The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “MVP Award”

A Half-Dozen Underrated Baseball Players, 2015

Now that another baseball season has come and gone, (the regular season anyway), it’s time to take a look back.  But instead of forecasting who will win the annual award hardware, let’s instead review those players who had fine seasons that may have gone somewhat under-appreciated.  The players I’ve chosen might not make your list.  To refer to a player as “underrated” or “under-appreciated” is to make a subjective judgment call.  Still, I’m guessing that unless you are a total baseball junkie, at least a couple of these names may have gotten by you this year.

  1. 3B Nolan Arenado:  Colorado Rockies – Arenado, a right-handed batter, was drafted by the Rockies in the 2nd round of the 2009 amateur draft.  All Arenado did in this third season in the Majors in 2015 was lead the N.L. in home runs (42), RBI (130) and total bases (354.)  A triple slash line of .287 / .323 /.575 indicates that while Arenado could stand to be a bit more selective at the plate, he certainly does crush his pitch when he gets it.  Not just a slugger, however, Arenado is also a Gold Glove caliber third baseman who led all N.L. third basemen in putouts (105), assists (385), double-plays turned (42) and range factor.  This 24-year old played in his first All-Star Game in 2015, and should have many more in his future.
  2. SP Gerrit Cole:  Pittsburgh Pirates – Cole, a right-handed pitcher, was the very first pick of the 2011 amateur draft.  In his third season in the Majors, he nearly won 20 games (19-8 in 32 starts.)  In 208 innings, he struck out 202 batters while walking just 44.  He posted a tidy 2.60 ERA (2.66 FIP), with an ERA+ of 148 and a WHIP of 1.09.  Cole surrendered just eleven home runs all year.  Also a fine fielding pitcher, he did not make an error all season. Like Arenado, Cole made his first All-Star team in 2015.  In many seasons, Cole would be the odds-on favorite to win the N.L. Cy Young award.  But with the dynamic duo of Kershaw and Greinke out in L.A., and the remarkable season enjoyed by Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta (who could also make this list, perhaps), Cole may find himself finishing no higher than 4th or 5th in the Cy Young voting.  Still just 25-years old, however, Cole should have many chances in the future to win that particular award.
  3. CF Kevin Kermaier:  Tampa Bay Rays – Kermaier was not drafted until the 31st round in 2010.  A left-handed batting center-fielder, let me make it clear at the outset that Kermaier did not make this list due to his bat.  As a hitter, he’s about league-average, sporting an OPS+ of 98, though he did finish second in the A.L. in triples with 12.  But a .263 batting average and an on-base average of just under .300, with little power, isn’t going to win him any MVP awards in the near future.  Kermaier is on this list, instead, for his remarkable fielding ability.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen an outfielder finish a season with a 5.0 dWAR before, but Kermaier reached that lofty summit in 2015.  His overall WAR of 7.4 makes Kermaier a very valuable player, even despite the average bat.  Kermaier led A.L. center-fielders in Total Zone Runs (24) while recording 410 putouts and 15 assists.  If his bat improves during the coming seasons, the 25-year old Kermaier could become an All-Star caliber player.
  4. RP Zach Britton:  Baltimore Orioles – Drafted by the Orioles in the third round of the 2008 amateur draft, this 27-year old lefty began his career as a starter, but converted to relief-pitching before the 2014 season.  Since then, he has been one of the best closers in the A.L.  This past season, Britton finished more games (58) than any other pitcher in the A.L., while recording 36 saves.  He recorded an ERA of 1.92, an ERA+ of 217 and a FIP of 2.01.  His WHIP was a fantastic 0.990, and he struck out 79 batters in 65 innings, while walking just 14.  He gave up just three homers all year.  Britton was a first-time All Star in 2015, and while not a household name outside of Baltimore, Britton seems poised to enjoy many very productive seasons to come.
  5. 3B Josh Donaldson:  Toronto Blue Jays – Though drafted by the Cubs in the first round of the 2007 draft, Donaldson made his MLB debut with the Oakland A’s in 2010, but didn’t play as many as 75 games in the Majors until he was already 26-years old in 2012.  Since then, this right-handed batting third baseman has been a one-man wrecking crew.  Similar (though older) than Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, Donaldson has a better batting eye, and is nearly as good a defensive third baseman as Arenado.  Also, like his third base counterpart in the Senior Circuit, Donaldson led his league in total bases in 2015 with 352, just two fewer than Arenado.  Of the two, however, Donaldson probably has the better shot at league MVP this year.  Donaldson led the A.L. in both runs scored (122) and RBI (123) while slamming 41 homers and 41 doubles.  Though Donaldson will turn 30-years old this December, his obvious talent should continue to shine on in Rogers Centre, Toronto for the foreseeable future.
  6. CF / 2B Mookie Betts:  Boston Red Sox – Drafted in the fifth round in 2011, this second baseman / center-fielder has brought life and energy to the Red Sox (despite their losing record.)  Mookie turns 23-years old this Wednesday, October 7th, so Happy Birthday in advance, Mookie.  Primarily an outfielder these days, Mookie batted .291 in 2015, with a perhaps surprising .479 slugging percentage.  He has plenty of pop in his bat, as evidenced by his 68 extra base hits this season, including 18 home runs.  Mookie scored 92 runs in 145 games and stole 21 bases while accumulating a 6.0 WAR in his first full year.  This athletic and deceptively powerful young man may already be the most valuable player on the Red Sox, and figures to man center-field for them for years to come.

Obviously, there are many more players who I could add to this list.  But let me put the question to you, oh wise readers.  Which players would you include on this list, based on their 2015 stats?

Baseball Predictions, 2010: A Look Back

Joey Votto, spring training 2008.

Image via Wikipedia

Having been foolish enough to have committed my player and team predictions for the recently departed (regular) baseball season to a couple of blog-posts several months ago, I find I have little choice but to go back and analyze my, uhm, analysis.

Let’s start with my team predictions.

As a Mets fan, I was not optimistic going into this season.  I wrote an entire blog-post about why I thought Jason Bay was a bad signing.  Turns out I was wrong about Bay.  He wasn’t just bad.  He was horrible.

Meanwhile, I predicted the Mets would win somewhere between 78-84 games, probably coming in right around .500.  Allowing Oliver Perez to pitch the Mets to disaster on the last day of the Mets season, the Mets lost to Washington 2-1, thereby securing a 79-win campaign.

Oddly, I had predicted the Mets to finish in a third-place tie with the Marlins.  The Marlins actually won just one more game than the Mets, so I feel vindicated.

Staying in the N.L. East, I picked the Phils to win and the Braves to earn the Wild Card.  Good for me!  The Nats, of course, were predicted to come in last.

In the N.L. Central, like virtually everyone else, I thought the Cardinals would win without a serious fight.  I stated that, “The Reds are an enigma.”  I still think they are an enigma.  But here’s what I had to say about Joey Votto:

Joey Votto Don’t bother reminding me about his anxiety problems.  This year, the only people who will experience anxiety problems will be the pitchers who have to face him.  26-year old pure hitter in a nice hitter’s park.

For some reason, I picked the Brewers to finish in second place.  They actually finished third.  But that’s not saying much in this sorry division.

I had the Cubs, Houston and the Pirates finishing in 4th, 5th and 6th.  The Astros actually finished just a game ahead of the Cubs, so…not bad.

In the N.L. West, my picks were terrible.  I predicted the Padres would finish in last place, the Giants in fourth place, and Arizona in third place.  And I thought the Dodgers would finish second to the Rockies. 

Here’s what I said about the Rockies:

I really like the Rockies.  Their pitching staff might be the most underrated in baseball, and in Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, they have two of the most exciting young players in the league.  Plus their terrific second-half last year should carry over into this season.

Well, I stand by my characterization of Tulo and Gonzalez being two of the most exciting players in the league.  If Tulowitzki didn’t miss a significant part of the season due to injury, I still think this was the team to beat. 

But I have no excuse for the rest of my picks in that strange division.

Over in the American League, my player evaluations were better than my team evaluations (with a couple of notable exceptions.)

Let’s take the players first.

From the A.L. East (which I predicted Boston to win), I said this about second baseman Dustin PedroiaThis 26-year old has already won an MVP award, and offers a nice power / speed combination.  Scores bushels of runs, and plays in a great hitter’s park.  What’s not to like?  There is no downside here.

I also predicted that Boston’s first baseman Kevin Youkilis and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury would have nice seasons, and that Mike Cameron would prove to be a valuable pickup.

Those four key players combined to miss an astounding total of 405 games.  Yes, the Yankees had their share of injuries.  But no team in baseball saw so much potential run production vanish so quickly and for so long.

Considering that the Red Sox still managed to win 89 games and finish just six games behind the second place Yankees, I still think the Bo-Sox could have, at the very least, won the Wild Card if their injury caseload had been more manageable.

I picked the Yanks to finish in second place, and I declared them to be a rapidly aging team.  I may have been a year premature.  But age has certainly taken its toll on both Jeter and Posada.  Jeter had one of his worst seasons ever, and 38-year old Posada managed just 383 at bats.  Here’s what I predicted for Jeter:

First ballot Hall of Famer will see at least a 20% decline in his overall offensive output from last season, but still has enough to offer at age 35.  Will be drafted too early in most leagues due to rep and weak position.

As for Tampa Bay, I thought they would finish a strong third place.  I generally liked Carl Crawford, but I really didn’t like first baseman Carlos Pena.  Here’s what I said about Pena:

[He is] The 31-year old Latin Dave Kingman.  Steer clear.

Pena’s final line:  28-84-.196  Very Kingmanesque.

Pointlessly, I picked Baltimore to finish ahead of Toronto.  Baltimore ended up being even worse than I imagined.  I thought losing Roy Halladay would signal the death-knell to this Toronto team, but they overcame his loss pretty well, finishing with an impressive record of 85-77.

In the Central Division, I didn’t think the Twins could win with just two excellent players: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.  Here’s what I said about the Twins back in March:

I keep reading about the Twins killer offense, but Cuddyer and Kubel should, in fact, be a platoon tandem, since one primarily kills lefties and the other can’t hit them at all.  Morneau either gets injured, or slumps badly in the second half.  It becomes the Joe Mauer show, but one man can’t do it all.  And Joe Nathan being done for the year won’t help.

Nowhere did I see DH Jim Thome rescuing the team about mid-season, when, as I predicted, Justin Morneau got injured.  And the acquisition of Matt Capps to close games was also an unforseeable stroke of genius.

I predicted the White Sox would win this division.  They fell short by six wins.  The Tigers, a team that I considered a dark-horse, were one of only two teams in the Majors to finish with a perfect .500 record, 81-81 (the other was Oakland.)

Picking the Royals and Indians to finish at the bottom was, of course, a no-brainer.

Over in the A.L. West, I bought into the hype that is (or was) the Seattle media machine.  In retrospect, although I predicted the Angels were ready for a fall, and that the A’s would be an also-ran, I definitely underestimated the Rangers.  Thus, I predicted a team that would finish with one of the worst records in baseball (Seattle:  61-101) would have a nice season due to the off-season acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins (remember Chone Figgins?)

My preseason thoughts on the A.L. West:

Many people still pick Angels to win West.  This is a lazy pick.  These are not the Angels of the past few seasons.  Ervin Santana is your ace?  He may win a dozen games.  Too many defections to recover from.  Texas’ pitching will also regress some from last year, and they’ll have their usual assortment of injuries.  Heck, Ian Kinsler is already hurt again.

It was Texas’ pitching that I was most wrong about, although interestingly, their “ace” of 2009, Scott Feldman, did have a poor season in ’10.  He finished with a record of 7-11 with a 5.48 ERA a year after winning 17 games and posting an ERA south of 4.00.

In my Pre-Season Pitching Preview, here’s what I said about Scott Feldman:

Although he is only 27-years old, he has already had his career season.  His 17 wins last year, despite just 113 K’s in 190 innings, were a fluke.  Yes, he did have a nice WHIP, but look for that .250 batting average against to go up around 20-30 percentage points this year.  And, as we all know, wins are primarily a reflection of the quality of the team for whom you pitch.

But I did not foresee C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hunter and Colby Lewis finishing with a combined record of 40-25, and all three with ERA’s below 4.00.

As for other players that I liked going into 2010, I was optimistic about Twins starter Francisco Liriano, Padres starter Matt Latos, Brave second baseman Martin Prado, and outfielders Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) and outfielder Justin Upton (Arizona.)  Four of the five had very nice seasons.  Upton was disappointing, but still managed 17 homers and 18 steals in his age-23 season.

Here was my take on Liriano:

Last years numbers, 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA and a WHIP of 1.55 will scare away most fantasy managers.  But there are four reasons for optimism going into this season: 1. He is still just 26-years old, and will be another year removed from his elbow operation.  2. His strikeout rate last year remained pretty high despite his problems 3. The new ballpark in Minnesota should play to his strengths 4. He dominated in the Winter League.  Could pay big dividends this season.

In fact, Liriano improved to a solid 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA in 192 innings, striking out 201 batters.

Latos also finished with a 14-10 record for the punchless Padres with an excellent ERA of 2.92 in 185 innings, striking out 189 batters.

And on an awful Pirates team (57-105), McCutchen scored 94 runs, stole 33 bases, hit .284, slugged 16 home runs and 35 doubles, and drew 70 walks.

Finally, here is what I said about Tiger’s first baseman and potential A.L. MVP Miguel Cabrera:

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the two players whose career profiles Cabrera’s is most similar to are Ken Griffey, Jr. and Hank Aaron.  Has a .925 career OPS in six full seasons.  Turns 27 in April.  The A.L. player most likely to win a Triple Crown.

Cabrera had a fantastic season:  38 homers, 128 RBI, 111 runs scored, a 1.042 OPS, and a .328 batting average.  As for the Triple Crown categories, he led the A.L. in RBI, finished second in batting average, and Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista’s It-Came-Out-Of-The-Sky home run total of 54 pushed Cabrera’s home run total down to third place, just one behind runner-up Paul Konerko.

In other words, if you remove Bautista’s outlier season from the mix, Cabrera comes damn close to winning the A.L. Triple Crown.

Finally, here were my picks for the major awards:

A.L. Cy Young:  Felix Hernandez

N.L. Cy Young: Roy Halladay

N.L. MVP: Troy Tulowitzki

A.L. MVP: Joe Mauer

N.L. Rookie of the Year:  Jason Heyward

A.L. Rookie of the Year:  Brian Matusz

I think I got the pitching right.

Tulo got hurt, but had a huge September, at one point hitting 14 home runs in 15 games.  Mauer’s power disappeared, but he still hit .327 on a first-place Twins team.  Heyward might win the ROY award, though personally I’d give it to Buster Posey of the Giants.  Matusz was simply a case of expecting too much too soon from a pitcher who still displayed promise on a very bad Orioles team. 

BTW, I predicted that the Phillies would lose to Boston in the World Series.  I still think the Phils will go to the W.S., but now I think they will beat whomever they face.  Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt is just too deep a rotation to have to face.

So there, I’ve done it again.  Now I have yet another inadvisable prediction to explain away in about a month.  So be it. 

Later this week, I will resume my series, “Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons” with a look at the Chicago White Sox.

On a final note, an essay of mine, “Opening Day 1977: A Swan Song for the Mets,” has just been published in a collection of stories called “Tales From Opening Day,” published online at Baseballisms.com.  Check it out.  It’s free!

Damn, that was a long post.  Until next time,

Bill







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