunner in three Spring Training innings. Yonny Chirinos has been a key rotation contributor for the past few years, but he will miss the season with Tommy John surgery.

Relief Pitchers

Nick Anderson had a really bad postseason, and was the guy who blew game six of the World Series. That really ruined what was an amazing season for Anderson, who put in a bid for the league's best relief pitcher. He struck out 26 batters while only walking three in 16.1 innings, saving six games and allowing just one earned run (0.55 ERA). Batters had a .140 xBA and a .348 xSLG. Both Anderson's fastball and curveball, his two pitches, had an average against under .100. Big righty Pete Fairbanks had his Rays success transformation last year, striking out 39 in 26.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA. Fairbanks throws a fastball that averaged 97.4 mph in 2020, and he allowed just a .296 xSLG against. His slider had a 42.7 percent whiff rate, with 5.4 inches of vertical movement above average. Closing out last year's big three is Diego Castillo, the smallest but the heaviest of the trio. Castillo split closing duties with Anderson, and had a 1.66 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 21.2 innings, for what was a career low (but still pretty good) 25.8 strikeout percentage. Armed with a wipeout slider, Castillo had an average exit velocity against of just 84.4 mph, while limited batters to a .177 xBA, a .273 xSLG and a 27.8 hard hit percentage. A small concern for him may be a career worst walk rate, which was inflated up to 12.4 percent last year. Chaz Roe was effective in 2019, but an elbow injury limited him to 10 games last year. In 2019, Roe struck out 65 in 51 innings with a 3.31 FIP. Roe's primary pitch is a slider, which has a ton of movement. The pitch had 3.7 inches above average of vertical movement, and 15.1 inches above average horizontally. He also had a 28.2 hard hit percentage against in 2019. Collin McHugh opted-out of the 2020 season after an injury, but he was really good over six seasons in Houston. McHugh struck out 82 batters in 74.2 innings for the Astros in 2019, but he had a 4.70 ERA. Batters had just a 30.3 hard hit percentage against McHugh. His slider struck out 61 batters with a 2825 rpm spin rate. 2017 5th round pick Josh Fleming debuted out of the rotation last year, but the veteran additions will likely send him to the 'pen. Fleming had a 2.78 ERA with a 1.082 WHIP and a 3.33 xERA in 32.1 innings. Fleming is a sinkerballer with no pitches averaging over 2000 rpm, but the sinker works, as his groundball rate was nearly 65 percent last year. Ryan Thompson was a Rule-5 pick in 2018, but did not make his MLB debut until 2020. Thompson is a submariner who struck out 23 with a 4.44 ERA in 26.1 innings. But, he had a 3.28 xERA, while batters had a .190 xBA against his slider. Thompson's main pitch is a sinker, which batters hit .375 against. Lefty Jeffrey Springs comes from Boston, where he had a 7.08 ERA last year, but he also struck out 28 batters in 20.1 innings. He throws a changeup about a quarter of the time, and the pitch nearly had a 53 percent whiff rate. Acquired with Springs was Chris Mazza, who limited batters to an 86.4 mph average exit velocity, but they had a .294 xBA. He struck out 29 batters in 30 innings while opening for Boston last year. Trevor Richards had a 1.93 ERA at the tail end of the 2019 season, but had a 5.91 ERA in 32 innings in 2020. He can start games and be a long relief option. 

Catchers

The Rays are sticking with Mike Zunino for 2021, and despite his raw power, Zunino is one of the league's worst hitters. In 118 games over the past two seasons, he has hit 13 home runs with a .161 average and a .556 OPS. He has a strong arm behind the plate, but Zunino's 44 K% and .146 xBA in 2020 are not going to cut it. Francisco Mejia was once a top catching prospect in the league, and he was just acquired in the Snell trade. Mejia had a .754 OPS in 79 MLB games in 2019, with a 1.157 OPS in 18 AAA games. He played in just 17 MLB games in 2020, and went 3-for-39. Third catcher Kevan Smith has a disadvantage by not being on the 40-man roster. He had an .830 OPS in 17 games for Tampa Bay last year. 

Infielders

While he was a switch-hitter at a point early in the season, Ji-Man Choi was worse offensively. He hit just three home runs in 42 games, with a .741 OPS. Choi walked 13.8 percent of the time, but he had just a .190 xBA and a .298 xSLG. A knee injury could keep Choi out of the Opening Day lineup, but he should be the first baseman when he comes back. Brandon Lowe was an all-star in 2019, but he broke his leg before playing in the game, which cost him most of the rest of the season. Lowe did not regress once fully healed in 2020, as he hit 14 home runs with a .916 OPS and a team-leading 2.4 WAR. Lowe also had an elite barrel percentage of 17.5%, and he had a .547 xSLG. He crushed fastball, with a .641 slugging and a 94.7 mph average exit velocity against heaters. Entering his 4th year at age 25 is Willy Adames, who may not be the starting shortstop for long, with Wander Franco coming soon. He had a career season in 2020, hitting eight home runs with an .813 OPS. However, he struck out 36.1 percent of the time, with -4 outs above average. While he has just 12 stolen bases in his career, Adames has above average speed, with a sprint speed of 28.2 ft/s. The Rays need Yandy Diaz to be healthy and performing, after he played in just 34 games last year. Diaz had a top ten percentile exit velocity in 2019, but he had just an 88.3 mph exit velocity. He had a .307 average last year, while walking 16.7 percent of the time, and striking out just 12.3 percent of batters. However, Diaz had just a .320 xSLG. If Diaz gets injured again, Joey Wendle should start at third base. He stole eight bases with a .777 OPS in 2020, but he had just an 86.7 mph average exit velocity. Wendle had three outs above average, and four at second base. Another potential backup third baseman is Mike Brosseau, who could start at first base if Choi is not ready to go. The undrafted utility infielder hit five home runs in 36 games with a .936 OPS. Brosseau had a 90.9 mph average exit velocity, but did strikeout 31.6 percent of the time. He is also a good defender, with four outs above average while playing all three bases and both corner outfielders. Yoshi Tsutsugo was a star in Japan before signing a three year, $21 million deal with Tampa Bay. Tsutsugo, who plays third base and left field, hit eight home runs, but also had a .197 average and a .708 OPS. His OPS could have been much worse, if not for a 14.1 walk rate. 

Outfielders

The breakout star of the playoffs was undoubtedly Randy Arozarena, who was recalled at the trade deadline and hit seven home runs with four stolen bases and a 1.022 OPS. Arozarena won ALCS MVP, while hitting 10 home runs in the postseason altogether, and he had an OPS over 1.000 in all four series. Arozarena also has great speed that went under-the-radar thanks to his power. His average sprint speed was 28.8 ft/s. Kevin Kiermaier is entering his 9th season in Tampa Bay, which is really impressive considering the change the team has had since then. Kiermaier may be traded soon, as he had just a .683 OPS in 49 games. He stole eight bases, and had a career high walk rate (12.6%) and strikeout rate (26.4%). Kiermaier still has elite speed, with a 29.3 ft/s sprint speed, while having six outs above average. Austin Meadows can be the starting right fielder, while also being a part of the DH rotation. After hitting 33 home runs in 2019, Meadows had just four in 36 games, with a .667 OPS. Meadows had a .177 xBA and a 32.9 strikeout rate. The Rays need Meadows to get back to his 2019 form. Manuel Margot is ready to be Kiermaier's replacement, but for now he will have to mostly play right field. Margot stole 12 bases with a .679 OPS, while striking out just 15.7 percent of the time. Margot had 15 outs above average in 2019, and he has two in 47 games last year, both in center field. Brett Phillips had a massive playoff hit, but he seems to be the odd-man out for now. Phillips went 3-for-20 for Tampa Bay last year, and that walk-off hit in the World Series was his only of the postseason. Tsutsugo and Brosseau also bring outfield depth. 

Projected Rotation
Tyler Glasnow (R)
Ryan Yarbrough (L)
Rich Hill (L)
Chris Archer (R)
Michael Wacha (R)

Projected Bullpen
Nick Anderson (R)
Pete Fairbanks (R)
Diego Castillo (R)
Chaz Roe (R)
Collin McHugh (R)
Josh Fleming (L)
Jeffrey Springs (L)
Ryan Thompson (R)

Projected Lineup
DH Austin Meadows (L)
3B Yandy Diaz (R)
2B Brandon Lowe (L)
LF Randy Arozarena (R)
1B Ji-Man Choi (L)
SS Willy Adames (R)
CF Kevin Kiermaier (L)
RF Manuel Margot (R)
C Mike Zunino (R)

Projected Bench
C Francisco Mejia (S)
IF Mike Brosseau (R)
IF Joey Wendle (L)
3B/LF Yoshi Tsutsugo (L)


While trading Snell and losing Morton in free agency really makes the rotation a question, the Rays' front office and coaching staff has earned the benefit of the doubt. The bullpen is really good, and while the lineup is not elite, it is still above-average. The Rays may have fallen below the Yankees on the totem pole in the offseason, but they are definitely still a playoff team. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

St. Louis Cardinals 2021 Season Preview

 


       When they acquired Paul Goldschmidt in December of 2018, the Cardinals showed that they were not afraid to make a blockbuster deal. St. Louis practiced that again this offseason, as they brought in another star corner infielder from a middling NL West team, in Nolan Arenado. With Arenado in to boost what was a bad lineup in 2020, the Cardinals are ready to try and dominate a very weak NL Central division. 

Offseason additions: 3B Nolan Arenado, C Tyler Heineman, OF Matt Szczur, C Ali Sanchez.

Offseason subtractions: 2B Kolten Wong, IF Brad Miller, OF Dexter Fowler, LHP Austin Gomber, C Matt Wieters.


2020 Trade Deadline summary

Acquired: None.

Traded: None.

2020 record: 30-28

2020 placement: 2nd

2020 WAR leader (batter): Paul Goldschmidt

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Kwang Hyun Kim


Starting Pitchers

Jack Flaherty looked like he could be a top-3 pitcher in baseball someday after he dominated in 2019, with a 2.75 ERA and 231 strikeouts plus a league leading 0.968 WHIP. Unfortunately, Flaherty took a big step back in 2020, finishing with a 4.91 ERA while striking out 49 in 40.1 innings. He walked 9.4 percent of batters, a sizable increase from 7.1 the previous season. Flaherty also had a 5.07 xERA. One good thing with his 2020 was his slider, which batters had a .314 slugging against with a 49.5 percent whiff rate. Kwang Hyun Kim came over from Korea as a 32 year old MLB rookie, and was great in eight games. He had a 1.62 ERA while allowing just 28 hits in 39 innings. Kim did strikeout just 24 batters, for a 15.6 K rate. Despite averaging under 90 miles per hour, his fastball was pretty good, as batters hit .182 with a .303 slugging against it. Adam Wainwright is back, and I mean that as both him re-signing with the Cardinals, and him having his best season since 2014 last year. Wainwright had a 3.10 ERA through 10 starts, and had two complete games. He struck out 54 batters in 65.2 innings, with just a 5.7 percent BB rate. Wainwright's famous curveball had an increased whiff rate of 33 percent, plus a 2791 rpm spin rate. Batters hit just .191 with a .245 slugging against the pitch. Dakota Hudson finished 5th in Rookie of the Year voting in 2019, and had a 2.77 ERA in eight starts last year. Hudson will miss the 2021 season with Tommy John surgery. Miles Mikolas got a big contract after a great 2018, but struggled in 2019, before flexor tendon surgery cost him all of 2020. Mikolas is still recovering, and will probably miss the start of the season. When we last saw him in 2019, Mikolas had a 4.16 ERA in 32 starts. One thing that he is great at is limiting walks. He led the league in BB/9 in 2018, and had a 1.6 BB/9 and a 4.2 walk rate in 2019. Former ace Carlos Martinez was pretty good as the team's closer in 2019, but made just five starts last year, and was terrible. Martinez had a 9.90 ERA while striking out 17 in 20 innings. Batters had a .428 wOBA plus a .295 xBA against him last year. Daniel Ponce de Leon made eight starts (and had one relief outing) last year, and while he had a 4.96 ERA, he struck out 45 batters in 32.2 innings. Ponce de Leon did walk 14 percent of batters, but also held them to a .221 xBA. I could see him joining the St. Louis bullpen. 

Relief Pitchers

The Cardinals have a great bullpen, and they will probably have to cut a decent pitcher. Jordan Hicks is back after missing the end of 2019, and opting-out in 2020. In 2019, Hicks' sinker somehow averaged 101.1 mph, which does not seem fair. His secondary pitch is a slider, which had a 57.8 percent whiff rate. Overall, Hicks had a 3.14 ERA with 14 saves, 31 strikeouts and a 67.2 groundball rate in 28.2 innings. While he was the closer when he last pitched, it is unclear if Hicks will take that role back. The Cardinals did set have a set closer last year, as six different players had saves. Andrew Miller and Giovanny Gallegos were the only with multiple, as each had four. The 35 year old Miller had his best season since 2017, striking out 16 with a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings. Batters had just a .138 xBA against him. Miller's 2.04 xERA was his best since 2016, when he dominated with the Yankees before going to the World Series with the Indians. Gallegos also played for the Yankees, but did not debut until 2017, right after Miller left. He was elite in 2019, with a 2.31 ERA and 93 strikeouts. But, like Miller, he was limited in 2020. Gallegos struck out 21 in 15 innings, with a 3.60 ERA. In his career, he has walked just six percent of batters. Alex Reyes was once arguably the top prospect in all of baseball, but numerous injuries have limited him to the bullpen. Reyes pitched in 19.2 innings, which was his most since he debuted in 2016. Reyes struck out 27 batters with a 3.20 ERA. He also limited batters to a .186 xBA with a 28.9 hard hit percentage. Reyes' fastball averaged 97.5 mph, and both his curveball and slider had high whiff rates. John Gant could join the rotation if Mikolas is hurt, but he has succeeded in the bullpen. Gant struck out 18 batters in 15 innings last year, with a 2.40 ERA. He has a 3.55 ERA over four seasons as a Cardinal. Gant allowed just one barrel out of 36 batted balls all season. He also limited batters to a .193 xBA and a .272 xSLG. His best pitch in 2020 was definitively his changeup, which batters went 1-for-12 against, and it had a 51.6 percent whiff rate. Tyler Webb has a 3.03 ERA since joining the Cardinals in the middle of 2018. He pitched in 21 games last year, striking out 19 with a 2.08 ERA. Batters had just a 3.3 barrel percentage and an 85.7 mph average exit velocity. His slow changeup's whiff rate raised by nearly 20 percent from 2019 to 2020, ending up at over 47 percent. Young lefty Genesis Cabrera was amazing last year, and his one major flaw was a 16.7 percent walk rate. Cabrera had a 2.42 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 22.1 innings. Batters had an 84 mph average exit velocity, and all three of his main pitches were successful, and at-bats finishing with curveballs had just one hit out of 24. Ryan Helsley had a 2.95 ERA in 24 games in his rookie season of 2019, but had a 5.25 ERA with 10 strikeouts in 12 innings last year. While his fastball's average velocity decreased by one mph, it was still very high, at 96.9 mph. Thanks to a lot of competition, Helsley actually may not make the Cardinals. Sinkerballer Seth Elledge has an outside chance at the roster after striking out 14 in 11.2 innings last year, although he did allow six runs. 

Catchers

While he went into free agency and may have given some Cardinal fans a scare, Yadier Molina is back for his 18th season in St. Louis. The nine time all-star will probably be a Hall-of-Famer one day. He is no longer a good hitter, but Molina, the nine time Gold Glover, is still a great defensive catcher. He hit four home runs with a .662 OPS last year, and only walked 3.8 percent of the time. Molina also had a weak 84.7 mph average exit velocity, and his 23.1 ft/s sprint speed was one of the league's slowest. The Cardinals trusted Andrew Knizer enough to give him the backup job without much competition. He has played in just 26 MLB games, with a .642 OPS. At AAA Memphis in 2019, Knizer hit 12 home runs with an .821 OPS. Another option is Tyler Heineman, who had a .990 OPS at AAA in 2019, and has 20 games of MLB experience. 

Infielders

While Cardinals fans and baseball fans in general want to hype up Arenado, you need to at least recognize that 2020 was his worst year since he was a rookie. Will his 84 OPS+ remain, probably not. But, as he turns 30 next month, we at least have to realize that he is not perfect. Arenado hit eight home runs with a .738 OPS, while his average exit velocity dropped. He had just a .241 BABIP, which is pretty low and should go up. Still, Arenado struck out just 10% of the time, which was an improvement for him, and with six outs above average, he won his 8th Gold Glove in eight MLB seasons. After hitting 30 home runs and making his first all-star team in 2019, Paul DeJong took an odd step backwards, finishing with just three homers in 45 games. DeJong had a .671 OPS, with a career worst 28.7 K rate. He made some big defensive improvements in 2019, but that was lost as well, as DeJong had -3 outs above average at shortstop. As Kolten Wong left for the rival Brewers, Tommy Edman will get a starting chance after playing a super-utility role. Edman stole 15 bases with an .850 OPS in 2019, but had a .685 OPS in 55 games last year. He only stole two bases, but his average sprint speed of 28.9 ft/s was elite. Edman had three combined outs above average between both corner outfield positions, second base, and the left side of the infield. Five-time 30 homer hitter Paul Goldschmidt hit just six in 58 games last year, but hit .304 with a team-leading .883 OPS. He walked 16 percent of the time, his best since 2015, with a 10.7 barrel percentage and a .509 xSLG. Goldschmidt is a three time Gold Glover, and had four outs above average at first base. It is kind of insane how fast Matt Carpenter fell. He hit 36 home runs and got MVP votes in 2018, but had a .726 OPS in 2019 before becoming even worse in 2020. Carpenter hit four home runs with a .186 average and a .640 OPS in 50 games. He still walked at a 13.6 percent rate, but Carpenter also had an increased K% of 28.4. He also had a depressed xBA of .214 and a .404 xSLG. 25 year old Edmundo Sosa has just 11 games of MLB experience, but he can be a utility backup infielder, while Carpenter is a bench bat. Sosa's last full season was at AAA in 2019, when in 118 games he hit 17 home runs with a .291 average and an .801 OPS. First baseman John Nogowski made his MLB debut in 2020 after posting an .889 OPS in AAA the season before.

Outfielders

The outfield is by far the weakest and most inexperienced group of this team, and the inexperience got worse when Dexter Fowler was traded to the Angels. This should be the year that we get a good look at Dylan Carlson, who is one of the league's top prospects. Carlson played in 35 MLB games last year, but did not look MLB ready, hitting .200 with a .616 OPS and striking out over 29 percent of the time. Carlson spent 2019 in AA and AAA (but mostly AA), and dominated, hitting 26 home runs with 20 stolen bases and a .914 OPS. Harrison Bader was the worst offensive outfielder on the team in 2019, but after posting a .779 OPS in 2020, he was actually the best one. Bader walked 10.4 percent of the time to elevate that OPS, although he had an 86 mph average exit velocity and a .199 xBA. To make up for that, Bader did what he does best, which is run fast and play great defense. He had a 29.4 ft/s sprint speed, and had four outs above average in center field. Tyler O'Neill was a big prospect entering the majors after hitting 26 home runs with a 1.078 OPS in 64 AAA games in 2018. He has a lot of power, but has struggled to hit in the majors. He hit seven home runs with a .621 OPS and a .193 xBA. O'Neill has really underrated speed, with a 29.6 ft/s sprint speed, and had four outs above average in left field. Lane Thomas had a 1.093 OPS in 34 games in 2019, but went just 4-for-36 in 2020. Thomas hit 10 home runs with 11 stolen bases and an .812 OPS in 75 AAA games in 2019. Another fourth outfielder option is Austin Dean, who has a .664 OPS in 101 MLB games. Dean was amazing at AAA in 2019 in the Marlins system, hitting 18 home runs with a 1.036 OPS in 73 games. 

Projected Rotation
Jack Flaherty (R)
Kwang Hyun Kim (L)
Adam Wainwright (R)
Miles Mikolas (R)
Carlos Martinez (R)

Projected Bullpen
Jordan Hicks (R)
Andrew Miller (L)
Giovanny Gallegos (R)
Alex Reyes (R)
John Gant (R)
Genesis Cabrera (L)
Tyler Webb (L)
Daniel Ponce de Leon (R)
Ryan Helsley (R)

Projected Lineup
2B Tommy Edman (S)
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R)
3B Nolan Arenado (R)
SS Paul DeJong (R)
RF Dylan Carlson (S)
LF Lane Thomas (R)
C Yadier Molina (R)
CF Harrison Bader (R)
Pitcher

Projected Bench
C Andrew Knizer (R)
IF Matt Carpenter (L)
IF Edmundo Sosa (R)
OF Lane Thomas (R)


Projection

The Cardinals are not a perfect team, and their young but flawed outfield shows that. But, compared to the rest of their division, they have little holes, and can beat you with their rotation, bullpen, and now with Arenado on board, maybe their lineup. As the Cubs, Reds and Brewers will fall off, the Cardinals will win the NL Central, and make the playoffs. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Seattle Mariners 2021 Season Preview

From Getty Images

 

       For the Mariners' standards, this was a quiet offseason. GM Jerry DiPoto is known to get trade-happy, but he stayed pretty quiet. This rebuilding team was able to stay out of the headlines and work on developing their team for the future, until Kevin Mather stepped in. The team president said a lot of revealing things on a rotary club meeting, which led to his resignation. But as Mather promised during that meeting, the future is bright in Seattle.

Offseason additions: LHP James Paxton, RHP Rafael Montero, RHP Ken Giles, RHP Chris Flexen, RHP Keynan Middleton, 1B Sam Travis, LHP Roenis Elias.

Offseason subtractions: IF Dee Strange-Gordon, RHP Yoshihisa Hirano, OF Phil Ervin, UT Tim Lopes, RHP Bryan Shaw, LHP Nestor Cortes Jr.


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: IF Ty France, C Luis Torrens, OF Taylor Trammell, RHP Andres Munoz, OF Alberto Rodriguez.

Traded: C Austin Nola, RHP Taijuan Walker, RHP Austin Adams, RHP Taylor Williams, RHP Dan Altavilla. 

2020 record: 27-33

2020 placement: 3rd

2020 WAR leader (batter): Dylan Moore

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Marco Gonzales


Starting Pitchers

The Mariners have been in clear support of a 6-man rotation entering the season, and that will mean a three-man bench. A perfect mix of prospects and veterans will be achieved throughout the year, as young players move up through the minors. Marco Gonzales is in the middle of those two groups, as he is not a prospect at age 29, but he is also entering just his fourth full season, so I would not declare Gonzales a veteran yet. In 69.2 innings last year, he had 64 strikeouts, for a career high 8.3 K/9. What Gonzales lacks in strikeout power, he made up for it with a 3.10 ERA and a 0.947 WHIP. He is a master of control, with just a 2.5 BB% and a 0.9 BB/9 in 2020, the latter leading the league. Returning to Seattle after a two-year stay in New York is James Paxton, who noticeably saw his fastball velocity fall off, which is a massive concern. After average over 95 mph and touching 97 in 2019, Paxton was sitting 92 last year. He was still able to strike out 26 in 20.1 innings, but Paxton had a 6.64 ERA and a 1.475 WHIP through five starts before missing the rest of the season with an injury. The main player acquired for Paxton back in the November 2018 trade was Justus Sheffield, who was productive in 10 starts as a 24 year old last year, but with some flaws. Sheffield had a 3.58 ERA with 48 strikeouts and just two home runs in 55.1 innings, but batters hit him hard, with a 46.6 hard hit percentage. Sheffield's slider had a 47.5 percent whiff rate in 2019, but that fell to just 28.1 last year. He made up for that by allowing less hits, as the average against the slider dropped by over 100 points, down to .192. Yusei Kikuchi had a rough season while adapting to North American baseball in 2019, but showed some more promise last year. Yes, Kikuchi had a 5.17 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 47 innings. But, he had a 7.9 H/9, while lowering his xERA to 3.37. Kikuchi was also able to limit batters to a .321 xSLG. There is a chance that the only right-hander in the Mariners rotation is Chris Flexen (yes, you read that right, Mets fans). Flexen had an 8.07 ERA in 68 innings over three seasons as a Met from 2017 to 2019, but decided to go to the KBO for 2020. It obviously worked, as he got an MLB deal. In 21 starts, Flexen had a 3.01 ERA with 132 strikeouts in 116.2 innings. The last rotation spot is between Justin Dunn, a righty, and a southpaw in Nick Margevicius. Both spent significant time in last year's rotation, but Dunn is the favorite, as he has more potential, and was a little bit better. A 2016 first round pick of the Mets, Dunn had a 4.34 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 45.2 innings. Control was a big issue for him, as he walked 31 batters, or 15.7 percent. Batters also hit Dunn hard, with an average exit velocity of 92 mph. Margevicius could end up in the bullpen is he does not make the rotation. He had a 4.57 ERA in 41.1 innings after being claimed off waivers from San Diego. Walks were not as much of an issue for him as they were for Dunn, and Margevicius had a better xERA of 4.36. We could also see 23 year old Logan Gilbert pretty soon. A first rounder in 2018, Gilbert reached AA in 2019, and in the minors in total, he had a 2.13 ERA with 165 strikeouts in 135 innings.

Relief Pitchers

The Mariners had an awful bullpen last year, and their new closer is Rafael Montero (yes Mets fans, you read that right again), who saved games for Texas last year. Montero had eight saves while striking out 19 in 17.2 innings with a 4.08 ERA. The highest average against one of Montero's four pitches was .200. Despite throwing a sinker almost a quarter of the time, Montero had a very low groundball rate of 28.9%. He actually allowed more line drives than ground balls. The best Mariners reliever last year was easily Yohan Ramirez, a 25 year old who in his rookie season posted a 2.61 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 20.2 innings. Batters had just a .149 xBA and a .279 xSLG against Ramirez. Batters went just 1-for-32 with an 81.8 mph average exit velocity and a 42.9 percent whiff rate against his slider. The Mariners have seen Keynan Middleton over the past few years as a member of the rival Angels. He allowed one run in 7.2 innings in 2019 while returning from Tommy John surgery, but his velocity was down. That came back up to 97.1 mph on average last year, but his overall numbers worsened. Middleton allowed seven earned runs in 12 innings. Also returning from TJ surgery was Kendall Graveman, who can start games, but mostly came out of the bullpen in 2020. He had a 5.79 ERA in 18.2 innings, but at 3.68, Graveman's xERA was much better. Despite allowing a 91.6 mph average exit velocity, batters had just a .229 xBA and a .359 xSLG against Graveman. Casey Sadler had a 2.14 ERA in 33 games in 2019, but struggled last year for the Cubs and Mariners. In Seattle, Sadler had a 4.50 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 10 innings. His walk rate went up by over seven percent, up to 14%. Still, Sadler allowed a hard hit percentage of just 26.4 percent, and his 2930 rpm curveball had a 44.4 percent whiff rate. Anthony Misiewicz was a starter in the minors, but transitioned into a one inning reliever at the big league level. He struck out 25 with a 4.05 ERA in 20 innings, and allowed just one barrel all year. Misiewicz had a 3.37 xERA, and batters went 1-for-10 against his mid-90s fastball. Matt Magill struck out 28 with a 3.63 ERA while saving games down the stretch in 2019, but struggled in Seattle last year. He had a 6.10 ERA with an average exit velocity of 91.1 mph. Both his slider and curveball can get whiffs. 23 year old Joey Gerber was a strikeout machine in the low levels of the minors, but had just six in 15.2 innings in 2020, his first MLB season. Gerber had a 4.05 ERA, and could benefit from some more time in the minors.

Catchers

The Mariners have seen Omar Narvaez and Austin Nola leave via trade in recent seasons, but they still have a good offensive bat in Tom Murphy, who was a breakout player in 2019. However, a broken foot cost Murphy all of 2020. He hit 18 home runs in 75 games in '19, with an OPS of .858. There were some flaws, however, as Murphy struck out 31 percent of the time. He will split time behind the plate with Luis Torrens, a former Rule-5 pick acquired in the same deadline deal that sent Nola to San Diego. In 18 games after the trade, Torrens had a .696 OPS. He is not the best defensive catcher, so the 24 year old could use some work there. 

Infielders

Evan White had his rookie season in 2020, and he is a very interesting first baseman. He may already be the league's best defensively, with six outs above average last year, and a Gold Glove. But, White is also a well below-average hitter, at a position demands offensive skill. White struck out a whopping 41.6 percent of the time, with eight home runs, a .176 average and a .599 OPS. White can hit the ball well, with a 14.7 barrel percentage and a 91.7 mph average exit velocity. Dylan Moore led the team in WAR in 2020 after a rough rookie season in 2019. He can be a super utility player, or start at second base. Moore hit eight home runs while stealing 12 bases with an .855 OPS. Moore lowered his strikeout rate, but at 27% it is still a problem. He played all seven infield and outfield positions last year. A former top prospect of the Phillies, JP Crawford has never been able to get it going offensively. He had an 85.8 mph average exit velocity with a .674 OPS in 2020. He stole six bases, but Crawford's 26.6 ft/s sprint speed was below average. Where Crawford really excelled was defensively, with seven outs above average, as he came home with his first Gold Glove. Kyle Seager is entering his 11th season as a Mariner, and it could be his last, especially if Kevin Mather was not lying. Seager had a 122 OPS+ last year while playing in all 60 games. The former was his highest since 2016. While striking out just 13.3 percent of the time, Seager hit nine home runs with a .788 OPS. He also had two outs above average, and his walk rate was a big improvement at 12.9 percent. Shed Long was the team's main second baseman in 2020 after he had a .787 OPS in 2019. Long slumped throughout 34 games last year, with a .173 xBA, a .301 xSLG and a .533 OPS. He also had -3 outs above average at second base. Long had surgery in the offseason, and could start as a backup infielder. Another backup infielder possibility is Sam Haggerty, who stole four bases in 13 games for the Mariners last year. Ty France can be the normal DH, but also play third base. Despite getting traded mid-season, France was solid offensively throughout, with a total of four home runs, a .305 average and an .836 OPS in 43 games. France had a .285 xBA, but had an average exit velocity of just 85.7 mph. 

Outfielders

While the Mariners have a ton of up-and-coming outfield prospects, Kyle Lewis asserted himself as the starting center fielder, by winning AL Rookie of the Year. He hit 11 home runs while stealing five bases with an .801 OPS. Lewis walked 14 percent of the time, but also struck out an additional 29.3 percent of the time. He had two outs above average in center. The only other lock in the outfield is Mitch Haniger in right field. Haniger was an all-star in 2018, but missed most of 2019 and all of 2020. In 63 games in 2019, Haniger had a .778 OPS with 15 home runs. Haniger is healthy now, and so far in Spring Training, he is 6-for-22 with a home run. The left field starter is up for grabs, and because of the six-man rotation, only one player who misses out can make the team as a backup. Jose Marmolejos hit 16 home runs with a .315 average and a .912 OPS in 101 AAA games in 2019, and played in 35 games last year. Marmolejos hit six home runs with a .672 OPS. He struggled against breaking balls and offspeed pitches, but crushes fastballs. Marmolejos hit five home runs with a 95.1 mph exit velocity against heaters last year. He can play corner outfield as well as first base. Taylor Trammell is still a highly-rated prospect, but his stock has fallen off since switching teams twice. In AA in 2019, Trammell stole 20 bases but had a .689 OPS. In 11 Spring Training games so far, Trammell has a .292 average with a .954 OPS. Jake Fraley has a .427 OPS in 19 career games, but he hit 19 home runs with 22 stolen bases and a .910 OPS between AA and AAA in 2019. He has gone just 4-for-25 this spring. Top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez will be options soon, but not now. 

Projected Rotation
Marco Gonzales (L)
James Paxton (L)
Justus Sheffield (L)
Yusei Kikuchi (L)
Chris Flexen (R)
Justin Dunn (R)

Projected Bullpen
Rafael Montero (R)
Yohan Ramirez (R)
Keynan Middleton (R)
Kendall Graveman (R)
Casey Sadler (R)
Anthony Misiewicz (L)
Nick Margevicius (L)
Matt Magill (R)

Projected Lineup
2B Dylan Moore (R)
CF Kyle Lewis (R)
RF Mitch Haniger (R)
3B Kyle Seager (L)
DH Ty France (R)
C Tom Murphy (R)
LF Jose Marmolejos (L)
SS JP Crawford (L)
1B Evan White (R)

Projected Bench
C Luis Torrens (R)
IF Shed Long (L)
OF Taylor Trammell (L)


Projection

I have been a big fan of what the Mariners have been doing with their most recent rebuild, and they have made some nice trades during their blow-up. The bullpen still needs a lot of reconstruction, but the rotation and lineup are solid. The Mariners are a fourth place team, but hopefully they will end their playoff drought soon. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

San Francisco Giants 2021 Season Preview

 


       Looking back on the Giants' season, it wasn't too bad. Yes, they finished under .500. But, they had many surprising breakout players, and nearly made the playoffs, something was not even in reach entering the season. They didn't win the offseason like the rival Padres, but the Giants made a lot of solid additions to make their team better for 2021, which is what you want if you are a Giants fan. They won't beat out the Dodgers or Padres, but I have been impressed with their rebuild.

Offseason additions: LHP Jake McGee, IF Tommy La Stella, RHP Anthony DeSclafani, RHP Matt Wisler, LHP Alex Wood, LHP Jose Alvarez, RHP Aaron Sanchez, C Curt Casali, IF Jason Vosler, RHP Nick Tropeano, RHP Zack Littell, RHP Dominic Leone, RHP John Brebbia, LHP Scott Kazmir (!).

Offseason subtractions: LHP Drew Smyly, RHP Trevor Cahill, LHP Tony Watson, RHP Shaun Anderson, RHP Sam Coonrod, RHP Jeff Samardzija. 


2020 Trade Deadline summary

Acquired: LHP Anthony Banda.

Traded: none.

2020 record: 29-31

2020 placement: 3rd

2020 WAR leader (batter): Mike Yastrzemski

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Kevin Gausman


Starting Pitchers

When the players who received qualifying offers were announced, Kevin Gausman stood out. Gausman was really productive for the Giants in 2020, but it was also his first good year in a long time. Alas, Gausman accepted, and the Giants have at least one more year of him. Like I said, he was really productive last year, as he had a 3.62 ERA while striking out 79 in 59.2 innings. His split-finger was better than ever, as batters had a 49% whiff rate with a .097 average and a .139 slugging versus the pitch. Johnny Cueto is back for his sixth season in San Francisco, although two of those years were heavily limited by Tommy John surgery. 2020 was his first full year back, and Cueto had a 5.40 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 63.1 innings. His 4.83 xERA was a small step up, but still not great. Cueto, who has drastically changed his repertoire since his prime, has seen his fastball raise in velocity from before TJ in 2018. The Dodgers brought back Alex Wood to be their fifth starter last year, but he instead spent most of the season in the bullpen. Wood allowed nine earned runs in 12.2 innings, while striking out 15. Wood allowed 17 hits with a 1.816 WHIP. His sinker had a 91.2 mph average velocity, its highest since 2017. Another example of Giants bargain hunting was when they signed Anthony DeSclafani. He had a 3.89 ERA in 31 starts in 2019, but never got it going last year. DeSclafani had a 7.22 ERA with just 25 strikeouts in 33.2 innings. He had a 6.53 xERA, and his fastball had a .484 average and an .871 slugging against. DeSclafani's slider actually improved, with a 35.2 percent whiff rate and a .190 average against. 24 year old Logan Webb had some highlights last year, like when he allowed two runs over seven innings against the Diamondbacks. But, the season was mostly a negative for Webb, who had a 5.47 ERA with 46 strikeouts and a 1.564 WHIP in 54.1 innings. So far through Spring Training, Webb has struck out 10 batters through six scoreless innings. 2016 AL ERA king Aaron Sanchez has been really bad since then, and did not pitch in 2020. For the Astros and Blue Jays in 2019, Sanchez had a 5.89 ERA with 115 strikeouts in 131.1 innings. Making a comeback is Scott Kazmir, the veteran lefty who has not pitched in the MLB since 2016, when he had a 4.56 ERA in 26 starts for the Dodgers. Kazmir could make the bullpen.

Relief Pitchers

The main weakness of this team is the bullpen, and that is pretty clear. Their best option to close right now is Jake McGee, who has been in the NL West for the past five years. He followed four rough seasons in Colorado with a much needed revival with the Dodgers. McGee struck out 33 batters in 20.1 innings with a 2.66 ERA and a 0.836 WHIP. McGee had 41.8 K% and a 3.8 BB%, and a .186 xBA against. However, batters hit the ball hard when they hit the ball, with a 92.3 mph average exit velocity, and a 48.8 hard hit percentage. The Giants claimed Jarlin Garcia off waivers from Miami before the season, and they have to be satisfied with the early results, as Garcia allowed one earned run in 18.1 innings (0.49 ERA) with a 0.982 WHIP. Batters went 3-for-27 with a just one extra base hit against Garcia's fastball, although it had a very low whiff rate of under 12%. The Giants may have made the value move of the offseason, scooping up Matt Wisler for just over $1 million. Wisler was sneakily great for the Twins in 2020, with a 1.07 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 25.1 innings. Batters had a 3.6 barrel percentage and a .164 xBA against him, as well as a .272 xSLG. Wisler's primary pitch is a slider, which he threw over 83 percent of the time last year. Batters went 11-for-77 against the pitch. One thing that really sets the Giants apart is their surplus of left-handed relievers. Jose Alvarez is a great example of that. Batters have just a .664 OPS against Alvarez in his career. He also has a 3.59 career ERA. Alvarez was one of the few successful Phillies relievers last year, before he was hit by a comebacker. In 6.1 innings, he allowed one run with six strikeouts. In 2019, Alvarez limited batters to an 86.1 mph average exit velocity. Submariner Tyler Rogers had a great introduction to Major League Baseball in 2019, but had a 4.50 ERA in a league leading 29 games. Rogers allowed just one barrel in 86 batted balls, for a 1.2 barrel percentage. He also walked just 4.9 percent of batters. In his short career, Rogers has an average exit velocity against of just 85.3 mph. Reyes Moronta had a great start to his MLB career, but did not pitch for about 18 months after shoulder surgery. When we last saw him in 2019, Moronta had a 2.86 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 56.2 innings. His big issue was a 13.1 BB%. Sam Selman had a 3.72 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 19.1 innings, which does not seem great, but he was able to limit batters to an 85.1 mph average exit velocity, and a .271 xSLG. I wrote more about Selman, as well as Matt Wisler here. The final spot in the 'pen is up for grabs, and the handedness of the pitcher matters a lot. The question is if San Francisco thinks Nick Tropeano rebranded himself after striking out 19 with a 1.15 ERA in 15.2 innings for the Pirates last year. He did have a 9.88 ERA in 13.2 innings for the Angels in 2019. Wandy Peralta limited batters to an 85.6 mph average exit velocity last year, and had a 3.27 ERA in 27.1 innings. 2016 9th round pick Caleb Baragar is also a lefty, and had a 4.03 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 22.1 innings last year, his rookie year. One of Webb and Sanchez is also an option.

Catchers

Buster Posey opted-out of the 2020 season, and it allowed the team to get a good look at 2018 2nd overall pick Joey Bart. Bart struggled at the plate, hitting no home runs with a .609 OPS in 33 games. Now Posey is back, and Bart will return to the minors. The former franchise icon has not been an above average player since 2017, and he had his worst season yet in 2019. Posey hit just seven home runs in 114 games, with a .688 OPS. His 16 K% was his highest by far in the Statcast era. The Giants brought in a more offensive-capable backup in Curt Casali, which in 2017 would have been a weird thing to say, when Posey won a Silver Slugger and Casali played in nine games coming off of a .609 OPS season. He was a member of the Reds last year, and had an .866 OPS. Casali also had a 15.1 BB%. 

Infielders

2020 saw Brandon Belt finally transition from good, but nothing special, to a very good hitter. Belt, who somehow has never hit 20 home runs, hit nine last year, with a .309 average and a 1.015 OPS. He also had a .597 xSLG with a .427 wOBA. One thing that Belt has been able to do consistently is walk, which he did at a 16.8 percent rate in 2020. That raised his OBP up to .425. Donovan Solano followed up a breakout 2019 by winning a Silver Slugger. After August 10th, Solano was hitting .458 with a 1.137 OPS. He slumped the rest of the way, but still hit .326 with an .828 OPS. One place for improvement with Solano is walking, something he did just 4.9 percent of the time last year. Three time Gold Glove winner Brandon Crawford has had bad offensive seasons in recent years, but his .792 OPS and 116 OPS+ were career highs. He had just a .326 OBP, but his .465 slugging was also a career high. Defensively, Crawford rebounded after a down 2019, with four outs above average. The worst hitter in the infield last year was actually Evan Longoria, the three-time all-star. Still, Longoria was not bad, with seven home runs, a .722 OPS and a 97 OPS+. Despite a .254 average, Longoria had a .280 xBA. He also had a 91.7 mph average exit velocity. Defensively, the three time Gold Glover had six outs above average, but was not a finalist for the award. The Giants have a really good backup infielder in Tommy La Stella, who can start at second and third base. In 55 games for the Angels and A's last year, La Stella hit .281 with an .819 OPS. La Stella is elite at not striking out, with just a 5.3 K rate. He walked over double that, with an 11.8 percent walk rate. They even have another good backup utility infielder in Wilmer Flores, who in his first season as a Giant, had a career best 125 OPS+. Flores hit 12 home runs in 55 games, with an .830 OPS and a .515 slugging. Since 2015, Flores has just a 12.8 K%. Another option is Jason Vosler, who was signed to an MLB deal despite having zero MLB games of experience. At AAA in 2019, the now-27 year old hit 20 home runs with an .890 OPS.  

Outfielders

After what he did in 2020, Mike Yastrzemski is now the best player with that last name to play in the MLB. Wait, why is there an angry mob of Bostonians outside my door with pitchforks and torches? Well, Yastrzemski hit 10 home runs with a .297 average and a .968 OPS. He had a .492 xSLG with a 13.3 BB%, but struggled defensively, with -5 outs above average while splitting time between center and right field. The Giants may have something with Alex Dickerson, who had a 102 OPS+ over 107 games in San Diego, but has a .913 OPS in 108 games with the Giants. In 2020, he hit 10 home runs with a .298 average and a .947 OPS. Dickerson had a 90.9 mph average exit velocity and a .494 xSLG. He also hit .358 with a .679 slugging against fastballs. Mauricio Dubon came through the Brewers system as a shortstop and second baseman, but he is now a center fielder for San Francisco. He hit four home runs with two stolen bases, a .726 OPS and a 101 OPS+ in 54 games last year. He had six outs above average, with one at second, and the rest in center. Former Phillies first baseman Darin Ruf returned from the KBO and had a career season while mostly playing left field. Ruf hit five home runs with an .887 OPS and a 143 OPS+, the latter two being career bests. He also walked 12.9 percent of the time. The final spot is between Austin Slater and Steven Duggar. Slater has a massive advantage, after hitting five home runs with eight stolen bases, and a 15.4 walk rate. He also had a .303 xBA with a .540 xSLG. Duggar is a more reliable defensive option, but in his career he has an OPS of just .630. Duggar was awful in 21 games last year, going 6-for-34. 

Projected Rotation
Kevin Gausman (R)
Johnny Cueto (R)
Alex Wood (L)
Anthony DeSclafani (R)
Logan Webb (R)

Projected Bullpen
Jake McGee (L)
Jarlin Garcia (L)
Matt Wisler (R)
Tyler Rogers (R)
Reyes Moronta (R)
Sam Selman (L)
Jose Alvarez (L)
Aaron Sanchez (R)

Projected Lineup
2B Donovan Solano (R)
1B Brandon Belt (L)
RF Mike Yastrzemski (L)
C Buster Posey (R)
LF Alex Dickerson (L)
3B Evan Longoria (R)
SS Brandon Crawford (L)
CF Mauricio Dubon (R)
Pitcher

Projected Bench
C Curt Casali (R)
IF Tommy La Stella (L)
IF Wilmer Flores (R)
OF/1B Darin Ruf (R)
OF Austin Slater (R)


Projection

The Giants are better offensively than people give them credit for. But that pitching staff is terrible. There are by no means at the end of their rebuild, and that is not a bad thing. But, what is a bad thing will be their team this year. I predict they will finish in 4th place, missing the playoffs.