Breaking Down Jedd Gyorko

Who is Jedd Gyorko? The Padre second baseman burst onto the scene in his rookie year 2013 season, providing power numbers that outpaced any reasonable expectations for a second baseman in this era of diminishing offense. Then 2014 hit, and Gyorko wallowed in batting average misery until finally succumbing to a stint on the disabled list for plantar fasciitis. After his time off. Gyorko put up respectable numbers for the remainder of the season.

As a relatively untested, young hitter, it’s natural to wonder how much of his production to date represents his talent level going forward. Has the league adjusted to Gyorko’s tendencies, with the second half of 2014 being the product of some luck-aided inflation? Or can we write off the first half entirely and blame the injury for his poor performance, with expectations of improving on his 2013 season being a real possibility?

Read the rest of this entry »

The Red Sox Will Be Just Fine Without An Ace

The last-to-first-to-last-again Boston Red Sox have completed yet another overhaul, importingHanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, as well as expecting full seasons from Rusney Castillo andMookie Betts, to reinforce an offense that sputtered to a 27th-overall wRC+ finish in 2014. But that’s nothing compared to the changes in the rotation, in which six of the nine pitchers who started at least 10 games last year are gone.

In place of Jon LesterJohn LackeyJake Peavy,Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Felix Doubront, the Sox head into 2015 with a rotation fronted by Rick PorcelloWade Miley and Justin Masterson, as well as holdovers Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz. For a team that entered the offseason simply needing to find enough arms to field a team for the season, it’s an interesting collection of potentially useful arms.

That said, the idea of “Rick Porcello, Opening Day starter” isn’t exactly going to sell tickets, and that’s the main criticism leveled at Boston this winter: “Where’s the ace?!” Having whiffed on the chance to bring Lester back and so far unable to satisfy Philadelphia’s demands for Cole Hamels, the Red Sox don’t appear to have the guy needed to make a postseason run. Maybe they don’t, but maybe they don’t need to. Here’s why the Red Sox are just fine the way they are — for now, at least. Read the rest of this entry »

How The Phillies Can Maximize a Cole Hamels Trade

After stubbornly trying to hold on to the past long after their glory had faded, the Philadelphia Phillies have finally accepted reality, acknowledging that it’s time to commit to a rebuild and look toward the future. That process officially began when Jimmy Rollins, the best shortstop in team history, was traded to the Dodgers in December. Marlon Byrd soon followed him out the door in a trade to Cincinnati. Ryan HowardCliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon are likely to follow, if the team can find any takers. It’s going to be a long season — or two or three or four, for that matter — in Philadelphia.

Sooner or later, star lefty Cole Hamels is going to be on the move as well. Because Hamels has by far the most value of any of the remaining Phillies, a potential Hamels deal is the most important thing GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has to get right in managing this rebuilding process. He can’t get this wrong, because a misfire here could set the franchise back even further — and potentially cost him his job.

No deal currently seems close, with various reports indicating that the Phillies are being “unrealistic with their expectations,” asking not only for multiple top-level prospects but also for a team to pick up most or all of the $110 million Hamels likely will be due. (Though Hamels is guaranteed only $96 million, it’s widely assumed that he will insist on his 2020 team option to be picked up immediately in exchange for him waiving his no-trade clause, pushing the total value to $110 million.)

The Phillies are a team that is rich in dollars and poor in talent. Major League Baseball has done its best to limit the avenues by which teams can acquire young talent. So why don’t the Phillies make the tough but necessary call to offer not only to eat some of Hamels’ contract, but a big part of it?

Here’s a look at the likely return the Phils will receive in exchange for Hamels and the best next steps for Philadelphia. Read the rest of this entry »

Why The Projections Don’t Like The Angels

Last year, the Los Angeles Angels won 98 games, the third-highest total in the 54-year history of the franchise. They earned it, too, finishing second with a plus-143 run differential and baseball’s highest runs scored per game (4.7). They had — and have — the unquestioned best player in the game in AL MVP Mike Trout, who is headed into his age-23 season, they found a surprising breakout pitching star in Garrett Richards and they built an outstanding bullpen on the fly during the 2014 season.

Despite a disappointing showing while being swept in the ALDS against the Royals, it was a successful year for the Angels, and their main competition, the A’s, followed up their season-ending slide with a series of difficult-to-understand moves that may have set Oakland back. On the surface, the Angels would seem to be poised for another successful run in 2015.

And yet the projections don’t quite see it that way. Steamer, one of the most respected projection systems, has the Angels as only an 84-win team, five games behind the Mariners in the AL West. Have the Angels really done anything to make themselves 14 wins worse than last year? Probably not. But the projections can’t simply be tossed aside as frivolous, either — and here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »

Atlanta’s Incoherent Offseason

After years of winning division titles — 14 in a row from 1991 to 2005 — it’s been something of a slow decade for the Atlanta Braves. They’ve rarely been bad, losing 90 games just once since the streak ended, but they’ve also won only two playoff games and zero postseason series in nine seasons. After a disappointing 79-83 finish in 2014, good for second place but also 17 games out of first, the Braves fired GM Frank Wren, a move that club president John Schuerholz admitted had been a consideration for several seasons.

A change in regime would seem to be the perfect opportunity to start fresh and re-position the organization toward a successful first season in its new suburban stadium in 2017, a goal that team officials have quietly admitted is important. With two star outfielders entering the final years of their contracts (Jason HeywardJustin Upton) and more holes than a team on a limited payroll could fill in order to put up a fight in 2015, a new front office with a little bit of creativity and without the baggage of the recent past could easily make moves to limit the rebuilding period and get a competitive team back on the field in Atlanta as soon as possible. After all, just look at what new GM A.J. Preller has done in San Diego in just a few months on the job.

The Braves traded both of those final-year outfielders, sending Heyward to St. Louis and Upton to the Padres. If, at the end of the season, you had known both had played their final games in Atlanta, you might have expected that a full rebuild was in the works. But that’s not what’s happened. The Braves have weakened their 2015 roster while failing to fully commit to a rebuild, and the moves they’ve made symbolize a team that can’t figure out what it is or where it’s going. Welcome to baseball’s most confounding offseason. Read the rest of this entry »

The Quietly Great Cleveland Rotation

Some of the traditional American League powers haven’t exactly had a banner few months as far as rotation strength goes.

The Red Sox couldn’t bring back Jon Lester and had to settle for midrotation guys Rick Porcello,Wade Miley and Justin Masterson. The Yankees lost out on Brandon McCarthy and might not have a single healthy, reliable starter. The Tigers (without Porcello) and Royals are still waiting to see what Max Scherzer and James Shields are going to do. The White Sox added Jeff Samardzija but still have huge questions after him, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. The Athletics bid Samardzija farewell, the Rays dealt Jeremy Hellickson to Arizona, and the Rangers haven’t done much more than bring back Colby Lewis yet again and gamble on Ross Detwiler.

For many of those teams, there are more questions than answers. So in the meantime, allow us to present one possibility for the best rotation in the American League in 2015, a group of pitchers that probably didn’t come to the forefront of your mind. Let’s talk about the Cleveland Indians. Read the rest of this entry »

Reasons For Hope For Ryan Braun in 2015

There’s a pretty easy narrative to regurgitate about Ryan Braun. It goes something like this: After a disastrous 2013 that ended in July with a 65-game suspension for violating baseball’s performance enhancing drug rules, Braun came back in 2014 and had his worst full season, setting career lows in all three triple-slash stats, wRC+ and WAR. For many, it’s easy enough to connect the dots and leave it at that, arguing that Braun can’t perform when he’s “clean,” however you define that.

But coming back from PED suspensions hasn’t prevented Nelson Cruz or Melky Cabrera from performing well, and clearly Braun’s own actions have left him without the benefit of the doubt, which is no one’s fault but his own. But to merely take the 30,000-foot view and assume that Braun’s time as one of baseball’s best hitters is now over because of what’s happened over the past 18 months risks glancing past some very positive signs for Braun, ones that indicate he could still be a very productive player in 2015. Read the rest of this entry »

Yoenis Cespedes’ Name Value Exceeds His Trade Value

The Boston Red Sox have made two of the biggest splashes of the offseason so far by signing Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, and the only thing we know for sure is that they aren’t done. With potentially nine major league outfielders on the roster and a rotation that might currently feature Wally the Green Monster as the second best starting pitcher after the inconsistent Clay Buchholz, it’s clear that a talented-yet-lopsided roster still needs some work.

More than likely, that’s going to mean trading an outfielder. Maybe that will be Allen Craig or Daniel Nava or Jackie Bradley Jr., but the name that keeps popping up in rumors most often is Yoenis Cespedes, with the idea being that he’s be an attractive name and an established big leaguer who can help Boston land a badly needed pitcher. With Ramirez likely landing in left field and the trio of Rusney CastilloMookie Betts and Shane Victorino probably manning center and right, in some combination, Cespedes is now expendable.

Cespedes has name value, and there’s a whole lot of #narrative that says his departure from Oakland is what single-handedly sunk the Athletics’ season, even though we know that’s not actually true. His powerful throwing arm and Home Run Derby exploits could fill up the highlight films. As such, there’s a good chance Cespedes will be traded in the next several weeks. But when you look behind the headlines, what sort of player can another team really expect? And how much talent is that worth in a trade? Read the rest of this entry »

Yasmani Grandal, Catcher You Want To Have

When the Toronto Blue Jays made their somewhat surprising move to add Russell Martin, they didn’t just weaken the free-agent catching market. They decimated it. Sure, you could probably piece together a decent backup from guys like Geovany SotoNick Hundley or David Ross, but there’s no one close to being a full-time starter. Of the remaining free agents, there’s not a single one who’s even projected to manage even a lowly .300 OBP in 2015, according to Steamer projections.

That’s a considerable problem for some of the other teams that were expected to be heavily interested in Martin, like the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, because their paths forward are less clear now. In Los Angeles, A.J. Ellis is better than his .191 batting average would indicate, but he’s also nearly 34 and coming off several serious leg injuries. The Cubs might need to stick with Welington Castillo, who’s coming off a poor season. The Pirates will replace Martin with a trio of catchers more suited to be backups; the current Rangers starter is 30-year-old Robinson Chirinos, who has less than a full season of major league play under his belt.

It’s not a good time to be looking for a catcher, is the point, and the main trade options being talked about come with questions of their own. (Arizona’s Miguel Montero has had two consecutive bad years and is still owed $40 million; Houston’s Jason Castro followed up a breakout 2013 with an atrocious 2014; Atlanta’s Evan Gattis has excellent raw power but can’t really catch.)

The flip side, of course, is that if you have catching depth, you’re in a favorable position. If you need a catcher, you want to call the San Diego Padres, and you want to ask for Yasmani Grandal. Read the rest of this entry »

Now Is The Time To Trade Johnny Cueto

Back in February in this space, I wrote that the Cincinnati Reds needed to trade Homer Bailey for offensive help sooner rather than later. The reasoning behind that was simple — in 2013, the Reds had finished a middle-of-the-pack 15th in team wRC+, and their disappointing offseason had consisted of watching the very productive Shin-Soo Choo depart while importing only mediocre backups Skip Schumaker and Brayan Pena.

Instead, the Reds signed Bailey to a long-term contract and attempted to get by with what they had, ultimately winning fewer games than they had since 2008. Though it didn’t happen in exactly the way we might have expected — stars Jay Bruce and Joey Votto each had poor years, whileTodd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco carried the load — the offense was indeed a huge anchor, sinking to an 83 wRC+ that wasn’t just the second-worst in Major League Baseball, it was very nearly the worst in the last 50 seasons of Cincinnati baseball.

Nine months later, the Reds are again in a similar position. This team, as constructed, doesn’t look like a playoff contender. There are plenty of holes in the lineup and limited dollars to fix that. Once again, the most appealing Cincinnati trade chip is a top pitcher entering the final year of his contract. This time, the Reds can’t make the same mistake and stand pat. It’s time to trade Johnny Cueto. Read the rest of this entry »

Chase Headley, Potential Free Agent Bargain

Let’s start with a pretty obvious statement: Pablo Sandoval will get paid handsomely this winter.

There’s not much controversy about that remark, of course. Sandoval just put up three consecutive above-average offensive seasons that were nearly identical to one another — his wRC+ numbers were 118, 116 and 111 — and he’s valuable with the glove as well, along with carrying the “playoff-tested” label of having been a part of three World Series-champion San Francisco teams. Considering he just turned 28, it’s realistic to expect similar production from him for at least the next few seasons.
ESPN’s Keith Law suggested recently that Sandoval could get four to five years at $15 million per season, and FanGraphs’ crowdsourcing effort suggested something close to that, at five years for $80 million. Even those seem a little low, really. Either way, someone will pay for Sandoval’s youth and value on both sides of the ball at an important position.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But with Sandoval taking up much of the air in the third-base room, have we forgotten about Chase Headley, this offseason’s other main free-agent third baseman? Headley isn’t the offensive force that Sandoval is, and offense is what gets players paid. But is it really so unreasonable to think he might actually be a better value? Read the rest of this entry »

Who Could Be The Next Wade Davis?

When we talk about the still-controversial 2012 deal that eventually helped the Royals make it to the World Series, it’s generally referred to as “the James Shields trade.” Shields has been a huge contributor to the Royals (Game 1 of the World Series notwithstanding), but it’s easy to forget that he wasn’t the only piece the team got from the Tampa Bay Rays for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and others. The Royals also acquired Wade Davis along with Shields, and Davis has been an enormous piece of the three-headed bullpen monster that has made late-inning comebacks against Kansas City all but impossible.

Davis didn’t start out as a relief star, however. In fact, he didn’t even start out as a reliever. After two mediocre years in the Rays’ rotation, Tampa Bay shifted him to the bullpen, and he responded with a successful 2012 campaign. The Royals put him back into the rotation in 2013, where he was again disappointing, but sent him back to the bullpen this year. It’s a trick the team had pulled last year as well, getting an outstanding relief season from Luke Hochevar after five uninspiring years as a starter. Kansas City’s American League Championship Series opponent, Baltimore, also had three quality relievers in Andrew Miller, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz who had been shifted to the pen after many failed attempts to master a starting gig.

When pitchers are no longer asked to pace themselves for a six- or seven-inning outing, and can instead go all-out in shorter stints, the benefits are obvious. Velocity often increases, as it did for Davis and Britton. An ineffective secondary pitch, such as Miller’s changeup, can be discarded. This isn’t a new idea — even the great Mariano Rivera was once a middling starter — but it’s one that has yielded incredible success in the right situations.

So with that in mind, who might be the next Davis? Let’s identify a few starters, not older than 30, who have struggled in the rotation but remain good candidates to be successful relievers. Obviously, a Clayton Kershaw or David Price would be great in the bullpen as well, but they’re more valuable as starters. We’re looking for someone like Davis, who might not be equipped to help a team in the rotation but could be a lights-out reliever. Read the rest of this entry »

Can The Cardinals Count On Adam Wainwright?

Adam Wainwright is slated to start Game 5 of the National League Championship Series for the Cardinals on Thursday, which would normally be music to the ears of St. Louis fans. Wainwright has been one of the best pitchers in the game for a decade. He is probably on his way to another top-five Cy Young Award finish, and in terms of WAR, he already is one of the five best starters in the storied history of the Cardinals franchise. In fact, if he were to post another typical Wainwright season in 2015, he will jump to No. 2, behind only the legendary Bob Gibson.

But the 2014 postseason hasn’t gone so well for Wainwright. In Game 1 of the NLDS, the Dodgers pounded him for 13 baserunners and six runs in 4 1/3 innings, a performance that was overshadowed by Clayton Kershaw‘s late collapse. In Game 1 of the NLCS, Wainwright allowed nine baserunners over 4 2/3 innings in a game the Cardinals would lose 3-0, the first time in his career he has had back-to-back starts of fewer than five innings.

Two lousy starts against teams good enough to make it to the postseason would generally be considered merely a blip when compared to Wainwright’s long, successful history. But this might be different. Wainwright, who missed all of 2011 after Tommy John surgery and skipped a start in June due to what the Cardinals called tendinitis in his elbow, is on record as saying that his elbow is “not 100 percent,” even telling reporters “my arm doesn’t feel great” after the NLCS loss.

Wainwright is going to start a pivotal game Thursday, and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is saying all the right things about trusting his ace. But really, how worried should the Cardinals be? Read the rest of this entry »

The Real Problem With The Detroit Bullpen

For the fourth consecutive season, the Detroit Tigers are AL Central champions, but this time around, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing toward another title. Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera have had down years, at least compared to their previous greatness. Injuries suffered by Jose IglesiasAnibal Sanchez and Alex Avila, along with the trade of Austin Jackson, have tested the team’s depth. The defense hasn’t been a strength, particularly at third base (Nick Castellanos) and right field (Torii Hunter). And shortstop has been a trouble spot all season.

Despite all that, they managed to hold off the Royals by a single game, thanks in large part to the continued excellence from Max Scherzer, surprisingly great years from Rick PorcelloJ.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez, and the acquisition of David Price. But as the Tigers prepare to travel to Baltimore to meet the Orioles in the ALDS on Thursday, one big question hangs over them: When will first-year manager Brad Ausmus‘ seemingly questionable bullpen decisions cost Detroit a playoff game?

That’s an issue that has taken on a life of its own over the past few weeks, as Ausmus has stuck with his season-long plan of Joba Chamberlain in the eighth inning and Joe Nathan in the ninth, despite the consistent struggles of the 39-year-old Nathan and the presence of July trade acquisition Joakim Soria, who was a star closer in Kansas City before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Soria was in the midst of a rebound season with the Rangers when he was traded, and he has appeared in 13 games for the Tigers. Only one of those appearances was a save situation, and even that was just because Nathan was unavailable, having thrown 42 pitches in the previous two days.

Ausmus’ strategies are easy to question. But what never seems to come up is this: The Tigers’ bullpen has generally been awful no matter what Ausmus has done. Maybe the issue is less with the managers’ deployment of the relievers and more with the simple performance of the players in uniform? Read the rest of this entry »

Does Home Field Matter In The Playoffs?

For the teams that have already clinched playoff spots, what’s the most important thing they can do in the last few days of the regular season? Get rested and healthy, sure. Try to line up their pitching rotations if they can, definitely. If they’ve already punched their tickets to the playoffs, then they’ve earned the right to manage their teams with more than the final meaningless regular-season games in mind.

But what about getting home-field advantage? Shouldn’t a team that knows it’s headed to October do everything it can to play as many games at home as possible, in front of its screaming fans, without having to fly, potentially across the country? Getting the best record in the league not only ensures you face the wild-card team, but it gets you home-field advantage throughout the league playoffs. Getting the second-best record at least gets you the advantage over the third-best division winner in the Division Series, plus a chance to play at home in the Championship Series if the wild card pulls a first-round upset.

Objectively, that makes sense, and every team wants it. But is it really worth keeping the pedal to the metal after a playoff spot has been clinched? The numbers say, maybe not that much. Read the rest of this entry »

The Underrated Chris Sale

Chris Sale has absolutely no chance of winning the American League Cy Young Award, and that’s no knock on him. It’s simply an acknowledgement that Felix HernandezJon Lester andCorey Kluber have also been outstanding this year, and they’ll throw about 50 more innings than Sale, considering he missed more than a month early in the season because of a sore left elbow.

Toss in pitchers such as Max ScherzerDavid PriceJames Shields — clearly, there’s no shortage of excellent AL starters these days, even with Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka injured — and Sale might not even finish in the top five. But that is no excuse to allow his sensational season to go under the radar.

Sale isn’t just having a season that easily ranks him among the best pitchers in the league. Even including Wednesday’s rough outing, which finally pushed his ERA over 2.00, he’s having a season that’s nearly as dominant as the unquestioned best pitcher in baseball, the man who very well might win the NL’s MVP award as well as its Cy Young. Chris Sale isn’t doing everything that Clayton Kershaw is doing, but Sale has at least been in the ballpark.

Sale and Kershaw, both lefties, were born almost exactly one year apart — Sale is a year younger — and if you were to compare some of their more important stats, the similarities are a lot closer than you might realize. Read the rest of this entry »

Oakland’s Team Effort Collapse

The Oakland Athletics, universally lauded back in July after making a pair of trades that netted them Jon LesterJeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, are in the midst of one of the biggest late-season collapses in recent history. At one point up by six games in the AL West, the A’s are now down by 10 games to the surging Los Angeles Angels, and after having lost 21 of their past 30 games, they’re suddenly in danger of not even earning a wild-card spot.

What happened here, and why? Well, there are plenty of reasons for the collapse, and we’ll detail them in a second. But were you to ask the general population or certain members of the local media, you’d likely hear that the loss of Yoenis Cespedes, who was traded to Boston for Lester and Jonny Gomes, from the lineup (and outfield) is the main reason, and it’s easy to see why. In the 39 games since the trade, they’ve scored four or more runs just 14 times, 35.9 percent of the time. In the previous 107 games, they did so 67 times, 62.6 percent of the time. That’s an enormous downturn, and since the removal of Cespedes was the major change, it has understandably been the focal point when trying to understand Oakland’s disintegration.

That’s overly simplistic, though, because it’s about so much more than Cespedes. Here’s how the A’s have managed to go from a World Series favorite to a playoff uncertainty. Read the rest of this entry »

Instant Replay Is Worth Having

Braves president John Schuerholz, a member of the instant-replay approval committee, indicated in January that the first year of expanded replay would be a “work in progress,” that this year would be merely “a start” in a three-phase process. His words ring true today, nearly one full season into the experiment. Make no mistake: Replay hasn’t been perfect. The review process often takes too long. Some of the rules haven’t always been clear. And the logistics of actually initiating a replay are clunky and badly in need of a change.

Between those valid issues, a few high-profile mistakes and some pushback from a vocal minority, you might think replay has been more failure than success. But as you slowly walk out to the umpire, wait for your bench coach to give you a thumbs-up to challenge and then have the MLBAM operations center in New York review that opinion, the indisputable result comes back: Replay has been a massive success, and was long overdue. Sure, there are kinks to be worked out, it’s not going away anytime soon, nor should it. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Young Prospect Bats Struggle Early

Early in the 2014 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates were getting criticized from all angles over their treatment of prospect Gregory Polanco. The 22-year-old outfielder carried a .400 average into May for Triple-A Indianapolis, while Travis Snider (82 wRC+ over the first two months) and Jose Tabata (84) struggled in right field for a Pirates club that at one point sank to 9.5 games out in the NL Central.

While Pirates general manager Neal Huntington indicated that he felt Polanco needed more time in Triple-A, the team was accused of being cheap — for reasonably wanting to ensure that they delayed Polanco’s free agency by a year — or overly conservative, watching the division slip away a year after making the playoffs for the first time in two decades. When Polanco finally came up in June and promptly set a Pirates rookie record by collecting at least one hit in each of his first 11 games, it seemed as though perhaps the dissenters had a point.

On Monday, Polanco was optioned back to Triple-A. He’d struggled so badly after his hot start that his wRC+ now sits at 88, 12 percent below league average and barely better than what Snider and Tabata had done. It’s a valuable lesson: No matter what the minor league stat line says, hotshot-prospect hitters often struggle in their first extended look in the majors. So why is that? Read the rest of this entry »

Washington’s Path To The World Series

Even before the Washington Nationals ripped off 10 wins in a row and counting, they were extremely well-positioned to win the NL East, if only due to the lack of competition. The Mets, Phillies and Marlins aren’t serious contenders this season, and the Braves have played losing baseball (50-54) for months since getting off to a 17-7 start. Before their winning streak started, FanGraphs had the Nationals’ odds of winning the division at 92.4 percent. Now it’s 98.2 percent. Barring a calamitous collapse, this race is over.

Of course, the Nationals don’t have their goals set simply on a division title. After bowing out in the first round of the 2012 playoffs and missing October entirely in 2013, their mandate is to win the World Series — and it might be the best-positioned National League team to get there. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »