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Jose Bautista leads the revamped Jays
Aidan Flynn's 2013 Predictions
AL East
1. Toronto Blue Jays: 93-69
2. Tampa Bay Rays: 92-70
3. Boston Red Sox: 85-77
4. New York Yankees: 79-83
5. Baltimore Orioles: 74-88

Attempting to take advantage of a clear opening in the division, the Blue Jays acquired a legitimate, although atypical, ace in RA Dickey and other All-Star talents in the form of Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle. Overall, the Blue Jays boast an exceptional amount of talent on both the offensive and pitching ends, and should make a run at the divisional crown. The Rays have a top-3 rotation in the game, even with the loss of James Shields. Their offense is a bit questionable, but I like the offensive core of Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce, and eventually, Wil Myers. The Red Sox actually spent the most this offseason, adding over $80 million over the winter months. While I think the Sox will definitely rebound from their forgettable 2012, the mediocrity on the pitching end and injury concerns prevent them from ultimately reaching the postseason. The Yankees are the Yankees, I know, I know, but their pitching depth, or lack thereof, age, and injury concerns are all major question marks. I seriously doubt the position players' ability defy the laws of aging and if that happens entirely, their season could turn ugly fast. The Orioles probably lucked themselves into a playoff spot last year. Not to take anything away from what they did, but it just isn't sustainable. They do have some good pieces (Jones, Wieters, Machado) but I don't trust their pitching and playing in the AL East shouldn't do them any favors.

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Is Salvador Perez a breakout player?
AL Central
1. Detroit Tigers: 95-67
2. Chicago White Sox: 83-79
3. Cleveland Indians: 81-81
4. Kansas City Royals: 78-84
5. Minnesota Twins: 64-98

The Tigers possessed one of the most well-rounded rosters in the Majors last year, and that was with bad luck from Max Scherzer, a shaky bullpen, 600 PAs from Delmon Young, and the absence of Victor Martinez. The bullpen situation still isn't resolved but the rest of team looks poised to run away with the worst division in baseball. Their staff is crazy deep and could produce two genuine CY contenders in Scherzer and Justin Verlander. The White Sox, Indians, and Royals all suffer from mediocrity syndrome. The White Sox probably won't have the same pitching and don't have quite the offensive firepower of the Tigers. The Indians have a nice lineup, which was augmented by offseason acquisitions Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Still, the pitching is just downright awful and should prevent the Indians from being anything more than a .500 team. I know the Royals are the "hot" pick right now, but I don't see it. Their pitching is almost as bad as the Indians. Luis Mendoza? Ervin Santana? Even Wade Davis and Jeremy Guthrie? Does that even sound like a playoff team. To me, it screams mediocrity. I do like the bullpen (Kelvin Herrera might be this year's Chapman) and some of their young players (especially Perez and Moustakas), but still can't look past the starting pitching. Speaking of bad rotations, the Twins' should be pretty terrible as well. Joe Mauer and his pretty little swing should be the only thing keeping Twin Cities residents from coming through the turnstiles.

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The one and only, Mike Trout
AL West
1. Texas Rangers: 91-71
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 87-75
3. Oakland Athletics: 83-79
4. Seattle Mariners: 75-87
5. Houston Astros: 56-106

Talk of Texas' demise is bit quick in my opinion. They only lost Josh Hamilton, and the acquisitions of Lance Berkman and AJ Pierzynski should at least minimize his loss. Add in improvement from Yu Darvish, some at-bats to Jurickson Profar, and I still see the Rangers as a threat to win the pennant. Everyone knows I adore Mike Trout, but he himself can't make up for the pitching deficiencies of the Angels. I just don't trust that staff at all, and could very well see them falling out of the playoff race. For now, the offense is enough to get it done. Oakland, like Baltimore, will probably regress, but given that their 2012 was more skill-based than lucky, they shouldn't experience quite the same fall. Cespedes, Reddick, platoon advantages galore and the continued development of that young staff should keep them above .500. Seattle probably won't compete this year in the ultra-competitive West, but I love their farm system. Mike Zunino, Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Brandon Mauerer, and Carter Capps could all see time in the bigs this year and in 2014, they could all be on the field at the same time. Astros fans, you can keep trying to convince yourself 2013 is a nightmare, but this year is going to be flat-out ugly.

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Will his age 20 season be better than Trout's?
NL East
1. Washington Nationals: 99-63
2. Atlanta Braves: 89-73
3. Philadelphia Phillies: 80-82
4. New York Mets: 71-91
5. Miami Marlins: 61-101

Washington is the best team in baseball. Hands down, no questions asked. It wouldn't surprise me if they won 100+ games and ran away with the division, pennant, and World Series. Bryce Harper is special and could produce an age 20 season similar to his AL counterpart, Mike Trout. Strasburg could dominate, especially without the innings limit over his head this year. This team is the real deal. Atlanta made some interesting moves this year, first and foremost with the acquisition of Justin Upton. I like the lineup and the defense is off-the-charts, but doubt the starting pitching's ability to succeed over 162 games. The bullpen, on the other hand, has no doubts. Kimbrel, O'Flaherty, Venters...they're loaded. The Phillies are in decline phase and will probably continue until they change their philosophy. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are still good, but everything else, from the rest of the rotation, to the lineup, to the bullpen, are all questionable. The Mets knew they weren't going to be competitive when they dealt the reigning CY winner, but the haul they got back was more than solid. A revitalized system could be producing all-star talents as soon as next year. Miami may have killed baseball in the city, but they did get some quality talent in the various trades they made throughout the year. However, this year, I see very little reason to throw Giancarlo Stanton a strike all year. It's going to be bad.

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OBP machine, Joey Votto
NL Central
1. Cincinnati Reds: 95-67
2. St. Louis Cardinals: 90-72
3. Milwaukee Brewers: 82-80
4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 79-83
5. Chicago Cubs: 73-89

I think the Reds are like the Nationals, just a lesser version. They both excel in multiple facets of the game. I really like Shin-Soo Choo in the leadoff spot, a place where they got absolutely no production last year. If Joey Votto is healthy, he could make a run at a second MVP. People still don't understand how good he is. The Cardinals are solid all around team and there might not be a more important player than Yadier Molina. The progressions he's made with his bat are for real and he should also be a shortlist MVP candidate. After the top two, he rest of the division lays in mediocrity. Milwaukee has some good bats, but the pitching is suspect. Pittsburgh has Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, and practically nothing else. Prepare for losing season number 21 this year. Chicago won't do a whole lot this year, but Epstein and co. know what they're doing. Jeff Samardzija is a burgeoning ace and Starlin Castro is a future superstar. They won't win the World Series this year, but could very well in a couple of years.

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$147 million man Zack Greinke
NL West
1. San Francisco Giants: 88-74
2. Los Angeles Dodgers: 87-75
3. Arizona Diamondbacks: 84-78
4. San Diego Padres: 76-86
5. Colorado Rockies: 64-98

Color me unimpressed with the Dodgers' enormous spending spree. They'll certainly benefit from a full year of Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, and of course, Nick Punto, but I just don't see it coming together for them. Handing money out like its candy can only work for so long, and dishing it out to the always average Brandon League and a fat Korean import in Hyun-Jin Ryu should be a sign of recklessness. The Giants might not have the most talented team, but they are a perfect fit  in their ballpark. They also happen to have the reigning MVP in Buster Posey, who is superstar in his own right. The pitching is always there, so if they get contributions from guys not named Posey, they should be in good shape. As for the Diamondbacks, they faced a lot of scrutiny for their "grit-first" mentality when acquiring players. Despite this, they still have a strong and deep staff that should keep them in plenty of ballgames. I like Adam Eaton, Paul Goldschmidt, and Miguel Montero a lot, and they all should anchor a surprising D-Backs lineup. They could pounce on the division crown if the Giants don't hit and the Dodgers succumb to their high-priced expectations. The Padres have a rather uninspiring team as of now, but could make a things interesting in a year or two with that farm system. Austin Hedges (catcher) and Max Fried (pitcher) are the real deal. Colorado has some nice pieces in Tulowitzki, CarGo, and Fowler, but may god bless the pitchers that have to make Coors their home for a living. The place isn't quite the disaster it was in the 90's-00's, but still ranks as the worst pitcher's park in the game. Until they find any semblance of quality pitching in that park...good luck.

Postseason

AL WC: Tampa Bay over Los Angeles
ALDS: Tampa Bay over Toronto; Detroit over Texas
ALCS: Tampa Bay over Detroit

NL WC: St. Louis Cardinals over Atlanta Braves
NLDS: Washington Nationals over San Francisco Giants; Cincinnati Reds over St. Louis Cardinals
NLCS: Washington Nationals over Cincinnati Reds

World Series: Washington over Tampa Bay in 7; WS MVP: Bryce Harper
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Is Jurickson Profar the game's next star?
Awards:
MVP: (winner in bold)
AL:
1. Mike Trout (.309/.386/.512, 27 HR, 55 SB, 8 WAR)
2. Evan Longoria
3. Miguel Cabrera
NL:
1. Joey Votto (.324/.431/.550, 28 HR, 108 RBI, 7.5 WAR)
2. Bryce Harper
3. Troy Tulowitzki

CY: (winner in bold)
AL:
1. Max Scherzer (220 IP, 255 K's, 2.75 ERA, 2.60 FIP, 7 WAR)
2. Yu Darvish
3. Matt Moore
NL:
1.Clayton Kershaw (230 IP, 235 K's, 2.45 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 7 WAR)
2. Stephen Strasburg
3. Madison Bumgarner

ROY: (winner in bold)
AL:
1. Jurickson Profar (.270/.330/.410, 3.5 WAR)
2. Chris Archer
3. Wil Myers
NL:
1. Trevor Rosenthal (2.50 ERA, 80 IP, 110 K's)
2. Jedd Gyorko
3.  Adam Eaton

Author's Awards (NOTE: These are not real awards!)
Breakout Player Award 
AL: 
1. Matt Moore (200 IP, 230 K, 2.90 ERA, 6 WAR)
2. Salvador Perez
3. Jason Kipnis
NL: 
1. Bryce Harper (.292/.366/.531, 36 HR, 125 RBI, 24 SB, 7.5 WAR)
2. Brandon Belt
3. Jeff Samardzija

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Craig Kimbrel fronts the best 'pen in baseball
Slugger of the Year Award
AL:
1. Miguel Cabrera (.328/.408/.569, 34 HR, 120 RBI, 7 WAR)
2. Jose Bautista
3. Albert Pujols
NL:
1. Joey Votto (.324/.431/.550, 28 HR, 108 RBI, 7.5 WAR)
2. Giancarlo Stanton
3. Ryan Braun

ALL MLB Team: 
(1st team listed first and bolded, 2nd team listed second and not bolded)
C: Buster Posey, Salvador Perez
1B: Joey Votto, Albert Pujols
2B: Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia
3B: Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre
SS: Troy Tulowitzki, Starlin Castro
OF: Bryce Harper, Ryan Braun
OF: Mike Trout, Matt Kemp
OF: Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista
DH: Billy Butler, Edwin Encarnacion
SP: Justin Verlander, Yu Darvish
SP: Max Scherzer, Matt Moore
SP: Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez
SP: Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels
RP: Craig Kimbrel, Kelvin Herrera
RP: Aroldis Chapman, David Hernandez


 
 
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My new gig
By Aidan Flynn

Obviously, there hasn't been a whole lot of content going up here at BTP lately. Nick and I both play baseball for our schools and to say the least, our schedules have been packed. In addition, I have started a gig over at Bosoxinjection.com, which has taken up much of the time I have had to write. While that is no excuse and we certainly could have at least warned you of the declining content, we hope you understand our situations. This blog is just a hobby for us and while we certainly enjoy doing it, we obviously have other commitments. 

I don't know what the future is for BTP, but we will try to finish up the positional rankings and post our preseason predictions in the next week or so. After that, I know I can't promise much because of my other writing commitment in addition to playing baseball on practically a daily basis. Once again, we apologize for any inconveniences we may have brought and hope you've at least enjoyed our content up till now. Thanks

 
 
 
 
Our first team preview for the Deuces Wild Podcast. Enjoy
 
 
deuces_wild_intro.mp3
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The other day, I experienced a mid-day epiphany of sorts and came up with the idea to try a podcast for the website. This podcast will aim to just discuss baseball on a more personal level to our audience and get you more daily baseball coverage. With Spring Training fully under way, we figured this podcast would be a good tool so that we could preview every team in baseball. We will go through these rankings in alphabetical order, so tomorrow, we will begin with the Arizona Diamondbacks. As I said, these podcasts will try to be completed on a daily basis, so that you, the audience, gets a more dedicated and informative view on the happenings in Major League Baseball.

We are rookies when it comes to this stuff, so if we are leaving stuff out (not baseball stuff, just podcast etiquette stuff), we would greatly appreciate the response. I personally am not sure how all this will turn out, but I think its a fun project for both ourselves and our audience and we both look forward to beginning this with the team seasonal previews.

Once again, if there are any comments -positive or negative- that come with the podcast, we are all ears and are willing to do anything that can improve the process. Please remember, this is a process for us, and we will learn on the job just as we hope you can learn from us. Thank you and we hope you are as excited for this as we are!

Aidan Flynn

P.S: The above file is basically me saying all of this in audio form; let me know if it works/doesn't work, because this is how we're doing the podcast. Thanks!
 
 
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The precocious talent that is Stephen Strasburg
By Aidan Flynn

Game 7 of the World Series. Your number one starter is on the mound: a Ryan, a Seaver, or perhaps a Gibson.  The guy with nerves of steel and the most electric stuff on the team. The guy that can go nine innings and put the team on his back. This is the guy who you want the ball in his hands with the light on and the pressure cooking. This is your best pitcher. This is the definition of an ace.

The following rankings are players who we feel best fit the attributes of an ace, while also taking into account past performance and future projection. While there are more than just five aces in the game, that is how many we have on this list. Apologies to the honorable mention guys! 

In terms of up-and-coming right handers, some names to keep an eye on are Dylan Bundy (Orioles), Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon (Pirates), and Taijuan Walker (Mariners). All four are power arms with ideal bodies and repertoires to fronting a big league rotation. However, given the attrition rate of pitchers, there is no guarantee these precocious arms will have any major league glory. This attrition capability is something that was definitely accounted for, as you will see with our very first name on the list. Any averse trends could start a chain reaction that could cause a pitcher to flame out prematurely. With that said, we also could not completely ignore past performance and did reward players based on their previous successes. As I just said, a perfect example of this is our number five right hander in the game today.


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Is falling down while pitching good?
5. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

A season that culminated with 20 wins and a third place Cy Young finish was just another year for Angels ace, Jered Weaver. Although lacking the power arsenal typically seen from an ace, Weaver's finesse repertoire has been incredibly successful over the years. In terms of just simple run prevention, Weaver has been the very best in the American league over the past 3 years (2.73 ERA).

It should be noted that there were a couple of trends that prevented Weaver from ranking higher on this list. With a declining K/9 rate (9.35 in 2010; 6.77 in 2012), waning fastball velocity (89.1 mph in 2011 to 87.8 in 2012), and recent injury history (battled back and shoulder trouble throughout 2012), there are some legitimate concerns for Weaver heading into this season. Obviously, as a pitcher has to rely more and more on his defense, he is more susceptible to the whims of BABIP. Any drastic changes in BABIP or team defense could have a damning effect on the pitcher at hand.

Additionally, Weaver's back and shoulder issues that plagued him in 2012 leave him vulnerable to more serious problems in the future. Furthermore, these weaknesses could only be further compromised given his mechanics that include severe spine-tilt, something that is typically not a sign of healthy mechanics (see picture above).

Even with these concerns, Weaver still has his control (2.15 BB/9 past three seasons) and should greatly benefit from having an all-world defensive outfield trio of Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos, and Josh Hamilton given his extreme fly ball tendencies. While I am wary of Weaver repeating his performances that made him one of the very best in the game, I still have confidence that Weaver can be an ace-like starter at the big league level.

Last year, Weaver was a 3.7 win pitcher despite only throwing 188 innings because of his battle with injuries. Assuming full health (which is no guarantee), I see Weaver being about a 4-4.5 win pitcher next season.


4. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

While just about every diminutive Dominican with a devastating change-up gets slapped with a mini-Pedro label, Johnny Cueto has been the closest to meeting the hype. Even though he doesn't exactly meet Pedro's absurdly high standards (something in which NO ONE does), Cueto is a damn good pitcher in his own right, and deserving of his spot on this list.

This past year, Cueto built on his breakout 2011 campaign (in which he had a league-leading 2.31 ERA) with a more-than-respectable 2.78 ERA, league runner up pitcher WAR total of 5.8, and highest ERA+ among qualified starters (152). Additionally, Cueto improved both his walk and strikeout rates to 2.03 BB/9 and 7.05 K/9, respectively.

Keep in mind, Cueto has the unfortunate task of pitching in the hitter's haven of Great American Ballpark. This especially hurt Cueto early in his career, as he was more of a fly ball pitcher. However, Cueto has learned to adapt to his home environment by gradually improving his ground ball and home run rates practically on an annual basis, something of which can be owed to an increasing reliance on his excellent changeup. This growth has greatly aided Cueto from being killed in Cincy's small park, which in turn, has allowed him to thrive in this typically hostile environment. 

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Cueto's changeup has allowed him to succeed where few pitchers can
Also of note, Cueto has a unique element to his game that only adds to his overall value: the pickoff move. Cueto led all right handers in pickoffs in 2012 (9) and since 2011, Cueto has only allowed 2! runners to successfully steal off of him. While some of this praise should go to Ryan Hanigan (the Reds' catcher during the time), Cueto undoubtedly has a great move (see the gif below). This underrated, even unnoticed trait is one that separates Cueto from his peers when discussing the best right handers in the game today.

Accounting for these improvements as well as his Cy Young caliber performance, Cueto should once again be one of the best pitchers in the National League. While he might not be considered an ace by many, I like Cueto's overall skillset and hope his name starts to reach a wider audience. Fronting the rotation for a legitimate pennant contender, Cueto has a realistic shot at being a 4.5+ win player in 2013.

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Keep in mind Posey only attempted 2 steals all year; he probably wasn't going
3.  Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

Certainly the most hyped pitching prospect of recent memory, if not of all-time, Strasburg has experienced quite a start to his professional career. His unbelievable and thrilling 14 strikeout debut (something that I still get goose bumps watching).  His unfortunate and tragic injury that required Tommy John surgery, of which prematurely ended his promising rookie campaign. His controversial "innings limit" that saw dogged media scrutiny throughout the summer.

Yet, through all of this, his performance has never wavered, with all signs pointing to a Cy Young caliber season in 2013. In fact, Strasburg would have been in the Cy Young race last season if not for the aforementioned innings limit (only threw 159.1 innings). This of course prevented him from racking up the more impressive cumulative statistics (wins, strikeouts, etc) seen from other candidates even while having similar or better rate numbers.

For example, Strasburg had a strong 3.16 ERA and absurd 11.13 K/9 rate despite only having 15 wins and 197 strikeouts. Additionally, Strasburg posted the best FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) in baseball last year, a statistic that accounts only for things a pitcher can absolutely control (strikeouts, walks, and home runs). This statistic indicates what a pitcher's "true" ERA should be, and with Strasburg's FIP being 34 points better than his ERA (2.82 to 3.16), it is reasonable to think that Strasburg pitched even better than given credit for.

While I understand this ranking could be considered aggressive given his limited amount of innings thus far, Strasburg's combination of talent and numbers are just too much for him not to be this high. Remember, these rankings take into account both past performance and projection,  both of which serve Strasburg well. With a substantially looser innings leash, Strasburg could very well double his 2.7 win campaign, en route to possibly the first of many Cy Youngs.

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One of 14 K's from Strasburg's electric debut
2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

It shouldn't be a surprise that the richest pitcher in baseball is also on the short list for the very best. When I profiled the "King" the day his contract details first emerged, I liked the deal for a variety of reasons, even with the inherent risk that comes with being a pitcher.While there were some external factors I liked about the deal (namely, keeping a fan base happy), the biggest positive was none other than Hernandez himself. He's a workhorse (200+ innings past five seasons), prevents runs (career 3.22 ERA), strikes guys out (career 8.3 K/9), keeps the ball on the ground (career 54.4 GB%), and has an excellent walk rate (2.67 BB/9). He's that freakin' good.

While some pessimists point to a drop in fastball velocity (93.3 mph in 2011 to 92.1 in 2012), he combated that with the best strikeout, walk, and home run rates of his career. To those that say he will be hurt with the fences coming in this year at Safeco Field (Seattle's home park), Hernandez's ground ball tendencies should prevent him from being hurt much, if at all, by this change. The "King's" overall mastery of his craft honestly doesn't give me a lot of things to say other than he really is that good.

Hernandez finished fourth in the CY voting and was worth 4.6 wins for the Mariners in 2012. Expect more of the same as Hernandez is entering his physical prime at the ripe age of 27, with a good probability of posting another Cy Young caliber campaign.

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Just as it is obvious that Felix Hernandez is that good, it is just as obvious that Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in the game (or at least in my opinion anyways). Following an impossible to repeat performance in 2011, which capped him both the Cy Young MVP, Verlander practically did just that, finishing second in the Cy Young voting to David Price. He once again led the league in innings (238.1), K's (239), ERA+ (160), and pitcher WAR (7.6), and actually had better peripherals than he did in his otherworldly 2011.

In fact, I think he was just as deserving of the Cy Young this year, and if not for his extreme amount of success the year prior, he might have won it. As with Hernandez, there isn't a whole lot to nitpick with Verlander. He's the prototypical ace, with at least three elite pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup), excellent command (2.27 BB/9 last year), incredible durability, and a bulldog mentality. Heck, he is even dating Sports Illustrated cover model Kate Upton, and has his eyes set on being the first $200 million pitcher in the game. The guy literally has everything going for him!

Overall, Verlander is a stud and the bona-fide ace of an entire generation. He was over 7 wins last year and has showed no signs of slowing down.  Years from now, I believe we will look at Verlander the same way we look at Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, and Bob Gibson. He's a hall of fame talent deserving of all the superlatives. Quite simply, he's that good.
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98 mph in the 8th inning=Unfair
Honorable Mention:
R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays
Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers
Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

 
 
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Does being proven mean anything?
By: Aidan Flynn

Throughout the years, I have often heard of the notion that teams need "proven" closers in order to succeed. After all, how else would the Yankees have won all those titles without Mariano Rivera? With the reputation of the ninth inning "being a different animal" and more pressure-intensive, it is understandable to see why many fans and more mainstream analysts think that way.

Common sense would say that only those that have "been there, done that" can know the intricacies of shutting down the last three outs of a ball game. How else could it be possible for one to "save" the game without having pure intestinal fortitude and balls of steel? While many still hold onto this belief, I believe the myth of the proven closer is one based more on narrative than proven fact.  
Even though Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon continue to close out games at an alarmingly successful rate, the volatility of major league relievers (that is, reliever performance tends to be unpredictable and erratic) is one that is quite dramatic and noticeable. This volatility is real and can be attributed to the regression to the mean phenomenon,  an occurrence seen when extreme performances tend to balance or stabilize over time.

While this tendency afflicts all players, major league relievers are especially subject to this because their limited innings do not allow for much stabilization over the course of a season. In other words, the outside factors that allow a pitcher to succeed one season (luck, health, weaker opponents, etc), tend to disappear or decline substantially in the following campaign. Of course, with any sort of trend there are exceptions (the aforementioned Rivera, Papelbon, and Craig Kimbrel), but the turnover rate among relievers is staggering.

A study done by Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh in the book "Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers", found that an average of 60% of the top 50 relievers one season fail to make the list the very next year. Then, when comparing how those very top 50 relievers did three years later, only 26% of remained on the list. Below lists the findings of Ben's research (click to embiggen)
For those that prefer a bit simpler numbers, just look at the saves leaders the past two seasons. Among those in the top ten in saves in 2011, only one (Kimbrel) made the list in 2012. Both show a massive turnover rate and something that prevents even "proven" closers from remaining "proven" for very long. It's not that they cannot handle the heat; it's that their true talents are masked by various factors sometimes not stabilized until years later. 
For those still that still doubt me, let's look at a comparison of two pitchers, one with the "proven closer" label, and another who has been criticized for lacking the ninth inning mindset necessary to close.

2012 Numbers

Pitcher 1: 19 saves, 8 blown saves, 63.2 innings, 8.34 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 5.09 ERA

Pitcher 2: 25 saves, 8 blown saves, 84 innings, 8.04 K/9, 3.32 BB/9, 5.36 ERA

Clearly, both pitchers had a rough time closing out games, and perhaps unsurprisingly, both were relieved of the role by the end of the season. Pitcher 1 happens to be Heath Bell, who averaged 44 saves and a 2.36 ERA as closer for the Padres, but struggled in his first and only season with the Marlins. Pitcher 2 is Alfredo Aceves, who had saved only four games in his career before he was thrust into the role in 2012. One is clearly more proven than the other, yet neither one was any good at closer last year. 

Skeptics will say that despite the struggles, Bell has been successful in the past while Aceves has not. This, although true, is a foolish and  idiotic way to rationalize the proven closer. Essentially, one is assigning "the closer mentality" only after the fact. Since Bell pitched well (even though he perhaps was pitching over his head and was the beneficiary of good luck), he gets labeled with having  the bulldog mindset necessary to finish out games.

Aceves, while a good pitcher in the past, experienced some bad luck in 2012 (admittedly, as did Bell), and gets labeled as lacking the guts to close. Also, his apparent hyperhidrosis (abnormal sweating) probably didn't help his cause with the media and fans alike. This success or failure, whether luck or true skill, acts as a confirmation bias to the "proven" closer hypothesis. This bias completely disregards the actual talent level and makes unnecessary and flawed assumptions based on a limited sample size. More often than not, people mistake past success as proven and past failure as utter incompetence in the role. Clearly, it's just not that cut and dry.
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Evidence of Aceves' hyperhidrosis?
Additionally, if the above evidence isn't damning enough, we see unproven pitchers succeed in these roles every year. This year alone saw the major league leader in saves (the Orioles' Jim Johnson had 51 saves) have previously limited exposure to the closer role. Johnson didn't just pitch decent in this "pressure-packed" role; he thrived in the midst of the Orioles' first pennant run in fifteen years. A situation in which most believers would think he would crumble, Johnson was light's out. And it wasn't just Johnson. First year closers Tyler Clippard, Addison Reed, and Tom Wilhelmson all saved at least 29 games with SV% rates of 85% or higher.

The problem isn't the lack of sufficient pitchers ready to step in the role. It's that, quite often, the failures are given more publicity with the successes, giving the notion that only "proven" guys can succeed. In turn, front offices can succumb to the pressures of the media and fans by going out and spending money on a high-priced closer, just for the sake of a false sense of security. Even if the closer pitches poorly, it is seen more favorably because it shows the fans and media that ownership was "trying" despite having clearly better in-house alternatives. Not only is it bad business, but it only further adds to the legend of the "proven closer".

Often, when inexperienced pitchers are assigned the role of closer, they don't have a very long leash. Given its rising status as a prominent position, closers that fail to do the job (even with limited opportunities) get wrongfully branded as being incapable of the job.

I find it ironic, that before their actual performance is looked at (example: maybe pitcher X just isn't very good), people automatically assume that that pitcher just doesn't have the stones necessary to close. This probably bothers me most of all when I hear people discuss the need for the "proven" closer.

This last point of mine is more opinion than fact, but I always felt that if those that could make it to the major leagues and have the stomach to play in front of 40,000 drunk, obnoxious, obscene, fans every night, with even more watching on live television, they wouldn't be too fazed by three outs at the end of the game. Besides, those that are fazed by that stuff probably don't last long enough to even get the opportunity to close. These people have literally spent their entire lives playing baseball, specifically training their bodies and minds to withstand the pressures of the major leagues. 

Call me cynical, but I have a hard time believing a couple of outs, one of thousands made in their careers, should be any different.
 
 
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Will Billy Butler help bring home the "bacon" for Kansas City?
By Aidan Flynn

Initially a ploy to end the run of mound dominance seen in the late 60's, the designated hitter has certainly been the most controversial position in the game since its inception forty years ago. While the National League remains tied to strategy and small-ball, the American League's adoption of the rule has eschewed this facet of the game with the sole purpose of maximizing offensive production. Undoubtedly, the DH has created the opportunity for many to showcase their great offensive talents, with no better example than all-time great, Edgar Martinez. Of course, DHs don't quite bring the same value as a field player, because they can only impact the game one way: with the bat. So, it's only appropriate that this list will focus on the best full-time hitters at the position. I say full-time, because more and more teams use the DH as a platoon/day-off arrangement, with permanent DHs as sort of a dying breed. Because of the dearth of full-time DHs, we only have the top three designated hitters listed. Onto the rankings...

3. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

Following his poor 2009, folks throughout the game were calling for the retirement of David Ortiz. That year, Ortiz hit just .238/.332/.462 and posted the worst K and BB rates of his Red Sox career. However, Ortiz has since silenced his critics by actually steadily improving since that '09 slump, culminating in 2012 with a career high in OPS+ (171) and career low in K%. While Ortiz's late career revival is one that certainly goes against the norms that come with player aging, that doesn't mean Ortiz can't sustain it, at least for a year or two. However, if there is something to derail Ortiz's production, it would be his recent run of injuries. Last year, Ortiz only played in 90 games because of an Achilles strain, forcing him to go on the DL on two separate occasions. As a big-bodied, one-dimensional, aging player, these Achilles issues are certainly concerns with Ortiz's future production. With that said, every significant offensive statistic of Ortiz has been trending upward for several years now, and even if he were not able to duplicate his excellent 2012, he should remain a valuable offensive force anchoring the Red Sox lineup. He was about 3 wins in only 90 games last year, so if healthy, he should be worth at least that much in 2013.

2. Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals

Nicknamed "Country Breakfast" (or at least according to his B-Ref page), Butler ate AL pitchers alive this past season, with  a .313/.373/.510 line, including a career high 29 HRs and 107 RBI. Entering his age 27 season, Butler has been remarkably consistent arriving on the big league stage during his 21 year old rookie campaign. The past four years are an especially good example of this consistency, as he has had at least a .291 BA (but never higher than .318), a .361 OBP (but never higher than .388), and a .461 SLG (but never higher than .510). Previously one of the best doubles hitters in the game, Butler finally developed the power Royals fans have been praying for, hitting the aforementioned career high 29 home runs. Assuming last year's power display wasn't a fluke (although you know what they say about assuming...), Butler could very well see his power continue to develop as he enters his physical prime. There's no hiding Butler can't run and can't field, but the very absence of these skills allows Butler to flourish at the designated hitter position and highlights what he is truly good at: flat-out raking. Last year, Butler tied his career high in WAR at 2.9, so it would be pretty plausible for Butler to be around and/or surpass that total this year.

1. Edwin Encarnación, Toronto Blue Jays

Affectionately nicknamed E5 (an homage to his more forgettable times as a starting third baseman), Edwin Encarnacion absolutely exploded onto the baseball landscape in 2012, spending a majority of the season penciled in as Toronto's DH. Although he was always a productive bat, Encarnacion established career highs in just about every offensive category hitting .280/.384/.557 with 42 bombs and 152 OPS+. Without having to worry about his defensive shortcomings, E5 (much quicker to type than Encarnacion...) has thrived in his new role. Thus, perhaps it is no coincidence that E5 has seen his two best offensive production (using OPS+) the past two seasons while spending a majority of his games at DH. One concern with E5 is whether his 2012 is sustainable or not. Last year could very well have been a fluke; it also could have been a sign of a player entering his prime and finally being comfortable. I honestly have no idea which it is, but like with most questions in life, the answer probably resides somewhere in between. Encarnacion put up a career high 4.6 WAR last year, and while I don't think he'll replicate last year's extraordinary offensive performance, I like his chances to at least be a 3.5+ win player next year.

Honorable Mention:

Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox

Kendrys Morales, Seattle Mariners


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Absolutely CRUSHED
 
 
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The King and his court
By Aidan Flynn

The King’s Court should be in session for a little longer now, as ace Felix Hernandez agreed to a record-breaking, seven year, $175 million extension with the Mariners. Hernandez, coming off a fourth place finish in the Cy Young voting and the 21st perfect game in big league history, will enter 2013 at 27 years young, which could be surprising to some given that he already has eight Major League seasons under his belt. As a pitcher, there is little the “King” cannot do. He is a workhorse (200+ innings past five seasons), prevents runs (career 3.22 ERA), strikes guys out (8.3 K/9), keeps the ball on the ground (career 54.4 GB%), and has an excellent walk rate (2.67 BB/9). In short, Hernandez is on the shortlist for best pitchers in the game today and this contract is undoubtedly paying him like one. At $25 million per year, Hernandez’s AAV (Average Annual Value) is tied for the most among pitchers.

However, as good as Felix is and has been throughout his career, is this kind of investment smart? For 99% of pitchers, I’d vehemently say no. Pitchers as a whole are extreme risks, as we see hundreds of pitchers land on the DL each year. Even those with supposedly perfect mechanics (see Prior, Mark), can and do flame out just because of the very delicate nature of pitching. Just think about it; there are way more Mark Fidyrich’s, Fernando Valenzuela’s, and JR Richard’s, than there are Nolan Ryans. Pitching is a science and even now, we are still scratching the surface of very intricacies of throwing a baseball sixty feet six inches. Nevertheless, Felix is unlike 99% of pitchers and is among the elite in nearly every aspect of the art. For example, Baseball Prospectus’ pitching mechanic guru, Doug Thorburn, recently gave Felix much praise in his mechanical development since his Major League debut, (subscription required). While I would be very hesitant to invest that much money and years into ANY pitcher, Hernandez (along with Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw) is one of the few exceptions to that rule.

Additionally, I feel as though this is one move Seattle had needed to make. For years, Felix’s name has been whispered along the trade rumor grapevine, offering the potential of a king’s ransom (pun completely intended). Yet, with the on-field product continuing to struggle (last place finish in AL West in 2012), fans have shown up less and less to games. The past two years have brought about Seattle’s lowest yearly attendance figures since 1995, and the club actually drew about 100,000 less fans this year despite winning eight more games. The only reason this number isn't even lower is quite simply, because of the King. Seattle’s favorite son was signed as a 16 year old prodigy and has spent his entire career in the Mariners organization. The love affair is so great, that the left field bleachers during his starts transform into a yellow, manic, mob known as the King’s Court (hence the reference in the intro). For anyone that has seen the Court in action, they surely understand why Felix is so important to the club and city. He is Seattle. He is the ultimate Mariner. He is the King.

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The final out in Felix Hernandez's perfect game on August 15, 2012. 92 mph change-up!
 
 
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Jed Lowrie is talented, but will he stay on the field enough to matter?
This upcoming season, the Houston Astros will move from the NL Central to the AL West, where they once again expect finish at the bottom of their division after ending 2012 with a league-worst 107 losses. It should do them no favors then, that the Astros now must face 2012 playoff teams, the Oakland Athletics and the Texas Rangers, as well as the restocked Los Angeles Angels, on a regular basis. Monday night saw a trade in which two of these newly-created rivals, the Astros and the Athletics, swapped young talent. In this transaction, Oakland received infield utilityman, Jed Lowrie, and pitcher Fernando Rodriguez, while the Astros acquired a trio of young talents in the form of 1B/noted left-handed masher Chris Carter, right-handed pitcher Brad Peacock, and catcher Max Stassi. Below, Nick has a quick write-up on Jed Lowrie, followed by my (Aidan's) outlook on the new Astros and my first impressions of the trade

By Nick Rabasco:

In 2012, Jed Lowrie played in a career high 97 games.  Games played has been a huge problem for Jed in his 5 year career, with numerous DL stints during that time.  Lowrie has shown flashes of being a solid and productive player.  For example, in 2010 with the Red Sox, he batted .287/.381/.526 with an OPS+ of 139.  However that came in only 55 games and 197 plate appearances.  Last season, Jed was productive as well in 387 plate appearances, batting .244/.331/.438 with 16 home runs and an OPS+ of 108.  Despite his low batting average in 2012, he was still able to walk a lot and get on base.  He walked 11.1% of the time (10.1% in career), which is above the league average by almost 3%. Clearly, it should be no surprise that he was coveted by Billy Beane and the Moneyball A's.  In addition, the A’s are receiving a very versatile player, who has experienced playing time at all infield positions.  For his career, he has saved -4 runs with a fielding percentage of .977.  Lowrie was a 2 win player in 2012 for Houston, but if he is able to put it all together and stay on the field for a full major league season, I believe Lowrie can put up a WAR of around 3. 

By Aidan Flynn:

Unlike the current island of misfit toys donning the Astros uniform in 2013, Houston added a decent amount of talent in this trade. The only big leaguer of this bunch is Chris Carter, who spent time at 1B and DH for the division winning A's. Carter has big time power, evidenced by his 13.6 AB/HR rate, that would have ranked fourth in the American League had he enough plate appearances to qualify. However, as one usually expects with big-time power, Carter does have an excessive strikeout rate. For instance, Carter's K rate of 31.9% ranked 9th highest among those with at least 200 PA's. In spite of this, Carter should still remain an offensive threat because of his aforementioned power potential and well above average walk rate (15%). Additionally, Carter can be better utilized as part of a platoon, just as he was last year in Oakland with lefty Brandon Moss. Carter, a right handed hitter, hit lefties to the tune of a .241/.404/.494, which was actually suppressed by nature of his tough home ballpark. Moving to the more hitter-friendly Minute-Maid Park, Carter should certainly improve his offensive numbers and help solidify an otherwise anemic Houston offense. 

The next piece of this trade is once highly touted right-hander Brad Peacock. Peacock's name may sound familiar, as he was indeed, the very same Peacock sent to Oakland as part of last year's Gio Gonzalez swap. 2012 was certainly a down year for the young righty, as he was killed for a 6.01 ERA in 135 innings for Triple-A Sacremento. To most, a 6.01 ERA in any level for an extended period of time would be the death blow to a shot at the major leagues; however, with Peacock, there are some silver linings in his otherwise dreadful season. For one, Peacock struck hitters at a well above-average rate of 9.3 K/9, flashing a plus curve ball and a fastball that can touch 96. Additionally, Peacock was the unfortunate recipient of bad luck, as he had an absurd .340 BABIP during his 2012 minor league season. Furthermore, Peacock could be a weapon in the bullpen if starting doesn't work out, as he features the plus offerings necessary to succeed in that role. All told, Peacock still has the talent to succeed, even with last year's struggles. 

Of all the players going to Houston, the farthest away from achieving big-league stardom is catcher Max Stassi. Stassi finished up 2012 in High-A Stockton, where hit hit .268/.331/.468 with 18 2Bs and 16 HRs. Stassi still has some work to do on offense, as he strikes out too much and has too liberal of an approach at the plate. Defensively, Stassi has always been advanced beyond his years, with a strong and accurate throwing arm and excellent receiving skills. There is a good chance Stassi will make it to the Majors with his glove alone and any offense contribution whatsoever could make him everyday player.

First Impressions:

Winner: Astros

For an oft-injured man of glass, the Astros made out pretty well in this trade. They infused some youth and skill into a talent-starved major league team. In short, they acquired a strong platoon hitter, a good innings-eater that should at worst be a #4 starter or set-up man, and a glove first catcher. That may not seem like much, but all of these players are close to major league guarantees and should represent major upgrades over the replacement players currently filling out the starting spots. This will not necessarily make the Astros a better team in 2013, but they had no shot at competing, with or without Lowrie. To me, this trade undoubtedly puts them in a better shot at contending in the coming years.

Loser: Athletics

Don't get me wrong; Lowrie is a very talented player and one that is certainly capable of making this a coup for the A's. However, players with his kind of injury history just aren't cured with the wave of a magic wand and I have a hard time seeing him staying healthy enough to make this a win for the A's. I understand the A's didn't trade top 100 prospects or anything but still, the lost value in a strong platoon partner and back-end innings eater still outweighs the gain of Lowrie in my opinion.

 

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