The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

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National League Baseball Predictions – 2013

Since this is the second part of a two-part mini-series, I’ll dispense with a redundant introduction.  If you want to read Part 1, my American League Predictions, that initial introduction should suffice.

So, let’s get on with it.

National League

East

1)  Washington – Fields two of the most exciting players in the game (Strasburg and Harper).  Made the playoffs last year without breaking a sweat.  Could win a hundred games this year.  Harper will win the N.L. MVP award.  Strasburg averaged 11 K’s / 9 innings last year, and could win the Cy Young award this year.

2)  Atlanta – Two-thirds of their new outfield, the Brothers Upton, have been more disappointing than the latest unemployment numbers, and the third, Jason Heyward, has had his share of growing pains as well.  Still, no team in their division outside of Washington is obviously better.  87 wins.

3)  Philadelphia – Appears to be melting before us like a snowman in the March sun.  Older, residual talent, mostly of the pitching variety, will be sufficient to grind through an 84-win season.

4)  New York – A couple of young players, perhaps Ike Davis and Matt Harvey, will shine, but a sub-par outfield and overall lack of depth will ensure another sub-.500 season out in Queens.

5)  Florida – Is there anything left to root for down in Miami?  Fans should stay home in droves this year in protest of this sham of a franchise.

Central

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Cincinnati – Votto, Bruce and Choo (acquired from Cleveland) will produce oodles of offense, while Cueto and Latos will hold down a respectable staff.  92 wins should be sufficient to take this division.

2)  St. Louis – Yadier Molina might be in the first-half of a HOF career.  Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran are still fine players, but both are well past 30 years old.  Pitching staff appears adequate, if unspectacular = 86 wins.

3)  Milwaukee – “There once was a player named Ryan / For PED’s he kept sayin’ he’d not tried ’em / But his name it did appear / on a client’s list so clear / Makes you wonder how much more he’ll be denyin’.”  83 wins.

4)   Pittsburgh – Because the Cubs don’t have Andrew McCutchen.  Once again, a sub-.500 team.  77 wins.

5)  Chicago – Staff “ace” Matt Garza is a perennial tease.  New addition Edwin Jackson, now on his 8th team in eleven years, changes teams more often than a hooker changes her underwear.  But really, it’s always been about an afternoon in the sun at Wrigley, hasn’t it?

West

1)  Los Angeles – Manager Don Mattingly needs to drive this expensive new vehicle into first place, or upper management might be looking for a new driver next season.  With Kershaw and Greinke at the top of the rotation, and Kemp, A-Gone, Hanley, Crawford and Ethier in the lineup, this team either wins the division, or heads will roll.  95 wins.

2)  San Francisco – Pencil them in as one of the two N.L. Wild Card teams this year, because nobody does it better. Tim Lincecum will look to rebound and join the highly capable Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner in what should once again be a top-five N.L. pitching staff.  Catcher Buster Posey may be the best in the game.  87 wins.

3)  San Diego – Has apparently moved in the fences this year, which should help Alonso, Quentin, and Headley (one of baseball’s best kept secrets.)  But what the fences giveth, the fences will take away, namely an overly spacious park where fly-balls used to go to die.  But the pitching staff, led by the enigmatic Edinson Volquez, could suffer a bit as a result.   81 wins.

4)  Arizona – So what does Arizona know about Justin Upton that the Braves don’t know?  Martin Prado is a versatile player, and there should still be enough thump in the lineup to keep the score interesting.  The staff, with Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy, could be this team’s strength, if healthy.  79 wins.

5)  Colorado – Once upon a time, they were the toast of the American West, drawing over four million souls in their initial campaign.  Now, although a healthy Tulowitzki, along with Car-Go and Fowler should generate some runs, the pitching staff may be the worst in baseball.  Also, it’s time to tow the S.S. Helton out to sea so the Navy could use it for strafing runs.  71 wins.

So there you go, folks.  Your five N.L. playoff teams are probably Washington, Atlanta, Cincinnati, L.A., and San Fran.  I predict that the Nats will go on to defeat the Angels in a seven game World Series classic.

Or not.

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Ten Facts You Need to Know about the First-Place Pirates

When I glanced at the N.L. standings this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Pittsburgh Pirates sat atop the N.L. Central division.  With the Orioles and the Mets also making legitimate runs towards a spot in the playoffs, this has truly been a surprising year in Major League baseball.

English: Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirat...

English: Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates playing third base in his third MLB game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then it occurred to me that I knew next to nothing about the actual players on this season’s Pirate roster.  Here are some things I learned today, which I decided to share with you.

1)  Third baseman Pedro Alvarez has 15 home runs and 48 RBI to go along with an OPS+ of 118.  Despite having been written off as a failed prospect by many after last seasons dismal first trip to Pittsburgh, Alvarez has a chance to become the first Pirate since Jason Bay in 2006 to top 30 home runs and 100 RBI in a season.

2)  Closer Joel Hanrahan, with 21 saves and a 1.09 WHIP, is on pace to come close to matching last season’s 40 saves and 1.04 WHIP.  His ERA+ this season, 152, is excellent, though not quite as amazing as last year’s Pedro Martinez-like mark of 203.

3)  Staff ace James McDonald, who won just nine of 31 starts last season, already has eight wins in sixteen starts this year.  Part of his success is because he’s been pitching deeper into games.  He’s on pace for his first 200-innings pitched year in his career.

4)  54-year old manager Clint Hurdle has been managing for ten seasons.  He managed the Rockies for eight seasons, leading them to the N.L. Pennant in 2007, and is now in his second year as the Pirates manager.

As a player, Hurdle was considered a major Phenom back in 1977 when he first came up with the Royals at age 19.  But in his 515 game Major League career, he posted a triple slash line of .259 / .341 / .403, with an OPS+ of 106.

PNC Park

PNC Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One has to wonder if Hurdle’s disappointing career has made him the perfect leader for a squad of players who clearly need to be patiently nurtured to succeed? So far, the answer seems to be in the affirmative.

5)  Despite the success of the Pirates to date, they still have the second-lowest average attendance (24,218) per game in the N.L. this year.  Only the Astros have drawn worse.  It would be nice to see the sports fans of Pittsburgh embrace the Pirates as much as they do their beloved Steelers.

Neil Walker

Neil Walker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6)  Pirates second baseman, 26-year old Neil Walker, was actually born in Pittsburgh.  A remarkably consistent player, Walker posted a .992 fielding percentage last season, exactly the same as his current fielding percentage this year.  A switch-hitter, Walker is batting .275 this year along with a .338 on-base percentage.  His career numbers in those two categories are .279 and .338, respectively.

Hall of Fame infielder Bobby Wallace was also born in Pittsburgh (though he never played for the Pirates.)  His career batting average was .268 (to Walker’s .279) and his career on-base percentage was .332 (to Walker’s .338.)  His career OPS+ was 105 (to Walker’s 108.)  What am I getting at?  Nothing.  I just think those are some interesting facts.

7)  In addition to his .412 on-base percentage and .610 slugging average, All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen currently leads the N.L. with a .360 batting average.  With 16 homers and 14 steals, he is on-track for his first 30-30 season.  His OPS+ this year is a tremendous 181.  If McCutchen played his home games in New York or Boston, far more people would be aware that this 25-year old star is already one of the top ten players in the game.

Andrew McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8)  PNC is one of the few ballparks in the country that lets you bring in outside food and water (no alcohol, of course.)  Retired Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen sometimes signs autographs for fans waiting in line at his restaurant, Manny’s Barbecue.  There are 6,500 seats at PNC that cost just nine dollars.  With just 38,127 seats, PNC is the second smallest park in Major League baseball.

9)  G. Ogden Nutting is the patriarch of the clan that has majority ownership in the Pirates, and in the Ogden Newspaper chain.  He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican politicians for many years.  The editorials in his newspapers often rail against the evils of socialism.  That’s all well and good — it’s his money and those are his newspapers — but it raises two pertinent questions:

Question 1 – If socialism is so awful, why, then, does Nutting accept millions of dollars in revenue sharing annually so that his “less-fortunate” small market franchise can compete with the wealthier franchises in New York and Boston?  Shouldn’t the invisible hand of the free market be allowed to determine winners and losers among the MLB franchises?

Question 2 – Does Nutting have a responsibility to the people of Pittsburgh in general, and Pirates fans in particular, to hold up his end of the bargain in creating and maintaining a competitive franchise, given that the City of Pittsburgh publicly financed his stadium to the tune of over $260 million dollars?  It’s nice that the Pirates are currently in first place, and they did sign Andrew McCutchen to a long-term deal several months ago, but are they really committed to building a successful franchise for the long-term?  Time will tell.

10)  The old man of the pitching staff, 35-year old A.J. Burnett, has averaged 8.2 strikeouts / 9 innings in his career.  He is one of just 36 pitchers in the history of baseball to average over 8 K’s per 9 innings pitched.  His record currently stands at 9-2, and his ERA is the lowest it’s been in five years.  He is on pace to tie his career high 18 wins with the Blue Jays in 2008.  Along with staff ace, James McDonald, this is the first time that the Pirates have a chance to have at least two starters reach at least 15 wins in the same season since 1991.

So there you have it, ten facts about the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates.

My Picks for the All-Star Game – 2010

Being a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA), we have been asked by this organization to post a list of our picks for this year’s All-Star game.  Those members who post primarily about one team will submit picks for the league in which their favored team plays.  So a Mets blogger will, for example, post their N.L. All Star picks.

Unencumbered by such limitations, I chose to list my picks for each league, with accompanying commentary.

So here they are.  I’ll be curious to hear what you think.  Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree with my picks, and why.

National League:

1B  Albert Pujols –  This has not been his finest season to date, but he is still the best player in baseball until someone else proves otherwise.

2B  Chase Utley – Brandon Phillips has better numbers so far, but Utley will pull away in the second half.

SS  Hanley Ramirez – I had been planning on picking Troy Tulowitzki, but he just went on the D.L. for the next six weeks.

3B  Scott Rolen – This was a tough call because Ryan Zimmerman is having a nice season, and David Wright, despite his huge strikeout numbers, has been productive.  But Rolen is crushing the ball in a way we haven’t seen from him in years.

C  Yadier Molina – N.L. players at this position are not having an outstanding year in ’10, but this Molina brother is the best choice.

OF Ryan Braun – Got off to a great start in April; has been merely good since then.

OF  Andrew McCutchen – Yes, this Pirate really does deserve to go to the All-Star game.

OF Andre Ethier – Just keeps getting better and better each season.

Starting Pitcher:  Ubaldo Jimenez – Simply off to one of the best starts to a season we have ever seen.

American League:

1B  Justin Morneau – In my Pre-Season Picks blog post, I stated that if any currently active player was to win the Triple Crown, it would be Miguel Cabrera.  Ironically, even though Cabrera is having a fine season, Justin Morneau is posting Triple Crown worthy stats.

2B  Robinson Cano – Having one of the best seasons by any second baseman in history.

SS  Derek Jeter – No A.L. shortstop is having a great season, but Jeter has earned this honor, regardless.

3B  Evan Longoria – With a strong second half, has a chance to win A.L. MVP Award.

C  Joe Mauer –  You were expecting, perhaps, Kelly Shoppach?

OF  Josh Hamilton – I was wrong.  I thought he would be a bust.   And I’m glad I was wrong.

OF  Vernon Wells – Very nice, and certainly unexpected, comeback year.

OF  Alex Rios – Finally putting forth the monster season long predicted.

DH  Vlad Guerrerro – Perhaps the most unappreciated super-star in the history of baseball.

SP  Jon Lester – David Price got off to the better start, but Lester could win the Cy Young this year.

If you feel I left out any obvious candidates, please let me know.

Next post:  Wednesday, June 23rd:  Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 6 – The Brooklyn / L.A. Dodgers.

Baseball 2010: The Season So Far…

Every April, baseball is full of surprises.

This April has been no different.  In fact, it has been one of the more unpredictable April’s in recent years.  This is a good thing, of course, because if all of the predictions regarding this season turned out to be accurate, how boring that would be?

Luckily, teams like the San Diego Padres (14-8), the Washington Nationals (12-10), and yes, even the New York Mets (13-9) exist to make a mockery of our pre-season predictions.   In a more negative fashion, so too do the Atlanta Braves and the L.A. Dodgers, both 8-14.

Among the players, April has had its share of heroes and goats as well.  Some come as a surprise (one way or the other), while others do not.

One of last season’s break-out players, second baseman Aaron Hill of the Toronto Blue Jays, for example, has been a huge bust to this point, batting just .162 with just six hits in 37 at bats, including one home run.  Some regression to the mean was expected from this 28-year old, but no one expected Hill to suddenly morph into the second coming of Alfredo Griffin.

Meanwhile, Kelly Johnson, second baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks, has been a revelation playing in the desert south-west.  Last season, while with Atlanta, Johnson lost his job to Martin Prado (himself off to an outstanding start this year.)  This year, Johnson has already belted nine home runs and driven in 18, along with 17 runs scored.

But the real question isn’t, “Who has been hot and who hasn’t?”

It is, “Which trends are real, and which are just April illusions?”

Let’s begin with a team from which no one expected anything other than a last-place finish in the annual dog-fight that is the N.L. West.  I am referring to the first place Padres, of course.  At 14-8, with a .636 win-lost percentage, they are on pace to win 103 games.  Is this a trend that is likely to continue?

Of course not.  But, in the mediocre National League, do they have a shot at making the play-offs, perhaps as the Wild-Card team?  Well, to answer that question, we have to take a closer look regarding how it is they came to be 14-8 in the first place.

Going into last night’s games, they had scored 103 runs in April, good for an 8th place tie in the N.L., although all but one teams in their own division actually out-scored them.  Their pitching and defense surrendered 77 runs, good for 4th best in their league.  Their differential then (runs scored minus runs surrendered) is a positive 26, again, 4th in the N.L.

Importantly, though, both Colorado and San Francisco – teams in their own division – are two of the three teams that have better run differentials.

Taking a look at specific Padres players, Adrian Gonzalez, no surprise here, is having a fantastic start to the season, having already slugged six homers with 16 R.B.I and 45 total bases.  His OPS is an outstanding .999.  He is easily one of the top five first basemen playing today.

Gonzalez’s teammates, third baseman Chase Headley and outfielder Will Venable have also been quietly productive.  Headley has hit an unsustainable .333 with 29 hits and 38 total bases.  Venable has a .239 batting average, but has slugged .507, primarily due to his four home runs.

The Padres as a team have hit just .249 which suggests that they have enjoyed good luck maximizing their relatively few run scoring opportunities.  In short, there is no way this offense will remain in the middle of the pack in the N.L. in scoring runs.

Taking a quick look at their pitching, the story is similar, if somewhat brighter.  Kevin Correia has taken to his new role as de facto ace by sporting a 4-1 record over his first five starts with 26 strikeouts and 10 walks in 28 innings.  His stuff is good, and he pitches in a pitchers paradise, so there is reason to believe that he should remain at least somewhat productive throughout the season.

But Correia also has an ERA of 3.86, which translates into over 4.00 in most N.L. parks, and he will only win as many games as the Padres are able to score runs for him.  In other words, he is not a break-out gem; he is a decent pitcher who has enjoyed some good fortune.

Meanwhile, his teammates Wade Leblanc, Jon Garland, and closer Heath Bell have also enjoyed some early season success.

Bell is a legit top-notch closer.  LeBlanc, however, is a decent young left-handed starter who rarely touches 90 with his fastball.  He is a classic case of, the more the league sees this kid, the less successful he will be.  Garland has been a league-average starting pitcher for a few years now.

Mostly a ground-ball pitcher, Garland has fanned 20 in 28 innings, but he has also walked 15.  His ERA stands at 2.58, but whenever he leaves the friendly confines of PetCo Park, the worse he will look.

If, at this point, if you are scratching your head wondering how in the hell the Padres are 14-8, you are not alone.  Although they may be a bit better than most of us thought before the season started, in reality this team will gradually slip back down to .500, and probably a bit below that, by season’s end.

Yet another N.L. team that has enjoyed its share of luck this season is the Pittsburgh Pirates (10-12).  Why do I describe a team with a record of 10-12 lucky?  Because, with their major league worst run differential of -75, (nearly twice as bad as the 4-18 Orioles), the Pirates are a truly awful team.  They have scored just 80 runs, second worst in their league, and they have surrendered 155, the most in either league.

The Pirates have virtually no legitimate major league-caliber starting pitchers, and perhaps one or two good hitters (outfielder Andrew McCutchen, hitting .305 with 14 runs scored and ten stolen bases, is an excellent young player.)

The Pirates, going into last night’s game against the scuffling Dodgers, shouldn’t have a record anywhere near .500, and, by the end of this season, they certainly won’t.

On a positive note, don’t look now, but your where’s-the-starting-pitching New York Mets, having just defeated the Phillies as I type this, are now a stunning 14-9 on the season.  The Mets have now won eight games in a row.  If nothing else, this puts off the inevitable firing of manager Jerry Manuel for at least another month.

Everyone knew that the Mets certainly had a few high quality players, but the dizzying array of questions that surrounded this team just a month ago seem to have been rendered irrelevant by this scorching start.

So, then, why and how have the Mets managed to perplex the pundits up to this point?

It seems that a few key players have made all the difference.  The biggest surprise by far has been 26-year old starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey.  Pelfrey had been maddeningly short on showing any actual progress as a major league-caliber pitcher up until, uhm, about three weeks ago.

Then suddenly, Pelfrey became the second-coming of Kevin Brown or Mike Scott (in their Glory Days.)  Apparently, Pelfrey discovered a split-fingered fastball that has been the true out-pitch he had been lacking.  And he has been using it to devastating effect throughout the league.  Pelfrey’s record now stands at 4-0 with a miniscule 0.69 ERA.

Over the past sixteen games, the Mets team ERA has been 1.55.

Their offense, on the other hand, is in the middle of the pack with 105 runs scored.  So, as David Wright said recently, “We will go as far as our pitching will take us.”  He is right about that.  But no team can sustain an ERA at this level indefinitely.  Pelfrey’s ERA figures to go up a couple of runs, perhaps more, new pitch or not.   His 19-13 strike-out to walk ratio suggests a little less dominance than meets the eye.

Overall, I am sticking with my pre-season prediction that the Mets won’t win more than 84 games, and will miss making the playoffs by about five wins.

Among players that have busted out thus far, look no further than outfielder Colby Rasmus of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Rasmus is an excellent combination of speed and power.  He is what Grady Sizemore was supposed to have been, and more.  Rasmus is hitting .333 with six home runs, 12 RBI’s and he has already scored 19 runs.  He has also drawn 17 walks and has three stolen bases.  His on-base percentage is nearly .500, and he is slugging over .700.

Rasmus’ only downside to this point is that he hasn’t had much success against lefties.  He is just 2 for 13 so far this year, with ten strikeouts.

But Rasmus is just 23-years old, and figures to gradually improve his success-rate vs. lefties over time.  Rasmus is one of the reasons why the Cardinals are off to an N.L. best 15-7 start.

Another break-out player is 24-year old David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays (17-6, the best record in baseball, if you haven’t noticed.)  Price was a highly touted rookie last season, but disappointed many unrealistic fans with a mediocre overall performance.

That appears to have changed this season.  After just four starts, Price is 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA.  The A.L. is hitting just .202 against Price, and he has 26 K’s and just nine walks in 28 innings, suggesting that his overall numbers aren’t a fluke.  It’s not a stretch to suggest that Price could end up winning somewhere between 16-18 games this season, with many more to come in the future.

Best Players in the National League:  1) Albert Pujols  2) Chase Utley  3) Ryan Braun  4) Hanley Ramirez  5) Matt Kemp.   Honorable mention:  Adrian Gonzalez.

What are we to make of the defending N.L. Champion Phillies?  At 12-10, they are actually in third place in their division.  Why isn’t their record more like the 15-7 Cardinals?

Well, don’t blame Roy Halladay.  He has done everything expected of him up to this point.  He is 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA and an 0.975 WHIP.  Moreover, he has a ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio of 33 to 3!

Meanwhile, Halladay has again exhibited supreme durability by averaging eight innings pitched per start.

Ryan Howard, who the Phillies just signed to a huge mega-contract that almost certainly won’t turn out well for them, has been a bit of a disappointment so far.  Although he has four homers and 17 RBI, his OPS is just under .800, not a strong showing from your cleanup hitter.

But the Phils run differential of +16, coupled with their 9-6 road record, suggests that they will be fine, and, despite tonight’s 9-1 drubbing at the hands of the Mets, they are still likely to overtake the Mets at some point this season.

Finally, if you haven’t done so already, take a look at the standings in the A.L. West, where all four teams are separated by just one game, and try to predict a winner.

Surprising Oakland has the best run differential of the bunch (+7), but I’m sticking with my pre-season pick, Seattle, to win this division.  Cliff Lee is due back soon, and he could be the piece that puts the Mariners over the top.

Have a bone to pick with me?  Are there players or teams that you think I should have mentioned?  Let me know, and I’ll consider them in my next blog-post on this topic.

Meanwhile, if you are in a Fantasy League and he’s still available, make sure you go pick up Colby Rasmus.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

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