BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com senior blogger
Relievers can be difficult to project because performance can sway so drastically from season to season. The limited number of innings, and the various situations the pitchers are used can lead to occasional spikes or dips in results. Sometimes you don’t know if your established 8th inning guy will have to take over closer duties, which can also affect his numbers depending on the situations he’s used in. I’m not of the mind that a minute number of relievers can close; most guys can do it if they have a big fastball that can be consistently thrown for strikes. However, given how much of a financial incentive it is to be a big time closer, teams will overvalue based on saves, when they should really be looking at how effective the pitcher was overall. I digress, so here are my top 5 setup men aka potential closers that currently aren’t.
5. David Hernandez, Arizona Diamondbacks (68 IP, 98 Ks, 22 BBs, 2.50 ERA)
Former Team Mexico/USA pitcher is underrated, he improved his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate in 2012, and figures to be used by Kirk Gibson to trade off the 7th or 8th with the inferior Heath Bell.
4. Drew Storen, Washington Nationals (30 IP, 24 Ks, 8 BBs, 2.37 ERA)
Let’s throw out that blowup inning against the Cardinals in NLDS game 5 last year, Storen is going to be getting key outs against the Braves lineup for a team that many will predict to win the World Series this year.
BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com senior blogger
Some may think of left field as that position where a youth baseball coach would hide his worst player. In Major League Baseball, it’s quite the contrary, In fact, many former center fielders, who had a younger player with a tad more defensive skills bump them out of their former positions, will usually move just one spot left. It also seems like a lot of the games top power hitters call left field their home. We’ll look at both cases in today’s blog of the top 10 left fielders in the game today:
10. Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins (.260 BA, 35 HR, 110 RBI, 2.9 WAR) - One of the most underrated power hitters in baseball.
9. David Murphy, Texas Rangers (.304 BA, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 10 SB, 3.2 WAR) – One of the most underrated players in baseball.
8. Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics (.292 BA, 23 HR, 82 RBI, 16 SB, 3.4 WAR) - Great rookie season from the defected Cuban, expect more in 2013.
7. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies (.303 BA, 22 HR, 85 RBI, 20 SB, 1.3 WAR) - Big platoon split due to Coors Field.
6. Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals (.294 BA, 14 HR, 72 RBI, 10 SB, 6.2 WAR) - Excellent defensive fielder with an improved bat.
5. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals (.295 BA, 27 HR, 102 RBI, 3.8 WAR)
Holliday is one of the great sure things in baseball. Consistently reliable slugger who drives in runs and generally does things well. One of the things he doesn’t do well is defend, or really have great range, at least not anymore. Regardless, he’ll be a big factor the Cardinals yet again.
Hanson’s most recent start on Sept. 21 was just the latest step in Hanson’s plagued second half of the year. He gave up five earned runs over 5 1/3 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies in the loss, even admitting that his recent outings have been poor.
“I feel like I’m battling my ass off to help my teammates out and to help my team win, and as of right now I’m not doing a very good job,” Hanson told Dave O’Brien after his last start. “It was a horseshit day. I’m not pulling my weight around here right now.”
While admitting his problem is a good step (as opposed to when Dan Uggla denied he had issues when Fredi Gonzalez benched him earlier this month), no excuse can be found for the lack of command Hanson has experienced since the All-Star Game. The numbers don’t lie.
Going into the All-Star break, Hanson had already won 10 games with a respectable 3.71 ERA. The .254 opponents’ batting average wasn’t particularly spectacular, but he was getting wins.
Just like in 2011, however, everything fell apart after the Midsummer Classic. The second half has seen Hanson struggled to a 2-4 record in 11 starts with a ballooned 5.88 ERA with opponents hitting .293 against him. The 30 walks he has issued in that span are ninth most in the National League with seven of those coming July 25 against the Miami Marlins in a win.
The current options for his replacement include Ben Sheets, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran. Since Delgado struggled early in the season and Teheran still hasn’t tasted the Major Leagues this year, it would seem Sheets is the most logical choice. (more…)
BY MICHAEL J. SILVA, Feedcrossing.com syndication
Tom Verducci made this statement yesterday to John Feinstein and Bruce Murray during their mid-day show on Mad Dog Radio. I think Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels have done a fabulous job turning around that ballclub, but they should not be discussed in the same breath as one of the best baseball teams of all-time.
The ’98 Yankees weren’t a collection of All-Stars. Although the Yankees have been a payroll team for the better part of the decade, this was not the case during the late nineties dynasty under Joe Torre. The Yanks were actually number two, behind Baltimore, with their $66 million dollar payroll. There were six other teams that were within $10 million dollars of them, as well.
That ’98 team was a collection of homegrown talent, veteran acquisition and component players that thrived in their roles. That group scored 965 runs, which is the tenth highest in franchise history. Offensively, it was on par with the powerful offenses of the late twenties and thirties. Even more impressive was their pitching. They only allowed 656 runs; on par with the top staffs in the National League despite having to deal with the Designated Hitter. This current Rangers group is on par with that production, but in the depressed post-steriods era. The Yankees output was amazing due to the explosion of offense we saw that season. (more…)
BY ZAC CORDOVA AND JUSTIN MILLAR, Feedcrossing.com syndication
• LA Dodgers: Pretender. Matt Kemp should change his nickname to “Mr. April” because he gets everyone thinking he is the best player in baseball the first month of every season. He is great no doubt, but has little help outside of Clayton Kershaw and Andre Ethier. AJ Ellis will cool off a bit, but they are too top heavy to be considered consistent enough to be a contender.
BY JOE WHITE, Feedcrossing.com syndication
Almost exactly a year ago I wrote this article chronicling the early season struggles of the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen. Well, here we are again. Fresh off of the Twins (the TWINS?!) dropping an 11-spot on the Tigers last night and the bullpen allowing 5 earned runs in their 5 innings of work, fans are rightfully concerned.
The bullpen has been bad but certainly isn’t entirely to blame here. The offense has been suppressed for most of the season and the starting rotation has been decent, but couldn’t be categorized as world-beaters at this point. The defense has been predictably unsuccessful but ranking 21st in fielding % is probably more than what most expected. Although the fact remains that it’s hard to create an error on a ball your range doesn’t allow you to reach.
But man that bullpen is frustrating! By the numbers it might actually be even more troubling.
Senor Slider is making his way back
Across all of Major League Baseball the Tigers’ pen ranks dead last in ERA at 5.17. Worse than even the horror show on the north side of Chicago.
As an entire staff, the Tigers are doing a decent job not walking the opposition, but as a bullpen, only 2 teams have walked more. In 116.2 innings of combined work, the ever rotating 7-man pen has walked 58 hitters. Teams are hitting .270 off of Luke Putkonen and company, which ties them for 4th worst in the bigs.
Remember when the Colorado Rockies of old had the Blake Street Bombers (Larry Walker, Vinny Castilla, Andres Galaraga and Dante Bichette) and still couldn’t muster many wins in the mid-90s?
Well it looks like the Rockies curse of never having any pitching has bitten the Minnesota Twins in 2013. When comparing those aforementioned Rockies teams to what the Twins are now, the similarities are quite glaring. Minnesota has a plethora of pop at the plate with players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham, but without a decent staff of hurlers, the Twins currently sit at the bottom of the barrel in baseball. Sure, Mauer and Morneau are not the players they once were when the pair were winning MVP awards, however, this pitching staff doesn’t look even close to when the squad won six AL Central division titles from 2000-2010.
There’s a huge difference in those former rotations that carried players such as Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Kyle Lohse and Joe Mays. The 2012 Twins’ starting five seem more like a hodgepodge of pitchers rather than a dominant force like the club had as little as two seasons ago. And the numbers further my case. The Twins are literally the worst team in baseball with a 8-22 record (Thursday, May 10).
So that automatically makes the pitching staff last in the league for wins and first in the MLB for losses. Furthermore, the Twins are last in the majors with a dismal 151 strikouts and are also the worst for ERA at 5.48. Minnesota is second to last for opposing team’s batting average at .287; runs at 165; and earned runs. That’s not exactly something manager Ron Gardenhire wants to write home to mom about. (more…)
Anybody who remotely follows baseball knows that Chicago Whitesox designated hitter Adam Dunn had a historically awful season. Last season, he set a new record for lowest batting average at .159. Having only contributed 42 RBIs with 11 home runs, suffice it to say it was a massive blemish on an otherwise fantastic career.
In addition to his woes at the plate, Dunn had to go through something no pro athlete should have to endure and that’s getting booed by the hometown fans. The heckling was especially brutal following the All-Star break as the White Sox began to fall out of contention. Just having Dunn in the on-deck circle made Sox fans vocal with their disapproval that he was still suiting up every day. It also didn’t help that Dunn admitted before the season that he participates in barely any offseason training.
However, here we are in 2012 and I’m just going to put it out there, Dunn is doing very well (I’m knocking on wood of course). His BA is a bit low at .246, but he never did hit for a high average. What is important is his contributions to run production. He has 13 RBIs and that ties him for seventh in the American League. He also has hit three balls out of the park which puts him on pace to have the 30-plus home runs that the Sox paid for. I know it is very early and evaluating these stats in terms of the season doesn’t hold much weight, but I can be optimistic.
Chapman dazzled baseball fans when he hit 103 MPH on the gun during his first outing on American soil. It seemed as if the 24-year-old Cuban Missile was destined for greatness. But injury and uncertainty plagued the young lefty early in his career. Although he tossed at speeds that are pretty much unheard of (including a 105 mile per hour pitch, which would be a Major League record), Chapman’s control was a question mark. Many predicted he would be a dominant starter, yet he couldn’t prove it to his own manager, Dusty Baker. And maybe Baker was right after he witnessed his 6-foot-4 hurler walk a disappointing 41 hitters in 50 innings last year.
But Baker better be second guessing what Chapman can do for his club in 2012. After losing out on a back-end of the rotation job to the formerly highly-touted prospect Homer Bailey in Spring Training because of control issues, Baker elected to throw Chapman back into the bullpen. The manager’s decision only proved to be a wake up call for the velocity-driven youngster.
It’s never easy to quit something you love.
Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones know that all too well, announcing his retirement effectively after the 2012 season. There’s really no question that the hours following that warm afternoon must have been hard after the 40-year-old declared his decision when his beloved Braves wrapped up what would be one of Jones’ final games at Atlanta’s camp in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The choice was one that had been coming and one that any press member following the team was salivating to hear.
The Braves came into the Spring with the same ‘ol team that fell flat on its face during a September collapse that ended one game short of yet another playoff birth. Yet, the spring training attention wasn’t focused on how Atlanta would bounce back. Instead, for about the third year in a row, all eyes were on No. 10. And all ears were waiting to hear if Jones would continue to play another season despite his constant leg problems that have haunted the corner infielder. (more…)
BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com writer
The 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks were one of my favorite individual teams ever to track and follow throughout the season; they provided everything you wanted out of an upstart, surprise team. There was an equal share of surprise pitching performances (Ian Kennedy), an emerging star coming into his own (Justin Upton), a fan favorite with a unique perk (“Tatman” Ryan Roberts) and a bullpen that saw significant improvement from the previous year. Their torrid streak starting somewhere in mid-May, along with some lucky breaks in the division (Rockies giving up on Ubaldo, Buster Posey breaking his ankle, and the Dodgers being financially incompetent) allowed for one hell of a ride. Of course, as many remember, it all came to an end in game 5 of the NLDS in Milwaukee as Njyer Morgan lined a J.J. Putz fastball up the middle, and thus a run at the World Series title was over.
This offseason, general manager Kevin Towers decided not to rest on his laurels and continue to improve an already good team in an attempt to make them great. Did he succeed in this? Let’s examine his most significant moves. (more…)
No longer will the skipper climb out of the dugout, walk to the mound and signal for the closer in the seventh inning, heck, rarely will they call for him in the eighth. Most guys throw one inning, unless it is an important game, then the closer will get the next game or two off. Either way, closers are the guys who slam the door shut, or are the goat for the night. Here’s a few pitchers who I would call upon in the ninth innings this season.
Shoved into the closer role, Axford did not disappoint. He posted 46 saves, 86 strikeouts in 73.2 innings pitched and blew only two saves. He got stronger after the all-star break and cut down on his walks. His 49 percent ground ball rate helped him record an ERA of 1.95. Although he has Francisco Rodriguez behind him, Axford has proved to be composed. One thing that worries me is his 59 hits given up. He will need to get more swing and misses without the same lineup in Milwaukee. (more…)
During the live ball era, the job of pitchers have slowly, but surely changed. No longer is a starter relied on for eight or nine innings a night, and closers do not have to throw three innings. You think they would, given the amount of money closers receive in their contracts.
Now, set-up men and relievers are the bridge from the seventh to the ninth inning, where they hand the ball over to the manager. It’s the dirty work, and too often are these names forgotten, unless you glance over the box score and see the letter ‘H’ next to their names. Here’s a list of the top-5 set-up men in baseball.
The Atlanta Braves’ bullpen is pretty stacked, and most of the attention is given to Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. In the 2010-11 season, O’Flaherty appeared in 78 games, and surrendered eight earned runs over 73.2 innings pitched. The right-hander sported a 1.09 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP while recording 32 holds on the year. Considering all the other arms on the team, not too shabby. O’Flaherty is one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball, he’s generated grounders 55.1 percent of the time over past three years combined. He’ll be called upon all season long, if he stays healthy.
In part nine of Couch Side’s series of the best players in the MLB by position, I’ll take a look at the top five right fielders for 2012.
I grew up playing the undesirable position in legion baseball, but I never let position No. 9 ever bother me. It’s one of the most valuable spots on the diamond, which is why managers choose to place their strongest throwing outfielders in the right corner. Despite Ichiro’s raw fielding ability, the Seattle Mariners never really thought bout placing him in center to chase down balls. His cannon was to valuable. It’s a position that may not get a lot of hype, yet we can never question it’s importance.
Here’s five right fielders in Major League Baseball who show us just how vital right field can be to a big-league club.
When will teams start pitching around this guy? It had better be this year or MVP voters may want to give Jo Baut a little more love. Last season, the 31-year-old set a career high in batting average (.301) while smacking 43 home runs and 103 RBI. In 2010, he easily led the league with 54 homers and 124 RBI. To say the least, this guy is now just entering his prime and he’s doing it loudly. Bautista’s power numbers are somewhat unmatched. Not a single player has belted at least 50 home runs during the past two seasons and maybe only a couple have reached the 40-home run plateau last season. I expect nothing but great things in the future from Bautista. And if he ever gets on an actual contender, his numbers should only improve with more protection in the lineup. (more…)
BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com contributor
As part of The Couch Side’s MLB positional power rankings, we turn to Centerfield, arguably one of the more important positions in the game.
But first, here is my 10-6 to build anticipation
Now onto the cream of the crop, the five best centerfielders in the game right now.
The Braves leadoff hitter split time between Houston and Atlanta last season, and he still led the NL in stolen bases with 61. He’s a fantasy goldmine, simply put. He has two gold gloves in his short career, and rates favorably with his defense. What is he expected to achieve this year? The projection model ZiPS has him hitting .270 with 97 runs scored, and 56 stolen bases. I’ll take that, you’ll take that, and we’ll all take that.
This was a tricky one; Ellsbury in 2011 had a near MVP season at the dish, only to have his teammates do their best to sabotage those efforts, which they did. Assuming the Red Sox won’t self destruct with a montage of alcoholic behavior, and unhealthy food choices, they’ll be back in the postseason, and so will the 4th best centerfielder in baseball. Jacoby had a herculean spike in power last year. The HR totals from his first four healthy seasons look like this,
That’s pretty remarkable, almost Jose Bautista-like. The question of whether or not he has a season close to that production remains to be seen, but it would be hard to believe that his peripherals would enable him to improve on such a feat.
With the second basemen out of the way, its time to continue moving around the infield, this time stopping at the other middle infield position — shortstop. Here is writer Brett Murdock has to say about the position that is quickly turning into a hot commodity.
Hard to argue with this one, as the Colorado Rockies star is probably the most complete at his position in the big leagues. A powerful offensive weapon, ‘Tulo’ hit .302 last season with 30 long balls and 105 runs batted in, a new career high. For the past three years, he has finished in the Top 10 of MVP voting, finishing fifth twice (2009 and 2010) and has cut down on his strikeout totals tremendously. Injuries have hampered him as he has never played a full 162 games, but nobody really does anymore anyway. Additionally, Tulowitzki is a back-to-back Gold Glove winner and should be a strong MVP candidate again this year.
The Miami Marlins big free agent splash this winter came in the form of the Dominican speedster. Reyes won the National League batting crown last year, topping off at .337 for the season, a full 45 points better than his career average. Never known as a power hitter, Reyes relies on his other weapons, mainly his speed to get by. Injuries have stalled him in recent years but when healthy, he is one of the best base runners in the game. His fielding percentage is lower than what some might expect and his 18 errors last season tied a career high. But, he is a team’s offensive ignition and should be a good fit for the Marlins in a competitive NL East.
Hailed as the premier pitching force in the Nippon Professional Baseball League, Darvish spent seven years throwing for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, posting an absurd stat line consisting of a 1.99 ERA, 1,259 strikeouts, and 93-38 win-loss record. Off the field, Darvish has lived the lifestyle typically associated with that of a rock star, dating adult film stars and engaging in erratic and somewhat childish behavior on a regular basis.
Standing at an imposing 6’5, Darvish is a righty who wields a versatile arsenal of pitches that include a sizzling 4-seam fastball, vicious slurve, cutter, splitter, curveball, and 2-seam fastball. Course, his total number of pitches will be diluted down in Spring Training,
As evidenced by his stellar career pitching stats, Darvish dominated his Japanese hitting opposition, winning the Pacific League’s MVP Award in 2007 and 2009.
We are well into the 2012 spring training season and continuing with our theme of previewing each position in the big leagues, Brett Murdock turns his attention to the second basemen. Here is what he has to say about the spot.
The diminutive player out of Arizona State may be small in stature, but is possibly the Red Sox’s most important player. He does a little bit of everything and plays with a fiery passion. Pedroia won the AL MVP in only his second full year in the bigs and is also a 3-time All-Star. Last year, he finished with a .307 average with a career high 21 home runs and a .990 fielding percentage, committing only seven errors in 722 defensive chances. He is probably the most complete second basemen in the game.
In part three of Couch Side’s 12 part series on the best position players going into 2012, we’ll take a look at what could be the deepest position in the MLB – first base. Although this is my top five, one guy you won’t see on the list is Miguel Cabrera, who is expected to move across the infield to third with the Tigers’ addition of Prince Fielder.
With that said, let’s take a look at my top five first basemen heading into the new season.
When a season consisting of a .299 batting average, 37 home runs and 99 RBIs, is considered a “down season,” you know you’re one of the game’s best. That was Pujols’ line from a year ago and it snapped his 10-year streak of hitting .300 with 30 home runs and driving in 100 runs. This season, Pujols moves out West following 11 seasons with the Cardinals fresh off his second World Series title, but nothing short of a “bounce back” season is expected from him. Pujols is a career .348 hitter in interleague play, so although the jersey may have changed, the colors haven’t and if there’s such a thing as a sure-bet, Pujols is just that. There’s a reason why he’s called The Machine. “El Hombre” or not, the Angels need their new $240 million acquisition to the man if they hope to reclaim their spot atop the AL West.
Until last year, A-Go had spent his previous five seasons in the spacious confines of Petco Park and still managed to knock out 32 dingers a season as a Padre. So expectations were sky-high moving to the American League where he could swat balls over the short right field porch at Fenway with that sweet lefty swing. Well, Gonzalez actually only managed to hit 27 balls out of the park, but in exchange he hit a career-high .338, more than 30 points above his previous career-high, and topped 200 hits for the first time. This year, the batting average might dip a little, but I expect an increase in his home run production between 30-35 in that murderer’s row that is the Red Sox lineup. Oh and he’s also won three Gold Gloves in the last four years, so there won’t be any Bill Buckner moments with this guy.
As pitchers and catchers reported to their respective camps during the past few days, Couch Side also has Spring Training fever.
And with the Major League Baseball season about a month away, we’ve decided to begin a look into the top players at each position. So here is our fist in a series of 12 blogs in which we will break down the top five players at each position during the next few weeks. Couch Side’s own Trevor Gould appropriately chose to start our series off with starting pitchers. Here is who he sees as this year’s movers and shakers from the hill.
1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Last year, Justin Verlander almost singlehandedly redefined the definition of domination. The right-handed fire-baller posted a league high 24 wins along with a stellar 2.40 ERA, scintillating 250 punch-outs, and a .92 WHIP, the lowest in the league. Major League Baseball rewarded Verlander handsomely for his accomplishments by handing him both the AL Cy Young and league MVP award. Verlander’s pitches often exceed 100 MPH, and he is able to accurately pinpoint all areas of the strike zone, keeping hitters constantly guessing. Thanks to the Tigers’ offensive potency and the recent addition of power bat Prince Fielder, Verlander has a very good chance of racking up an equally gaudy number of wins this season.
BY VIN CAPPIELLO, ballino.blogspot.com contributor
Gary Carter’s unfortunate, and to some of us, unfair death due to brain cancer has left us with questions. It’s never fair when anyone dies of cancer; on this I’m sure most of us agree. However, one cannot help but press our lips together and shake our collective heads in wonder as the major news outlets, while scrolling news of Carter’s death along the bottom of the TV screen, spent last week camped out adjacent to New Hope Baptist Church in hopes of finding out the latest details of the late Whitney Houston’s imminent funeral.
Houston’s death, while tragic, has resulted in the deification of a woman who could sing like no other. But she played too hard. Period.
Carter, on the other hand, played hard because it was his job. Playing catcher is considered by most baseball writers, fans, players and coaches as the toughest, most demanding position on the diamond. But Carter, a Hall of Famer, when he left the locker room after a win or loss, went home to his wife, his children, and his Bible.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Colorado Rockies were the most active team this offseason in all of Major League Baseball.
It takes me back to the winter of 2000 when Colorado dished out big bucks for some big busts in Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton. Now, we all know how that turned out, but this season and a few years down the road, the Rockies should only reap the benefits of what their front office accomplished during the past few months.
Colorado got much more experienced, cleaned house and held onto most of their top prospects all in one very busy offseason. Rockies General Manager Dan O’Dowd went nuts this season, hoping that quantity will outweigh quality. Colorado didn’t go for big names like Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols like they did in 2000 to bolster one of the weakest starting rotations in all of baseball. Instead, the Rockies made 10 trades, signed three free agents, resigned five of their own free agents and dumped seven guys from last year’s team — five of whom signed minor league deals with other teams.
Wow. What an offseason. And one the fans should be proud of. They just might have a tough time trying to guess who will be where when opening day hits Coors Field. In the end, however, the plethora of transactions may pay off with a return to the playoffs.
Here’s a breakdown of what the Rockies were up to this offseason by transaction type:
BY JON FRANK, Couchsideshow.com contributor
So what’s the deal with all the coverage on this Josh Hamilton relapse? Anybody else find it a bit, odd?
So the guy has a drinking problem, “relapses”, whatever that means, and it makes headlines on ESPN and SI.com. Dude has to come out and have a press conference addressing media, explaining that he had “a moment of weakness”.
This is ludicrous.
Does anybody, outside the Texas Rangers clubouse and Hamilton’s family and friends, really care? Nobody even seems to know what happened, other than that he went to a bar for X amount of beers. Must be a slow day in sporting news. I get it. Hamilton’s had issues in the past, he’s about to be a free agent and nobody wants to deal with an alcoholic on their team. But how does a guy struggling to keep his shit together going to a bar, having a few and catching himself wind up on Pardon the Interruption? Mind you, Hamilton didn’t do anything illegal, within the vicinity of illegal, or even immoral. He went out for a beer.