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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

 
 
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Clayton Kershaw should make a run at 2013 CY
By Nick Rabasco:

The game of baseball is rich with very talented left-handed pitchers.  From Lefty Grove to Sandy Koufax to Steve Carlton to Randy Johnson, there is a long line of tradition from southpaw aces. Some are starting to close out their great careers, such as C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee.  Some young stars like David Price and Clayton Kershaw are quickly emerging, and look to have long and healthy careers ahead of them.  Although a majority of pitchers in the game are right-handed, 6 of the top 10 WAR leaders for pitchers in 2012 were left-handed, including 3 in the top 5.  Left handers are a rarity in today’s game, but prove to be very valuable to a team’s staff.  I understand we kind of wimped out of the hard rankings (just rank the top five pitchers in the game, regardless of handedness), but this allows us to discuss more players overall.  Nonetheless, the talent among southpaw starters is strong and should remain with the further development of the likes of Kershaw, Price, and the young phenoms Matt Moore and Chris Sale.

5. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

With the exception of his 2009 campaign, Cole Hamels has been one of the most consistent arms in all of baseball throughout his career.  Over the past three seasons, his ERA’s have been 3.06, 2.79, and 3.05 respectively.  His ERA+’s have been 133, 137, and 131 over that same span.  It doesn’t get much more consistent than that.  He has also been extremely durable for the Phillies, as he has thrown at least 200 innings in 4 of the past 5 seasons.  Hamels also sports impressive strikeout and walk rates.  For his career, his BB/9 is at 2.2 and his K/9 sits at 9.  It looks like Hamels will be staying in Philly for a long time to come and he has deserved his contract extension.  You can expect Hamels to be just as productive as his 4 win season in 2012 next year. 

4. C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees

CC Sabathia is heading his fifth season of his long seven year deal with the New York Yankees.  Through the first four years, he has proven to be very successful in the pinstripes.  C.C. is most known for being a workhorse, as he has compiled 200+ innings in each of his last 6 seasons, including at least 230 in 5 of his last 6. He also has not had an ERA above 3.38 in his past 7 seasons.  His ERA+ has never dipped below 100 in any season, and is at 125 for his entire career.  However, C.C. is coming off a season that shows he may be declining just a bit.  He still had a great year, but his WAR of 3.3 was the lowest it has been since 2006.  He also was limited to exactly 200 innings, which is at least 30 less than 2009, 2010 and 2011.  Sabathia will be 32 years old in 2013, but he still figures to be the leader and ace of the Yankees staff in 2013.  I would expect him to give his usual 200 innings with an ERA in the mid 3s again for New York. 

3. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

Cliff Lee won six games in 2012.  That was all he was able to muster in 211 innings and 30 starts.  Some would be ignorant enough to just look at that number and think that Lee was a failure and had a down year in 2012.  This is false, as Lee was actually one of the better pitchers in all of baseball.  He threw 211 innings and had an ERA of 3.16 with an ERA+ of 127.  He also struck out 207 batters and led the league in BB/9 (1.2) and SO/BB (7.39).  To further look at Lee’s unbelievable control, he did not hit a single batter in 2012 and let loose just 4 wild pitches.  Lee has been extremely durable and consistent since his Cy Young campaign in 2008.  He has thrown at least 200 innings in his past 5 seasons and hasn’t had an ERA above 3.22 in any of those 5 years. I expect more of the same for Lee in 2013 and should be around a 4 win player for the Phillies.

2. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

At just 26 years old, David Price has emerged as one of the top pitchers in the game of baseball.  Price won the American League Cy Young award in 2012 after he finished as the runner-up in 2010.  Last season, Price compiled 20 wins with an ERA of 2.56 and an ERA+ of 149 in 211 innings for the Rays.  He also had impressive strikeout and walk rates, with a K/9 of 8.7 and a BB/9 of 2.5.  Durability seems to be a key with these pitchers, and Price is no exception.  He has thrown at least 200 innings in each of his first 3 full seasons.  He has also struck out at least 200 batters in each of the past 2 seasons.  Price was a 6 win player in 2012 so it would be tough to expect that kind of production again next season, but I still believe he will be around a 4 or 5 win player in 2013.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw is just 24 years old and has already established himself as one of, if not the most, elite pitchers in major league baseball.  He has led the league in ERA in the past two seasons at 2.28 and 2.53 respectively.  He has thrown at least 200 innings in each of his last 3 seasons, including 227.2 in 2012.  He led the league in strikeouts in 2011 with 248, and followed it up with 229 in 2012.  Another stat he led the league in for 2011 and 2012 is WHIP, at 0.97 and 1.02 respectively.  Kershaw gave up just 6.7 hits per nine innings in 2012 which again led the league.  His ERA+ for his entire career is staggering at 138.  Clayton seems likely to cash in on a monster contract at some point, given his track record and young age.  He was a 6+ win pitcher in 2011 and 2012 and I would expect around 6 again for 2013. 


Honorable Mention:

Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers

Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals


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Video evidence of Kershaw's dominance
 
 
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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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Jason Heyward ranks highly on our list
By Aidan Flynn

Right field is a position that has long been defined by two traits: a power bat and a power arm. All-time greats Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron both called right field home and are two of the greatest home run hitters in the history of the game. Even today, clips of Roberto Clemente throwing runners out from right can be seen on MLB Network reruns. Today is no different, with many of the best players at the position exhibiting both of skills. As for game's current crop of right fielders, it is a bit top heavy, with very little separating the players on our honorable mention list from the last spot on this list. In my opinion, I really feel as though there is a definitive top four with number five being a matter of personal preference.  Even with the lack of top tier talent currently, continued progressions from likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Jason Heyward could once again give right field a couple of the best players in the game. In addition, the tremendous abilities of prospects Wil Myers and Oscar Taveras could further put the limelight back in this corner outfield spot. Fittingly, both of these precocious talents have the prerequisite traits for right field, possessing a rifle arm and a powerful bat, much like our number five right fielder in the game today...

*NOTE: Justin Upton was ranked fifth on this list prior to his trade to the Braves; however, he will be playing left field this upcoming year and therefore is excluded from these rankings. I did discuss Upton as a player in the most recent Behind the Trade, lauding his well balanced skillset but also questioning his massive home/road splits and consistency (or lack thereof). If he would have been traded prior to our left field rankings, he would have been left off the top 5, coming in at my number six slot.

5. Josh Reddick, Oakland A's

Last year, Reddick burst onto the baseball scene, posting a 4.5 win season and was an integral part in Oakland's surprising division title. Acquired as part of Billy Beane's roster overhaul last winter, Reddick showcases a wide range of skills that made him successful not only in 2012, but should continue to make him a valuable player in the years to come. Defensively, Reddick is among the game's elite, posting at least 10 DRS the past two seasons, with an absurd 19 runs saved last year alone. Much of his defensive excellence is owed to his strong throwing arm (check out this impressive throw to nab former 30 SB man, Jason Bourgeois), which was credited with 15 outfield assists last year, good for third most in the entire major leagues. With above-average range and the aforementioned rocket for an arm, Reddick is an absolute weapon in right, especially capable of slowing down runners from moving first to third.

Offensively, Reddick is more of a work in progress, especially compared to his right field peers. Last year, Reddick hit .242/.305/.463 with 32 HRs, 85 RBI, and a 110 OPS+. While they are solid numbers, Reddick lags behind many right fielders who are off this list when using OPS+. Right fielders Torii Hunter (132), Carlos Beltran (128), Nick Swisher (126), and Jay Bruce (118) all have higher OPS+ than Reddick, and all have a longer track record as well. In response to this, I point to evidence that foreshadows possible offensive improvement  as soon as next season. The statistic BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) is a useful tool in explaining fluctuations in batting average for a given year, as any extremes from a player's career average usually can be expected to regress to the player's mean. Last year, Reddick had an abnormally low BABIP of .269, below his career BABIP of .277, and well below the league average at around .300. With a simple regression to the mean, it is very reasonable to expect to expect an increase in batting average in 2012. In addition, it is also possible that with Reddick's newfound power (career high 32 HRs, .463), pitchers may pitch him more carefully in 2013. This would result in an uptick in his walk rate and consequently, increase his lackluster OBP (.305) into at least average to slightly above average territory. If Reddick can indeed raise his OBP (aided by a predicted increase in BABIP), and maintain his power and defense, Reddick has a very legitimate case for being the fifth best right fielder in the game today, and one who is very capable of 4+ wins in 2013.

4. Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The crown jewel of the free agent class, Josh Hamilton shocked the baseball world when he signed a 5 year, $125 million contract with his long-time division rival, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Hamilton experienced a tumultuous 2012, with both the highest of highs (MVP level  April/May, owner of just the 16th four HR game in ML history), and the lowest of lows (prolonged summer slump, struggled as Rangers lost division title). Even with his erratic performance, Hamilton still accumulated a well above average line of .285/.354/.577 with 43 home runs and 128 runs batted in. Undoubtedly, when he's on (and healthy), Hamilton is among the best in the game. However, Hamilton's inconsistency, along with his age, injury history, and unfavorable ballpark transition, prevent him from achieving a higher ranking on this list. Additionally, Hamilton's eroding plate discipline saw him have the highest chase rate in the Majors, obviously not a good sign for anybody, let alone someone with the aforementioned red flags. Nick wrote up a good piece on Hamilton back when he first signed with the Angels, explaining many of these very warnings. But I digress, as these lists are supposed to celebrate the player and recognize his talents on the field, not nitpick every fault a player has. Nevertheless, Hamilton is unquestionably is an exceptional talent in the batter's box, and remains one of the biggest offensive threats in the game.  

In addition to acquainting himself with a new team, Hamilton will also have to acquaint himself with a new position. Hamilton, a left and center fielder for most his career, is expected to take over in right for the Halos, completing an all-world defensive outfield trio with Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos. It should be noted that Hamilton has played in right field before, but in limited action (only 70 career games). Hamilton's defensive performances up to this point really have depended on his position. In center field, Hamilton has a career -18 defensive runs saved, clearly below average. However, in the less demanding position of left field, Hamilton is a +12 DRS player, with 14 outfield assists in limited action. Like left field, right field is further down the defensive spectrum than center field, and Hamilton should be similar defensively in right as he was in left. 

Hamilton was only a 3.4 win player in 2012, as his subpar defense in center field really hurt his overall value. I fully expect a defensive improvement in right field, and could be a 4.5+ win player even if his offense doesn't transition flawlessly to Anaheim

3. Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves

As one of the more hyped prospects in recent memory, Heyward entered this season with a cloud of disappointment following a poor 2011 campaign. Heyward did more than make up for it in 2012, rebounding with a 5.5 win season, garnering MVP votes and his first career Gold Glove in the process. Certainly one of the more talented  physical specimens in the game today,  Heyward's career revival can be attributed to his power and defensive development. Offensively, hit .269/.335/.479 with 27 home runs and a 117 OPS+, a far cry from his .227/.319/.389 line in 2011. Remember, that Heyward will only be 23 come Opening Day '13, so it is reasonable to expect these numbers to continue to improve as he reaches his prime. Additionally, Heyward impacts the game offensively by being an excellent baserunner, without having typical "burner" speed. This often overlooked, underrated trait, is one way Heyward adds to his overall offensive value without being an absolute masher. For example, Heyward ranked sixth in all of baseball in UBR (Ultimate Base Running), which measures extra bases taken (going 1st to 3rd on a single), not grounding into double plays, stolen base rate, among others (for full list of what UBR measures, click here). Just for comparison sake, Heyward was worth nearly 8 runs on the bases alone in 2012, while only stealing 21 bases; former teammate and documented speedster, Michael Bourn, stole 42 bases, but was only worth 6.6 runs on the bases last year. Although Heyward may be a jack of all trades, master of none on offense, he truly is an elite defender in right.

Not a whole lot can be said about Heyward on defense except that he is the best at his position. Whether you look at Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Range Factor (RF), or even just outfield assists, Heyward ranks #1 every time. Just this past year alone, Heyward saved 20 runs (worth approximately 2 wins) manning right field for the Braves. This isn't just some one year fluke either; Heyward has saved at least 15 runs in every season of his career, with the most DRS and highest UZR over that same time. When you add up Heyward's complete package, he becomes a much more valuable commodity than some may give him credit for. Sure, Heyward needs to cut down on the strikeouts and regain some of his declining walk rate, but at only 23 years of age, he's got some time to figure it out. I think Heyward should only continue to improve with age and could very well surpass his 5.5 WAR in 2013.

2. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

The ultimate rags-to-riches story in the Major Leagues, Bautista's transformation from minor league journeyman to one of the premier power hitters in the game is nothing short of spectacular. For those that don't remember how bad Bautista was, he was traded for Robinson Diaz back in 2008. Don't know who Robinson Diaz is? Well neither do I, and the Blue Jays got a perennial all-star for a player who has been out of baseball since 2009.  Whereas the player ranked number three on this list, Jason Heyward, didn't possess an extremely visible skill (defense doesn't count unless your name is Ozzie Smith), Bautista does possess such a trait and that is his light-tower power.

Since his break-out season in 2010, no player has hit more home runs than Bautista (124) and ranks second only to Miguel Cabrera in slugging percentage. However, Bautista's offensive prowess doesn't stop with his power, as Bautista exhibits an excellent eye (career 13.5 BB%, 5% better than league average) and doesn't strike out like big-time power hitters usually do. Last year, Bautista was having typical Bautista season until going down with a wrist injury, sustained during this painful at-bat. Even with his shortened campaign, Bautista put up a respectable .241/.358/.527 line that was especially hurt by an abnormally low BABIP of .215. Once this BABIP normalizes, I don't  think it would be too much to expect numbers similar to his previous couple of seasons. Nevertheless, any injury regarding the hands or wrist can be especially troubling and it should be interesting to see how Bautista's health fares this upcoming season.

On defense, Bautista isn't quite the stalwart he is on offense. That isn't meant to be an insult; it is merely a testament to Bautista's incredible hitting ability. Throughout his career, Bautista has hovered around league average, with negative -3 DRS in right field for his career, but has posted positive DRS numbers on several different occasions (including last year). Another note of interest with Bautista is that, in the past, he has split time between third base and right field. This sort of flip-flopping on the diamond could have had an adverse effect on his defensive abilities at the time. Then, perhaps it is not a coincidence that Bautista's defensive ratings have steadily improved as he has moved away permanently from the hot corner. However, as long Bautista continues to rake, I think any defensive showing at all really is just gravy for the Blue Jays. If Bautista maintains his offensive talents and just stays healthy, Bautista could double his 2012 WAR total and be a 6+ win player.

1. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

Mel Ott, Eddie Mathews, Alex Rodriguez, Tony Conigliaro, Frank Robinson, Ted Williams, Bob Horner. This is a list of players who hit at least 90 home runs before they turned 23. There's one name on that list I forgot, and he just happens to be number #1 in our rankings. Giancarlo "Don't call me Mike" Stanton, is right alongside that list of immortals (and Bob Horner) and ranks #1 among right fielders in the game today. Stanton exhibits just about everything you want to see in right fielder, including the best power stroke in the game today. Stanton lead the league in ISO (statistic that subtracts batting average from slugging percentage), slugging percentage (.608), and AB/HR ratio (12.1). However, as great a power hitter as Stanton is, he doesn't fall under the one-dimensional slugger stereotype. Stanton, who, once again, is only 23!, hit .290 and has a career walk rate of 10% (2% better than league average). With the fire sale of the Marlins to the Blue Jays this offseason, Stanton will be the only threat in an otherwise pathetic offense. With that said, Stanton could very well see his walk rate climb even higher, as pitchers try to avoid throwing anything within a mile radius to him. Overall, Stanton's presence is one that is unrivaled in the game today and undoubtedly has one of the foremost offensive skillsets in the game today.

In spite of the reputation that hulking sluggers only have one facet of their game (hitting, more specifically power), Stanton, as previously mentioned, doesn't fall victim to this lazy stereotype. In addition to being able to hit for average and have a good idea at the plate, Stanton brings substantial value on defense as well. Stanton has ranked as a positive defender every year in the Majors, including a +10 DRS rating and a +9 UZR  just last year. Clearly, Stanton has a more well-rounded skillset than might be assumed just by looking at his intimidating physique (6'5", 245 lbs). Heck, Stanton was even recruited to play tight end at USC for Pete Carroll before signing on with the Marlins back in 2007. Stanton is a rare breed of power and defense and could be argued that only Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have more trade value than this precocious 23 year old. Just going back to that initial list, Stanton isn't with company of just all-stars; he's with the company of inner-circle HoFers (once again, except Bob Horner). Add everything up, and Stanton was and is a fairly confident choice as the best right fielder in the game today.

If I do have any qualms with Stanton, it is that he has a high strikeout rate and small, yet noticeable, injury history. Stanton struck out a 143 times last year as he also battled knee inflammation that required surgery in early July. I do think these are some things to be aware of for Stanton in the coming years. However, as I said before, Stanton has it all: an all-around skillset, the legendary company, and the god-given talent. Stanton missed close to 40 games in 2012 with the aforementioned knee injury, but still put up over 5 WAR. If healthy, Stanton could very well be in the mix for the NL MVP, with a good shot at putting up over 7 WAR.

Honorable Mention:

*NOTE: As you can see, there are plenty of players with whom I wrestled with for the last slot on my list. As I said earlier, I don't think there really isn't a wrong choice here and is a matter of personal preference.

Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals

Nick Swisher, Cleveland Indians

Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles

Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds

Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers

 Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox



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Obligatory Giancarlo Stanton mammoth home run
 
 
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Matt Kemp and his rare power-speed blend makes him one of the best in the game
 By Nick Rabasco:         
          Center field has become one of the best positions in baseball today. Young players have come in and made a huge impact right away.  In 2012, we witnessed two of the greatest rookie seasons in major league history from Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, both of whom saw a significant amount of time in center field.  Even with those two most likely switching to left field in 2013, we still see a tremendous amount of talent.  In the past two seasons, we have seen 5 center fielders finish in the top 5 for the MVP voting.  This position shows a tremendous combination of both power and speed.  Guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Kemp, Mike Trout, and Andrew McCutchen have proven to excel with this rare combination.  We also see huge power numbers from guys like Curtis Granderson, who has put up at least 40 bombs in each of the past two seasons.  This position requires great defense as well, needing a ton of ground to be covered and being the leader of the outfield.  We saw great defense from guys like Michael Bourn and Mike Trout in 2012 and that certainly should continue.  With a great mix of different guys providing power, speed and defense, center field is absolutely one of the brightest positions in the game right now

5. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles

Adam Jones has been getting better and better since he came over to Baltimore in a lopsided trade that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle.  The 26 year old center fielder played in all 162 games in 2012 and was a huge reason why the Orioles were able to jump into the postseason.  Jones batted .287/.334/.505 with 32 big flies, 39 doubles, 16 stolen bases and an OPS+ of 125.  Every one of those numbers were career highs for Jones.  One thing that he struggles just a bit with is patience and striking out.  He walked just 34 times and struck out 126 times in 2012 and has a career OBP of just .323.  Nonetheless, Jones was a well above average offensive player in 2012 for the Orioles and I expect him to have another fabulous season.  Defensively, Jones picked up his second career gold glove in center field, despite saving -16 runs in 2012.  He also had 7 outfield assists and 8 errors.  Overall, Jones was a 3.4 win player in 2012 and I’d expect him to be around that number again in 2013.  

4. Michael Bourn, currently a free agent (Braves in 2012)

Michael Bourn was about an average offensive player in 2012 (99 OPS+).  He batted a pedestrian .274/.348/.391 with 9 home runs, 26 doubles, 10 triples and 42 stolen bases.  The element of speed is what makes Bourn such a feared leadoff hitter.  He has stolen at least 50 bags 3 different times in his career.  The knock on Bourn is his strikeouts.  He struck out a career high 155 times in 2012, which is way too high for a guy who can better utilize his speed by simply making contact and putting the ball in play.  What puts Bourn this high in the rankings is his defense.  It can be argued that he is the best, if not one of the best, outfielders in all of baseball.  Bourn saved 24 runs in 2012 for the Atlanta Braves, and committed just 2 errors with a fielding percentage of .995.  A decent offensive player combined with a tremendous defensive player was good enough to make Bourn a 6 win player in 2012.  Although the defense is expected to come down from his superb 2012, he should still be very productive and a 4.5+ win player in 2013 even though he will be 30 years of age next season.  

3. Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers young center fielder broke out and had his best season in 2012.  Jackson hit .300/.377/.479 with 16 long balls, 29 doubles, a league leading 10 triples, 12 stolen bases and an OPS+ of 130.  Jackson’s stolen base rate, however, declined as he failed to steal 20 bases, which he had done in both 2010 and 2011.  Detroit’s leadoff man, Jackson also cut down on his strikeouts.  He worked with Jim Leyland and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon with creating less movement in his load with his front foot and leg kick and it paid off big time.  Jackson still struck out 134 times, but that was 47 less than what he had in 2011.  He also established a career high in walks with 67, which is a good sign for Tigers fans.  Defensively, Jackson has never saved less than 5 runs, and has saved 47 for his career.  This is extremely impressive being in the spacious outfield in Tiger Stadium.  Jackson was a 5.2 win player in 2012 and I’d expect more of the same again for 2013.  

2. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

Matt Kemp has emerged as one of the best players in the game today, and some can argue that he is number one.  Kemp was bit by the injury bug in 2012, but in 106 games he still put up outstanding numbers.  He batted .303/.367/.538 with 23 home runs, 22 doubles, 9 steals, and an OPS+ of 147.  When he played a full year in 2011, he finished as the runner-up in the MVP voting.  That year, Kemp batted .324/.399/.586 with 39 home runs, 33 doubles, 40 stolen bases, and an OPS+ of 172.  Kemp has been a bit below average in center field however, saving -55 runs for his entire career, despite winning 2 Gold Gloves.  Kemp is still just 27 years old, and coming back at full health in 2013, I expect him to have a monster season for the L.A. Dodgers.  He was a 7.8 win player in his MVP caliber 2011 and I would expect him to be around 6 wins in 2013.  

1. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

Andrew McCutchen broke out in a huge way in 2012 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, finishing third in the National League MVP race.  He batted .327/.400/.553 with 31 home runs, 29 doubles, 6 triples, 20 stolen bases and an OPS+ of 164.  These numbers are all well above his career averages and it only figures to get better for him as he is still just 25 years old.  Even with 132 strike outs, McCutchen was still able to shatter his career highs in a lot of major offensive categories.  On defense, McCutchen was just below an average fielder for the Pirates in 2012, saving -5 runs.  He did however commit just one error and boasted a fielding percentage of .997.  Andrew was a 7 win player in 2013 and it is hard to expect another season like that.  McCutchen has all kinds of talent and I’d expect him to be just under a 7 win player at around 6-6.5.  

HONORABLE MENTION:
Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
Angel Pagan, San Francisco Giants
B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves

 
 
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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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