Everyone perceives the AL Central to be wide-open this season. I agree. BUT, it seems like most experts are favoring the Cleveland Indians to win the division.
Over the last seven years, this has been Minnesota’s and Chicago’s division.
Cleveland had somewhat of a fluky year in 2007 when Fausto Carmona and
CC Sabathia dominated the AL. CC is gone now, and who knows if Carmona
will ever be healthy or great again.
And the rest of that rotation? Come on. Carl Pavano as your third starter? Do experts really think they can win with THAT GUY as a big part of the staff? This team has a well-below average 3rd, 4th (Anthony Reyes) and 5th starter (Scott Lewis) and the No. 1 (Cliff Lee) and No. 2 (Carmona) have big question marks. The bullpen should be better this season, but good luck winning a division (even a sub-par one like the Central) with that rotation.
I think Chicago has to be the favorites right now. First off, the White Sox won the Central last season. And no team in that division can compete with the 1-2-3 combination of Mark Buehrle/Gavin Floyd/John Danks at the front of the rotation. The back-end of the starting roation is certainly a question mark with Jose Contreras and Bartolo Colon, but they have one of the best bullpens in baseball led by Scott Linebrink, Matt Thornton, Octavio Dotel and Bobby Jenks. All four guys are strikeout machines.
And the offense will once again be good. Remember, they have led the MLB in home runs three times in the past five seasons and have 200 or more HR in eight of the last nine.
Minnesota always seems to find a way to be in the mix and this year should be no different. But with Joe Mauer out for an undetermined amount of time, Boof Bonser out for the season, Pat Neshek on the 60-Day DL and Scott Baker on the 15-day DL, it would be tough to call Minnesota “the favorites” at this point.
I’m not saying that Cleveland can’t win the Central. They can. So can Minnesota and even Detroit. But for whatever reason everyone seems to be overlooking the White Sox and overrating the Indians right now, and I’m really not sure why.
What exactly do the pitching coaches in Minnesota teach that the
other teams don’t? Judging by the impeccable control by nearly all
Twins pitching staff’s of the past 21 seasons, it’s something
And if not, check the water in Minnesota…
|Year||AL Rank||Walks Allowed||League Average|
AVERAGE 2.4 453.8 531.6 (-77.8)
- Not ONCE in the last 21 years have the Twins issued more walks than the league average.
- In 19 of the 21 years, Minnesota ranked in the Top 3 in the AL.
- For six straight seasons, the Twins have issued at least 100 less walks than the league average.
- Over the last 21 years, Minnesota averages 77.8 fewer walks than the league average.
- Over that 21 year span, the Twins’ average rank in the AL is 2.4.
can see a team sustaining this for a 3-6 year period or so, but for 20+
years? Does anyone have an explanation for how this is possible?
The Seattle Mariners, well, stink — to put it in the nicest way possible.
They have way too many issues in that organization to blame it on one front-office executive, coach or player.
But if you are inclined to blame one specific person, starting pitcher Carlos Silva would be a great place to start.
Maybe it’s the expensive free-agent contract he signed in the offseason (four years, $48 million), coupled with his horrific results. And I do mean, horrific.
You know, the 4-13 record.
Or the 5.93 ERA.
Or the 182 hits allowed in 136.2 innings.
Or the putrid .322 opponents batting average, 1.51 WHIP or 3.89 K/9.
Basically, take your pick. Silva, alongside Livan Hernandez, has been unquestionably the worst pitcher in all of baseball this season.
But that hasn’t stopped Silva from calling out his teammates, as Geoff Baker wrote in the Seattle Times the other day.
Here is some of what Silva had to say about his teammates in the story…
“I don’t care if we are 40 games behind, we should have played better
than this,” Silva said. “For me, every game is important. For me, if we
are where we are right now, we should take it one game at a time and
play one day at a time. Thinking, ‘We’ve got to win this game.’ And
when the day is over, ‘We’ve got to win the next one.’ “
“Maybe half of the team wants to do the best they can,” Silva said.
“Take the starting rotation … every time we cross that line, we want
to do our best. No matter how many games we are behind. But maybe half
of the team doesn’t have that mentality. They are only thinking of
finishing strong. And to put up their numbers. That’s great, but that
affects us. As a team, that doesn’t work out.”
There are plenty more gems from Silva — remember, the SAME Silva that is 4-13 with a 5.93 ERA — so read Baker’s story.
That’s my advice for you. My advice for Silva?
Look in the mirror. And then, shut your mouth.
And come to think of it, maybe you should give some of that money back to the organization. Or me, I’m kind of broke right now.
But basically, keep quiet.
Statistically, Brad Zielger is the best pitcher in Major League history.
I mean, the right-handed submariner hasn’t allowed a run in his entire career. How could he not be? Granted, that career only consists of a half-season, 27 games and 35 innings of work out of the Oakland A’s bullpen.
OK, so I’m stretching it a bit…he’s NOT the greatest thing since sliced bread, nor is he the best pitcher ever. But he’s doing something much cooler than that, anyway.
Sure, the whole no-runs-thing in 35 innings to start his career is beyond remarkable — not to mention a slaughtering of the previous record of 25 by the immortal George McQuillan in 1907. But that’s NOT EVEN CLOSE to as impressive as another streak that he has going…
And NOBODY is talking about it. Maybe because pretty much nobody has noticed.
But I have.
And I’m going to tell you what it is. But before I do, I’m going to give you a pair of statistics and see if you can figure it out on your own:
- Batting Average Against: .194
- Slugging Percentage Against: .194
For those astute baseball minds who figured it out, I say congratulations. For those that didn’t, don’t worry, I’m here to tell you…
In 35 innings pitched, Ziegler has allowed 21 hits — good for an opponents batting average of .194. Of those 21 hits, guess how many of them went for ANY of the following: double, triple or home run?
How about…ZERO. None. Zilch. Nada. Zippo.
That’s right, in 35 innings, Ziegler has yet to allow an extra-base hit. Not one. Hence, opponents have the same slugging percentage (.194) against him as they do batting average.
Remarkable. Incredible. Simply unbelievable. Perhaps the most impressive statistic I have ever seen. I legitimately cannot fathom that this is remotely possible.
I don’t know how this has been overlooked. This is MUCH MORE impressive than the 0.00 ERA in 35 innings. Think about it. What is harder to do: make one bad pitch and give up a double, triple or home run OR make several bad pitches and give up a run? Heck, pitchers give up extra-base hits all the time on GOOD PITCHES.
Check out how many extra-base hits there have been in baseball this season:
- Doubles: 6,330
- Triples: 600
- Home Runs: 3,450
That comes to a total of 10,380 extra-base hits. Exactly NONE of those have been allowed by Ziegler — a 28-year-old rookie and career Minor League journeyman. Incredible.
Those 10,380 extra-base hits have come in approximately 15,360 total innings of Major League Baseball this season — that computes to one extra-base hit every 1.5 innings or so (a little less).
So what does all this mean? Honestly, I’m not quite sure. But what I do know is this: what he’s currently doing is bordering on the impossible. And I can’t wait to see how long this lasts.
And while we’re at it, here is more Ziegler craziness…
AAA: 1 ER in 24.1 IP (0.37 ERA)
MLB: 0 ER in 35 IP (0.00 ERA)
TOT: 1 ER in 59.1 IP (0.15 ERA)
Now THAT is how you hold down a lead as a reliever.
p.s. I just jinxed him, didn’t I??
How would you like to go up against the following lineup…
C – Russell Martin
1B – Miguel Cabrera
2B – Ian Kinsler
3B – David Wright
SS – Hanley Ramirez
OF – Ryan Braun
OF – Grady Sizemore
OF – Carlos Quentin
Yeah, didn’t think so.
Those nine guys consist of my “Dream Team,” the best and brightest players at their respective positions under the age of 27. Those are the guys you want anchoring your team for the next 10 years.
But wait, I have a pitching staff that’s up for the challenge. These 11 pitchers (five starters, six relievers) under the age of 27 will shut down any lineup — even the one listed above.
Good pitching beats good hitting. Every time. This “Dream Team” pitching staff would eat that lineup up…
Choices: Tim Lincecum,
Edinson Volquez, Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, Chad
Billingsley, Zack Greinke, Rich Harden, Scott Kazmir, Johnny Cueto,
Justin Verlander, Jon Lester, Joba Chamberlain, Matt Garza, Clay
Buchholz, Max Scherzer, Francisco Liriano, Clayton Kershaw, David Price
Why do I put myself into these positions?
I’m supposed to pick just five out of this group? Not possible.
This is a tall order, so let’s get right to it and eliminate some right off the bat.
Justin Verlander: Has regressed since 2006-2007 seasons
Zach Greinke: Consistency issues, motivation issues, not as dominant as other guys here
Matt Cain: Great pitcher, but has never pitched in a meaningful game
Matt Garza: Having a great year, not all that surprisingly, but let’s not get overboard.
Clay Buchholz: The no-no was no-fluke, but he’s not close to ace material yet
Max Scherzer: Has yet to fully prove himself; on the mound and in the health department
Clayton Kershaw: Elite prospect, but too “green” for me to pick him as one of my five
David Price: I want to take him, but he hasn’t made it to the bigs yet – so doesn’t qualify
Johnny Cueto: Strikeout machine, but not a complete pitcher yet
That leaves 10 guys vying for five spots – Tim Lincecum, Edinson Volquez, Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, Chad Billingsley, Rich Harden, Scott Kazmir, Jon Lester, Joba Chamberlain and Francisco Liriano.
In my mind, there are two absolute stone-cold LOCKS here: Lincecum and Hernandez.
Lincecum has it all: the youth (24-years-old), the stuff (98 MPH fastball, wicked breaking ball) and the numbers (11-3 with 167 K in 150 IP). You HAVE to be that nasty to have 11 wins on a crummy team. I don’t care that he’s only 5-foot-11 with a funky delivery. You going to argue with those numbers??
Hernandez, or “King Felix,” as he’s affectionately referred to as, is an interesting case. Greatness was expected of him from Day 1 due to all the hype. He’s been good (37-32, 3.74 ERA in his career) but has had some injury and consistency issues. But everyone forgets one thing…
He’s ONLY 22-YEARS-OLD! He won’t turn 23 until a week into the 2009 season. He’s one of the better pitchers in baseball already, and he’s barely old enough to drink for crying out loud. Think about how good this guy is going to be. He’s like eight years away from his prime! His stuff is dazzling and he WILL win multiple Cy Young Awards in his trophy case when it’s all said and done.
OK, so that’s 2/5 of our rotation. Now, let’s get rid of a few names: Jon Lester and Rich Harden.
Lester is a great story. I know. And I know about the no-hitter, the cancer recovery and the shutout of the Yankees. And I know about the 21-5 career record (but what I also know is that the ‘win’ is the most overrated and unreliable stat in all of sports. Want proof? Lester is 21-5 with a 3.90 ERA and Matt Cain is 28-38 with a 3.72 ERA). But I also know he has some serious control problems (granted, he is improving there). I simply cannot ignore 120 walks in 291 innings. He’s great, but I can’t trust him for the next 10 years. No way, no how.
Harden is filthy. Harden is nasty. And when Harden is healthy, he may be the most dominant starter in all of baseball. Take his 2008 stats for example: 6-2, 2.04 ERA and 131 K and 71 H in 101 IP.
But how often is this guy actually healthy? How about…pretty much never.
2007: 25.2 innings
2006: 46.2 innings
2005: 128 innings
Promise me he stays healthy, and I take him. But you can’t make that promise without breaking it.
Lincecum and Hernandez in; Lester and Harden out. That leaves Volquez, Hamels, Chamberlain, Kazmir, Liriano and Billingsley for three spots.
Chamberlain is in. He’s 22, and he’s already dominating the AL. Need him to be a set-up man? He’s one of the best. Need him to be a starter? He’s keeping up with the best of ’em (3-1, 2.23 ERA, 69 K in 60 IP) Need him to close? I’m sure he’d be great at that, too. Need him to get a big strikeout? He’ll get it (99 K in 84.1 IP this season; 133 K in 108.1 IP in his career).
He’s only allowed 68 hits and three home runs in 84.1 innings this season, and has been progressively better in each start. He’s in my rotation for the next 10 years.
So who are my final two starters? Well, I’d love to take Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez. Liriano is the most intriguing pitcher on the planet (and was basically the second-coming of Cy Young in 2006 at age 22) and Volquez is having the best season of the remaining contenders.
But I’m not taking either of them. Liriano has already had Tommy John Surgery at such a young age and has had MAJOR arm issues his entire career. Plus, he’s only proved his worth for 1/2 of a season — and that was two years ago. He simply cannot be the same after having Tommy John Surgery.
I love Volquez, no question. But he’s already 25-years-old, and has only been this good for a half a season. And to be honest, he hasn’t been all that great lately.
Last seven starts: 3-2, 5.21 ERA, 45 H and 17 BB in 38 IP (110 K)
First 15 starts: 10-1, 1.71 ERA, 65 H and 44 BB in 93.1 (29 K)
He’s still the man, but he’s not in my Top 5 moving forward for the next 10 years.
Getting up to speed…Lincecum, Hernandez and Chamberlain in; Lester, Harden, Liriano and Volquez out. Battling for the final two spots are Hamels, Kazmir and Billingsley.
Hamels is in. Of the three, he is the hardest to get a hit off of and the hardest to reach base against. All three are 24-years-old and have similar career numbers, but Hamels has done it for longer than Billingley has and has better control (and health) than Kazmir.
So, the final debate: Kazmir vs. Billingsley.
Advantage Kazmir: he’s a left-hander, strikes out more hitters, has more experience
Advantage Billingsley: he’s been healthier, has better command
These guys are virtually identical statistics-wise. But Kazmir has pitched in the harder league. And Kazmir is a lefty. To me, he’s just a more dominant starter with more upside than Billingsley. I’m going with Kazmir.
THE PICKS: Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez, Joba Chamberlain, Cole Hamels, Scott Kazmir
Choices: Jose Arredondo, Jonathan Broxton, Taylor Bucholz, Matt Capps, Manuel Corpas, Manny Delcarmen, J.P. Howell, Jim Johnson, Carlos Marmol, Kyle McClellan, Brendan Morrow, Renyel Pinto, Rafael Perez, Ramon Ramirez, Francisco Rodriguez, Joakim Soria, Huston Street, Brian Wilson, Joel Zumaya
This is infinitely easier than picking the starting rotation. I need six relievers for this team, and it’s quite clear to me who the six best pitchers in this group are: Jonathan Broxton, Carlos Marmol, Brendan Morrow, Francisco Rodriguez, Joakim Soria and Joel Zumaya.
Sure, it would be nice to have a lefty reliever in the ‘pen. But with a group like that, I’m not too worried about holding leads.
THE PICKS: Jonathan Broxton, Carlos Marmol, Brendan Morrow, Francisco Rodriguez, Joakim Soria, Joel Zumaya
Being a New York Mets fan last year?
Must have been tough — heartbreaking, even.
Your complaints are falling on deaf ears here, though.
You guys have David Wright AND Jose Reyes on your team — and will have them on your team together for many years to come, making the best left-side on the infield in baseball (and by far I might add).
This gets me thinking…
If you were to start a team from scratch and build a powerhouse for a 10-year period, who would you want at each position starting on your all-mighty club?
Remember: the goal here is to win now, and with the same players 10 years down the line. So oldies (and by here I mean anyone over 26) need not apply. Sit down Ricky Henderson and Julio Franco, I know you two think you can still hold it down in 2018, but not on MY team, you’re not!
We’ll start at catcher, where we have an instant dilemma…
Choices are: Russell Martin (25-years old), Joe Mauer (25), Brian McCann (24) or Geovany Soto (25)
Let’s see: all four are practically the exact same age, have similar abilities in all aspects of the game and are probably the four best hitting catchers in all of baseball (sorry Victor Martinez and Jorge Posada).
Almost impossible to make a definitive choice — you just can’t go wrong with any of them.
Mauer hits lefty, is a .314 career hitter and has a batting title to his credit. He has a terrific eye, rarely strikes out and is a good athlete. Behind the plate, he rarely makes mistakes of any kind and has a great arm — crippling opposing running games. Yeah, he’s good.
Soto is the probable Rookie of the Year in the National League this season. How many first-year backstops do you see hit 27 home runs and drive in 92? That’s what he’s on pace for — and that comes after a recent slump (probably due to some lingering injuries) has brought some of his numbers down to earth. Soto, too, has a good eye and, much like Mauer, gets a lot of credit from his pitchers for the way he calls a game.
Speaking of calling a good game, how about Martin — a guy whose teammates constantly rave about. Oh, and he can hit, too. And he can run; 31 steals since 2007. And he’s undoubtedly the most athletic of this group of catchers — a guy who played third base a few weeks ago and volunteered to play shortstop if Joe Torre needed him to. Torre didn’t laugh, either. Word is he could play short rather well. He has more walks than strikeouts, which is a testament to the contact that he makes and his place discipline.
McCann always gets less credit/exposure than the other three, but that isn’t because of how he hits — because he may be a better run-producer than any of them. He’s on pace for 45 doubles, 32 home runs and 101 runs batted in. No fluke: .330 AVG, 24 HR, 93 RBI in 2006 and 18 HR and 92 RBI last season.
Again, not easy. Give me any of them, and I’ll be happy.
But give me Russell Martin, who is my pick to be the starting catcher on this “dream team.”
Mauer has had knee problems already, which is a major concern at the catching position. He may be the best pure hitter of the group, but his run-producing skills is not as good as any of the other three.
Soto and McCann are great hitters (although Soto strikes out far too much), but they get KILLED in the running game. Base stealing threats have a field day against both.
Martin will shut down a run game with the best of them, will call a terrific game and is a natural-born leader. He is extremely versatile (on offense and defense), can steal bases and drive in runs much like the other guys. It’s close, but he’s the best all-around package at the catcher position.
THE PICK: Russell Martin, Los Angeles Dodgers
STARTING FIRST BASEMAN
Choices: Prince Fielder (24), Miguel Cabrera (25), Adrian Gonzalez (26), Conor Jackson (26), James Loney (24)
Pro’s for Fielder: Best raw power of the group (by far); youngest of the group; has the family pedigree (father, Cecil, hit 319 home runs) and he is a better athlete than people give him credit for.
Con’s for Fielder: Strikes out a lot (on pace for 3rd straight season of 120+); inconsistent plate discipline (OBP and walks are way down); he’s only 5-foot-11 but weighs 270 pounds (at lowest) and having a disappointing 2008 season after a MONSTER (50 homers, 119 RBI) one in 2007.
Pro’s for Cabrera: Everything; he’s already got four straight seasons of 26+ HR and 110+ RBI under his belt, and he’s still just 25; power to all fields; extra-base hit machine (averaging 74 the last four seasons).
Con’s for Cabrera: He lacks a true position in the field; has battled weight problems; his desire and motivations has been routinely questioned; strikes out a good amount; could POTENTIALLY be older than he says…we see it all the time (he was dominant at age 21, which very well could be legit).
Pro’s for Gonzalez: Having the best season of the group so far; was a No. 1 overall draft pick, so this is no fluke — he was expected to be a monster; hits the ball to all fields; is built like a power hitter with a 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame; has a sweet left-handed swing; putting up big numbers in a notorious pitchers’ park.
Con’s for Gonzalez: Has only done this for 2+ seasons now; already 26 and only has 86 HR in his career; took a long time for him to develop into the hitter many thought he would be; doesn’t walk often, strikes out a lot; doesn’t have a lot of doubles this season.
Others that were considered: James Loney (great hitter, but not a huge power threat, at least not yet), Conor Jackson (lacks raw power and is already 26) and Joey Votto (haven’t seen enough of him yet).
In the end, this comes down to two players: Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
Fielder is the sexier pick of the two, because we already know he’s capable of popping 50+ home runs (he did it last year). And Cabrera worries us a bit now because of the weight/lack of position/motivation concerns.
BUT…Cabrera is the better all-around player, and a guy that has MVP and Hall-of-Fame inductee written all over him. His weight is down from what it was last year and I know he’s having a “down” year, but give me Cabrera for this team. The guy is a .310 lifetime hitter, and already has 155 HR, 597 RBI and will have 1,000 career hits at the age of 25.
If he WANTS to, he could perhaps be the best all-around player in baseball (or close to it), and even if he doesn’t — he’s still pretty darned good.
THE PICK: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
STARTING SECOND BASEMAN
Choices: Ian Kinsler (26), Dustin Pedroia (24), Robinson Cano (25), Rickie Weeks (25), Howie Kendrick (25)
I break these candidates into three categories…
- The uber-prospects that have continually disappointed: a.k.a. Rickie Weeks and Howie Kendrick (how long are we going to wait for these guys to break out and/or stay healthy)
- The scrappy ballplayer who continually gets the job done, while you wait for them to revert back to reality: a.k.a Dustin Pedroia (great player, love his game, but I think falls just short of the following two guys — because his ceiling doesn’t match theirs).
- The contenders: Ian Kinsler and Robinson Cano.
Let me tell you, it’s tempting to pick a guy like Weeks (who hit like .450 in his college career) or a guy like Kendrick (who, when healthy, seems to do everything well on the diamond). But they simply CANNOT be trusted anymore. I know Kendrick is back and doing well now, but what makes us think this will continue. How long until he hit
s the DL again?
All Pedroia does is produce while people continue to doubt him. I say stop, because he is here to stay. But give me one of these guys for the next 10 years…
Cano: .297 AVG as a rookie, .342 (what sophomore slump?) in 2006 and .306 last season. Even with a poor .268 AVG so far in 2008, Cano is a lifetime .305 hitter.
He had 41 doubles in each of the last two years, and averaged 17 HR and 88 RBI — which is something that second baseman just don’t do nowadays.
Kinsler: Pedroia was voted in as the AL starter at second base. While he certainly deserves to be on the team, it’s a JOKE that Kinsler wasn’t the one starting.
His projected numbers this season are scary-good: .329 AVG, 22 HR, 95 RBI, 137 R, 223 H, 55 2B, 6 3B, 62 BB, 39 SB, .388 OBP %, .524 SLG %
Yes, his monster 2008 campaign came a bit out of nowhere. However, he did hit 20 home runs last season and hit .286 with 14 HR in his 2006 rookie season.
Hmm. What happened to Cano? He’s starting to bounce back in a big way, he’s too good of a hitter with too sweet of a swing not to fully return to form.
Kinsler? Will undoubtedly regress the rest of the season…he can’t possibly keep this up.
But Kinsler plays better defense, has a much better all-around game than Cano and is my pick to lead my team at second base for the next 10 seasons.
THE PICK: Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers
STARTING THIRD BASEMAN
Choices: David Wright (25), Evan Longoria (22), Alex Gordon (24), Ryan Zimmerman (23)
Ryan, I am in LOVE with your defense, leadership and pretty right-handed swing.
Alex, I’m in love with your potential, but I’m tired of waiting for the results and am beginning to think you’re not quite as good as advertised.
David and Evan, can I take you both??
This is not going to be easy. They are similar players in many ways…both are great with the glove, great with the bat, and contribute in every aspect possible on the baseball field.
Evan is three years younger and is having a stellar rookie season, but David has proved what he’s capable of for years, and is an MVP threat each and every season.
Let’s look closer at Wright, who has played three full seasons prior to this one…
Over that time, he’s averaged: .314 AVG, 28 HR, 108 RBI, 103 R, 41 2B, 24 SB, .396 OBP%,
He was at his best last season, hitting .325 with 30 HR, 107 RBI, 113 R, 42 2B, 34 SB, 94 BB, .416 OBP% and .546 SLG%.
He just keeps getting better. This season some of his numbers are a bit down, but he’s still on pace for 110+ runs, 40+ doubles, 31 HR and 127 RBI, 100+ BB and 20 SB.
Now, on to Mr. Longoria. No, not Tony Parker (sorry ladies).
As a 22-year-old rookie, he’s on pace for: .279 AVG, 31 HR, 99 RBI, 82 R, 42 2B, 66 BB (142 K), 10 SB, .355 OBP% and .528 SLG%.
An impressive and spectacular rookie season, no doubt.
Much like Prince Fielder over Miguel Cabrera at first base, Longoria over Wright is the “sexier” pick at the hot corner. The relatively unknown (Longoria) is appealing (although Evan is not as appealing as Eva) but I want the known in Wright. The guy is a consistent monster, and he will win an MVP Award sooner rather than later.
Trust me, I know. I want to take Longoria and I know this will probably bite me in the rear-end, but I play it safe. And it’s not like Wright can’t get any better. He’s alreadt pretty darned good — not to mention, better right now than Longoria.
Wright is not wrong.
THE PICK: David Wright, New York Mets
Choices: Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Troy Tulowitzki
Tulo? Never mind his injury problems and struggles at the plate this season. His rookie campaign in 2007 was no fluke. He’s going to be a terrific shortstop for many years to come — Coors Field or no Coors Field.
Reyes? Probably the most electrifying player in all of baseball. A terror on the basepaths. And one of the best shortstops we have EVER seen…
That is, until we saw Ramirez.
How many times have we seen shortstops with THAT kind of power? Probably twice (Alex Rodriguez and Ernie Banks).
How many shortstops have we seen with that level of power-speed combination. How about, NONE. Until now.
Pencil — no, permanent marker — him in for the following numbers EVERY season until, oh, about, 2020: .315+ AVG, 25+ HR, 70+ RBI, 40+ steals, 110+ runs, 200+ hits, 40+ doubles, .375+ OBP%.
Not bad for a shortstop.
Not bad for a leadoff man.
Not bad for anyone.
Not only is this man my first choice at shortstop for the next 10 years, he would be my first pick overall to start a new team with — over A-Rod, Albert Pujols, Johan Santana…EVERYONE.
It’s not easy to make taking Jose Reyes for your team a complete afterthought. But with Hanley in the fold, it really is.
THE PICK: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
Choices: Ryan Braun, Grady Sizemore, Carl Crawford, Carlos Quentin, Nick Markakis, Chris Young, Nate McLouth, Matt Kemp, BJ Upton, Hunter Pence, Delmon Young, Justin Upton, Adam Jones, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jay Bruce
As you can see, there are a lot of good, young outfielders in baseball right now. And I’m supposed to pick three?
Good luck with that.
I suppose the easiest way is to immediately eliminate a few guys. So here goes…
So long Nick Markakis (love him, but not enough power to compete with some of the other guys).
So long Chris Young (apparently you aren’t as good as we thought you would be…have you suddenly forgot to steal a base? And enough with the sub-.240 average, it’s getting old).
So long Hunter Pence (you’re good, but not as good as how you played in your rookie season).
So long Delmon Young (I thought you were going to be an absolute beast with the bat…but in turns out your better at throwing them at umpires than you are at hitting the ball over the fence).
So long Adam Jones (we don’t know how good you’re going to be yet, but good luck becoming a better player than say, Sizemore or Braun).
So long Nate McLouth (you’re good and all, but you’re not THIS good. And even if you were, you’re still not in the same class at Sizemore or Crawford).
So long the Upton brothers — yes, that’s you Justin and B.J. You both are loaded with talent, but Justin wasn’t showing it enough (that’s why he’s currently in AAA) and B.J. has taken a step back from last season.
So that leaves the following players: Ryan Braun, Grady Sizemore, Carl Crawford, Carlos Quentin, Matt Kemp, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jay Bruce…
No go for Crawford — already 26, NEVER walks, and power/speed numbers are slowly on the decline.
No go for Ellsbury — yes, he can steal plenty of bags and play great in the field, but he has relatively no power to speak of and doesn’t get on base nearly enough.
No go for Kemp — memo to baseball fans everywhere, this kid is a MUCH better player than Jacoby. Much more power, way better run-producer, and it’s not like he can’t run (he is on pace for 37 steals). But he’s still no Sizemore.
No go for Bruce — tempting, but he’s still too green for my liking. I don’t know what to expect from him yet. The guy he was the first few weeks? The guy he is now? Probably somewhere in between. But he strikes out WAY too much. It’s tempting to take him (he’s only 21) and I know this would probably come back to haunt me more than the other guys I’ve passed up, but I gotta do it.
Yes to Braun: one of the most impressive rookie seasons we’ve ever seen, and he’s somehow topping it now in his second season.
Yes to Sizemore: How many leadoff men have that type of speed, power, on-base skills and leadership abilities? Guy is a beast in center, as well.
Yes to Quentin: Kind of came out of nowhere, but those who follow baseball intently knew he just needed a full-time chance to stay healthy and prove his hot-prospect status was worthy. He’s gotten that chance and he’s more than proved it. He’s a big-time run producer with massive power.
THE PICK: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers; Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians; Carlos Quentin, Chicago White Sox
Yes, Josh Hamilton is good. Real, real good.
Yes, Josh Hamilton is incredibly inspirational. And uplifting.
No, Josh Hamilton is not driving in 162 runs this season.
Well, maybe. Pace dictates that he will, but he can’t possibly keep this up. Right?
Well I’m not sure. But that’s what I’m here for — to speculate. Predict. Prognosticate.
So with this in mind, let’s take a look at the players on pace to lead the major leagues in some key statistical categories…
Will they do it? Will they keep their pace up? Will someone overtake them? If so, then who?
- BATTING AVERAGE: Chipper Jones (on pace for .376)
Hitting is absolutely down this year. Across the board. But don’t tell that to Chipper Jones, who had to slump these past few weeks to dip below a .380 batting average.
He’s a terrific hitter, but he’s 36-years-old and injury-prone, so I don’t think he’ll keep up this average. However, the fact that he DOES miss games will actually help him maintain his average. Plus, he walks a lot, which also helps.
His main competitors are Albert Pujols (.350), Lance Berkman (.347), Ian Kinsler (.337), Matt Holliday (.337) and Joe Mauer (.322).
Pujols is a beast, so you can’t count him out. Berkman is a monster, too, and plays in a great park to hit. So he’s in the race. Kinsler is in the midst of a 25-game hitting streak and plays in a great park surrounded by great hitters — hence, he’s in this race. Holliday is going to win a batting title eventually and plays in Coors: he’s in. And so is Mauer, who has already proved he can win a batting title.
The biggest threat to Chipper, in my opinion, is Holliday. I want to pick him to lead the majors in hitting, but he’s 39 points behind Chipper…so I’m sticking with Chipper (reluctantly) to hold on to win the batting title.
THE PREDICTION: Chipper Jones (.349)
- HOME RUNS: Ryan Howard (47)
The safe bet would be to go with a Philly. But Howard or Chase Utley? Or Pat Burrell, even?
And what about Adam Dunn? Ryan Braun? A Marlins middle infielder? Lance Berkman? Maybe Josh Hamilton makes a push?
There are a ton of options. Click HERE to see full list — 23 players have 19 or more, while Howard currently leads the majors with his 28 long balls.
Howard has to be the most likely winner. For starters, he’s leading now. That’s a good sign. And he’s got Utley and Burrell in that lineup. Pitchers, well, PITCH to him, because of that protection and because they know they can get him out — a .234 batting average and (ahem) 129 strikeouts prove that. Yes, 129. Already. Not a misprint.
Utley and Burrell rank third and fourth, respectively, in the ML rankings, but I don’t see either of them finishing on top. Maybe Utley, but not Burrell.
Adam Dunn intrigues me, though. He’s got 26, just two behind Howard, and plays in a park built for the home run. Plus this is no fluke: 40 in 2007, 40 in 2006, 40 in 2005 and 46 in 2004. Talk about consistency.
But Howard hit 47 last year and 58 the season before that. I’m not getting off that train.
THE PREDICTION: Ryan Howard (49)
- RUNS BATTED IN: Josh Hamilton (162)
Hamilton leads the AL and the Majors right now with 95.
No one else in the AL has more than 70. Yikes.
Carlos Quentin’s 70 for the White Sox ranks in a tie for 6th in baseball. Spots 2-5 are occupied by National Leaguers, and it’s not like they’re much closer to Hamilton.
Howard is second with 84. No other player is within 18 of Hamilton. Yikes, again.
Moral of the story? Josh Hamilton is a beast. And i don’t see him losing this.
Howard is only 11 behind (certainly do-able) and is in a great lineup to make a run at Hamilton, BUT Hamilton’s lineup is just as good — if not better — and that ballpark he plays in is a launching pad.
Carlos Lee or Lance Berkman could make a run, as well, but I would be crazy to not stick with Hamilton here. I may be stupid, but I’m not crazy.
THE PREDICTION: Josh Hamilton (147)
- RUNS SCORED: Ian Kinsler (144)
I’ve said it a few times now…Texas’ lineup is scary-good. That, coupled with Kinsler’s beastly 25-game hitting streak and .337 batting average has led to his ML-high 84 runs scored and incredible 144-run pace.
That being said, Kinsler will not lead the majors in runs scored when it’s all said and done.
Hanley Ramirez will.
Let me count the reasons why…
1. He’s only four runs back right now, so no big deal there.
2. Kinsler is a great player, no question, but he’s not keeping this up. He hit .263 last season with 96 runs scored. As a player he’s much closer to the numbers he’s putting up now, but he’s not THAT good.
3. Josh Hamilton is a great player, no question, but he can’t keep driving in Kinsler EVERY SINGLE TIME! Right?
4. Hanley has done this before: 125 runs scored last year and 119 before that in 2006.
5. Hanley is currently hitting 26 points lower than Kinsler. That gap WILL close, thus giving Hanley more opportunities to score, with Kinsler getting less.
6. Even though he’s hitting 26 points lower, Hanley’s OBP is almost identical to Ian’s. More walks = more runs scored.
7. I rest my case.
THE PREDICTION: Hanley Ramirez (133)
- WINS: Brandon Webb (22)
Wins is the most volatile stat on the planet.
We see guys pitch no-hitters and lose. Well, basically. We see guys give up a million runs and walks and win (I’m talking to you Dice-K).
We see pitchers hit the DL all the time.
We see guys have the worst luck (see Matt Cain, 2007).
Will we see Brandon Webb hold on to his lead? Won’t be easy.
Take a look at the current leaders – 21 pitchers have 10 or more wins already, meaning 20 players are within just three of Webb’s 13 wins thus far.
Basically, it’s a total crap shoot. So how can we figure this out?
Three guys are just one back with 12 wins, but I’m eliminating all three from contention…Cliff Lee because the Indians stink, Joe Saunders because he can’t keep this up and Edinson Volquez because, well, OK, he’s still in.
At 11 are Mike Mussina (he’s got a chance), Roy Halladay (ditto), Aaron Cook (no chance in hell), Kyle Loshe (ditto), Ervin Santana (could, but doubt it) and Tim Lincecum (he’s so darned good that he somehow gets wins without any semblance of an offense, but his teammates will ultimately ruin his chances).
At 10, we have a slew of guys. Most notably we have Andy Pettitte, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Ben Sheets and Daisuke Matsuzaka. They have chances with 10. Andy Sonnanstine, Gavin Floyd, Ricky Nolasco, Justin Duchscherer, A.J. Burnett and Vicente Padilla…don’t.
A few people at nine intrigue me: Josh Beckett, Cole Hamels, Tim Hudson and Chad Billingsley.
There are a bunch of terrific pitchers at eight, but they are all out of contention. They are already five games back of Webb and would need to leapfrog 29 other pitchers. Good luck with that.
So. What now?
I see two frontrunners: Webb and Halladay. And strangely enough, both are on teams that are 47-48 and can’t hit a lick.
So I’m going with Webb, because he has a two-win advantage.
THE PREDICTION: Brandon Webb (20)
- EARNED-RUN AVERAGE: Justin Duchscherer (1.82)
Refuse to fully buy into this guy. I won’t lie, the 71 hits allowed in 108.2 innings and the 0.87 WHIP are truly remarkable, but no way. Not happening.
He doesn’t strike anyone out. He used to be a reliever. He plays on a weak offensive team. His home ERA (1.36) can’t possibly continue. Not happening.
He does have a sizable lead over everyone else, though. But again, not happening.
So who will overtake the seemingly invincible Duchscherer?
Volquez? No, that ballpark is too hitter-friendly.
Lee? No, he can’t keep this up.
Danks? No. See, Lee.
Marcum? No. Can’t keep it up, either. And we don’t even know if he’ll end up qualifying.
That leaves Lincecum, Halladay, Dan Haren, Johan Santana, Zambrano, Sheets and Felix Hernandez. Everyone else is much more than a full run WORSE than Duchscherer.
Looking at track record, I’d be inclined to pick a guy like Halladay, Santana or Haren. Maybe even Sheets or Zambrano.
But I don’t care about that. I care about who is the best pitcher on the planet right now. And to me, that is Mr. Lincecum. And the park he plays in certainly helps him. So forget you, Duchscherer (I HATE spelling that name). Not happening.
I’m going with the 5-foot-10 warrior. Watch out for King Felix, though, ladies and gentleman.
THE PREDICTION: Tim Lincecum (2.52)
- STRIKEOUTS: CC Sabathia (229)
And that brings us once again to…Mr. Lincecum.
Because he’s on pace for 228.
But CC has the edge. And not because he’s on pace for one extra whiff. That means nothing. But because he gets to pitch the rest of the season in the NL. So does Lincecum, but CC amassed almost all those K’s in the tougher AL. Just imagine what he’ll do in the NL.
And if he has any starts against Philly in his future, you know he’ll get at least four in each game (assuming he faces Ryan Howard four times). Kidding. Well, not really.
Other contenders? Sure. Take a look. But the guys that intrigue me the most are Chad Billingsley (he is a BEAST and no one is talking about him), Cole Hamels, Edinson Volquez and A.J. Burnett.
This is a toughy.
I’m thinking it’s going to be CC. But I’m sticking with my main man Lincecum. All those K’s will help him lead the majors in ERA. That’s my reasoning and I’m sticking to it.
THE PREDICTION: Tim Lincecum (217)
I’ll be happy if I get one right.