SweetSpot: Colorado Rockies

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
6:01
PM ET
While driving home from work Thursday night, I was listening to the Rays' feed of the Yankees-Rays game when Derek Jeter made a "diving" play. The broadcasters chuckled at Jeter's lack of range and his natural succumbing to Father Time, saying something along the lines of "That's Jeter's range; however he can fall to his right and however he can fall to his left." An inning or so later, the maligned Yanks infield turned a triple play, so there you go. Without further ado, the best from around the SweetSpot Network, week 3:

Boston RedSox: FireBrand of the AL
A large cup of coffee: Jeff Polman catches up with former Red Sox starting pitcher Dana Kiecker. Who’s Dana Kiecker, you ask? He’s just the pitcher who followed Roger Clemens in the 1990 ALCS by starting Game 2. Follow on Twitter: @jpballnut.

Chicago Cubs: View From The Bleachers
Which pitchers have nasty stuff? If you missed the 10-strikeout performance put up on Wednesday afternoon by Masahiro Tanaka, it showed off his nasty stuff. Joe Aiello takes a look at what other pitchers have "nasty" stuff. Follow on Twitter: @vftb

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
The art of patience: Collin Whitchurch examines the White Sox offense's hot start as a product of a new organizational emphasis on plate discipline. Follow on Twitter: @cowhitchurch


Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
What are the keys for pitching at Coors? and ¿Cuáles son la claves para lanzar en Coors Field? The debut of Sabermetrics in Spanish, Juan Pablo Zubillaga compares Rockies pitchers with non-Rockies pitchers and analyzes which metrics can indicate success for Rockies pitchers.

Milwaukee Brewers: Disciples of Uecker
The Brewers' line-driving frenzy: Jonathan Judge looks at the value and sustainability of the Brewers' high line-drive rate so far. Follow on Twitter: @bachlaw

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
How good could the 2015 infield really be? Matt Seybold wonders how the Yankees will go about filling the holes they will have in the 2015 infield. Follow on Twitter: @Sport_Hippeaux

How did the "pine tar" affect Pineda's performance? Michael Eder takes a look at what affects, if any, that mysterious blob of goo on Michael Pineda's hand had during his start against Boston. Follow on Twitter: @edermik

Philadelphia Phillies: Crashburn Alley
Phillies showing tremendous plate discipline: The Phillies are drawing plenty of walks, something they haven't done in a few years.

Some fun trivia on Cliff Lee's start against the Braves: Cliff Lee got the tough-luck loss on Wednesday but it made for some interesting trivia. Follow on Twitter: @CrashburnAlley

Tampa Bay Rays: The Process Report
Offense, Myers struggling: Jason Collette shows how 2014 looks a lot like 2011 in the early going for the Tampa Bay offense and why Wil Myers is struggling at the plate. Follow on Twitter: @processreport

Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
1:47
PM ET
Two weeks into the season and things are beginning to take shape, injuries are mounting and confusion about the new home plate no-collision rule is obvious. Let's take a quick spin around the SweetSpot Network for the best of Week 2:

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Velocity Report: D-backs pitchers examined. After Rod Ghods uncovered how J.J. Putz has maintained K rates despite a big decline in velocity, Jeff Wiser examines the early-season velocity of all pitchers on the D-backs staff, noting that early-season velocity is highly predictive. Follow on Twitter

Boston Red Sox: FireBrand of the AL
The Red Sox and hitting with runners in scoring position: Should fans be concerned about the Red Sox' inability to hit with runners in scoring position? Nope. It's early, and the lineup will be just fine.

Chicago Cubs: View From The Bleachers
Six things I learned this week from the Cubs: Week 1 is in the books and Joe Aiello would like to open his notebook and share with the class what he learned from watching the Cubs. Follow on Twitter

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
Robin Ventura wants you to know he'd take used-up Chris Sale over his entire bullpen: Ventura's stated preference for using Sale on his fourth time through the order in a close game seems illogical, but James Fegan shows its more a sad statement on the current state of the White Sox bullpen.

Cleveland Indians: It's Pronounced Lajaway
Tony Plush's new approach at the plate: Ryan McCrystal takes a look at how Nyjer Morgan's improved patience at the dish has led to his hot start in 2014. Follow on Twitter.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Interview with Maury Brown: Richard Bergstrom interviews BizOfBaseball's Maury Brown about the Colorado Rockies ownership and business challenges. Topics include market size, competing with the Dodgers and the Broncos, free agency, concessions and stadium improvements.

Milwaukee Brewers: Disciples of Uecker
POPing the productive out myth: Adam Wieser revisits an old system for measuring "productive outs." Follow on Twitter.

Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
Why is Joe Mauer such a lightning rod? Why are Twins fans so hard on Mauer, one of the best hitters in baseball? Nick Nelson examines this perplexing subject in a piece that has
generated quite a bit of discussion.

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Examining Tanaka's initial PITCHf/x data: Michael Eder takes an in-depth look at Masahiro Tanaka's first start in Toronto. Follow on Twitter.

McCann's slow start could be due to lack of selectivity: Brad Vietrogoski examines Brian McCann's start and wonders if he's just swinging too much. Follow on Twitter.

Philadelphia Phillies: Crashburn Alley
An early look at Jesse Biddle: Eric Longenhagen scouts Phillies top prospect Jesse Biddle. Follow on Twitter.

San Francisco Giants: West Coast BiasQuick hits March 30 - April 8: Andrew Tweed takes a look at recent baseball articles from around the country to keep you up to date on anything you might have missed. Follow on Twitter Andrew; Connor.

Texas Rangers: One Strike Away
Calling Prince Fielder: Brandon Land takes a look at Fielder's early struggles and identifies a disturbing trend by looking back at 2009-2013. Follow on Twitter.

&Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.

After trading Dexter Fowler to the Houston Astros in the offseason, the Colorado Rockies had a dilemma: Who would play center field? At one point, it appeared they would move Carlos Gonzalez there, as manager Walt Weiss said at the beginning of spring training, "Offensively, defensively, we'll look at how the club is designed and we'll make a decision accordingly. We've got multiple options in center field. But CarGo is going to run out to center field and we'll see how it works."

That idea didn't last long, leaving four players vying for the center field job:
  • Charlie Blackmon, a guy who has been up and down with the Rockies since 2011 and hit .309/.336/.467 in 258 plate appearances in 2013. The Rockies like his defense and he made an impression late in the season, hitting .343 in September.
  • Corey Dickerson, a bat-first player who hit .371 and slugged .632 in Triple-A and hit .263 as a rookie in 69 games with the Rockies but is considered to be stretched defensively as a center fielder (he had never played center as a professional until playing some there with the Rockies last season; a torn labrum from his college days means his arm is below-average). Like Blackmon, Dickerson hits left-handed.
  • Drew Stubbs, the former Reds center fielder who was with the Indians last season. He had one excellent year with the Reds back in 2010, but has proven over time that he can't hit right-handers. Still, he's a viable platoon guy.
  • Brandon Barnes, acquired in the Fowler trade, really more of a fourth outfielder, but a plus defender in center with good range and a strong arm.


In the end, the Rockies didn't really make a decision leaving spring training, electing to carry all four guys, making them the rare team to carry six outfielders on their 25-man roster. The lack of a decision also means the Rockies will run a revolving door in the leadoff position since the center fielder will hit leadoff in an otherwise set lineup.

Blackmon started on Opening Day. Stubbs started the second game, even though a right-hander was pitching. Blackmon started the third game and then Dickerson started the fourth game.

Blackmon was back out there on Friday and had a day for the ages: Six at-bats, six hits, four runs and five RBIs as the Rockies beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 12-2 in their home opener. That's a way to fill up a box score.

Blackmon became just the 66th player since 1914 to go 6-for-6 (Alex Rios of the Chicago White Sox did it last year). He became just the 10th player since 1914 to go 6-for-6 with at least four runs and five RBIs, the last being Willie Harris in 2007.

Blackmon doubled to center in the first, singled to right in the third, hit a two-run homer to right in the fourth, blooped a double to left in the sixth (thank you, Mark Trumbo) and then, with the remaining fans from a sellout crowd chanting "Char-lie! Char-lie!" he hit a soft liner to left that landed just fair for his sixth hit. Not bad for a guy who started so slowly in spring training that it was rumored he would be the odd man out and get sent down to Triple-A to start the season.

"When you get an opportunity to play, it's really nice to come up and contribute," Blackmon said after the game, admitting he'd never had six hits in a game at any level. About his final hit, he said, "I didn't even know where it went when I hit it. You know you had a good day when you hit a ball and it ends up two inches inside the line."

While he may be the best combo of offense and defense, whether Blackmon will ultimately hit enough remains a question. While he hit .309 last year, he also drew just seven walks while striking out 49 times. His ratio in Triple-A was better -- 35 walks, 41 strikeouts -- but his .288 average paled in comparison to what Dickerson hit at Colorado Springs (.371). Blackmon is 27, so he's not likely to improve much going forward, but it's hard to maintain success with a 49-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The Rockies never seem to have a game plan, but Weiss and the front office do seem to prefer defense, and that gives Blackmon the edge over Dickerson. (One reason they signed Justin Morneau to play first base is he's a better defender there than Michael Cuddyer, although Cuddyer's lack of range in right field is a detriment). One interesting thing will be whether Weiss will play Morneau against lefties, considering Morneau has been terrible against them in recent seasons. The Rockies haven't faced a lefty starter yet, but when they do Weiss should move Cuddyer to first and play Stubbs.

Anyway, the Rockies still have four center fielders on the roster. But Blackmon's big day may mean they have one … for now.
videoThere's nothing quite like Opening Day. As Pete Rose once said, "It's like Christmas except warmer." It's a reminder that for perhaps inexplicable reasons we still love this crazy game, that we're ready to devote way too many hours over the next seven months to watching games that will enthrall us and disgust us but bring us together. We'll laugh, we'll cry, we'll shout -- and that's just within one Starlin Castro at-bat. It's Opening Day. Enjoy.

Must-watch game of the day
If I could watch only one game on Opening Day -- which would pretty much qualify as cruel and unusual punishment if actually forced to such limits -- I'd go with St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds (4 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN). First, we get a heated division rivalry with two playoff teams from last season. We get a great pitching matchup with Adam Wainwright and Johnny Cueto. We get Billy Hamilton trying to get on base and then trying to run on Yadier Molina if he does get on. We get the new Reds lineup with Joey Votto and Jay Bruce hitting third and fourth. (Oh, how we miss you, Dusty.) Plus, there are potential cameos from Eric Davis, Chris Sabo, Pete Rose or Schottzie.

Best pitching matchup of the day
Considering the depth of starting pitching in the majors, you'd think we'd have more can't-miss pitching matchups of Cy Young contender facing Cy Young contender, but that isn't really the case on this day. But James Shields versus Justin Verlander is a great one (Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers, 1:08 p.m. ET).

Here's an interesting fact: The Tigers had all that great pitching last year, right? Well, the Royals allowed the fewest runs in the American League. Shields is making his sixth career Opening Day start while Verlander makes his seventh in a row. Verlander allowed zero runs his past two openers (although he pitched just five innings last year on a cold day in Minnesota). Royals fans must deal with no Jeff Francoeur in the opening lineup for the first time in four years. Hold those tears.

Pitcher you have to watch if you've never watched him
The Marlins rarely appear on national TV, so you may not have seen Jose Fernandez pitch as a rookie unless you're actually a Marlins fan or your team faced him. If you missed him, you made a mistake, so don't miss this one. No dinner break. No excuse that this may be your third game of the day. He starts against Jorge De La Rosa as the Colorado Rockies play the Miami Marlins (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN).

This is kind of a cool random factoid from ESPN Stats & Information: This is the first Opening Day matchup in the past 100 years of pitchers born in Cuba and Mexico. Fernandez will become the fourth-youngest Opening Day starter in the past 35 seasons behind Dwight Gooden (1985 and 1986 Mets), Fernando Valenzuela (1981 Dodgers) and Felix Hernandez (2007 Mariners).

The "Wait, he's starting on Opening Day?" award
This is always a fun one. One year the Pittsburgh Pirates started Ron Villone, who had posted a 5.89 ERA the year before -- primarily as a reliever. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays started Dewon Brazelton in 2005; he'd finish the season 1-8 with a 7.61 ERA. The Twins started Vance Worley a year ago. This year's most interesting surprise starter is Tanner Scheppers of the Rangers (Philadelphia Phillies at Texas Rangers, 2:05 p.m. ET) -- interesting because he has never started a major league game.

Since 1914, only three pitchers made their major league debuts starting on Opening Day: Lefty Grove of the A's in 1925, Jim Bagby Jr. of the Red Sox in 1938 and Al Gerheauser of the 1943 Phillies. Scheppers doesn't match their feat because he's pitched in relief, but he does match Valenzuela, whose first major league start came in that 1981 Opening Day start. Of course, to match Fernando, all Scheppers has to do is throw five shutouts and six complete games in his first seven starts.

Just thought I'd mention this
The Los Angeles Dodgers will pay reliever Brandon League more this season ($8.5 million) than the Pirates will pay National League MVP Andrew McCutchen ($7.458 million), who will rank 34th among outfielders in salary in 2014. Anyway, watch McCutchen's Pirates host the Chicago Cubs (1 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN).

Another reason to love McCutchen, besides the fact that he's a talented artist, can imitate others' batting stances and helps old ladies cross the street: His WAR has increased each season of his career, 2.3 to 3.8 to 5.7 to 7.0 to 7.9.

Watch Robinson Cano in a new time zone
Cano makes his Mariners debut in a late game, Mariners at Angels (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN). As a bonus, you get Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, Abraham Almonte and Justin Smoak. The Mariners begin the season with a seven-game road trip and play 22 of their first 25 games against division opponents while trying to patch together a rotation missing Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker for a few weeks, so few teams will be under more pressure early on than Seattle. Enjoy the marine layer, Robby!

Player most likely to be booed on Opening Day
I was going to say Dan Uggla or Ryan Braun, but unfortunately the Atlanta Braves play at the Milwaukee Brewers (2:10 p.m. ET) instead of vice versa.

Player likely to get the biggest ovation
I'll go with Paul Konerko of the Chicago White Sox, in what will be his final Opening Day -- although he's not guaranteed to start (Twins at White Sox, 4:10 p.m. ET). OK, Konerko or Ike Davis, I'm not sure.
1. The Fast and the Furious III: Who wins the AL MVP Award?

It's the third installment of the epic Mike Trout-Miguel Cabrera trilogy, made even more intriguing by the mammoth contracts the two players just signed. While you can come up with a dozen legitimate MVP candidates in the National League, AL honors will almost surely go to Trout or Cabrera, barring a miracle Mariners run to the AL West title or something like that. Even though Cabrera has dominated the voting the past two seasons -- he received 45 first-place votes to just 11 for Trout -- I'm leaning toward Trout winning in 2014 for the following reasons:

(1) I think he's going to take a small step forward. It's hard to imagine him playing better, but Trout's suggestion that's he going to be more aggressive swinging early in the count could actually be a good thing. Among 140 qualified regulars last season, Trout ranked 140th in swing rate (37 percent). He ranked 131st in swing rate on first pitches. Trout is too disciplined to start hacking at pitches out of the zone, so zeroing in on certain pitches early in the count could lead to more production without sacrificing his walk rate all that much.

(2) Cabrera will be hard-pressed to match the past two seasons. That's not a knock, just an awareness of how good he's been (including a sick .397/.529/.782 line with runners in scoring position last year). Last September's injury issues -- he hit .278 with one home run -- show that Cabrera is human even when his body fails him. He says he's fine after offseason surgery, but it still raises a small question heading into the season.

(3) Only one player -- Barry Bonds from 2001 to 2004 -- has won three consecutive MVP awards. Voters don't like to give it to the same player every year. In fact, Cabrera was just the second AL player in 40 years to win back-to-back MVP honors (Frank Thomas was the last in 1993-94). If the numbers are close, that works in Trout's favor this time around.

(4) More awareness that Trout is the better all-around player. Cabrera has been worth 7.2 and 7.5 WAR (Baseball-Reference) the past two seasons, Trout 10.8 and 8.9. Polls of general managers have indicated they think Trout is the better player. Again, that's not a knock on Cabrera, the best hitter in the game.

(5) The Angels should be better. The biggest roadblock to Trout winning the past two seasons was the Angels missing the playoffs. In recent years, voters have almost exclusively given the MVP Award to a guy on a playoff team. The Tigers are still the better bet for the postseason, so that could ultimately swing the award back to Cabrera for a third straight year.

2. Who is this year's Josh Donaldson or Matt Carpenter?

Historically, these guys had pretty amazing and unique seasons. Donaldson was 27, in his first full season as a starter, and he surprised everyone by finishing fourth in the AL MVP vote. Carpenter, also 27 and playing every day for the first time, finished fourth in the NL MVP vote. And then there was Chris Davis -- also 27 -- who mashed 53 home runs and knocked in 138 runs. He had a little more of a résumé than Donaldson or Carpenter, having hit 33 home runs the year before, but nobody had him as a preseason MVP candidate.

Odds are slim that we'll see even one of those types of performances, let alone three, but since 27 seemed to be the magical age, here are some guys playing their age-27 seasons in 2014: Pedro Alvarez, Jay Bruce, Chris Carter, Colby Rasmus, Evan Gattis, Justin Smoak, Jason Kipnis, Pablo Sandoval, Desmond Jennings, Josh Reddick, Ike Davis, Michael Saunders, Yonder Alonso. Hmm ... Alvarez certainly could go all Chris Davis on us (he hit 36 home runs in 2013), but I don't see a Donaldson or Carpenter in there; then again, we didn't see a Donaldson or Carpenter coming last year. (Guys such as Bruce, Kipnis and Sandoval are already pretty accomplished players.)

If we go down to age-26 players, I see a few more interesting candidates: Brandon Belt (I've written about him), Kyle Seager, Khris Davis, Kole Calhoun, Dustin Ackley. So there you go: Kole Calhoun, MVP candidate!

3. Are the Yankees too old?

Right now, their regular lineup looks like this:

C -- Brian McCann (30 years old)
1B -- Mark Teixeira (34)
2B -- Brian Roberts (36)
3B -- Kelly Johnson (32)
SS -- Derek Jeter (40)
LF -- Brett Gardner (30)
CF -- Jacoby Ellsbury (30)
RF -- Carlos Beltran (37)
DH -- Alfonso Soriano (38)

The top subs are Ichiro Suzuki (40) and Brendan Ryan (32). If those guys ending up staying reasonably healthy, the Yankees won't have one regular younger than 30. I wonder if that's ever happened before. The rotation features 33-year-old CC Sabathia and 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda.

And yet ... the Yankees may be better than we expect. I have them at 84 wins, which is right where the projection systems have them (FanGraphs at 83 wins, Baseball Prospectus also at 83), and I'm beginning to wonder if that's too conservative. Masahiro Tanaka looked terrific this spring and maybe he does match the 2.59 ERA projected by the Oliver system as opposed to the 3.68 of ZiPS or 3.87 of Steamer. Michael Pineda could provide a huge boost to the rotation. The offense is going to score a lot more runs than last year. Yes, age and injuries will be the deciding factor, but the Yankees have defied Father Time in the past.

4. Will Yasiel Puig implode or explode?

I'm going with explode -- in a good way. That doesn't mean he isn't going to give Don Mattingly headaches or miss the cutoff guy every now and then or get a little exuberant on the base paths on occasion or incite columnists to write about the good ol' days when Mickey Mantle always showed up to the ballpark on time. But the positives will outweigh the negatives, he'll provide tons of energy to the Dodgers, he'll be one of the most exciting players in the game and he's going to have a big, big season.

5. Are the Braves going to implode or explode?

For a team that won 96 games, the Braves enter the season with a surprising range of outcomes. Minus Brian McCann, Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen, this won't be the same team as last year. But maybe that's a good thing if Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton don't hit .179 and .184 again. The Braves allowed fewer runs in 2013 than any of the Glavine-Maddux-Smoltz teams, so they were going to be hard-pressed to match that run prevention anyway. Implode or explode? I'm going somewhere in the middle, with 86 wins -- which may be just enough to capture a wild card.

6. Who are the most important players of 2014?

The first 10 names that pop into my head, without analysis or explanation (other than to say these are players with a great deal of potential volatility in their performance or a high degree injury risk):

1. Derek Jeter, Yankees
2. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
3. Tim Lincecum, Giants
4. Billy Hamilton, Reds
5. Francisco Liriano, Pirates
6. Scott Kazmir, A's
7. Albert Pujols, Angels
8. Michael Wacha, Cardinals
9. B.J. Upton, Braves
10. Ubaldo Jimenez, Orioles

7. Which team is baseball's worst?

I'm going with the Astros, although it wouldn't surprise me to see the Phillies plummet to the bottom. Or the Twins. If you want a dark horse team, how about the Blue Jays? The rotation could be a disaster and if even Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and/or Edwin Encarnacion suffer lengthy injuries, the offense could collapse, as well.

8. Is offense going to decrease across the league again?

Considering there's going to be even more drug testing this year, I'll say it drops a tiny bit. Here are the runs per game totals in recent seasons:

2006: 4.86
2007: 4.80
2008: 4.65
2009: 4.61
2010: 4.38
2011: 4.28
2012: 4.32
2013: 4.17

The increased use of defensive shifts will continue to make it harder to hit singles, and the pitching just seems to get better and better. Yes, we had several guys go down with season-ending injuries in spring training -- most notably Medlen, Jarrod Parker and Patrick Corbin -- but we've added Tanaka, we'll get full seasons from the likes of Wacha and Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray and Chris Archer and Tony Cingrani, and other young guns such as Taijuan Walker, Eddie Butler, Jonathan Gray, Archie Bradley and Jameson Taillon could make major impacts. Plus, Joe Blanton won't be in the Angels' rotation.

9. Who is this year's Pirates?

By "this year's Pirates," we mean a team that finishes under .500 the year before and unexpectedly soars into the playoffs. We actually had three such teams make the playoffs last year: the Pirates, Red Sox and Indians. In 2012, we had the Orioles, A's, Reds and Nationals. In 2011, we had the Brewers and Diamondbacks. In 2010, we had the Reds.

The Royals don't count because they won 86 games last year, so improving a few wins and reaching the playoffs wouldn't be a surprise.

Technically, the Giants fit since they were below .500, but they would hardly be a surprise team just two years after winning the World Series.

Who does that leave? I see three choices in each league:

Blue Jays, Mariners, Angels -- The Blue Jays need their rotation to produce in a tough division, the Mariners maybe can take advantage of injuries to the A's and Rangers. The Angels were below .500, but they've been perennial playoff contenders, so they hardly fit the "surprise" definition.

Padres, Rockies, Brewers -- I'd be most inclined to go with the Rockies here, as they have two stars in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez and just need better production from the back of the rotation (although the early injury to Jhoulys Chacin doesn't help). I've been on the Brewers' bandwagon the past two years and refuse to jump on this year (which means they're probably headed to the World Series).

10. Who are five rookies who will impact the pennant races?

1. Masahiro Tanaka, P, Yankees. Don't be surprised if he's a Cy Young contender.

2. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox. We saw his already-polished game in the postseason last October.

3. Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds. The speed is Cool Papa Bell turn-of-the-light-switch-and-be-in-bed-before-the-room-goes-dark kind of speed. The defense should be above average, but will he hit?

4. Gregory Polanco, RF, and Jameson Taillon, P, Pirates. They won't be up to start the season but will eventually be part of Pittsburgh's playoff drive.

5. Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers. With Cabrera moving over to first, he takes over at third base with potential to produce with the bat.

11. Which division race will be the most exciting?

I'm going with the AL West, which should be a three-team race between the A's, Rangers and Angels, with the Mariners possibly making it a four-team race. Or maybe the AL East, which could be a titanic struggle between the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees and Orioles. Or the NL West, which could be a five-team race if the Dodgers fall back to the pack. Or the NL Central, if the Cardinals aren't as dominant as I believe they will be. Or the AL Central, which the Tigers won by only a game last year. Or the NL East ... which, well, I can't see this as anything but a two-team race. (Sorry, Mets, Marlins and Phillies fans.)

12. Who are some other award contenders?

Here are my picks:

AL MVP
1. Mike Trout
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Evan Longoria
4. Adrian Beltre
5. Dustin Pedroia

AL Cy Young
1. David Price
2. Yu Darvish
3. Max Scherzer
4. Justin Verlander
5. Felix Hernandez

AL Rookie
1. Masahiro Tanaka
2. Xander Bogaerts
3. Nick Castellanos

AL home run champ
1. Chris Davis
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Edwin Encarnacion

AL batting champ
1. Mike Trout
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Joe Mauer

NL MVP
1. Yadier Molina
2. Joey Votto
3. Andrew McCutchen
4. Hanley Ramirez
5. Ryan Braun

NL Cy Young
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Jordan Zimmermann
3. Jose Fernandez
4. Zack Greinke
5. Adam Wainwright

NL Rookie
1. Billy Hamilton
2. Chris Owings
3. Travis d'Arnaud

NL home run champ
1. Giancarlo Stanton
2. Pedro Alvarez
3. Paul Goldschmidt

NL batting champ
1. Joey Votto
2. Andrew McCutchen
3. Yadier Molina

13. Do the Red Sox win it all?
No, but they do make the playoffs. My final standings:

AL East
Tampa Bay: 93-69
Boston: 91-71
New York: 84-78
Baltimore: 84-78
Toronto: 78-84

AL Central
Detroit: 91-71
Kansas City: 82-80
Cleveland: 79-83
Chicago: 71-91
Minnesota: 67-95

AL West
Texas: 88-74
Oakland: 87-75
Los Angeles: 83-79
Seattle: 76-86
Houston: 61-101

NL East
Washington: 93-69
Atlanta: 86-76
New York: 73-89
Miami: 73-89
Philadelphia: 65-97

NL Central
St. Louis: 95-67
Cincinnati: 85-77
Pittsburgh: 84-78
Milwaukee: 79-83
Chicago: 70-92

NL West
Los Angeles: 94-68
San Francisco: 82-80
San Diego: 80-82
Colorado: 79-83
Arizona: 78-84

14. Who wins it all?
I'm going Rays over Dodgers in seven games. And then the David Price trade rumors will begin again two days later.

ICYMI: SweetSpot Hits

March, 29, 2014
Mar 29
10:28
AM ET
Greetings, fellow seamheads. This is our first weekly installment of "ICYMI: SweetSpot Hits," a fly-by from some of the various sites that comprise ESPN's SweetSpot Network. Our goal is to bring you the best from each of our sites each week, allowing you a closer look at your favorite (or not so favorite) teams.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Rod Ghods breaks down the Australia series that saw the D-backs lose two games to the Dodgers at the Sydney Cricket Ground -- three, if you count an awful performance against Team Australia.

Chicago Cubs: View From the Bleachers
Why Cubs’ Fans Can’t Compare Current Prospects with Gary Scott and Felix Pie: There are many out there who will say "We’ve seen this before" when it comes to Cubs prospects. Chris Neitzel addresses that concern and examines whether that feeling is warranted with this new crop of prospects in the system.

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
The 2014 White Sox: Win Predictions and Chaos: Nick Schaefer examines the wide range of possibilities for the 2014 White Sox through the lense of a few of their particularly boom-or-bust players.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
A Fowler Front Office? Dexter Fowler's grit was publicly questioned by general manager Dan O'Dowd, leading to Fowler firing off his own response. Richard Bergstrom looks at both sides of the argument and whether O'Dowd should have started the argument in the first place.

Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
Put Him in Coach? Aaron Hicks is Ready for Center Field: Parker Hageman, reporting on location in Fort Myers, explains why Hicks is ready to pull it together after a miserable rookie season.

New York Yankees: It's About the Money
Does Pitch Framing Make Brian McCann the Yankees' MVP? EJ Fagan delves into McCann's ability to pitch-frame and how well he's done it from 2008-2013.
Also from IIATMS: It's About The 2014 Predictions. Stacey Gotsulias compiled the entire writing staff's predictions (division and wild-card winners, award winners) for the upcoming season, including a bold prediction from each writer.

San Francisco Giants: West Coast Bias
2014 NL West Preview. In what could prove to be one of the most intriguing divisions in baseball, Connor Grossman and Andrew Tweedy break down the best- and worst-case scenarios for each NL West team.

St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
2014 NL Preview: An in-depth look at the NL Central teams, as well as Pip's picks in the ESPN SweetSpot poll.

Texas Rangers: One Strike Away
The End is the Beginning: As spring training has come to a close, Brandon Land takes a look at some of the positives to come out of an injury-riddled camp.

Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.
We're getting closer ...
  • Watched the Baltimore-Tampa Bay game on Wednesday night since it featured Opening Day starters Chris Tillman and David Price. Considering the teams are division rivals, both starters may have held back just a bit and neither pitcher went five innings. I think Price has a huge season coming, one reason I'm picking the Rays to win the AL East. Yu Darvish was going to be my Cy Young pick until his current stiff neck issue means he's going to miss the first week of the season and raises at least a little doubt over his season. I may shift now to Price -- or Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander -- as he became a strike-throwing machine when he returned from his DL stint last season, walking just 13 batters over his final 18 starts. When you can command your stuff like that and throw 95+ mph, a lot of good things are going to happen.
  • The Angels cut Joe Blanton even though he's owed $8.5 million on his contract. Teams still have a hard time admitting mistakes so give Angels GM Jerry DiPoto credit here for cutting bait. It was a bad deal at the time -- Blanton predictably got hammered in the AL after straddling the line of mediocrity in the NL -- and his poor performance (2-14, 6.04 ERA) was a major reason the Angels finished under .500. Blanton was worth -2.0 WAR last year, so even replacement-level pitching from the fifth spot will be an improvement.
  • Strong final start from Rockies Opening Day starter Jorge De La Rosa, with six shutout innings against the Giants with one walk and seven strikeouts. The Rockies will need Jhoulys Chacin to come back strong in May but I'm starting to think the Rockies could be that sleeper team to watch -- a team that finished below .500 in 2013 that could make the playoffs. A lot of that depends on the health of some injury-prone players -- Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Brett Anderson -- but if the back of the rotation holds up the Rockies could crack .500 and surprise.
  • The Mets still haven't decided between defensive whiz Juan Lagares and stolen-base dude Eric Young Jr. for a starting outfield slot. The Mets know Lagares can play center -- his great range and 15 assists allowed him to post 26 Defensive Runs Saved in 2013, the sixth-highest total of any fielder -- but also know the .281 OBP he posted may not get any better. OK, I get that he can't hit. But EYJR, who led the NL with 46 steals, had a .310 OBP with the Mets last year. Young has been worth 0.3 WAR in his major league career, Lagares valued at 3.5 WAR a year ago. Lagares doesn't have to improve with the bat to be a more valuable player than Young. Even if his defense slips a little (he may not get as many assists, for example), he's still the better player.
  • The Pirates locked up Starling Marte to a six-year, $31 million extension, buying out at least one year of free agency and owning options on two more. Looks like a great deal for the Pirates, exactly the kind of below-market rate they need to sign their young players to, and once Gregory Polanco reaches the majors at some point this year, you're going to see what could be one of the best defensive outfields in recent memory with Marte in left, Andrew McCutchen in center and Polanco in right.
  • Tanner Scheppers was named Opening Day starter for the Rangers, in what will be his first career start. I wonder how many pitchers have made their first career start on Opening Day? If I did the search right on Baseball-Reference, it looks like just three (at least since 1914): Lefty Grove of the Philadelphia A's in 1925, Jim Bagby Jr. of the Red Sox in 1938 and Al Gerheauser of the Phillies in 1943. So who were those three guys? Grove had been a star for years for Baltimore in the International League when the A's purchased him. Bagby, son of a former major leaguer, had gone 21-8 in the Class A New York-Penn League in 1937, enough for the Red Sox to start him against the Yankees as a 21-year-old rookie. Boston had been 80-72 in 1937, so starting a rookie seems a little odd. Gerheauser was a 26-year-old minor league vet who had pitched for Yankees' Triple-A club in Newark in 1942. The Phillies had lost 109 games in 1942, so probably were hoping some Yankee magic would rub off on them. (Actually ... that list looks like pitchers who made their major league debut as an Opening Day starter. Fernando Valenzuela's first career start -- after 10 relief appearances in 1980 -- came on Opening Day of 1981. He pitched a shutout and then reeled off seven more starts in a row of nine innings (one wasn't a complete game). He allowed four runs in those eight starts and we had Fernandomania.
  • So Randy Wolf was told he had made the Mariners' Opening Day rotation. And then got released. So ... what? Apparently, the Mariners asked Wolf to sign a 45-day advanced-consent relief form, which would mean the Mariners could release Wolf within 45 days and not have to pay his full season's salary. I didn't know such a possible contract existed, and I don't know how common such requests are, but Wolf refused to sign it and became a free agent. (Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times has the story here.) It's understandable why the Mariners would make the request -- Wolf didn't pitch in the majors last year and was last effective in 2011 and it's possible he would simply be holding a spot for a few starts until Taijuan Walker is ready, but considering Wolf was set to make just $1 million, it makes the Mariners look petty and cheap. It's already hard enough to get players to come to Seattle; this isn't going to help.



Eric Karabell and myself break down the BBTN 100's top left fielders. Left field was once the domain of sluggers like Greg Luzinski and Jim Rice and Manny Ramirez and it didn't matter if you played any defense as long as you hit 30 home runs and knocked in 100. The only regular left fielder to achieve those numbers in 2013 was ... Alfonso Soriano (who hit 32 homers and drove in 93 while playing left, with an additional two and eight coming as a DH). Maybe Carlos Gonzalez and Bryce Harper stay healthy enough to reach those figures this year. Maybe Yoenis Cespedes has a big season for the A's. Maybe Justin Upton improves in his second season in Atlanta. Maybe Josh Hamilton plays better for the Angels.
Quick thoughts ...
  • With Max Scherzer ending negotiations with the Tigers until after the season, it appears he (and agent Scott Boras) will head into free agency. Reports indicated Scherzer was offered less than teammate Justin Verlander, who signed an extension last spring that averages $25.7 million per season over seven years. If Scherzer was offered a deal at $24 million per year, we'd be looking at a six-year, $144 million. Even if Scherzer repeats his Cy Young season, I'm not sure he'd get much more than that on the free agent market. He's not to going to get the $30.7 million AAV that Clayton Kershaw received from the Dodgers because (A) He's not Clayton Kershaw; and (B) Scherzer is four years older. Scherzer has had one great season; while it wouldn't shock me to see him have a similar season, even a little regression back to his career norms means he's unlikely to get a $24-25 million AAV contract. You do have to like his confidence and belief in himself, however, to have another big year.
  • How big of a loss is Geovany Soto to the Rangers? It could have bigger impact than you might expect at first glance. You really don't want to play J.P. Arencibia on a regular basis considering he hit .194 with a .227 OBP last season. Over the past two seasons he's struck out 256 times while drawing just 36 walks, making him one of the least disciplined hitters in major league history. He has 11 strikeouts and one walk in spring training. Even with his decent defense, that made him a replacement-level player. Robinson Chirinos is hitting .444 this spring and he had a big year with the bat in the minors in 2010, but he hit a lukewarm .257/.356/.400 at Triple-A Round Rock last year. Still, don't be surprised if he ends up at least splitting time with Arencibia until Soto returns. Say this about last year's catcher, A.J. Pierzynski: He's never great but he is durable.
  • The Mariners released Scott Baker, as they had to notify him by today whether or not made the big league roster. This means Randy Wolf will almost certainly be in the Opening day rotation, which will probably turn out as bad as it sounds. He's given up six home runs in 19 spring innings with just nine strikeouts. Good luck.
  • I found this interesting: Dexter Fowler sort of criticized the Rockies for trading him to the Astros, saying "I don’t even know who’s the GM. I think everybody over there is still wondering who really is the GM," referring to Dan O'Dowd and Bill Geivett, who split GM duties in Colorado. I agree with Fowler: The Rockies basically traded Fowler to free up money to sign Justin Morneau and Morneau is a worse player than Fowler. It leaves the Rockies without an everyday center fielder -- Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, Charlie Blackmon and Brandon Barnes will share the job in some format -- and they could have moved slow-footed right fielder Michael Cuddyer to first base.
  • You never want to read too much into spring training stats, but the Giants have to be concerned about the spring performances of starters Ryan Vogelsong (33 hits in 19 innings, 12 strikeouts) and Tim Lincecum (25 hits and 14 runs in 19 1/3 innings, just 11 strikeouts). Yes, the ball tends to fly in those Arizona spring parks but you're also not facing a full slate of major league hitters.
Some stuff to check out ...
  • With the season-ending injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, and the delayed start to Mike Minor's season, it was a little surprising the Braves cut Freddy Garcia, who you may remember actually started a playoff game last year for the Braves. He was a non-roster invite to camp but they instead decided to go with 25-year-old rookie Gus Schlosser, a 17th-round pick in 2011 who posted a 2.39 ERA in 25 starts in Double-A in 2013. Despite the impressive numbers in Double-A, Baseball America didn't rank him as one of the Braves' top 30 prospects, even though his fastball reaches the low 90s. He's a sidearmer so has to prove he has an out pitch against left-handers. Martin Gandy of Chop County has his thoughts on the decision.
  • Interesting little graphic from FiveThirtyEight's Neil Paine on MLB's youth movement. Neil checked the percentage of overall MLB WAR contributed by players 25-and-younger each season since 1976. Neil writes: "In 2013, about 28 percent of all Wins Above Replacement were created by the under-25 set. That was the ninth-largest share for any season since 1976. Output from youngsters has been on the upswing since the mid-to-late 1990s, when the percentage of WAR from young players hit its nadir. That nadir happened to occur at the height of baseball’s so-called steroid era."
  • Last week, It's About the Money had a good series comparing the Yankees to their AL East rivals, reaching out to the other blogs on the SweetSpot network. Here's a look at Yankees-Red Sox, plus Yankees-Blue Jays, Yankees-Rays and Yankees-Orioles.
  • Mike Petriello of FanGraphs (and a contributor to ESPN Insider) with a good piece on Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, who uses advanced data on pitch location to try and improve his pitch framing. Ellis admits his weakness has always been the low pitch but he likes the data, telling Mike, "The thing I like about the pitch framing stats, which I need some more information on how they determine what it is, at least it’s giving me a number, a bar, so I know where I’m at right now, and at the end of the year I can check and see, 'hey, did I get better?'" At the SABR Analytics conference two weeks ago in Arizona, Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy estimated 5 to 10 percent of major leaguers would know what FIP is. As Ellis shows, that number will only rise in the future.
  • Speaking of the SABR Analytics conference, Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus looks at the big questions to come out of the conference.
  • Richard Bergstrom of Rockies Zingers writes about Rockies co-GM Bill Geivett, who was on the GM's panel at the conference.
  • Grantland's Jonah Keri had a long conversation with A's general manager Billy Beane and owner Lew Wolff.
  • Chris Jones of ESPN The Magazine with a feature on Royals coach Mike Jirschele, who spent 36 years playing, coaching and managing in the minors. But spending so long in the bushes was hardly the toughest thing Jirschele had to deal with.
  • Ryan P. Morrison of Inside the 'Zona on the Diamondbacks' first two losses in Australia to the Dodgers.
  • Brandon Land of One Strike Away on the Rangers' spring injuries, including Jurickson Profar's shoulder issues.
  • Nick Kirby of Redleg Nation with Part 1 of a two-part NL Central preview. This part examines the lineups and pitching staff of all five clubs.
  • Marc W. at the U.S.S. Mariner has an involved look at James Paxton and his high groundball rates in his four starts last season for the Mariners -- despite pitching primarily up in the strike zone. It's sort of about Paxton but it's also about how pitching in general works.
  • Finally, can the Astros make the playoffs? Well ... Baseball Prospectus ran through 50,000 simulations of the 2014 season and the Astros won the AL West in 0.4 percent of them and made the playoffs 1.3 percent of the time. Sam Miller checks out at those "playoff" seasons, including season No. 33913 in which the Astros won 99 games. You never know!
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- One last game in Arizona before heading back to Connecticut ... no jokes about the weather back home, please.

Salt River Fields is the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, a beautiful $100 million complex that opened in 2011. It includes an 11,000-seat stadium surrounded by 12 practice fields and the grass on the diamonds was baseball-green perfect, immaculately maintained and smelled like spring. A building beyond the right-field fence and seating area houses the Rockies' executive offices and clubhouse (the Diamondbacks are down the left-field line). The lobby looked like you were walking into a Fortune 500 company and the clubhouse opulence matched anything you'd see in a major league ballpark. On this night, attendance was announced at over 12,000, including the fans sitting on the grassy hill in the outfield.

I'm not sure the facility actually makes the Rockies or Diamondbacks any better but it's a great place to watch spring training baseball.

A few thoughts on the game ...
  • The highlight came when Cubs prospect Javier Baez slammed his fifth home run of the spring, a titanic shot to center field in the eighth inning off Rob Scahill, a right-handed reliever who appeared in 23 games for the Rockies in 2013. ESPN Stats & Information estimated the blast at 452 feet as it landed in the second row of bushes, about 30 feet above the top of the fence. That doesn't even begin to explain the impressiveness of the blast. The crowd had thinned out by the eighth inning so it was quiet when Baez connected, sending a resounding "CRACK!" echoing throughout the stadium and drawing audible gasps from some of us in the press box (similar to the home run Baez hit off Randy Wolf last week). You don't hear sounds like that in big league ballparks because there is usually too much noise or you're too far away, but when they say "it just sounds different when he hits it" about certain players, in this case that was absolutely true.
  • The most impressive part of the at-bat was that Baez had flailed at two breaking pitches -- presumably sliders since Scahill throws a lot of sliders -- pulling off both pitches. The count was 2-2 but based on the earlier swings I was sure Scahill would ring up Baez with another slider. So give the 21-year-old credit for adjusting within the at-bat. Baez told ESPNChicago's Jesse Rogers it was the longest home run he'd ever hit.
  • Baez is slated to start at Triple-A, where he'll play some second base along with his usual position of shortstop. Baez is far from polished as a hitter -- while he's hitting .308 with five home runs and three doubles in 39 at-bats, he's also struck out 12 times without a walk -- but his performance indicates he's probably not that far away from the majors. You wonder if Darwin Barney becomes trade bait a couple months into the season. Barney doesn't provide much at the plate, but he's a plus defender and a team like Baltimore that may not get much offense from second base anyway could be interested.
  • Both teams ran out what will essentially be their Opening Day starting lineups, minus Starlin Castro for the Cubs, who is still resting a hamstring injury, so it was a good test for starters Carlos Villanueva and Franklin Morales. Villanueva, fighting for a rotation slot (he'll pitch in relief if he's not starting), struck out eight in four innings, making one mistake that Carlos Gonzalez hit for a three-run homer. Morales could win a rotation slot with Jhoulys Chacin out until May with shoulder soreness. He missed a lot with his fastball and walked three batters in his four innings but gave up just one hit and an unearned run. He's the same Morales, with a high-effort delivery that leads to control problems. Morales, of course, came up with the Rockies during their World Series season of 2007 and made two postseason starts that year after starting just eight times in the regular season. But injuries and inconsistency have plagued him throughout his career and he's never started more than nine games in a season in the majors, doing that with Boston in 2012. He's had a good spring, however, and it appears he'll start the season in the Rockies' rotation.
  • The Rockies lineup will run Michael Cuddyer, Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Morneau, Wilin Rosario and Nolan Arenado in the second through seven spots. The leadoff position will change depending on who plays center field -- Charlie Blackmon, Drew Stubbs and Corey Dickerson are all candidates. Dickerson is the best hitter but regarded as the weakest fielder. Stubbs can't hit right-handers, so maybe it ends up as a Dickerson-Stubbs platoon. It also will be interesting to see if manager platoons Morneau at first base against lefties (Cuddyer could slide to first with one of the outfielders moving to right). Morneau hit .207/.247/.278 against left-handers in 2013 and .232/.271/.298 against left-handers in 2012. The Rockies may want to "justify" the Morneau signing by playing him every day but it's pretty clear he's useless against lefties these days.
  • Mike Olt entered late in the game as a pinch-hitter and drew a walk. He's hit well this spring but hasn't been able to play the field because of a shoulder injury. He's slated to make his first start at third base today. If he proves the shoulder is OK don't be surprised if he makes the Opening Day roster.


I'd like to officially welcome aboard three new members of the SweetSpot network: West Coast Bias, One Strike Away and Rockies Zingers.

Some introductions ...

West Coast Bias (San Francisco Giants)

West Coast Bias is run by Connor Grossman (@GiantsBaseball), a Giants fan from the Bay Area attending Syracuse University where he's majoring in broadcast and digital journalism, and Andrew Treedy (@nyy_baseball), a Yankees fan from San Francisco (what?) attending Southern Cal and also studying broadcast and digital journalism. Maybe we'll see them co-anchoring SportsCenter some day. For now, they enthusiastically write about the Giants.

Here's a recent piece from Connor and Andrew where they analyze the Giants' offseason. They write:
Connor: As touched upon in a previous piece, I think the Giants come into 2014 with more “lineup presence,” than even the defending World Champions last year. Assuming (a grave assumption, at that) that there are no major injuries during Spring Training that would affect the Opening Day lineup, they do have a lineup of that of a contending team. The rotation was fortified by the Tim Hudson signing, effectively replacing Barry Zito. Ryan Vogelsong will look to bounce-back (story of the Giants for the last few years, huh?) from his injury-plagued 2013 to hold his own in presumably the fifth spot of the rotation.

Andrew: While the current Giants lineup appears to have the potential to contend in 2014, I still see some major issues with this team. As much as I am worried about how much stock San Francisco is putting into Michael Morse and Pablo Sandoval, my main concern with this team is depth. A quick look at the Giants projected bench for 2014 reads as follows: Joaquin Arias, Gregor Blanco, Hector Sanchez, and Tony Abreu.
One Strike Away (Texas Rangers)

Brandon Land runs One Strike Away. You can follow him on Twitter @one_strike_away). He just wrote a post on why the pitching situation for the Rangers isn't all bad even with the injury to Derek Holland and the likelihood that Matt Harrison won't be ready for Opening Day. Brandon writes:
More than anything, I believe that scheduling and the presence of Yu Darvish will allow the Rangers to succeed despite some holes in the rotation at the beginning of the season.

In Darvish, the Rangers are the favorite to win every fifth day. While we all know that doesn't directly translate to wins -- just ask Seattle how that translates with Felix Hernandez -- having an anchor at the front of the rotation is something every team in Major League Baseball wants.

After opening the season with a 3-game series at home against Philadelphia, the Rangers go on the road for 6 games against the Rays and Red Sox. Those games figure to be tougher, but following that, the Rangers will have a 10-game homestand in which they will host the Astros, Mariners, and White Sox. Those should all be winnable games no matter who is on the mound for Texas. By that point, it's expected that Matt Harrison will be ready to go, at which point the club will need to choose between Colby Lewis, Joe Saunders, Tommy Hanson, Nick Tepesch, Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers, Michael Kirkman, and Jose Contreras -- all to fill one spot in the rotation.
Rockies Zingers (Colorado Rockies)

Richard Bergstrom, a Rockies fan since 2004, has launched Rockies Zingers. He promises analysis, silliness and, yes, some compliments. Speaking of compliments, here's a recent piece on four things Dan O'Dowd does well. Richard writes:


#2 The Rockies value defense.

Unlike, say, Seattle, where they have shifted second basemen to the outfield to be flanked by two firstbasemen playing in the corners, the Rockies have generally placed a value on defense. Perhaps it was the emergence of Troy Tulowitzki and the many articles about the Rockies defense that came from the Rocktober run to the World Series in 2007, but the Rockies have kept to that mantra. Helton, Tulowitzki and Gonzalez were all signed to long contracts, in part, because they were seen as good with the glove. Maybe O’Dowd realized that it was one of the things at altitude that he could control. It does seem that, for the most part, any middle infielders that the Rockies call up can at least flash the leather. Sometimes, however, the Rockies love defense almost to a fault as certain players get demoted (Iannetta, Fowler) or discarded (Atkins, Hawpe, Smith, Young, Fowler?) for perceived faults in the field.


Welcome aboard to the new blogs!

Team over/unders: Best bets

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
11:56
AM ET
Listed below is each team's over/under win total from Bovada.lv. For each group of five teams, I'll ask you to vote on which one is the best bet to exceed its win total. Wisdom of the crowds, right?

(By the way, if the win totals seem low, they're not. There are 2,430 major league games ... the win totals actually add up to 2,443; so if anything, they're a tiny bit too high.)

SportsNation

Which team is the best bet to exceed its over/under win total?

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    15%
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    17%
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    17%
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    25%
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    26%

Discuss (Total votes: 15,858)

30. Astros: 62.5
29. Cubs: 69.5
28. Marlins: 69.5
27. Twins: 70.5
26. Mets: 73.5

I'm going with the Marlins here. The infield is a bit of train wreck on offense, but I think the young rotation with Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Jacob Turner could be very good. A full season from Christian Yelich and a healthier season from Giancarlo Stanton will help, and they've added a couple of bats in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Garrett Jones, who aren't great but are better than what they had last season.


SportsNation

Which team is the best bet to exceed its over/under win total?

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    17%
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    21%
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    25%
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    18%
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    19%

Discuss (Total votes: 13,837)

25. White Sox: 75.5
24. Rockies: 76.5
23. Phillies: 76.5
22. Padres: 78.5
21. Brewers: 79.5

I'll reluctantly go with the Padres here. They don't have individual star power, but I think their 25-man depth should push them over .500. The White Sox could certainly be interesting if Jose Abreu proves to be the real deal, but 75.5 wins is still 12.5 more than 2013. The Brewers are tempting with the return of Ryan Braun and the addition of Matt Garza, but Jean Segura's second-half fade is a concern and I don't like the righty-heavy nature of the lineup.


SportsNation

Which team is the best bet to exceed its over/under win total?

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    15%
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    20%
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    38%
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    17%
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    10%

Discuss (Total votes: 15,014)

20. Blue Jays: 79.5
19. Diamondbacks: 80.5
18. Orioles: 80.5
17. Indians: 80.5
16. Mariners: 81.5

You can make pretty good arguments for four of these teams. The Mariners? Not so much. I'm going with the Diamondbacks -- hey, maybe they can go 81-81 for the third season in a row! Arizona has a star in Paul Goldschmidt, two elite defenders in the outfield in Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollock, a guy in Mark Trumbo who could hit 40 home runs and some players returning from injury. Rookie Archie Bradley could provide a nice midseason lift to the rotation, as well, and the bullpen looks deeper with the addition of Addison Reed.


SportsNation

Which team is the best bet to exceed its over/under win total?

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    29%
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    23%
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    20%
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    12%
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    16%

Discuss (Total votes: 15,370)

15. Royals: 81.5
14. Pirates: 83.5
13. Reds: 84.5
12. Giants: 86.5
11. Angels: 86.5

The oddsmakers are projecting some regression from the Royals, Pirates and Reds. One note on the Royals: From June 1 on, they had the second-best record in the majors behind the Dodgers. They've made some minor additions with the likes of Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki to help improve an offense that ranked 11th in the AL in runs scored. The concern: They allowed just 601 runs last year, the second-lowest total in the AL in the past two decades. They will likely allow more than that in 2014. Can the offense make up for it? I think so. I'll take the over for the Royals.


SportsNation

Which team is the best bet to exceed its over/under win total?

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    19%
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    16%
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    21%
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    22%
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    22%

Discuss (Total votes: 16,627)

10. Yankees: 86.5
9. Rangers: 86.5
8. Braves: 87.5
7. Red Sox: 87.5
6. Nationals: 88.5

Hmm ... considering I have the Nationals winning the NL East, I'll go with them. They did win 86 games last season, so I can certainly see a three-win improvement (and more). On the other hand, it's not like any of the regulars had a terrible season, or that we should expect obvious improvement from somebody. But the bench was horrible last year and will be better. Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon should play and are solid bets to improve. Doug Fister adds another quality arm to the rotation. I like them to win 90-plus games.


SportsNation

Which team is the best bet to exceed its over/under win total?

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    14%
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    13%
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    27%
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    31%
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    15%

Discuss (Total votes: 16,376)

5. Rays: 88.5
4. A's: 88.5
3. Tigers: 89.5
2. Cardinals: 90.5
1. Dodgers: 92.5

Five playoff teams from last year. So we're essentially asking: Which team is the best bet to return to the playoffs? I'm going with the Cardinals here, since I do have them as my No. 1 overall team heading into the season. I like their depth across the board: Position players, rotation and bullpen. I like their youth. I think the Pirates and Reds are a little weaker than last season. St. Louis won 97 games last year and I wouldn't be shocked to see the Cardinals do it again.

Lineup discussion: NL West

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
7:01
PM ET
Welcome to the land of pretty ocean sunsets, marine layer and thin air. Three of the teams in the National League West play in pitcher's parks while the other two play in two of the best hitter's parks. Factor that in when you vote for best lineup in the division.

Los Angeles DodgersLos Angeles Dodgers

Key question: Is Don Mattingly going to have Yasiel Puig hit leadoff?
It appears so. He hinted as much earlier in February. Puig did have the better on-base percentage than Carl Crawford, and Crawford also can't hit left-handers anymore (.206/.261/.290). Considering Crawford's days of stealing 50 bases are also long past, his value as a leadoff hitter has diminished. Moving Puig there would be a creative idea, although I suspect if he turns into a 30-homer monster he'll move back down in the order.

Projected lineup:
Yasiel Puig, RF
Carl Crawford, LF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp/Andre Ethier, CF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Alex Guerrero, 2B

But should Crawford hit second? Certainly not against-left-handers. Mattingly wants to maintain left-right balance, but managers obsess too much over that. For example, say Kemp starts the season on the DL and Ethier is in center. Against right-handers, Ethier should be higher in the order than Uribe, even if that means finishing the lineup with three straight right-handed batters. Why? Because Ethier is a better hitter than Uribe. Worry about beating the starting pitcher, not matchups that may happen in the late innings.

Suggestion:
For all the talk about the crowded outfield situation, nobody really mentions that Crawford and Ethier should both be benched against left-handers. Ethier hit .221/.275/.338 against left-handers in 2013, and that's about what he's done for several years now. You can argue that Scott Van Slyke deserves to start against lefties at least in place of Crawford. But with all the big egos I'm not sure Mattingly is ready to make it five guys for three positions just yet.

Arizona DiamondbacksArizona Diamondbacks

Key question: Where does Mark Trumbo hit?
With his ability to hit 35 to 40 home runs, the inclination is to bat him cleanup behind MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt. That's not really the best use of resources, as Trumbo's sub-.300 OBP means he's better suited for a lower spot in the order.

Projected lineup:
Gerardo Parra, RF
Martin Prado, 3B
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
Mark Trumbo, LF
Aaron Hill, 2B
Miguel Montero, C
A.J. Pollock, CF
Didi Gregorius/Chris Owings, SS

Kirk Gibson has a lot of flexibility here. Parra could lead off against right-handers with Pollock assuming that role against lefties, with Cody Ross perhaps getting time in right field. Prado or Hill could hit second. Gregorius and Owings could platoon at shortstop. The D-backs do need a bounce-back year from Montero to provide a little more left-handed power.

Suggestion:
With all the various injuries last year, the Diamondbacks used 138 different lineups (not including pitchers). They may do that again, but hopefully because Gibson will maximize his creative possibilities. He has the ability to form some positive platoons and keep everyone rested. And don't bat Trumbo cleanup.

San Francisco GiantsSan Francisco Giants

Key question: If Buster Posey repeats his first half in both halves and if Brandon Belt repeats his second half in both halves, how good will the Giants' offense be?
Much better, that's for sure. Posey hit .325 with a .931 OPS in the first half, .244 and .643 in the second. Belt hit .260 with a .784 OPS in the first half, .326 and .915 in the second.

SportsNation

Which team has the best lineup in the NL West?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,283)

Projected lineup:
Angel Pagan, CF
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Brandon Belt, 1B
Buster Posey, C
Hunter Pence, RF
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Gregor Blanco, LF
Brandon Crawford, SS

By the end of the year, Bruce Bochy was going Belt-Posey-Pence-Sandoval in the three through six spots so that's what I listed here. I also listed Blanco in left field ahead of Morse because when things are all said and done I'll predict he plays out there more often. It could end up being a good platoon: Blanco with defense and decent OBP against righties, Morse with power against lefties (if he actually stays healthy).

Suggestion:
Scutaro had another good year at the plate, hitting .297 with a .357 OBP and more walks than strikeouts. He's not a bad No. 2 hitter, but he's not a great one either since he has little power (two home runs) and he's now 38. He does, however, fit the old-fashioned image of a second-place hitter with bat control. However, in 2014 you want more power from that spot in the lineup. I'd probably go Belt-Pence-Posey-Sandoval in the two-through-five spots.

San Diego PadresSan Diego Padres

Key question: Will they score 700 runs for the first time since 2007?
Petco Park doesn't help, but the Padres haven't finished higher than 10th in the NL in runs scored since ranking ninth in 2007. They haven't ranked in the top half of the league since ranking eighth in 2004.

Projected lineup:
Everth Cabrera, SS
Will Venable, RF
Chase Headley, 3B
Carlos Quentin, LF
Jedd Gyorko, 2B
Yonder Alonso, 1B
Nick Hundley, C
Cameron Maybin, CF

Considering the Padres ran out 145 different lineups in 2013, it's almost pointless to project their batting order considering they also have Chris Denorfia and Seth Smith, who should see a lot of time in the outfield, with Smith perhaps battling Alonso for time at first base as well. There is potential here: Can Headley produce stats closer to his 2012 numbers? Can Gyorko improve upon a solid rookie season? Will Yasmani Grandal get a shot at catcher? Will Quentin stay healthy?

Suggestion:
The Padres are hoping for an A's-like success story in the lineup. Maybe there isn't one big star here, but there are no glaring weaknesses. You do wonder if it's time to punt on Maybin. He missed most of 2013 with wrist and knee injuries and his career batting line is now .248/.311/.370 in nearly 1,800 plate appearances. They may be better off giving center field to Venable and Denorfia and working Smith and Kyle Blanks into right.

Colorado RockiesColorado Rockies

Key question: Who is going to hit leadoff?
Well, that's not exactly clear yet. Walt Weiss has basically outlined his lineup by announcing Michael Cuddyer will hit second, followed by Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Morneau and Wilin Rosario. Gotta maintain that right-left-right thing at all costs!

Projected lineup:
Cast of thousands, LF/CF
Michael Cuddyer, RF
Carlos Gonzalez, CF/LF
Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Justin Morneau, 1B
Wilin Rosario, C
Nolan Arenado, 3B
DJ LeMahieu/Josh Rutledge, 2B

Gonzalez could end up in left or center, or both, depending on what happens between Charlie Blackmon, Drew Stubbs, Corey Dickerson and Brandon Barnes in spring training. The lineup could also change against left-handers, with Cuddyer moving to first base and one of the backup outfielders moving to right. At least, that's what should happen, since Morneau hasn't hit lefties in recent years.

Suggestion:
I can't really argue against that lineup too strongly, even with the leadoff spot unsettled. Blackmon, Stubbs and Dickerson all have their pluses (and negatives) so Weiss may able to mix and match. Stubbs has the longest track record and continues to struggle against righties, so he looks like an obvious platoon bat, maybe with Dickerson, who has hit at every level of the minors. Blackmon had 49 strikeouts and seven walks with the Rockies. Don't be fooled by that .309 average; he's not that good.

Key position switches for 2014

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
10:45
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A year ago, the St. Louis Cardinals tried the unorthodox move of switching third baseman Matt Carpenter to second base, a position he had played just 18 innings previously in the majors and never in the minors. Players rarely move up the defensive spectrum, but the risk paid off for the Cardinals as Carpenter played a solid second base -- he rated as league average via defensive runs saved (DSR) -- and had a big year at the plate, hitting .318 and leading the National League in runs, hits and doubles.

Carpenter will move back to third base in 2014, clearing room for rookie second baseman Kolten Wong. That will allow the Cardinals to upgrade defensively at two spots: Carpenter over David Freese at third base and Wong, considered a plus defender, over Carpenter.

With teams opening up camps later this week, here are some other key position changes to watch in spring training:

[+] EnlargeJoe Mauer
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJoe Mauer played eight games at first base last season.
Joe Mauer, Twins: Catcher to first base
Mauer has started 54 games at first base in his career, but it appears his catching days are over as he takes over for the departed Justin Morneau. It's the right move by the Twins. It appears that rookie catcher Josmil Pinto will be a solid major league regular, and the move will help keep Mauer healthy and his bat in the lineup more often. Plus, he hasn't really been a regular catcher in recent seasons anyway: The past two seasons, he started 73 and 72 games behind the plate. Mauer may not provide the prototypical power you'd like from a first baseman, but his .400 on-base percentage plays anywhere. He's a good enough athlete to be decent with the glove (he's plus-1 DRS at first base in his limited time there).

Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies: Left field to center field
Like the Carpenter move, this one involves a player shifting to a more demanding position. Gonzalez hasn't played any center field the past two seasons, but did play there earlier in his career (187 games started). This one is interesting because Gonzalez's defensive metrics in left field have been all over the place: plus-8 in 2011, minus-13 in 2012, plus-10 in 2013. Gonzalez, who missed time with a finger injury in 2013, underwent emergency appendectomy surgery in January but is expected to be fully ready for spring training. The Rockies did acquire Drew Stubbs and Brandon Barnes in the offseason, two guys who can play center if Gonzalez is deemed lacking in range.

Ryan Braun, Brewers: Left field to right field
All 817 of Braun's games in the outfield have come in left, but he'll move to right as the weaker-armed Khris Davis takes over in left. DRS has rated Braun as a plus fielder over the years in left -- plus-28 runs -- but his arm has rated slightly below average at minus-10 runs. Still, he should be to handle right field, although opposing baserunners will surely test his arm early on.

Carlos Santana, Indians: Catcher to third base
By far the most intriguing position change, this one isn't written in stone, but Santana has played some third base this winter. With Yan Gomes emerging as a plus defensive catcher, the Indians want to keep Santana's bat in the lineup and Lonnie Chisenhall may be out of chances at third base. Santana was originally an infielder in the low minors before switching to catcher, so moving to third base won't be completely foreign to him. Still, the catcher-to-third move is a rare one midcareer, most notably done by Joe Torre, Todd Zeile and Brandon Inge (who had been a shortstop in college). Most likely, Santana settles in as a super-utility guy, filling in at third and first if he's not the full-time DH.

Alex Guerrero, Dodgers: Shortstop to second base
This is the most common position change as shortstops without quite enough arm are shifted to second. In Guerrero's case, he played shortstop in Cuba and will move because Hanley Ramirez is entrenched at short. The Dodgers sent Guerrero to the Dominican Winter League, but early reports on his defense were not good, with stiff hands being the big issue. He played only a few games there, however, so spring training will be a crash course at second base. The Dodgers are banking heavily on Guerrero since the backup appears to be Dee Gordon, who has struggled at the plate the past two years.

Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers: Center field to left field
Choo had been a right fielder with the Indians and then played center for the Reds. He had a huge year offensively but showed a lack of range in center. The Rangers will wisely move him back to a corner slot, with Leonys Martin in center. Even then, Choo may prove to be a below-average defender as his metrics in right field in 2012 were not good (minus-12 DRS).

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: Third base to first base
The Tigers will have new infielders at all four positions, certainly an interesting twist for a likely playoff team. But they have arguably upgraded defensively at all four spots: Cabrera over Prince Fielder at first, Nick Castellanos over Cabrera at third, Ian Kinsler over Omar Infante at second, and Jose Iglesias over Jhonny Peralta at shortstop. Cabrera isn't a great first baseman, no matter what people try to tell you; he has good hands, but he still moves about as well as a redwood tree.

Rafael Furcal, Marlins: Shortstop to second base
After missing all of 2013, Furcal is hoping to hang on with the Marlins. He hit .264 AVG/.325 OBP/.346 SLG with the Cardinals in 2012, which would be only a minor improvement over the .235/.292/.349 mark the Marlins got from their second basemen in 2013.

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