1/1: Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins played for the Harlem Globetrotters from 1967-69
1/2: Johnny Mize is the only player in Major League history to hit 50 or more home runs and strike out less than 50 times. In 1947, he hit 51 home runs with only 42 punchouts
1/4: Jason Varitek has caught the most no-hitters with four
1/7: Roger Clemens won more than 60 games before he turned 25 and ended his career with 354.  Warren Spahn had 0 wins before he turned 25 and ended with 363
1/8: In 2012, Adam Dunn hit .202 (649PAs) while teammate Alex Rios hit .302 (640 PAs). Contrary to what most would believe, Dunn actually reached base more times than Rios (216 to 214)
1/9: Jimmy Piersall and Eddie Mathews were baseball's first recipients of the Sophomore of the Year Award, awarded in 1953 to baseball's top second-year players in each league
1/10: On December 6, 2002, a Ken Griffey Jr. trade to San Diego was blocked by the no-trade clause of Phil Nevin
1/11: In 2012, Jonathan Lucroy had two 7 RBI games - or two more 7 RBI games than Chipper Jones had in his entire career
1/14: In two different games this year, the Yankees scored at least 17 runs against the A's. Phil Hughes started both games -- but didn't get the win in either of them because he couldn't make it through five innings
1/15: Nolan Ryan has the most bases-loaded walks allowed in his career with 47
1/16: Astros pitcher, Fernando Rodriguez, led all MLB pitchers with eight strikeouts with the bases loaded
1/18: The all-time leader in extra inning home runs is Willie Mays with 22
1/21: The first African-American Major League umpire was Emmett Ashford, who made his debut in 1966
1/22: Darin Erstad is the only player to win a Gold Glove at multiple positions (OF, 1B)
1/23: The only player to pinch hit for Ted Williams was Carrol Hardy, a career .225 hitter. Ironically enough, Hardy was also the only player to pinch hit for Williams' replacement, Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski
1/24: The last American League pitcher to steal a base was Kenny Rogers, back on June 16, 2002. Ironically enough, not a single baserunner stole a base off him that year
1/25: Nellie Fox holds the record for most consecutive games without striking out, going 98 games without a K back in 1958
1/28: Deion Sanders was the first athlete to play in both a World Series (1992) and a Super Bowl (1995)
1/29: Albert Belle is the only player in Major League history to hit 50 2B and 50 HR in a season, when he hit 52 doubles and 50 jacks in 1995
1/30: Clyde Barnhart is the only player in Major League history to collect hits in three different games on the same day, as he and his Pirates played in a triple-header on October 2, 1920
1/31: Lloyd Waner had fewest XBH for a 200 hit season, when only 25 of his 223 hits were for more than one base back in 1927
 
 
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Justin will be joining his brother in the Atl
By: Aidan Flynn         

Finally! Finally! The general public is finally pardoned from hearing another Justin Upton trade rumor (at least for the near future), as Upton was mercifully traded to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday morning. Upton, 25, will join big brother, B.J. Upton, 28, in an already extremely talented Atlanta outfield in hopes of achieving another playoff berth. In exchange for the services of Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson, the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired 3B/LF Martin Prado, and minor leaguers Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, Nick Ahmed, and Brandon Drury.

                The obvious headliner in this trade is Upton, an incredibly gifted, yet enigmatic and inconsistent player who is coming off a disappointing 2012 in which he only hit .280/.355/.430 and put up an underwhelming 2.1 WAR. However, Upton has also shown the ability to do great things, and at times, has lived up to the ceiling that made him a number one overall pick in a loaded 2005 draft class. Just one year ago, with the same trade rumors swirling about, Upton was  coming off a career year, in which he finished fourth in the NL MVP and had an excellent .289/.369/.529 line. Keep in mind, Upton produced this career year at 24 years of age; one would rightfully assume that he would only continue to improve as he matured both physically and as a ballplayer. Instead, here we are one year, later, wondering what kind of player he really is and what the Braves are getting.

                Looking at Upton's career numbers, he is owner to some interesting trends. First is his affinity for alternating successful seasons with lackluster seasons sandwiched in between. Just using OPS+ to demonstrate, Upton's full seasons (with his age in parenthesis) look like this:

 2008: 107 OPS+ (20)

2009: 129 OPS+ (21)

2010: 110 OPS+ (22)

2011: 141 OPS+ (23)

2012: 107 OPS+ (24)

                Clearly, Upton has an interesting little trend going on here but honestly seems purely coincidental as I could not find anything explaining this oddity. Nevertheless, it could very well portend good things for Upton this upcoming season. The other interesting quirk with Upton is much more definite and serious than the previous example, as it is one that could very well have an impactful difference on his future performance. That quirk is that Upton has quite noticeable home/road splits, and going from hitter haven Chase Field to more neutral Turner Field certainly shouldn't help his cause. In the desert, Upton has hit a red-hot .307/.389/.548; on the other hand, away from his friendly home park, Upton has hit only .250/.307/.406 and is undoubtedly a below-average hitter. This obviously is a huge cause for concern, and one that should clearly be watched as the season progresses. This is not a definitive declaration that Upton can't hit away from home. In fact, there are a decent number of examples that have transitioned very well after leaving friendly home parks and going to pitcher's parks (Carlos Quentin is a good, recent example). Furthermore, Upton faced a slew of extremely tough pitchers parks while playing in the NL West (see AT&T Park, Petco Park, and Dodger Stadium), all of which probably helped skew his aforementioned poor road performance. Just as things usually aren't as extreme as they first appear to be, I would figure Upton's 2013 performance will fall somewhere between his home/road splits; the law of averages eventually have to give in. One final note with Upton is that he will probably play left field in deference to Gold Glove right fielder Jason Heyward. Upton's defense in right has been slightly above average for his career, always with at least a positive DRS rating but never more than 8 runs saved in a season. Thus, a move to left could result in an even stronger defensive performance considering that left field is an easier position to field.

                As for the return package for Upton, it is quite underwhelming in my opinion. My favorite player going to the desert is utility man Martin Prado, at the heels of a 5+ win season for Fredi Gonzalez's Braves. Prado is an extremely well rounded player, one that can hit for average (career .295 hitter), has excellent gap power (career high 42 2B last year), play solid defense (18 DRS last year), and can even run a bit (17 SBs in 2012). Prado is expected to play third base for the Snakes this upcoming year and is a +23 run defender at the hot corner for his career. One catch with Prado is that he is only under contract for one year. Upton, on the other hand, has another three years of extremely affordable club control (only $38 million due over that time). If the Snakes can't resign Prado, they take an already disappointing haul and make it an even harder pill to swallow. Essentially, if Prado walks, the Snakes are stuck with a back end starter in Randall Delgado and three fringy prospects that have miniscule big league chances. Speaking of the prospects in the trade, the only one of real note is Randall Delgado. Delgado possesses a low 90's fastball and a decent curve, both of which inducing plenty of ground balls (50 % last year). Delgado still faces control issues, as evidenced by below average 4.1 BB/9 rate; if he cleans this up he could be a solid mid-rotation starter; if not, he should fit nicely into the back end of the starting rotation.


First Impressions:

Winner: Braves

Upton clearly has his faults and remains a ways away from reaching his ceiling-less potential. With that said, Upton remains a very good player, one capable of playing on both sides of the ball and is still to reach his physical prime as a player. Even if Upton doesn't maximize his talents, the Braves did not give up much in return. I think at the very least, Upton and Prado cancel each other out and the Braves remain a playoff team while getting younger and more cost efficient in the process. At the very best, Upton matures into a perennial all-star candidate and closes the gap between the Braves and baseball's best team, the Nationals. In addition, one cannot overrule the change of scenery needed by Upton following the continuous trade talks. Overall, barring a complete collapse for Upton, I see this turning out well in Atlanta's favor.

Loser: Diamondbacks

A situation handled poorly from the start, the Diamondbacks finally rid themselves of the perpetual Upton trade rumor headache. Maybe the Diamondbacks had to deal Upton. They severed relations with him so badly it just had to be done. However, from a purely baseball standpoint, I don't think the package received was one worthy of Upton's talents. Although Prado is a very good player, he is only under contract for one year, and the rest of the prospect pieces honestly just are not very impressive. A player with Upton's current ability, future potential, and cost-controlled affordability should bring in a package better than the one received today. Five years from now, maybe Prado resigns and the prospects contribute at the big league level. However, I am highly skeptical of the prospects and wonder what the benefits of acquiring an older player with contractual uncertainty are. To me, the Diamondbacks are a clear loser in this trade.


 
 
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Cliff Lee, 2013 NL CY?
By: Nick Rabasco

Continuing with our fun little prediction exercise, here are my BOLD predictions for 2013.

1. Josh Hamilton will fail to hit 25 home runs.

     In my opinion, there a several contributing factors as to why I believe the Angels new $125 million man will fall short of the 25 home run mark one year after popping 43.  Number one is Hamilton’s health.  He has a track record of being injury prone, as from 2009-2011 he failed to play in more than 133 games.  Next, the change of scenery from Texas to Los Angeles poses two additional problems for the 31 year old slugger.  Even if he does stay on the field for a full season, he is going from the best hitters park in the American League to a notorious pitchers park.  In nearly the same amount of games played, Hamilton hit 83 home runs at home for Texas compared to just 59 on the road.  Also, Hamilton has to deal with playing under a lot of pressure.  First of all, he is in the first year of his mega-deal, and that can cause a superstar like Hamilton to press.  Second, he struggled mightily down the stretch and in the wild card game for Texas.  Josh will want to prove to his new teammates and new fan base that he is the real deal and that can cause major problems especially for a guy like Hamilton who will swing at almost anything. 

2. Buster Posey will lead the Giants to another title and earn his 3rd ring in his first 4 years.

     A dynasty will be born in San Francisco in 2013.  Even after coming off a championship, all the attention will be on the new look Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West.  However, I believe the Giants can match up with their talent, and have one of the best overall teams in baseball.  It all starts with pitching, and the Giants have it.  With Matt Cain leading the staff, I believe Tim Lincecum will bounce back to have a season closer to his Cy Young years.  Those two guys will go along with Ryan Vogelsong (3.37 2012 ERA), Madison Bumgarner (3.37 2012 ERA) and Barry Zito (4.15 2012 ERA).  Zito is in the final year of his long contract and is coming off a brilliant 2012 postseason that will give him confidence heading into 2013.  If these guys can stay healthy, it is one of the top rotations in baseball.  The Giants also will have one of the deadliest bullpens in all of baseball.  With guys like Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, and George Kontos all coming of great years in 2012, the Giants should excel late in games.  They also will put together a nice looking lineup in 2013.  Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro should pose as two guys the Giants can rely on to get on base for guys like Pablo Sandoval, NL MVP Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence.  Brandon Belt will also provide some pop in the lineup after gaining more experience at the big league level in 2012.  Overall, I like the Giants as a team and believe they can make a run at a third title in four years. 

3. Cliff Lee’s bad luck changes, wins 20 games and captures the NL Cy Young Award.

      Cliff Lee started 30 games in 2012, threw 211 innings, and won 6 games.  By looking at that, one may think Lee had an “off year.”  Wrong.  Cliff Lee was in fact one of the best pitchers in all of baseball in 2012.  He was 9th in the National League in ERA (3.16) and 7th in the league in ERA+ (127).  Also, with 207 strikeouts and just 28 walks, Lee led all of baseball in K/BB ratio (7.3), which is far and away ahead of the next best (4.4).  The 2008 AL Cy Young winner was also tied with Cole Hamels for 7th in the National League in WAR for pitchers (4.2).  Lee won 6 games, had a 4.2 WAR and Hamels had a 17-win season with the same exact WAR as Lee.  Lee was just a victim of horrible run support and a pitcher is unable to control that.  Lee did more than enough in 2012 to be successful, and he was successful despite picking up just 6 wins.  Because his luck was so bad a year ago, I believe Lee will again be dominant, only this time his luck will change and he will have the wins to prove it this time.  I predict Lee will get to the 20 win mark for the second time in his career, while capturing his second Cy Young. 

4. Miguel Cabrera will fail to be in the top 3 in the AL in any one of the triple crown categories.

     Miguel Cabrera has consistently been one of the top players in the game of baseball for the past 10 years.  Heading into 2013 he will be a two-time defending batting champion in the American League.  Not to mention he was first in all three categories in 2012, winning the first triple crown baseball has seen since “Yaz” in 1967.  Cabrera hit a career-high 44 home runs in 2012, however his 162 game average over his career is 34 home runs.  I believe Cabrera will return to a home run total in the mid-30s.  Cabrera has also been the batting champion the past 2 seasons.  He hit .344 and .330 in 2011 and 2012 respectively and it would be a daunting task in 2013 to hit for an average that high.  With runs batted in, Cabrera will have to rely on his teammates getting on base in front of him.  Austin Jackson had a breakout season and did not strikeout nearly as much as he used to.  I look for Jackson to regress a bit, and not be on base as much for Cabrera.  In 2012, his 139 RBI was 12 more than his previous career high, and I expect him to go down in that category as well. 

5. Indians acquire Jacoby Ellsbury at deadline, he helps them secure the second wild card position.

     Like the Orioles and A’s before them, I like the Cleveland Indians as a sleeper pick for a postseason spot in 2013. Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds will be key in a Cleveland lineup with already some good looking young players.  I think guys like Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Michael Brantley will all have solid seasons as well.  As far as pitching, I am going to predict that Ubaldo Jimenez comes back and has a great year and will be the staff’s leader.  He will go along with Justin Masterson, who looks to return to his 2011 form, newly acquired Brett Myers, Zach McCallister and Trevor Bauer.  I do not believe that is enough to compete with the Tigers, however if healthy this could help the Indians contend all summer long.  I believe they will be looking for one more bat to help make a push in the final 2 months, and with the Red Sox willing part ways with all-star center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, a trade will be worked out between the two clubs.  Ellsbury, the 2011 American League MVP runner up, will add a rare dynamic of power and speed to the Indians lineup and will carry them into the wild card game.  


 
 
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Is Max Scherzer poised for a big year? I think so
By: Aidan Flynn

One thing about baseball that makes it the greatest game in the whole world is its unfailing ability to surprise, year after year. Just look no further than last year, when I would have demanded immediate institutionalization for anyone giving an iota of a chance for Baltimore or Oakland to make the playoffs. Naturally, they blew their preseason predictions out of the water, made the playoffs and shocked the entire baseball world in the process. Clearly, I'm no Nate Silver, so these following predictions carry practically no weight at all. Nevertheless, baseball is pretty slow right now, and this represents a fun little exercise we can look back at and laugh at once 2013 is in the books. Today, I have listed five bold predictions for the upcoming season, and Nick will release his bold predictions in the next several days. 

1) Baltimore not only fails to make postseason but finishes last in AL East

     Not to take anything away from the Orioles' magical 2012, but I think their season was based more on good fortune and career years than sustainable skill. Don't get me wrong; I love Matt Wieters, think Manny Machado is a burgeoning superstar, and believe Buck Showalter is one of the best managers in the business. With that being said, I seriously doubt not only their ability to return to the postseason, but also their ability to even escape the cellar of the AL East. The two worst teams in the division last year, the Red Sox and the Blue Jays, both vastly improved, and the Yankees and Rays each have had successful track records over the past several years. Additionally, a patchwork rotation that provided only one pitcher with more than 135 innings is and should be a major question mark. Call me skeptical but all I see is a bunch of middle or back-end rotation types, and playing in the ultra-competitive AL East, that just isn't going to cut it.

2) Gio Gonzalez is worst pitcher on Washington staff

     One year removed from winning 21 games and garnering Cy Young votes, Gio Gonzalez is expected by most to anchor a stacked rotation for a potential pennant-winning team. However, there were several numbers from his excellent 2012 season that appear to be anomalous rather than a sign for things to come. For example, Gonzalez benefited from an extremely low .267 BABIP, a number more than 20 points under his career norm. It is very plausible that more balls will find holes in 2013, and therefore, result in more runs allowed. Also, Gonzalez experienced some additional good fortune in the form of his HR/FB (HR per FlyBall rate). With a career HR/FB around 9%, Gonzalez's 5.8% line from 2012 sticks out like a sore thumb. This offers up a high probability that he will see his home run allowed total to increase a good bit, furthering driving up his ERA. Furthermore, although I expect Gonzalez to regress, the statement above isn't so much a knock on Gonzalez as it is high praise for his rotation brethren. A rotation that includes the likes of the uber-talented Stephen Strasburg,  a frontline starter in Jordan Zimmerman, a promising southpaw in Ross Detwiler, and a good comeback candidate in Dan Haren, is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, the Nationals' staff is my personal favorite for best rotation in baseball. Therefore, with Gonzalez's likely regression and further development of his talented teammates, it is quite possible Gonzalez is the Nat's worst starter.

3) Dodgers drown under pile of cash; finish below .500

     With the arrival of new ownership, the Dodgers have become "Yankees West" with their recent financial splurges and aggressive transactions. To the casual fan, the acquisitions of stars Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Zack Greinke  would seemingly cement a playoff berth for the upcoming season. However, I see legitimate concern with the current roster and question  how good they will really be. For starters, the aforementioned Gonzalez and Ramirez, MVP candidates just several years ago, have seen their stars lose its luster and are at the heels of some of the worst seasons of their career. Additionally, star center fielder Matt Kemp was plagued with injuries throughout 2012, giving serious concern to a team that lacks depth if he were to go down again. On the pitching side, the Dodgers undoubtedly possess a quality rotation (lead by ace Clayton Kershaw), but still probably do not match up with the division rival San Francisco, a team, in case you forgot, just happened to win the World Series last year.  The Giants certainly aren't fading away, and a healthy rotation could put Arizona right back in the playoff hunt as well. All told, I think the Dodgers will face the harsh reality that "money  doesn't buy happiness" in 2013.

4) Detroit Tiger starting pitcher Max Scherzer, not Justin Verlander, wins AL CY

     I wholeheartedly believe Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball; I just don't think he'll be the one with the best season this upcoming year.  That honor goes to teammate Max Scherzer. The basis for this reasoning rests on a couple of factors, including Scherzer's insane strikeout rate (11 K/9) and unluckiness in terms of his BABIP (.333) and HR rate, both well above league average. Because of the extremes regarding the previous statistics, Scherzer is a good bet to regress  to the mean; in other words, he should benefit from much better luck this upcoming season. Even with that "unluckiness" in mind, Scherzer managed a 3.74 ERA and 4 WAR season, a solid season indeed. Given Scherzer's current skill set (high K rate, low BB rate) and likely benefit from luck, I see Scherzer having a breakout campaign, one worthy of winning a Cy Young.

5) Yankees fall out of contention and do the unthinkable: trade Robinson Cano for prospects

     I know, I know, this is by far the most bold and most unlikely prediction to occur. That being said I think the Yankees are reaching a period of serious concern, considering the age of the current team and a weak farm system. As the Yankees head into 2013, every single starting position player will be over thirty, with many of them (Jeter, Rodriguez, Teixeira) facing injury concerns that get worse, not better with age. In addition, the best three pitchers on the team (Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte) will be over 32, with two of those pitchers (Sabathia and Pettitte) spending significant time on the DL just last year. 
     As for Cano, he enters 2013 as the best second baseman in the game, and one of a handful of players that can legitimately claim to being the BEST player in the game. However, Cano, a Scott Boras client, is heading into his free agent year, and could very well land a $200 million contract from one of a handful of aggressive bidders (Dodgers?).  If the Yankees falter, they will be faced with a decision that seemed unimaginable just a year ago; should Robinson Cano be moved? Given their current paucity of talent in the minors (with their best prospects in the low minors, years away from fulfilling their potential), Cano could be dealt for a truckload of prospects to rebuild the once proud franchise. What makes this even more possible (still unlikely, just more plausible), is the declared imperative to get underneath the MLB luxury tax threshold, which if surpassed, subjects teams to harsh financial penalties. With hundreds of millions tied up to Rodriguez, Sabathia, Teixeira, and Jeter, the Yankees might find it hard to pay Cano and still manage to stay underneath the luxury tax threshold. So, if the Yankees struggle, don't question the possibility of a Cano blockbuster this summer.


 
 
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Another accolade for Mike Trout?
By: Aidan Flynn
    

     Unlike the speed needed in center or a strong arm in right, left field is usually considered the easiest outfield position to field, and thus often is  littered with talented hitters that just aren't up to snuff defensively. However nowadays, left field is not just reserved for large sluggers, as numerous athletes have begun to call left field their positional home; although admittedly these players usually play left in deference to even more athletic  center fielder (something we will later see in our rankings). For some, this  athletic ability has made them bona-fide stars, capable of not only hitting a  baseball a long way, but also making an impact on defense as well. The talent  crop of left fielders right now is truly amazing and this list was extremely  difficult to select because of so many compelling candidates. With that being said, on to the fifth best left fielder in the game today...


5. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
             
      Faced with arguably the highest expectations for any player in big league  history, Harper, at the tender age of 19, matched and surpassed those expectations in his rookie season. Harper, after underwhelming stays in AA Hagerstown and AAA Syracuse was called up for good on April 28, and never looked back. He hit .270/.340/.477 and smashed 22 home runs en route to winning the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year. Like his ROY counterpart in the American League, Harper possesses a wide range of skills that should continue to make him successful in the coming years. He has burgeoning power (57 XBH), a healthy approach at the plate (9.4 BB%), and strong defensive skills (14 DRS, 10 runs above average ). Harper is still coming into his own as a player, and at 20 years old, is still way ahead of the learning curve compared to his comparatively aged peers. After spending much of 2012 in center and right field, the Nationals' offseason acquisition of Denard Span will move Harper to left, thus his appearance in these rankings. At the heels of a 5 win professional debut, Harper could once again be around that number in 2013 as he continues to grow and mature as a player. 
 
4. Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
             
      Drafted out of Nebraska as a third baseman, Gordon was immediately hailed as the next George Brett when the Royals selected him second overall in 2005. Blessed with plus-plus power and gifted line drive stroke, Gordon was the can't miss prospect of his time. But cursed as only a Royal would have it, Gordon fell flat on his face, and was demoted twice to AAA before resurfacing with the big league club as a left fielder. Since that positional change, Gordon experienced a revival of sorts, becoming a legitimate star caliber player. Although never being very good defensively at third, Gordon has evolved into one of the best defensive left fielders in the game with 44 DRS and Gold Gloves in each of the  past two years. Much of his defensive prowess comes courtesy of his rifle for an arm, throwing out the most base runners among outfielders the past two seasons. 
          
     Offensively, Gordon is no slouch either, despite not quite living up to enormous potential out of college. He has the classic underappreciated offensive skillset, revolved around taking plenty of walks and hitting plenty of doubles (lead all of baseball with 51 2Bs in 2012). One cause for concern is whether or not Gordon and his elevated BABIPs are for real or not. League average BABIP is around .300, although higher totals can be seen with fast players (Ichiro) or those that hit a ton of line drives (Miguel Cabrera). Gordon's line drive stroke could explain his extremely high BABIPs of the past two seasons (.358 and .356, respectively), but it remains unlikely that these numbers are sustainable. Even if Gordon were to see his batting average decline due to a BABIP regression, he still has the tools to be a very productive player, and one very capable of being a 5+ win player in 2013. 
 
3. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals

     One of the most gifted offensive talents in the game, Holliday was once again a key component in the middle of the best NL offense in 2012. In 2012, he hit .295/.379/.497 with 27 home runs, a 138 OPS+, and 102 runs batted in. Holliday's offensive consistency is really quite remarkable; since 2006 (first full season) Holliday has averaged 28 home runs, 104 RBI, a 143 OPS+, and a .316/.393/.544 triple slash line. Predictably, I would expect Holliday to be around those numbers once again in 2013. In contrast to his natural hitting  ability, Holliday is quite unnatural in the outfield. He is a career -10 defender and was -6 runs last year alone, and just lacks the range necessary to be even an average defender. If there is a positive from Holliday's defensive game, it comes from his strong arm, responsible for an average of six outfield assists per year. Holliday is the prototypical left fielder; a masher first, and defender second. Although it is always more favorable to have a more balanced
game, Holliday makes it work due to his excellent offensive skills and consistency and should once again be around five wins in 2013.
 
2. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
             
      Braun entered the 2012 season amidst a cloud of controversy regarding his positive steroid test and subsequent successful appeal. With fans and baseball enthusiasts seriously questioning the validity of his MVP-winning 2011, Braun answered with an equally strong 2012 season. In fact, Braun posted nearly identical offensive numbers with the only noticeable difference in his home run total (41 in 2012 to 33 in 2011). Comparatively, Braun hit .319/.391/.595 with an OPS+ of 159 last year in contrast to his .332/.397/.597 and 166 OPS+ in 2011. What is especially exciting for a player like Braun is seeing how he has evolved and matured as a player since first arriving to the big league stage. This is evidenced in his walk rate (5.9% in 2007 to 9.3% in 2012), K rate (22.8% to 18.9%) and his still improving power (career high in home runs in 2012). Clearly, Braun has matured as a hitter and his overall offensive skillset is among the Major League elite. 
             
      Also, unlike most sluggers, Braun has a presence of speed in his game. Despite not having the reputation as a burner, Braun has developed an innate ability to steal bases, swiping at least 30 bases in each of the past two seasons. This added facet to his game is just another way in which Braun can impact games. In addition, Braun has grown as a defender as well. After playing out his rookie season at the hot corner (where he was absolutely atrocious; league-leading 26 errors, -3.0 dWAR), Braun has transitioned nicely to left where he has posted positive DRS numbers in each of the last three seasons. Braun's evolution from slugger to all-around machine has been phenomenal as he has undoubtedly cemented himself as one of the game's very best. Given Braun's consistency and overall track record, he could very easily be in the MVP race again with a 7+ win season. When first working on these positional rankings, Braun had been ranked as the unanimous best player at his position. However, a recent position switch by an even greater player caused Braun to be bumped from top positional honors.

1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
             
      I'm just going to go right out and say it: I think Trout is the best player in baseball and will be for years to come. I realize he's 21; I realize he's only had one full season; I realize he wasn't even the best player in his league (or at least according to a bunch of obsolete writers). I don't care. No player in the sport today has more impact on a game than Trout. He is the embodiment of a five tool talent and can truly do it all. 
            
      To those that may be surprised to see Trout's name in left field after  playing much of his rookie campaign in center, get used to it. Angels management announced earlier this offseason that Trout will shift to left in deference to defensive whiz Peter Bourjos, who equals, if not outright surpasses, Trout's defensive talents. This is not so much as a knock on Trout as  it is extremely high praise for Bourjos, who has put up some of the best defensive metrics  of all-time. Even with Trout saving 21 runs and having a 2.1 dWAR last year, the decision to move him to left is certainly justifiable with Bourjos' presence in center and could actually have a long term beneficial impact on Trout's career. A move to left earlier in his career could save Trout some of the wear and tear that comes with the territory in center, and thus keep his promising talents on the field more often. 
         
      As previously mentioned and as you undoubtedly already know, Trout's on-field success is not limited to the grass. Trout was one of the best hitters in 2012 and one could even reasonably make the case that his offensive contributions were greater than that of Triple Crown champ Miguel Cabrera. He was that good. He hit for average (.326), he got on base (.399), and hit for power, evidenced by his 30 home runs and .564 slugging percentage. Limitations of the RBI statistic aside, Trout drove in an impressive 83 runs; something of which I find all the more impressive considering where he bats in the lineup and the fact that he missed 20 games while destroying Triple-A pitching. Furthermore, he did most of this damage playing in pitcher-friendly Angels Stadium, as seen in his league leading OPS+ of 171, a statistic that accounts for these ballpark effects. 
             
      In addition to Trout's natural hitting ability, he can make numerous offensive contributions with his legs. The old saying goes "speed kills," and Mike Trout certainly lives up to that statement by killing other teams on the bases.  In 2012, Trout used his speed to steal a league-leading 49 bases. What makes this even more impressive is Trout's extreme efficiency on the bases; he had a 91% success rate, which was good enough for third among players with at least 30 steals. Also, Trout's speed and instincts allowed him to be the Major League leader in the Ultimate Base Running statistic, which valued his baserunning at an incredible 12 runs! 
 
      Last year, Trout was the game's best player, compiling a mind-numbing 10.7 win season. To put that in perspective, only thirteen players have ever reached this total. Their names: Ruth, Bonds, Hornsby, Yastrzemski, Gehrig, Ripken, Wagner, Cobb, Mantle, Mays, Morgan, Williams, and Musial. These are the all-time greats of the game we are talking about, and Trout's 2012 is firmly in their company. Although this certainly underscores the greatness in his rookie campaign, this forebodes almost certain regression; there literally is nowhere to go but down for him. If there is a red flag in Trout's game, it is that he had a ridiculous .383 BABIP. This number is nearly impossible to sustain, even with Trout's speed skillset and high BABIP track record. It is very plausible for Trout to lose 30 points of that BABIP and instead of being a .330 hitter, he would be closer to a .300 hitter. But then again, with another year of experience under his belt and the fact that he's Mike Freakin' Trout, maybe he will exceed his already lofty expectations. Regardless, Trout is an unbelievable, once-in-generation talent and player where all the superlatives truly do apply. When 2013 is all said and done, I see Trout completing another MVP-esque season with a 8+ win season.

For those that might have forgotten Trout's greatness, I hope the .gif below refreshes your memory

Honorable Mention
Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland A's
Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins
Melky Cabrera, Toronto Blue Jays
 
 
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                Shortstop is without question one of the most important positions on the diamond.  In the 1990s and early 2000s, we witnessed a tremendous crop of shortstop that were never-before-seen offensive forces.  Guys like Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Barry Larkin, Derek Jeter, and Cal Ripkin Jr were stars in the league at shortstop because of this offensive prowess.  Nowadays, that offensive power has shifted back to the other 3 infield positions.  A-Rod was moved to shortstop and Derek Jeter is at the back end of his career. Hanley Ramirez is another guy who was moved from shortstop to third base. Many of these moves were based on having other guys to man shortstop already; however teams now are looking for a great defender with speed and range to play the shortstop position on an everyday basis, even while sacrificing the offensive firepower.  There are some great looking young shortstops that have either already arrived in the show, or will be there very soon.  Established guys like Elvis Andrus and Starlin Castro have already produced all-star caliber seasons. On the farm, top prospects Jurickson Profar, Xander Bogaerts, and Francisco Lindor should be names we will be hearing about for a long time to come.  Overall, the future of shortstop looks bright, possibly once again providing us with a golden age at the position.

5. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

     Derek Jeter will go down as not only one of the greatest Yankees ever, but one of the greatest players in history.  The Yankee captain will eventually add his number 2 to the already long list of Yankee retired numbers with his career .313/.382/.448 slash line and five world championships. Derek is coming off a tremendous 2012 with his bat, hitting .316/.362/.429 with a 114 OPS+ and notching his 8th career 200+ hit season.  His bat should be productive again in 2013; however his age and defensive abilities are what have hurt Jeter.  Jeter will be 39 this June, and he has only saved a positive number of runs one time in his 18 year career.  His 9 career gold gloves may be a bit misleading, as Jeter has saved an atrocious -142 runs for his entire career.  His defense again will haunt him in 2013, but his bat is good enough to make him a top 5 shortstop for 2013 and I would expect around a 3 win season from Jeter. 

4. Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays

      After signing a big 6-year contract with the new-look Miami Marlins in the 2011 offseason, Reyes was quickly shipped off to Toronto in a major blockbuster trade after a dismal season for the 2012 Marlins.  North of the border, Reyes will provide a huge spark in a lineup that already includes a lot of firepower.  Reyes, just one year removed from a batting title, had another good season offensively.  He batted .287/.347/.433 in 2012 with an OPS+ of 111.  Along with hitting for a high average and getting on base at a solid rate, Reyes brings 40+ stolen base potential, having done so 5 times in his career, including 2012.  Despite his good speed, Reyes struggles on the defensive side of the ball.  He has not saved a positive number of runs since 2007 and -18 DRS for his 10 year big league career.  He has also committed at least 15 errors in each of his past 3 years.  Regardless, Jose was a 2.8 win player in 2012 and I look for him to be around 3 or 3.5 in 2013. 

3. Ian Desmond , Washington Nationals

      The Nationals' 26 year old shortstop broke out in a big way for the National League East champions in 2012.  He batted .292/.335/.511 with an OPS+ of 126.  His power stood out as he blasted 25 big flies while playing in just 130 games.  He also brought the speed factor into his game while stealing 21 bases in 27 attempts (78%).  It is fair to say Desmond did a little bit of everything offensively in 2012 and we should expect more of the same in 2012 as he enters his age 27 season. Defensively, Desmond saved -6 runs at shortstop and is at -19 for his career.  In spite of his defensive shortcomings, Ian should be about a 3.5 win player in 2013. 

2. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays

      Ben Zobrist has been a super utility man throughout the majority of his career.  However, with the Rays plans to keep him as a primary shortstop in 2013, Zobrist fits into to the second spot on our shortstops list.  Zobrist has been nothing but consistent throughout the past 4 seasons at the “Trop.”  He’s played in at least 151 games in each of those years.  Although he does not hit for a particularly high batting average (.260 career), Zobrist is able to be a very productive offensive player.  He has a career .354 OBP and had a .377 OBP in 2012.  This is a result of his great patience at the plate as he has walked at least 91 times in 3 of his past 4 seasons.  He also hits for decent power, coming off a year in which he slugged .471.  He has also mashed at least 20 home runs in 3 of his last 4 seasons.  Stealing bases is not a huge part of his game although he has been able to swipe at least 14 in each of his last 4 seasons.  Defensively, Zobrist has been fantastic no matter where he plays as he has saved 60 runs over his 7 year career.  Ben has very impressively been able to compile a WAR of at least 5.5 in 3 of his last 4 seasons and has even reached 8 in 2 of them.  Any man who can be an 8 win player should be considered for MVP because of the overall value he brings.  Zobrist just simply makes the Tampa Bay Rays a MUCH better ball club than what they would be without him.  Look for Zobrist to be a 5-6 win player again in 2013. 

1. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

      Despite playing in just 47 games in 2012, “Tulo” has proven he is absolutely the best overall shortstop in all of baseball.  With Tulowitzki having played full seasons in 4 of his last 5 seasons before 2012, we will mainly focus on his production before last year. Expecting full health for 2013, it is very reasonable to expect the type of numbers he put up before his injury because he has been so consistent.  The 28-year old had an OPS+ of at least 130 each year from 2009-2011.  In those seasons, he never hit below .297, never had an OBP of under .372, and never slugged less than .544.  He also hit at least 30 home runs in 2 of those 3 years.  Speed wise, Tulo was able to swipe 20 bags in 2009, but that number dropped to just 9 in 2011.  After his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2007 at the age of 22, Tulowitzki has not disappointed.  Along with his tremendous offensive production, Troy is one of the best defenders in the game.  He saved a whopping 31 runs during his rookie year, and taking away his injury plagued 2012, has never saved a negative number of runs and is at 68 for his career.  Tulo is without a doubt a superstar at shortstop. He has been a 6 win player 4 times in his career, and I would expect that number to be the same in 2013.  

By: Nick Rabasco


 
 
12/4: Deacon White, a 2013 member of the Baseball Hall of Fame (selected by the Pre-Integration Committee that examined candidates from 1869-1947), played catcher without the use of a mask or glove
12/5: O-Swing% gauges the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside of the strike zone. The top pitcher at having batters chase balls was soft tossing lefty, Bruce Chen at 35.2% (.2% higher than Justin Verlander).
12/6: Sammy Sosa hit sixty or more home runs on three separate occasions. However, during those years, he never once lead the league (McGwire hit more in 1998, 1999 and Bonds hit more in 2001)
12/7: Lou Gehrig was the first player to have his number retired
12/9: During 2012, reliever Koji Uehara walked only three batters. On April 21 alone, Alfredo Aceves walked four batters without retiring a single hitter.
12/10: In 1930, Lefty Grove lead the Majors in wins (28) and saves (9)
12/11: Larry Hesterfer is the only MLBer to hit into a triple play in his first major league at bat
12/12: In 1987, Nolan Ryan led the NL in ERA (2.76), but had an 8-16 record with the second most losses in baseball
12/13: In 2012, the San Francisco Giants only hit 103 home runs, which ranked last in Major League Baseball. The Giants then went on to win the World Series
12/14: Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader, began his career by going 0-11 in the Majors
12/17: Germany Schaefer is the only player in major league history to steal the same base twice in one inning without reaching base a second time. In 1920, it was legal to steal bases in reverse order (i.e. steal first base from second). During the September 4th, 1908, game between the Tigers and Cleveland Indians, Schaefer was on first and a teammate was on third. The Tigers wanted to do a double steal -- Schaefer would break for second, and, when the Indians tried to throw him out, his teammate would steal home. But when Schaefer broke for second, the Indians' catcher didn't make the throw, so Schaefer stole the base without the run scoring. That wasn't the plan, so, on the next pitch, he broke back for first... and successfully stole it without a throw. Then, on the following pitch, he broke for second AGAIN, to try to make the double steal work... but again, the Indians didn't throw
12/18: Eddie Matthews is the only Brave to play for the club when it was in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta
12/19: Ryne Sandberg’s final game at Wrigley Field was also Harry Caray’s  final performance of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at Wrigley
12/20: Right-handed pitcher Don Sutton has the most plate appearances without hitting a home run with 1,559
12/21: Sam Crawford (1899-1917) holds the record for most career inside-the-park home runs with 51
12/24: Pud Galvin (played from 1875-1892) was the first player to use performance-enhancing drugs. In 1889, he openly used an elixir containing monkey testorone. Ironically enough, Galvin was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1965
12/25: Lou Gehrig was the first athlete to appear on the Wheaties box
12/26: Rick Wise is the only player to hit two home runs while throwing a no-hitter; truly one of the all-time great single game performances
12/27: Tim Salmon has hit the most home runs without ever making an All-Star team (299 home runs)
12/28: Sam Crawford (1899-1917) holds the record for most career inside-the-park home runs with 51
12/31: In 1999, Rafael Palmeiro won the Gold Glove despite only playing 28 games at first base
 

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