SweetSpot: Colorado Rockies

You made it to the final division of our non-roster camp invitees previews. Congrats! And, remember, some of these guys may play an important role at some point during the season. In case you missed 'em, here are the AL East, AL Central, AL West, NL East and NL Central.

DiamondbacksArizona Diamondbacks

Considering that the catching situation is a mess, with only Tuffy Gosewisch and Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez on the 40-man roster, the D-backs invited a bunch of veteran catchers to camp, including Gerald Laird, Matt Pagnozzi and Jordan Pacheco. None of them are good solutions. ... You can't be surprised that Tony La Russa would extend an invite to Nick Punto. ... Ben Francisco was a decent platoon outfielder at one point, but now he's 33 and coming off a .693 OPS in the Atlantic League. Even for non-roster material, that looks pretty desperate. ... Yoan Lopez is the 22-year-old Cuban right-hander the Diamondbacks signed for $8.25 million. ... Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair give Arizona fans hope for the future. All three ranked in Keith Law's top 100 prospects -- Shipley at No. 19, Bradley at No. 21 and Blair at No. 37 -- and could reach the majors this year.


RockiesColorado Rockies

Reliever John Axford has the best shot to make the club, although he's never rediscovered the magic of 2011, when he saved 46 games for the Brewers. ... Rafael Betancourt has a career 3.08 ERA with the Rockies over five seasons, which is pretty impressive. He had Tommy John surgery in 2013 and pitched a few games in the minors in 2014. ... Jair Jurrjens was an All-Star in 2011, but he's been injured and ineffective since. ... According to Baseball-Reference, John Lannan has made over $12 million in his big league career. ... Lefty Yohan Flande started 10 games for Colorado in 2014 and went 0-6. Considering the Rockies have used 26 different starters over the past two seasons, Colorado fans probably haven't seen the last of him. ... Jon Gray was the third overall pick in 2013 and shot up the prospect lists after a dominant professional debut. But 2014 was less sterling; he had a 3.91 ERA at Double-A Tulsa. ... Omar Quintanilla spent parts of five seasons (2005-09) with the Rockies, but it's not exactly like bringing back Larry Walker or Todd Helton.


DodgersLos Angeles Dodgers

Corey Seager ranked fifth on Keith Law's top 100 prospects and will get a long look in spring training; he's a possible midseason call-up. A shortstop in the minors, Seager will probably play some third base in camp. ... Erik Bedard is Triple-A insurance if Brett Anderson or Brandon McCarthy get injured, which they often do. ... The injury to Kenley Jansen may open up a spot for David Aardsma or Sergio Santos, former closers who haven't been able to stay healthy. ... Julio Urias is just 18, but the left-hander is so advanced it's not out of the question that he'll pitch in the majors this season. ... Shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena signed out of Cuba last year and appeared in 22 games for the Dodgers, hitting .195. He's actually set to make $22 million over the next four seasons, but the Dodgers removed him from the 40-man roster, knowing no team would claim him because of the contract.



PadresSan Diego Padres

Good to see that Jose Valverde will be in camp somewhere. ... Right-hander Matt Wisler is in line to be one of the first starters called up from Triple-A. ... Last we saw Scott Elbert was when Don Mattingly brought him in during a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning of Game 3 of the NLDS, even though he'd pitched only 4.1 innings during the regular season. The series was tied 1-1. Elbert promptly gave up a double, a sacrifice and then a two-run home run to Kolten Wong. Only one of the key moments of the entire season. ... Former outfielder Jason Lane is now a pitcher. He actually started one game for the Padres last season and allowed one run in six innings. ... Brett Wallace was once the key component (who went to Oakland) in the Matt Holliday trade with St. Louis. He spent parts of four seasons with the Astros, the last in 2013.


GiantsSan Francisco Giants

Brandon Hicks played a lot of second base last year and hit .162. He did, however, hit a big home run off Clayton Kershaw. ... Justin Maxwell is Triple-A outfield insurance, a guy who would fill in against left-handed pitching. ... Kyle Crick is allegedly the team's top prospect, but he walked 61 batters in 90 innings in Double-A and looks like a future reliever to me. ... Clayton Blackburn, on the other hand, lacks Crick's raw stuff but posted excellent numbers in Double-A. ... Brett Bochy is the son of the manager. He did appear in three games for the Giants but is your typical nondescript right-handed Triple-A reliever.
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I know, I know. With Jason Giambi it's hard to ignore the guy once looked like this and then, a few years later, looked like this.

That Sports Illustrated cover was dated July 17, 2000, and heralded "The New Face of Baseball: How the Home Run Has Changed the Game."

Ahh, more innocent times.

Five years later, in the same magazine, Gary Smith was writing less nostalgic about an era we were still trying to understand.
"When that magical summer of '98 ended I went home, put all these photographs into an album, etched captions beneath them so that one day someone else would understand the significance of what I'd seen and felt ... then sealed my moments beneath protective plastic so they'd never be smudged. ...

"My eyes shift to the other faces in the snapshot. Another summer full of moments will soon begin, the biggest home run record of all ripe to fall. What will we do, each of us, now that we know?"


What do we do? Here's what baseball did. It forgave. Maybe not Barry Bonds. He was unable to find a job after posting a .480 OBP in his final season. Nobody wanted to give work to a guy with a .480 OBP? But the others? Mark McGwire has coached for the Cardinals and now the Dodgers. Jason Giambi, the new face of baseball, was so beloved and admired in clubhouses that he found work until he was 43 years old and hitting under .200. The Colorado Rockies interviewed him for their managerial opening two offseasons ago, when he was still an active player. After Giambi announced his retirement on Monday, Indians president Mark Shapiro tweeted, "An honor to have had G in the Tribe. A generous, wise spirit with so much to offer. True pro."

Many of the writers, of course, haven't moved on. Bonds, McGwire, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa have been voted down on their Hall of Fame candidacies.

Giambi isn't a Hall of Fame candidate on their level (50.8 career WAR, similar to guys like Fred McGriff and Lance Berkman), but he sort of stands alongside that group as the face of a generation. From 1999 to 2002, he had a four-year run that rivaled that of just about any first baseman in baseball history, hitting .326/.452/.612 while averaging 39 home runs, 126 RBIs and 120 walks per season. He won the 2000 MVP Award -- that was the year he hit .396 in September with 13 home runs and 32 RBIs as he carried the A's to the AL West division title. The next year, he finished second in the MVP voting.

He signed with the Yankees in 2002, testified before the BALCO grand jury in December 2003, admitting to using steroids, and then had some more good years -- although his 2004 season was derailed by a mysterious intestinal parasite and you wonder if he'd been healthy that year and played in the postseason whether Boston's magic ride to a World Series title would have happened.

When he testified before the grand jury, he was asked whether he'd still be using steroids if not for the investigation. "I didn't actually notice a huge difference, to be honest with you," Giambi said. "I, of course, got injured this year. So that's not a fair assessment, either. Maybe, yes, no, I don’t know."

The truth is that Giambi's numbers did decline once baseball starting testing for PEDs, whether it was due to the fact he quit using or the natural decline of age. In 2003, he hit 41 home runs and led the American League in walks for the third time, but hit just .250. Then came the lost 2004 season. In 2005, he hit .271 with 32 home runs, but again led the AL in walks and on-base percentage. Giambi was a smart hitter. He never seemed to get enough credit for that. That's why the Rockies and Indians kept him around at the end of his career, as a mentor for younger players. Even when he was no longer hitting .300, he was still producing runs with his power and on-base ability. He hit 37 home runs and drove in 113 runs in 2006. He played two more years in New York after that; the Yankees never won a World Series with him -- they won the year after he left -- and I don't think they'll be retiring his uniform number.

I view Giambi as a product of his generation. He was allowed to get away with it. The road down from my house is a two-lane back road that winds through trees. There are no sidewalks, not much room on the sides. People walk their dogs or ride bikes along it. The speed limit is 35, but nobody drives 35. They go 50, 60 mph -- there are no speed bumps, no policing. They can get away with it, so they do.

That was the Giambi generation. You can choose to hate and throw the memories away and pretend it never existed. I'm sure A's fans will choose to remember that wet, greased hair that we'd see whenever he removed his helmet after a home run, the high fives in the dugout, that monster September in 2000. The good memories.
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It's time for my second annual pre-spring training power rankings. You love them, you hate them, you laugh, you cry. But they stir up debate and get us thinking about baseball with spring training right around the corner.


Arizona30. Arizona Diamondbacks

Big offseason moves: Hired Chip Hale as manager; signed Cuban 3B/LF Yasmany Tomas to six-year, $68.5 million contract; traded LHP Wade Miley to the Red Sox for RHPs Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa and a minor leaguer; traded C Miguel Montero to the Cubs for two minor leaguers; acquired RHP Jeremy Hellickson from the Rays; acquired LHP Robbie Ray from the Tigers in a three-team deal that sent SS Didi Gregorius to the Yankees; signed Cuban RHP Yoan Lopez for an $8.25 million bonus.

Most intriguing player: Expectations will be high for Tomas following the success of fellow Cubans Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu the past two seasons. But Tomas isn't viewed as an all-around player like Puig or a polished hitter like Abreu. He has power potential, but the first test will be to see whether he can handle third base; many scouts view him as a left fielder but the Diamondbacks will give him a shot at third.

Due for a better year: Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo, projected to perhaps combine for 70 home runs, both missed large chunks of time and instead combined for just 33 as they missed a combined 127 games.

Due for a worse year: Outfielder Ender Inciarte, pressed into service after a slew of injuries, didn't hit much but the defensive metrics loved him, pushing his WAR to 3.7, third best on the team behind Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. He's likely to serve in a bench role this year, especially if Tomas ends up in the outfield.

I'm just the messenger: New general manager Dave Stewart, hired by chief baseball officer Tony La Russa in late September to clean up the mess that Kevin Towers left behind, remains a bit of a mystery. It didn't help his reputation, especially among statistical analysts, when he said in January that the Diamondbacks may be viewed as more of a "true baseball team versus some of the other teams out here that are geared more toward analytics and those type of things." It was also a bit curious that La Russa hired a veterinarian named Dr. Ed Lewis, whom he has known for 30 years and worked with in the past, as the team's director of analytics. There are certainly different ways of doing things but this regime doesn't look all that different so far from the previous one that espoused grit and toughness.

The final word: Stewart's first moves brought in some interesting young arms but this is still a rotation that doesn't look much better than the group that ranked 27th in the majors in ERA in 2014. Offensively, the D-backs plan to rely on the power of Goldschmidt, Trumbo and Tomas. The issues here are even if Trumbo hits 30 home runs, he owns a .298 career OBP and he's a big defensive liability in the outfield; Tomas may end up profiling similar to Trumbo as a guy with a low OBP who doesn't project as a plus defender at either third base or left field. Catcher is currently a black hole -- Tuffy Gosewisch, come on down -- and the whole lineup aside from Goldschmidt has an aversion to taking walks.

Prediction: 66-96

Philadelphia Phillies29. Philadelphia Phillies

Big offseason moves: Traded SS Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers for two minor leaguers; traded OF Marlon Byrd to the Reds for minor league P Ben Lively; umm ... signed OF Jeff Francoeur, which even as an act of desperation is a curious act of desperation; have shopped LHP Cole Hamels, RHP Jonathan Papelbon and 1B Ryan Howard; signed RHPs Aaron Harang and Chad Billingsley.

Most intriguing player: Hamels, obviously. He may start the season with the Phillies but nobody expects him to end it there.

Due for a better year: Domonic Brown gets what is maybe his final chance to prove himself as a big league regular. An All-Star in 2013 when he hit 27 home runs, he fell apart in 2014 with a .235/.285/.349 line. There's still some talent here, but how much?

Due for a worse year: Ruben Amaro Jr.

SportsNation

How many games to the Phillies win?

  •  
    31%
  •  
    41%
  •  
    17%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 13,837)

I'm just the messenger: Everyone has been predicting the decline of the Phillies for a few years and Amaro finally admitted that a rebuilding was in order. He's been asking for a ransom for Hamels, understandably so because he's really the only valuable commodity he has, unless Chase Utley agrees to a trade or Cliff Lee comes back and proves he's healthy. The past two seasons were painful for Phillies fans, but 2015 could be their worst season since losing 97 games in 2000.

The final word: Hey, on the bright side the Phillies outperformed my prediction last year by seven wins .. and still won just 73 games. If there's a bright spot, it's the bullpen, led by closer-in-waiting Ken Giles (1.18 ERA as a rookie), which should be solid even if Papelbon is traded.

Prediction: 67-95

Atlanta Braves28. Atlanta Braves

Big offseason moves: Hired former Indians GM John Hart as president of baseball operations; traded OF Jason Heyward and RHP Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for RHPs Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins; traded OF Justin Upton to the Padres; traded C/OF Evan Gattis to the Astros; signed OF Nick Markakis, OF Jonny Gomes, RHP Jason Grilli, IF Kelly Johnson and IF Alberto Callaspo; lost free-agent Ps Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang and Kris Medlen.

Most intriguing player: Hart is gambling on Miller putting everything together after two solid but inconsistent seasons with the Cardinals. The 24-year-old righty had a 2.92 ERA in the second half after he started using a sinker to go along with his four-seamer. If he proves to be a solid No. 2-type starter, the Braves will be happy with the return they got for Heyward.

Due for a better year: Andrelton Simmons makes too much contact to hit .244 and saw his extra-base hit total fall from 50 to 29, a big reason his WAR dropped from 6.9 to 3.5 despite another Gold Glove season at shortstop.

Due for a worse year: It wouldn't be nice if I said B.J. Upton. Alex Wood went 11-11 with a 2.78 ERA, using that funky delivery to hold batters to a .239 average. The peripherals are solid (3.25 FIP), so this doesn't scream out "fluke" to me, but natural regression suggests he won't post a 2.78 ERA again and I worry about an injury with that delivery.

I'm just the messenger: The Braves have been pretty public about what they did this offseason, so there's no reason to pile on. Instead of trying to compete with the Nationals, fall short, and then lose Heyward and Upton to free agency, they decided to rebuild and aim for 2017 when the new ballpark opens. The issue is whether Hart did well in the trades he made and there's no way of knowing that for several years, because most of the prospects he got in return won't be major league ready in 2015.

The final word: The Braves haven't had back-to-back losing seasons since the pre-dynastic seasons of 1989 and 1990, but that's going to happen in 2015. The rotation could actually be pretty solid with Julio Teheran, Miller, Wood and a back-to-form Mike Minor, and funny things can happen with a good rotation. But the offense is going to be horrific. The Braves were next-to-last in the NL in runs last season and they've traded away three of the four good hitters they did have. They'll head into 2015 with one good hitter in Freddie Freeman and one average-ish hitter in Markakis, who is coming off neck surgery. So good luck. But at least they won't strike out as much.

Prediction: 68-94

Minnesota Twins27. Minnesota Twins

Big offseason moves: Named Paul Molitor manager; signed RHP Ervin Santana and OF Torii Hunter; signed RHP Tim Stauffer; umm ... Tom Milone changed his number.

Most intriguing player: Center fielder Byron Buxton was baseball's top prospect entering 2014 but suffered a series of injuries -- wrist, dislocated finger, concussion -- that limited him to 31 minor league games in the regular season before a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He's still a potential superstar (Keith Law has him ranked as his No. 2 prospect in baseball) and could reach the majors this season.

[+] EnlargeJoe Mauer
AP Photo/Craig LassigJoe Mauer hit just four homers in 120 games last season.
Due for a better year: Joe Mauer's move to first base was supposed to get him in the lineup more often; instead he played just 120 games and he hit just .277, the lowest of his career. He turns 32 in April so there's no guarantee he gets back to hitting .300, especially considering his walk-to-strikeout ratio has decreased from better than even just two seasons ago to 60 walks and 96 K's in 2014 (still a strong ratio compared to the MLB average, but this is a guy who walked more than he struck out most of his career).

Due for a worse year: Danny Santana hit .319/.353/.472 as a rookie, fueled by a .405 BABIP -- the highest by a player with 400 plate appearances since Rod Carew in 1977. Santana never hit .300 in the minors so look for a sizable decline.

I'm just the messenger: I know a lot of Twins fans are kind of excited by the rotation -- well, at least compared to recent Twins rotations: Phil Hughes had a breakout year, they signed Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson won 13 games in his first full season, Alex Meyer appears ready for a shot and Ricky Nolasco can't be that bad again. Well, Nolasco can be that bad again and I'm skeptical about the Santana signing. He had a 3.95 ERA with the Braves (3.39 FIP) but now moves over to the American League and won't have Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons playing behind him. Plus, there's this problem: Torii Hunter and Oswaldo Arcia are penciled in as two starting outfielders, two guys who would have trouble covering enough ground in a beer league softball outfield. Hunter had minus-18 defensive runs saved and Arcia minus-10 (in about half a season of playing time). The Twins ranked as the second-worst defensive team in the majors via defensive runs saved in 2014 and that's going to be a big issue again.

The final word: There is potential here on offense, which ranked fifth in the league in runs. But I don't see any improvement coming there as players such as Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe have likely peaked and Santana regresses. The defense is still a problem and the rotation -- which had the worst ERA in the majors in 2014 -- still doesn't do a lot for me. It looks like another holding year as the Twins wait for Buxton and Miguel Sano to arrive.

Prediction: 68-94

Colorado Rockies26. Colorado Rockies

Big offseason moves: Promoted Jeff Bridich to general manager; signed RHP Kyle Kendrick; signed IF Daniel Descalso; traded 2B Josh Rutledge to the Angels for RHP Jairo Diaz; lost OF Michael Cuddyer, LHP Brett Anderson and RHP Matt Belisle to free agency; some other minor moves that probably won't turn the Rockies into the 1927 Yankees.

Most intriguing player: Troy Tulowitzki. Isn't he always the most intriguing Rockies player? He was having an MVP-level season last year until he predictably landed on the DL. Bridich resisted the temptation to deal Tulowitzki or outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, but if the Rockies are way back come in July, you have to wonder if those two will be back on the trading block.

Due for a better year: Gonzalez played just 70 games and hit .238/.292/.431.

Due for a worse year: Charlie Blackmon made the All-Star team on the basis of hitting .374 in April with a 1.034 OPS, but his highest OPS in any month after that was .806. He had a .269 OBP on the road. In a neutral park, he's probably a borderline starter and he'll platoon with Drew Stubbs assuming Gonzalez and Corey Dickerson stay healthy.

I'm just the messenger: Same old Rockies. The rotation isn't good -- and don't blame Coors Field, as the Rockies had the worst road ERA in the majors. The offense is overrated -- maybe you can blame Coors Field, as the Rockies led the NL in runs but barely outhit the Padres on the road with a .228 average. Tulo and CarGo have to stay healthy. The young starters have to stay healthy.

The final word: Everyone also focuses on the pitching problems with the Rockies and it's certainly not good that 26 pitchers have started for the Rockies over the past two seasons. But Bridich must also properly evaluate the offense; the Rockies are always going to score runs because of Coors Field but they're not going to be competitive unless they score more runs on the road. They were 45-36 at home but a miserable 21-60 on the road. Winning at altitude isn't the issue; it's winning away from altitude.

Prediction: 71-91

Texas Rangers25. Texas Rangers

Big offseason moves: Named Jeff Banister manager; acquired RHP Yovani Gallardo from the Brewers; acquired LHP Ross Detwiler from the Nationals; traded LHP Robbie Ross to the Red Sox for RHP Anthony Ranaudo; re-signed RHP Colby Lewis; acquired C Carlos Corporan from the Astros; lost OF Alex Rios to free agency.

Most intriguing player: Prince Fielder. He says he's happy and healthy after neck surgery but he appeared to be a player in decline before coming over to the Rangers.

Due for a better year: Well, the Rangers led the majors in days spent on the disabled list, so pick your injured player of choice.

SportsNation

How many games do the Rangers win?

  •  
    15%
  •  
    38%
  •  
    24%
  •  
    15%
  •  
    8%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,907)

Due for a worse year: No obvious candidates, although Adrian Beltre has to start showing his age one of these years and his home runs did drop to 19 after topping 30 the three previous seasons.

I'm just the messenger: The Rangers ran through a mind-numbing 64 players in 2014, including -- is this right? -- 40 different pitchers if you count position players Mitch Moreland, J.P. Arencibia and Chris Gimenez. So, yes, you can easily dismiss the disaster of 2014. But I can't just as easily dismiss a starting rotation that looks shaky behind Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. Gallardo's strikeout rates have plummeted the past two seasons and now he goes to the league with deeper lineups and a park where the ball flies out to right field. The Nos. 4 and 5 spots are up for grabs. The bullpen is full of question marks, starting with closer Neftali Feliz, who had a 1.99 ERA in 31.2 innings ... but a 4.90 FIP. He's hardly a sure thing and hasn't pitched a full season since 2011.

The final word: The Rangers are probably the most difficult team in the majors to evaluate. I could be way off here and Banister should certainly be an upgrade on the strategic front over Ron Washington, but I see too many unknowns on the pitching staff, a tough division and concerns about the overall value of Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo.

Prediction: 72-90
With Keith Law unveiling his top 100 prospects this week, I thought it would be fun to look back at the top prospects from 2005. Has it already been 10 years since 2005? Yes it has! We'll use Baseball America's list and, as always, we're not criticizing the list. Evaluating prospects is part art, part science and a lot of unknown.

The Top 10
1. Joe Mauer, Twins
2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
3. Delmon Young, Devil Rays
4. Ian Stewart, Rockies
5. Joel Guzman, Dodgers
6. Casey Kotchman, Angels
7. Scott Kazmir, Devil Rays
8. Rickie Weeks, Brewers
9. Andy Marte, Braves
10. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox

Just a reminder: Not all top-10 players become All-Stars, let alone future Hall of Famers, and many don't develop at all. Young, who rose to the No. 1 overall prospect in 2006, has had a long major league career but at barely replacement level (2.5 career WAR), making him one of the most disappointing prospects of the past decade. His aggressive approach that existed in the minors has proven to be a fatal flaw in the majors, but he's also been a poor defender and his athleticism declined rapidly.

Stewart was coming off a 30-homer season in low A ball at age 19 in which he also hit .319 with some walks and he certainly looked like a future star. He did have a 25-homer season with the Rockies in 2009 but has never been able to make enough contact or hit left-handers. Guzman was a big, 6-foot-7 shortstop who wasn't likely to stay there but had put up good numbers as a 19-year-old, albeit with a poor strikeout-to-walk rate. It was really the only season he hit like a top prospect in the minors and he made the majors for just 24 games.

Kotchman was a much different hitter than Young, Stewart or Guzman, a sweet-swinging first baseman who walked more than he struck out and projected to hit for a high average, but he never should have been a top-10 prospect. He had been injury-prone in the minors and didn't hit for much power and first basemen without power aren't top-10 overall prospects. In the majors, he was injury-prone and didn't hit for much power.

Weeks was that rare second-base prospect to crack the top 10. He's been worth 12.3 career WAR even though he has power and patience as he's only hit .249 despite his quick bat and his defense has been historically awful. At the time, Baseball America admitted he "had a lot of work to do with the glove." Ten years later, the defense never did improve and he can't find a job this offseason because of that liability.

Then there's Marte, one of the more famous prospect flops in recent years. "His potential as an all-around impact player is unquestioned," wrote Baseball America. Even though he was described as mature for his age in the BA scouting report, Marte's work ethic was later questioned and he added some weight, a concern cited even in 2005. He's hit .218 in 308 career major league games and is still scuffling around, appearing in six games for the Diamondbacks last year.

Nos. 11-25
11. Lastings Milledge, Mets
12. Dallas McPherson, Angels
13. Matt Cain, Giants
14. Jeff Francoeur, Braves
15. Prince Fielder, Brewers
16. Adam Miller, Indians
17. Jason Kubel, Twins
18. Jeremy Hermida, Marlins
19. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
20. Jeff Niemann, Devil Rays
21. Brian Dopirak, Cubs
22. Carlos Quentin, Diamondbacks
23. Jeff Francis, Rockies
24. Nick Swisher, Athletics
25. Jose Capellan, Brewers

Three hits with Cain, Fielder and Swisher and a half-hit with Billingsley, who is trying to rebound from two years of injuries and just signed with the Phillies. Kubel was a hit-first prospect who ranked 17th on the list even though he had torn up his knee in the Arizona Fall League, after reaching the majors at the end of 2004. Already considered slow in the outfield before the injury, he had some good years at the plate in the majors but was best suited to DH, and it's possible he was never the same player after the injury. Quentin has also seen his career interrupted by various injuries through the years.

The interesting guy here is Hermida, who rose to the No. 4 overall prospect in 2006. He was supposed to be a can't-miss hitter, due to excellent plate discipline and a nice lefty stroke with medium-range power and good makeup. He had a good year for the Marlins in 2007, hitting .296/.369/.501 but the bat went downhill from there. There were some nagging injuries and a trade to Boston, a collision with Adrian Beltre and then a bunch of years as a 4-A player. He's spent all of the two past years in Triple-A.

Nos. 26-50
Best hits: No. 27 Ryan Howard, No. 28 J.J. Hardy, No. 30 Edwin Jackson, No. 35 Gavin Floyd, No. 39 Erick Aybar, No. 44 Brian McCann, No. 48 Homer Bailey, No. 49 Brandon McCarthy.

And by "best hits" I mean only hits. Well, there's Yusmeiro Petit and Zach Duke and Ryan Sweeney and Anthony Reyes had that one good start for the Cardinals in the World Series.

Nos. 51-75
Best hits: No. 51 Shin-Soo Choo, No. 54 Franklin Gutierrez, No. 56 Edwin Encarnacion, No. 57 Curtis Granderson, No. 59 John Danks, No. 62 James Loney, No. 64 Aaron Hill, No. 65 Nick Markakis, No. 71 Cole Hamels, No. 72 Brandon Moss, No. 75 Billy Butler.

Even with Mauer and Hernandez, it looks like this block of 25 has produced more value than the top 25.

Nos. 76-100
Best hits: No. 76 Kendrys Morales, No. 81 Neil Walker, No. 82 Ubaldo Jimenez, No. 91 Jonathan Papelbon, No. 97 Huston Street, No. 98 Ian Kinsler.

Kinsler had a monster year in the minors in 2004, hitting .345 with 20 home runs, 51 doubles, 23 steals and good contract rates. I'm guessing he was ranked so low because he had been just a 17th-round pick the year before and caught everyone by surprise (although Baseball America mentioned an offseason strength training program and hitting instruction from Rangers coaches that led to the breakout performance).

Ten best prospects not in the top 100
Here are the top guys by career WAR not included in the top 100

1. Robinson Cano (51.5) -- Baseball America did rate him as the Yankees' No. 2 prospect (behind Eric Duncan) but had concerns about his ability to hit left-handers, his speed and his range at second. He'd hit .283/.339/.457 between Double-A and Triple-A at age 21 and obviously continued to get better.

2. Dustin Pedroia (43.2) -- He'd been a second-round pick in June of 2004 and hit .357 in the low minors. He'd crack the top 100 the next year at No. 77.

3. Adrian Gonzalez (38.4) -- He had a cup of coffee with the Rangers in 2004 and even though the Marlins had made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2000, was left out of the top 100 after hitting .304/.364/457 at Triple-A at age 22. The power started developing more in 2005, although the Rangers traded him after that season to the Padres.

4. Ben Zobrist (36.6) -- He certainly wouldn't have been on anyone's prospect radar after being a sixth-round pick out of Dallas Baptist in June of 2004, although he'd hit .339/.438/.463 with more walks than strikeouts in the New York-Penn League. The Rays got him from the Astros in 2006 and he reached the majors that season.

5. Jon Lester (32.6) -- Lester had been a second-round pick in 2002 but had ho-hum numbers in the Florida State League, with a 4.28 ERA and 97 strikeouts and 37 walks in 90 innings. The scouting report was positive: 92-93 mph and hitting 96, with Baseball America noting his secondary stuff needed refinement. He had also missed some time with shoulder tightness. Still, considering the size and arm strength, a little surprising he didn't crack the top 100.

6. Adam Wainwright (32.5) -- This one made more sense. He made just 12 starts in Triple-A because of an elbow strain and posted a 5.37 ERA. Baseball America did note that his "curveball may be his best pitch." Yeah, maybe.

7. Shane Victorino (30.2) -- He'd actually been a Rule 5 pick by the Padres from the Dodgers in 2003 and had 73 plate appearances in the majors before the Padres returned him. The Phillies then made him a Rule 5 pick again after the 2004 season. Despite his plus speed and a solid season in Double-A in 2004, he was listed as just the 19th-best prospect for the Phillies.

8. Russell Martin (30.1) -- He'd hit .250 with 15 home runs in Class A and had been catching for just two years, although he had positive reviews for his defense. He wasn't overlooked -- No. 6 among Dodgers prospects -- and it's noteworthy that he did have a good hitting approach even then, with 72 walks against 54 strikeouts.

9. Jose Bautista (29.6) -- He was easy to miss because he'd spent 2004 as a Rule 5 pick, going from the Pirates to the Orioles to the Devil Rays (off waivers) to the Royals (sold) to the Mets (for Justin Huber) and then back to the Pirates in another trade. All told, he batted just 88 times. And that was after playing sparingly in 2003 after breaking his hand punching a garbage can. Baseball America did note his athleticism and ability to play third base or outfield in naming him Pittsburgh's No. 12 prospect.

10. James Shields (28.7) -- He was really just an organizational player at this point in the minors, a 16th-round pick who wasn't listed among Tampa Bay's top 30 prospects or even in a longer depth chart of right-handed pitchers. He'd had a 4.72 ERA between Class A and Double-A with 106 strikeouts in 135 innings.


Buster Olney ranked his top 10 team defenses in his blog post Thursday, which got me thinking about bad defense. I checked Baseball-Reference.com for their list of worst individual fielding seasons and thought it would be fun to look at the bottom 10. Defensive metrics aren't as foolproof as some other numbers, so let's dig deeper into what may have caused these poor ratings. Plus, don't you want to read about the worst defender ever? Make a guess now ...

(Note: Baseball-Reference uses fielding runs below average, which can be drawn from two different sources depending on the year. Since 2002, the site uses defensive runs saved; prior to that, it uses total zone. A third defensive metric that I'll mention in the piece below is ultimate zone rating, available at FanGraphs. It's also interesting that all 10 seasons here occurred since 1990, which is a reflection of more data available to grade defense.)

10. Kirby Puckett, CF, 1993 Twins (minus-29 runs)
This one seems a little odd considering Puckett had won a Gold Glove the previous season. Puckett's defensive metrics don't match up to his reputation -- he won six Gold Gloves -- as Baseball-Reference grades him out as 14 runs below average for his career. By 1993, Puckett was 33 and had put on some weight; it's perhaps instructive that the Twins moved him from center field to right field after the All-Star break. Twenty-eight of those 29 runs below average came as a center fielder, where he made 2.50 plays per nine innings compared to the MLB average of 2.76. The Twins walked the fewest batters in the AL and were in the middle of the pack in strikeouts and home runs allowed but were 13th in hits allowed, so the team defense was pretty bad overall, with Puckett apparently playing a big role. (My recollection of Kirby, as well: He played a deep center field, which allowed him to make those famous leaping catches at the wall; he also may have played deeper as a way to play the high bounces off the Metrodome turf.)

9. Rickie Weeks, 2B, 2012 Brewers (minus-30)
Weeks has never had a good defensive reputation and in 2012 he started 152 games at second base and made just 4.08 plays per nine innings compared to the league-average range factor of 4.77. I'm not sure if he played through an injury or if they used quicksand for infield dirt that year at Miller Park, but in the past five years, the second-lowest range factor for a regular-season second baseman was 4.31 plays per nine innings -- by Weeks in 2011.

8. Nick Castellanos, 3B, 2014 Tigers (minus-30)
Castellanos' range factor was 2.10 per nine innings compared to the MLB average of 2.56, but of course he played on a staff that racked up a lot of strikeouts. Still, that's nearly one fewer play every two games. Baseball Info Solutions categorizes plays as good fielding plays and defensive misplays and Castellanos' total of GFP minus DM + errors ranked second worst among third basemen in 2014. As for his range, BIS graded him particularly weak going to his right. The hope for the Tigers is that Castellanos is young enough to improve, but he needs a lot of improvement just to become league average.

7. Gary Sheffield, 3B, 1993 Padres/Marlins (minus-31)
Nobody will dispute this rating. This was Sheffield's final season as a third baseman and he made 34 errors while fielding .899.

6. Michael Young, SS, 2005 Rangers (minus-32)
This one may be a bit surprising as Young was regarded as a solid shortstop and even won a Gold Glove in 2008. You know what the Rangers thought of that Gold Glove? They moved him to third base the following season. Anyway, Young had come up as a second baseman and moved to shortstop in 2004 and in 2005 he made 4.41 plays per nine innings versus the MLB average of 4.60 (his fielding percentage was about league average). Baseball Info Solutions tracked him with 30 good plays and 39 misplays and it's worth noting that ultimate zone rating had him at minus-23 runs and total zone at minus-31 runs. So all the metrics agreed that he just didn't have much range in this year. Young did seem to improve after that, perhaps with better positioning.

5. Ryan Braun, 3B, 2007 Brewers (minus-32)
This was Braun's rookie season when he came up as a third baseman and he was such a disaster there the Brewers moved him to left field in 2008. Braun fielded just .895, making 26 errors in 112 games, and made .57 fewer plays per nine innings than the average third baseman.

4. Chris Gomez, SS, 1997 Padres (minus-33)
I never thought of Gomez as a bad fielder, but I guess I never really gave all that much thought to Gomez in the first place. Gomez's range factor was actually higher than the MLB average, 4.63 to 4.58, and his fielding percentage was fine, so I'm not quite sure why he rates so poorly. The Padres were third-to-last in the majors in defensive efficiency (percentage of balls in play turned into outs), so a lot of Padres defenders ended up with poor ratings in 1997. The Padres made the playoffs with Gomez playing shortstop in 1996 and 1998, so they apparently didn't think he was awful there.

3. Dante Bichette, LF, 1999 Rockies (minus-34)
This one makes a lot of sense: An old outfielder trying to play in Coors Field. Bichette was fast enough to play a little center field early in his career, but by 1999 was 35 and lumbering. He had poor range -- 1.77 plays per nine innings compared to the 2.00 MLB average -- and also tossed in 13 errors. Even though Bichette hit 34 home runs and knocked in 133 runs, the Rockies traded him after the season.

2. Matt Kemp, CF, 2010 Dodgers (minus-37)
Much like Derek Jeter, there has been a lot of divisiveness over the years about Kemp's defense. Sandwiched around this all-time bad season are two Gold Glove honors in 2009 and 2011.

Let's look at his range factors per nine innings:


Year Kemp MLB
2009 2.53 2.60
2010 2.23 2.59
2011 2.32 2.55


In raw numbers, Kemp played nine fewer innings in 2010, but made 37 fewer putouts. Kemp also had just three assists in 2010 compared to 14 in 2009 and 11 in 2011. Did he deserve those Gold Glove Awards? Probably not. In 2009, he did make a high number of good fielding plays (48), according to Baseball Info Solutions, although that was countered by 33 misplays. Undoubtedly, voters remembered the spectacular plays, but there was nothing in the numbers that suggested Kemp had above-average range and he was making a large number of miscues at the same time. In 2010, his ratio of good fielding plays to misplays fell to 26-28, which combined with poor range gave him minus-37 defensive runs saved. UZR had Kemp at minus-26 runs that year, the worst total it has ever given a center fielder going back to 2002, so by all accounts Kemp was awful.

1. Adam Dunn, 1B/LF/RF, 2009 Nationals (minus-43)
I don't think anyone is going to defend Dunn's defense. He was a huge dude and while his outfield defense wasn't terrible in his first few years, he soon became huge and slow. In 2009 while playing for an awful Nationals team that lost 103 games, Dunn started 83 games in the outfield and 66 at first base. It's no surprise that he rated poorly in the outfield -- minus-20 runs -- but he also rated minus-23 runs at first base in just 540 innings. Was he really that bad? Well, he hadn't played the position much before that and isn't exactly quick to begin with, so it's easy to assume he combined a lack of range with a lack of experience. In left field, he made 1.80 plays per game while teammate Josh Willingham -- hardly known as a plus fielder himself -- made 2.17. Dunn recently confirmed his retirement and I'll miss a guy who had a unique career in major league history. But I probably won't miss his defense.

The current all-underrated team

January, 13, 2015
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Ben ZobristKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsBen Zobrist has hit 99 homers over the past six seasons.
There isn't really a scientific way to determine an all-underrated team. Certainly, if you own five fantasy teams, you know all about these guys, but my perception is these players are better than widely believed or haven't yet received the kind of attention you would expect given their value. For some, maybe they have had only one big year; for others, maybe it's because they play in a small market. Regardless, I expect all these guys to be productive regulars again in 2015.

C: Rene Rivera, Rays
You can bet if Tampa Bay trades for a player that he's probably underrated. Rivera has played with the Mariners, Twins and Padres in the majors and spent time in the minors with the Dodgers, Mets and Yankees. Not surprisingly, Rivera is an excellent pitch-framer -- hence, Tampa Bay's desire to get him from the Padres in the Wil Myers trade -- and he hit .252/.319/.432 with San Diego in 2014, good numbers for Petco Park. The question is if the bat was a fluke since it was just 329 plate appearances and Rivera hadn't hit much before that. But catchers are sometimes late bloomers at the plate.

1B: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Rizzo is probably the biggest name here, but I would suggest that many fans don't realize how good he was in 2014. He had a higher OBP and slugging percentage than Miguel Cabrera. He had a higher FanGraphs WAR than Jose Abreu of the crosstown White Sox but certainly didn't get the same level of national attention. He finished behind Adrian Gonzalez in the MVP voting because he didn't drive in as many runs. He has more power than Freddie Freeman, a young first baseman who gets more recognition. The best part: He's just 25.

2B: Brian Dozier, Twins
Dozier came up as a shortstop in 2012 but has moved over to second base and gets lost among all the quality second basemen in the American League (playing on the Twins doesn't help), but what a season he had: 23 home runs, 57 extra-base hits, 89 walks, 21 stolen bases, solid defense and 112 runs scored, second in the majors behind Mike Trout. Dozier will continue to be underrated in part because he hit just .242, but he still had a higher OBP than Chase Utley, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler.

3B: Kyle Seager, Mariners
Seager was never a highly rated prospect coming up through the Mariners system -- projected as a utility infielder -- so sometimes it takes a few years for everyone to buy into a player like that. Well, the Mariners have bought in, giving Seager a seven-year, $100 million contract extension. He made his first All-Star team in 2014 and won a Gold Glove, and his 25 home runs and 96 RBIs are even more impressive considering the difficult hitting environments of the AL West.

[+] EnlargeJhonny Peralta
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsJhonny Peralta was second among NL shortstops last season with 21 homers.
SS: Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals
It's odd for a veteran like Peralta to make a list like this, but he has always been underappreciated -- although I did sense a little more, "Oh, yeah, that guy's pretty good," in 2014 as he even picked up some down-the-ballot MVP votes for the first time in his career. Maybe playing for the Cardinals helped. He led all major league shortstops in WAR in 2014, ranking 15th among all position players on Baseball Reference and 17th on FanGraphs. The key is that Peralta has always been viewed as a shortstop without a lot of range, but the metrics have consistently rated him about average (and a little above in 2014). He has a strong arm and makes few mistakes.

LF: Corey Dickerson, Rockies
Charlie Blackmon was the Rockies outfielder who made the All-Star team in 2014, but Dickerson is the one to watch moving forward. He hit .312/.364/.567 with 24 home runs in 478 plate appearances, and that's not just a Coors-inflated line. He is slated to play left field this year with Carlos Gonzalez moving over to right. The Rockies platooned Dickerson last year, but he deserves the chance to see if he can hold his own against left-handers.

CF: Juan Lagares, Mets
Lagares has certainly received recognition as perhaps the best defensive center fielder in the majors -- winning his first Gold Glove in 2014 -- but because he's not a big basher at the plate, he still seems undervalued overall. And he's not a zero on offense. He hit .281/.321/.382, nothing great, but that makes him about a league average hitter. Baseball Info Solutions credited him with 28 defensive runs saved in 2014, and some speculated that maybe he's not that good. Willie Mays, for example, peaked (under a different system for evaluating) at 21 runs, according to Baseball Reference. Consider this, however: Lagares made 2.85 plays per nine innings in 2014, compared to the league average of 2.48 for center fielders. That's 0.37 more plays per game, which adds up to 49 additional outs over 1,200 innings; Mays' career-best was 0.27 more plays per game.

RF: Kole Calhoun, Angels
Like others on this list, Calhoun was never a top prospect. But all he has done is hit. In his first full season, he hit .272/.325/.450 with 17 home runs and 31 doubles while scoring 90 runs in 127 games. He should have another strong year as the Angels' leadoff hitter.

UT: Ben Zobrist, A's
If there's a captain on the all-underrated team, this guy is it. He does all those things that maybe aren't flashy. He draws walks, hits for some power, plays good defense (at multiple positions) and is durable. Since his breakout season in 2009, he is third among position players in Baseball Reference WAR behind Robinson Cano and Cabrera (second behind Cabrera on FanGraphs).

SP: Doug Fister, Nationals
I've written about Fister enough that maybe he's no longer underrated. He doesn't get a lot of attention pitching in the same rotation as Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, but he's nearly their equal.

SP: Dallas Keuchel, Astros
After getting punched around his first two seasons in the majors, Keuchel looked like a lefty without enough fastball to succeed at the big league level. But he put everything together in 2014, going 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA. I don't think it was a fluke.

SP: Jose Quintana, White Sox
The White Sox rotation goes deeper than Chris Sale and now Jeff Samardzija. Quintana has been one of the best starters in the AL the past two seasons, throwing 200 innings both years with ERAs of 3.51 and 3.32 in a park where fly balls really fly. There's nothing too fancy about Quintana, but he has a complete repertoire of pitches with a curveball, changeup and slider and knows how to pitch.

[+] EnlargeRyu
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonHyun-jin Ryu is 28-15 with a 3.17 ERA in two seasons with the Dodgers.
SP: Hyun-jin Ryu, Dodgers
Similar to Quintana, Ryu is another lefty with a full arsenal of pitches. Ryu throws strikes and limits home runs -- just 23 in 344 career innings in the majors. He missed some time late last year but returned to throw a strong game in the division series. The next step for him is to get up to 200 innings and prove he can be more of a workhorse behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

SP: Alex Cobb, Rays
With David Price gone, Cobb is now the undisputed ace of the Tampa Bay staff. Like Ryu, he just needs to remain healthy, as he has made 22 and 27 starts the past two seasons, although he posted a sub-3.00 ERA both years. With Cobb leading the way, Tampa Bay's young rotation is a good reason why the Rays could be the sleeper team to watch in 2015.

RP: Steve Cishek, Marlins
The sidearmer doesn't blow you away like many closers, but there's no questioning his effectiveness. In four seasons in the majors he owns a 2.65 ERA and has allowed just 10 home runs in 257 2/3 innings as he rarely throws anything above the knees.

RP: Tony Watson, Pirates
Our lefty reliever has put together back-to-back solid seasons with the Pirates, going 10-2 with a 1.63 ERA in 2014 (and making the All-Star team). Lacking command when he first reached the majors, Watson walked just 1.7 batters per nine innings last season while setting a career high in strikeout rate. With a fastball that averages 94 mph, he's a power lefty who could end up a closer someday.
Jason KipnisOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJason Kipnis is posed for a big rebound -- and, barring injuries, could be an All-Star in 2015.
It's been a slow few weeks in the world of baseball. So here are some random thoughts going through my mind as we wait for Max Scherzer to sign ... and wait ... and wait ...

1. I still don't understand the lack of support that Mike Mussina has received in the Hall of Fame voting. Well, I do understand: The majority of voters aren't analyzing their ballots much beyond a certain level of gut instinct. If they did, they'd realize Mussina should be a no-brainer Hall of Famer. He isn't in the Tommy John/Jim Kaat class.

2. Heard Chris "Mad Dog" Russo arguing that Jeff Kent was clearly better than Craig Biggio. I mean, sure, if you ignore little things like defense, baserunning and getting on base.

3. That said, I expect Kent's case to start picking up momentum. Biggio's election probably helps Kent because voters can argue that Kent was the better hitter, plus he has more than 1,500 RBIs and more home runs (377) than any other second baseman.

4. I like what St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote about the Hall of Fame: "I don't like the idea that MLB and the Hall of Fame has left it up to the ball writers to serve as the police force on PEDs. Among other things, it's a conflict of interest. We're supposed to be covering the industry as an independent group of journalists. We're not supposed to be establishing the baseball industry's standards for morality."

5. Congrats to Randy Johnson on his election to the Hall. My favorite Johnson memory is Game 5 of the 1995 American League Division Series, but I'll always remember this home run he served up to Mark McGwire. Steroids or not, good lord.

6. I miss Dave Niehaus.

7. That home run gives me an excuse to link to the video of this home run that Glenallen Hill hit onto a rooftop beyond Wrigley Field. "It's gotta be the shoes!" Well, that or maybe something else.

8. I've always wondered whether the balls weren't just a bit juiced in that era. After all, how do you explain runs per game going from 4.12 in 1992 to 4.60 in 1993 to 4.92 in 1994? Yes, there was expansion in 1993, but that hardly explains that much of an increase. So unless you believe everybody started using steroids at once, there were other factors in play beyond PEDs.

9. Back to the present. Loved the Ben Zobrist/Yunel Escobar acquisition by the A's. GM Billy Beane has now given manager Bob Melvin the most flexible lineup of hitters in the league. Zobrist can move back and forth between the infield and outfield, Marcus Semien can fill in anywhere in the infield, and Oakland has several platoon options.

10. Speaking of Zobrist, I’ll write about my all-time all-underrated team on Monday and my current all-underrated team on Tuesday. Zobrist fits the classic profile of an underrated player: draws walks, is a good defender, is durable, has medium-range power. He’s been one of baseball’s best players the past six years.

11. Two keys for the A's: Brett Lawrie has to stay healthy and have a solid season at third base, and Escobar has to bounce back from 2014, when some minor injuries may have contributed to his poor defensive metrics.

12. Outfielder Josh Reddick, initially critical of the Josh Donaldson trade, has apparently jumped back on the Beane bandwagon. He can't wait for the season to start. Me, neither.

13. How about those Seahawks?!?!

14. With their win over the Panthers on Saturday, the Seahawks became the first defending Super Bowl champ since the 2005 Patriots to win a playoff game. Doesn't that seem a little weird? Does it mean that winning the Super Bowl, like winning the World Series, involves a certain amount of luck in the playoffs?

15. With all due respect to the great Kenny Easley, I don't think he was the same kind of force on defense as Kam Chancellor. Yes, that's an old Seahawks reference.

16. I'm not ready to jump on the Padres' bandwagon.

17. I mean, I love the boldness of new general manager A.J. Preller, but I don't like the idea of Wil Myers playing center; Will Middlebrooks just isn't that good. Plus, San Diego's first baseman has no power, and shortstop is an issue.

18. But the Padres are going to be interesting, which is certainly more than has been said about this team in years.

19. There's no reason not to believe in Matt Shoemaker, other than he wasn't good before 2014. But there's nothing that says "fluke" in his numbers: good strikeout rate, excellent control and that great changeup/splitter.

20. Chris Davis will have a much better season in 2015.

21. I'm not so sure about Josh Hamilton, however.

22. Signing Scherzer to a mega-contract doesn't seem like a Cardinals type of move, but they do have to be a little worried about the health of Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha.

23. I don't quite get the rumors about David Price. Shouldn't the Tigers just keep him and maybe sign Scherzer and put out their best team for 2015? How many more great years are they going to get from Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez? Detroit's window is now.

24. Of course, I get that they don't want to cash in so many chips and then turn into the Phillies. But, at age 85, does Tigers owner Mike Ilitch really care about 2019?

25. Jayson Stark wrote about Carlos Delgado getting bumped off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year. I don't see Delgado as a Hall of Famer, and while he did have some monster seasons, he's also way down my list of first basemen with possible Hall of Fame cases. You have Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff, Rafael Palmeiro, John Olerud, Keith Hernandez and Will Clark to consider before you get to Delgado.

26. Juan Lagares made 2.85 outs per nine innings in 2014; the average center fielder made 2.48. That's .37 more plays per game. Willie Mays' career best was .24 plays above the MLB average per nine innings.

27. Let's hope Matt Harvey returns as the same pitcher we saw in 2013.

28. The Braves are going to be terrible. No Jayson Heyward, no Justin Upton. Having Evan Gattis in the outfield and Alberto Callaspo at second base will severely weaken the defense.

29. It's almost like John Hart was a general manager from a different era when he didn't have defensive metrics to examine.

30. If the Braves are indeed just building for 2017 and their new ballpark, why not look to trade Craig Kimbrel?

31. Go see "Selma." It's an important American film with a lesson that still resonates in many ways today.

32. King Felix's changeup makes me smile even in the middle of winter.

33. I've been meaning to write a Mookie Betts/Javier Baez piece, but FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan beat me to it.

34. The answer: Mookie.

35. Your 2015 American League home run champ: Chris Carter.

36. Speaking of the Astros, I predict a huge breakout season for George Springer. Get him on your fantasy team if you can.

37. Your 2015 National League home run champ: Giancarlo Stanton. I know, too easy.

38. I wonder if the Giants will be conservative with Madison Bumgarner's innings, at least in the first couple of months of the season. He ended up throwing 270 innings between the regular season and playoffs, well above the 223 he threw in 2012, when the Giants also won the World Series.

39. If I were to bet on the Yankees either winning the AL East or imploding, I'd go with the implosion.

40. Still, there are enough big names on their roster, and if the rotation stays healthy, it wouldn't shock me if the Yankees did win the division.

41. A young pitcher who could make a big leap forward this year: Drew Hutchison of the Blue Jays.

42. Weren't the Rangers supposed to be in the middle of an AL West dynasty by now?

43. Wish the Indians would make one more move for a bat, but unfortunately they have a lot of bad money invested in Nick Swisher, David Murphy and Michael Bourn.

44. Yes, Corey Kluber will contend for another Cy Young Award.

45. Barry Bonds was intentionally walked 120 times in 2004. That's still maybe the most impressive stat in baseball history.

46. Brandon McCarthy, everyone's favorite smart major league pitcher, thinks PED users should be admitted to Cooperstown. Give that man a vote!

47. Still don't quite understand why the Dodgers gave McCarthy $48 million, however -- considering that he's made more than 25 starts in a season just once during his career.

48. You know, Zobrist would have been a nice acquisition for the Nationals. Maybe they can pry Chase Utley away from the Phillies.

49. I think Yasiel Puig's power will bounce back this year. He might hit 25 home runs -- which would make him a very strong MVP candidate.

50. An important man in 2015: Red Sox outfield coach Arnie Beyeler, who will work with Hanley Ramirez and our man Mookie.

51. I have the March in Paris on TV in the background. Amazing.

52. You can never watch too many videos of puppies playing in snow.

53. A quiet offseason move that could pay nice dividends: Toronto getting Michael Saunders from Seattle. I'll be curious to see how his numbers increase as he escapes the AL West.

54. Of course, he has to stay healthy.

55. A trade that still makes sense: Mark Trumbo to the Mariners. Even if Yasmany Tomas proves he can handle third base for the Diamondbacks, we know Trumbo can't really play left field. The Mariners could still use another right-handed bat, and Trumbo would give them the flexibility to sit Logan Morrison against left-handers and use Nelson Cruz in the outfield at times.

56. I love watching Jonathan Schoop play defense. He can really turn two. It wouldn't surprise me to see him win a Gold Glove this year.

57. Will Stephen Strasburg take a leap forward this year?

58. I think Bryce Harper will make The Leap.

59. If you've never read "Ball Four," why not?

60. I'm enjoying Dan Epstein's "Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of '76."

61. That was the first year I remember watching baseball, and as Epstein's book shows, although it's not remembered as a classic season -- mostly because the World Series was a four-game sweep -- it was a widely entertaining year and an important one. The reserve clause was struck, Charlie Finley fought with Bowie Kuhn, the Yankees fought with the Red Sox, and Bill Veeck had his White Sox players wear shorts.

62. Plus, Mark Fidrych.

63. Here's a good piece on how the Phillies reached this sorry state of affairs.

64. I predict that Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera will each give up at least one home run this season.

65. If you're bored, go watch some highlights of Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Jarrod Dyson playing defense.

66. I know everybody is down on the Reds, but if Joey Votto is healthy, Jay Bruce returns to being Jay Bruce and Billy Hamilton improves at the plate, it's not impossible to dream about them being competitive.

67. No, Tim Lincecum isn't going to be better. He's been below replacement level for three seasons now. There is no reason to expect him to turn things around. His road ERA is 5.55 over the past three years. Take him out of AT&T Park, and he's exposed.

68. Casey McGehee won't be the answer at third base for the Giants.

69. Would you take Clayton Kershaw or the field for NL Cy Young?

70. Another fun note about 1976: Joe Morgan led the NL with 1.020 OPS. No other hitter was within 100 points. And he played a key defensive position and won a Gold Glove. He also stole 60 bases in 69 attempts. You can argue that Morgan's level of play that year was as high as any position player's ever. The only knock against him is he missed 21 games.

71. I can't wait to see what Jorge Soler can do over a full season.

72. Also: Rusney Castillo.

73. Kolten Wong or Joe Panik moving forward? I'll take Wong.

74. If I'm drawing up a list of the most important players for 2015, I might start with Justin Verlander.

75. I'm going "Selma" over "Boyhood," "The Imitation Game" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" for best picture of 2015. Haven't seen "American Sniper" yet, although that could factor in the running as well.

76. Hollywood needs to make more movies about strong and courageous women. Is there a girl version of "Boyhood"? Why not?

77. I have the Pirates even with the Cardinals right now. Not sure why it seems like St. Louis is such a consensus favorite.

78. A signing that isn't going to work out: Torii Hunter and the Twins.

79. Joe Mauer will be better. Right?

80. An interesting thing to watch: How will Mike Trout adjust to all those high fastballs?

81. As that article points out, even as Trout started seeing more high fastballs as the season progressed, he still slugged .502 in the second half. But he also hit just .257 with a .347 OBP.

82. I hope you read Mark Simon's defensive storylines to watch for the National League and American League.

83. If you like spy novels, I recommend Alan Furst's work. Just discovered him last year. He writes hyper-realistic novels set in Europe in the days before World War II. You feel like you're in Paris or Warsaw with war looming.

84. Another guy I can't wait to see: Joc Pederson.

85. A waistline I can't wait to see: Bartolo Colon's.

86. How can you not love Jose Altuve?

87. I'm up to No 87 and haven't even mentioned James Shields yet. So I just did. No idea where he's going to sign. Giants? Red Sox? Cardinals?

88. Guy who will rebound in 2015: Jason Kipnis. He played through some injuries in 2014, so if he's healthy, I wouldn't be surprised to see him back in the All-Star Game.

89. That said, he's up against a tough field of second basemen in the AL: Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Altuve, underrated Brian Dozier, Ian Kinsler, Zobrist. At least Howie Kendrick got shipped over to the NL.

90. I'd like the Marlins better if Jose Fernandez were going to be ready at the start of the season.

91. A Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl would be the revenge of Pete Carroll. I want Bill Simmons to write a 25,000-word preview if we get this matchup.

92. I'd take Pedro in his prime over Koufax in his prime and not even hesitate about it.

93. I had the Rays as the sleeper team of 2015 before the Zobrist trade, but losing him is a big blow to the 2015 offense.

94. Chris Archer could be a breakout pitcher, however. If he can cut his walks just a bit, he's ready to become an elite starter.

95. Corey Dickerson > Charlie Blackmon.

96. Yes, the White Sox wore shorts for a game in 1976. How can you not love 1976?

97. Yes, I'll watch the final season of "Mad Men." I'm guessing Don Draper will drink a lot and not much will happen.

98. I rate the Dodgers as the favorites in the NL West, but they are relying on a lot of old players and injury-prone pitchers: Juan Uribe will be 36; Jimmy Rollins is 36; Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are 33; Howie Kendrick is 31; and McCarthy and Brett Anderson haven't been the picture of health. The Dodgers do have depth on the roster, but there's a good chance they'll need it.

99. Pirates' outfield or Marlins' outfield: Which do you like more?

100. Edgar Martinez is a deserving Hall of Famer. Come on, I've managed to work Edgar into just about everything else I've written lately! I promise this will be my last Edgar reference for ... well, OK, I don't want to make a guarantee I can't keep. Just check out his Baseball-Reference page.
Yes, nothing much is going on in baseball unless you want to complain about the Yankees' payroll, but that's an old topic.

So I was on an email chain with some friends the other day, and my friend Messina joked about when the first middle reliever will get inducted into the Hall of Fame. Which led somebody else to ask, "Who are the best middle relievers of all time?" I suggested Jeff Nelson. Somebody else suggested Kent Tekulve.

Which gets us to this post. Tekulve, the skinny, bespectacled submariner with the Pirates and Phillies in the 1970s and '80s, spent much too time as a closer to qualify for this list -- 184 career saves. I want guys who were true middle relievers their entire careers. I set these parameters: at least 80 percent of career games in relief, fewer than 50 saves and the highest career WAR.

Let's see who we get ...

10. Scot Shields (12.2 WAR) -- Shields was a rookie on the 2002 World Series champion Angels and did make 13 starts in 2003 before going on a nice run in the bullpen. From 2002 to 2008, he posted a 2.98 ERA when offense was still high, and he threw 105.1 innings in 2004 (only one reliever since has topped 100 innings, Scott Proctor in 2006).

9. Matt Thornton (12.7 WAR) -- Thornton was a first-round pick of the Mariners in 1998 but didn't reach the majors until 2004. Too wild as a starter, the hard-throwing lefty made one start as a rookie but has been in relief ever since and has just 23 career saves. He did get a chance to be the White Sox's closer at the start of 2011 but blew saves in four of his five appearances and was moved back to a setup role. He has a career 3.43 ERA and even made the 2010 All-Star team.

8. Eric Plunk (13.4 WAR) -- A big right-hander who helped set up Dennis Eckersley with the A's in 1988 and '89, Plunk had a good stretch of work from '88 through '96 with the A's, Yankees and Indians, posting a 3.19 ERA over 722 innings. Known for his thick glasses, Plunk was also involved in two different trades for Rickey Henderson (he went to the A's when the Yankees got Henderson and then went to the Yankees when the A's got Henderson back), which is at least the answer to a trivia question.

7. Larry Andersen (13.7 WAR) -- Yes, Andersen with an "e." Andersen has an even more infamous trade background: He was the guy the Astros sent to the Red Sox to acquire a minor leaguer named Jeff Bagwell. Now a broadcaster with the Phillies, Andersen had a tremendous two-year peak in '89 and '90 (when he was traded) with ERAs under 2.00 both years while pitching a combined 183.1 innings.

6. Jeff Nelson (14.8 WAR) -- So I had a good guess. A 6-foot-8 guy who came from the side with a hard, sweeping slider (maybe the biggest-breaking slider I've ever seen), Nellie was death to right-handers. I don't know how right-handed batters ever hit it. He came up with the Mariners and went to the Yankees along with Tino Martinez in a bad trade by the Mariners. He was a key guy for the Yankees as they won four titles in five years, posting a 3.24 ERA in the postseason over those five seasons in 36 appearances.

5. Joaquin Benoit (14.8 WAR) -- Benoit is up to 48 career saves, so he might get bumped off this list next year. Not that we'll run this list again next year. I forgot that the Rangers kept trying to make him a starter when he first came up; he made 55 starts early in his career before moving to the bullpen (he had a 6.06 career ERA as a starter, so that time didn't help his WAR total).

4. Arthur Rhodes (15.0 WAR) -- Rhodes was a top pitching prospect in the minors who reached the majors right at the dawn of the steroids era. Maybe if he'd come up at another time he'd have eventually settled in; the mid-'90s ruined many young pitching prospects. Rhodes lasted until he was 41, pitching for nine teams, mostly with the Orioles and Mariners. He joined the Cardinals at the end of 2011 in his final season and won a ring with them.

3. Steve Reed (17.7 WAR) -- Another sidearmer/submariner, Reed's best years came with the Rockies in the mid-'90s, so his dominant seasons look better once you factor in Coors Field. He had a 2.15 ERA in 84 innings in 1995, valued at 4.1 WAR, and a career 3.63 ERA.

2. Paul Quantrill (18.0 WAR) -- This is getting exciting! Quantrill spent his first few years starting and relieving before taking his sinker permanently to the bullpen in 1997. In the heart of the steroids era, he had a 2.81 ERA from 1997 to 2003 with the Blue Jays and Dodgers. The rubber-armed Quantrill led his league in appearances each season from 2001 to 2004. That was his last good year, as Joe Torre ran him into the ground with 86 games and 95 innings. In Game 4 of the ALCS, it was Quantrill who gave up David Ortiz's 12th-inning walk-off home run.

1. Mark Eichhorn (19.3 WAR) -- Fittingly, we end with another sidearmer. How he became a sidearmer is interesting. He reached the majors with Toronto in 1982 with a conventional style and made seven starts but hurt his shoulder, forcing him to eventually drop down with a release point below his belt. He didn't make it back to the majors until 1986, when he had one of the great relief seasons of all time with the Blue Jays. He went 14-6 with a 1.72 ERA and 10 saves while pitching 157 innings -- all in relief -- with 166 strikeouts (Eichhorn didn't have quite enough innings to qualify, but no starter averaged more strikeouts per nine in the AL that year). At 7.4, Baseball-Reference ranks it only behind Goose Gossage's 1975 season and John Hiller's 1973 season for single-season relief WAR. The next year, Eichhorn pitched 89 games and 127.2 innings. He had other fine seasons like a 1.98 ERA in 82 innings for the Angels in 1991 before finishing up his career in 1996.

So there you go. Just in case you want to impress your friends with obscure baseball knowledge.

Defensive storylines of the offseason: NL

January, 8, 2015
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Getty ImagesJason Heyward, Miguel Montero and Howie Kendrick are notable defense-minded acquisitions.

The major league baseball offseason still has a way to go, but I thought I'd take a look at how teams have changed defensively heading into 2015.

Here's a look at the National League:

 

NL East

Atlanta Braves
Every move the Braves made this offseason weakened them considerably defensively.

First they traded the best defensive right fielder in baseball in Jason Heyward to the Cardinals (for fear of losing him in free agency next offseason) and signed Nick Markakis (now recovering from neck surgery) to replace him. The difference defensively may be a couple of wins alone (just for all the balls that Heyward chased down in the right-field corner that others don't reach).

They also traded Justin Upton with the intent of plugging the hole in left field with Evan Gattis. That could be dicey, given that Gattis chalked up -10 runs saved in 48 games in left field in 2013.

They signed Alberto Callaspo to play second base. He's accumulated -28 defensive runs saved there in the past six seasons.

And lastly, to mentor Christian Bethancourt, they signed A.J. Pierzynski. All Pierzynski did was rank 34th in defensive runs saved among the 35 catchers with the most innings played last season (-11).

Miami Marlins
The Marlins remade their infield, though not in a great way with Michael Morse penned in at first base (-5 career runs saved there) and Dee Gordon at second (-5 runs saved). Gordon at least looked comfortable at the position and there's potential for improvement there. Martin Prado was a good get from the Yankees. He has 24 runs saved at third base dating back to the start of the 2010 season and is definitely an improvement over Casey McGehee.

New York Mets
The Mets don't necessarily have their shortstop yet, and who that is could go a long way in determining their level of offseason success. It could end up being Wilmer Flores by default. Flores had minimal range in a tryout there last season, but proved skilled at converting outs on balls hit at him and at turning double plays.

The corner outfield also could be a bit shaky. Michael Cuddyer typically rates among the worst defensive outfielders in baseball and his and Curtis Granderson's aging legs in right and left field respectively could create a lot of extra ground for amazing center fielder Juan Lagares to cover.

Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies need to find some defensive skill among their young players, as they traded two of the few players on their roster who were decent defensively in Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins. Looks like we'll find out if Freddy Galvis can play shortstop full-time. In 41 games there, he's at -4 defensive runs saved.

Washington Nationals
The much anticipated move of Ryan Zimmerman to first base will finally come to fruition now that Adam LaRoche has signed with the White Sox. Zimmerman, a former Web Gem champ at third, hasn't been the same since he hurt his right shoulder, limiting his throwing ability.

The Nationals also signed Dan Uggla to a minor league deal. His usage should anything happen to Danny Espinosa could be problematic. Twice in the past four seasons, Uggla has ranked last among second basemen in defensive runs saved. Perhaps he could get a look at first base as well.

 

NL Central

Chicago Cubs
The Cubs' most visible defensive overhaul comes behind the plate, where Miguel Montero and David Ross, both excellent in the pitch-framing department, replace Welington Castillo, who ranked among the worst in that area.

"Framing is something [Montero] does well, especially in the low part of the zone which is important for us," said Cubs president Theo Epstein. "We have a lot of guys that pitch down there. He had outstanding framing numbers last season which jibes with the narrative of Henry Blanco working with him [in Arizona]. They really focused on that. It's a nice thing to have. He can steal a couple strikes here and there for your pitching staff."

Cincinnati Reds
The Reds had done little this offseason that tinkered with their defense until trading for Marlon Byrd.

Byrd should be a nice fit in left field for a year, though he's played only two games there in the past five seasons. He's been credited with 18 defensive runs saved the past two seasons in right field, which is currently occupied by Jay Bruce.

Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers finally found a first baseman to replace Prince Fielder by trading for Adam Lind, but he's a shaky defender there (-13 career runs saved). There is an addition by subtraction element with the departure of second baseman Rickie Weeks, but Scooter Gennett needs to improve, lest he'll give the team below average production at that position. In short, this could be a very shaky infield. But at least the Brewers have Carlos Gomez and (at least sometimes) Gerardo Parra in the outfield to make up for it.

Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates couldn't afford Russell Martin, so they went back to the well that yielded him and Chris Stewart by trading for another good pitch framer (though one likely not in Martin's class) in Francisco Cervelli. The Stewart/Cervelli platoon will make for an interesting experiment.

Pittsburgh also will have a new first baseman with the move of Pedro Alvarez there and Corey Hart as his backup. Sean Rodriguez, in his jack-of-all-trades role, could also see time there, as he's someone capable of filling in defensively just about anywhere.

St. Louis Cardinals
The team with the most defensive runs saved in baseball last season just got better with the outstanding Jason Heyward patrolling right field. His defense could add a couple of wins by itself, considering Cardinals outfielders combined for -4 runs saved there last season.

 

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks face two questions regarding their defense heading into spring training.

Can Yasmany Tomas handle third base?

Who is going to catch with the trade of Miguel Montero to the Cubs?

The answer to each is unknown. What is known is that Mark Trumbo is not a great fit in such a spacious outfield (to his credit, he is a good first baseman), but he'll be given another shot in left field.

Colorado Rockies
It sounds like the Rockies are going to try to see if former Gold Glove winner Carlos Gonzalez can shift to right field full-time, with Corey Dickerson now in left. The sample size on Gonzalez is less than 1,000 career innings there, but the results are decent (9 runs saved).

Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers will look very different on the defensive side with a new double-play combination in Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick (described by team president Andrew Friedman as "dynamic players on both sides of the ball"), rookie Joc Pederson in center and a stellar pitch framer in Yasmani Grandal behind the plate.

"There's no question we're going to be significantly better defensively. I think it's going to help on the run-prevention side quite a bit," Friedman said earlier this offseason.

San Diego Padres
The Padres have an all-new outfield with some combination of Matt Kemp (most likely in right), Wil Myers (most likely in center) and Justin Upton (most likely in left).

The hope will have to be that they hit more than they let in. Kemp doesn't rate well at any of the three outfield spots, so it's a matter of finding where he'll do the least damage. Myers is basically stuck playing center by default, but given that he was at -11 runs saved over two seasons in right field, who knows how that will go.

Upton is great at getting to balls, but there's only so far he can go playing left field, and his throwing arm tends to spray balls all over the place.

The one thing the Padres do have going for them is that they can put a better defensive team on the field late in games, with Cameron Maybin and newly acquired infielder Clint Barmes serving a useful role on the bench.

San Francisco Giants
The big thing to watch will be how much the Giants miss the presence of Pablo Sandoval, who was actually a very good defensive third baseman when he was in good shape (such as last season). Casey McGehee has never rated particularly well at the position and we'll see how big a drop-off he represents.

Joe Panik rated about average at second base in a 70-game look in 2014, though he looked better than that in the postseason. He should get a full-time look there in 2015.
I don't have a Hall of Fame vote since I've been a BBWAA member for only one year. Will there even be a Hall of Fame in nine years when I'll be eligible to vote?

Anyway, if I did have a vote, I've come around to using "wins above average" as a good starting point for examining Hall of Fame candidates. I'm a little more interested in peak performance than pure longevity. Obviously, the easy Hall of Fame choices such as Randy Johnson had both. Sometimes, a guy such as Pedro Martinez had such a dominant peak that he's an easy choice, as well.

By looking at wins above average instead of wins above replacement, we focus more on Hall of Fame-level seasons and give less credit or no credit to seasons where the player was more or less just compiling counting statistics. An average player is worth about 2.0 WAR per season, so we're looking at value above that level. Some guys -- such as Mike Mussina or Fred McGriff -- seem to be dismissed for being judged as "compilers" rather than big stars. But is that perception or reality?

Here are the wins above average totals for the 20 strong Hall of Fame candidates on this year's ballot, via Baseball-Reference.com. (Doesn't include Lee Smith, as relievers need to be judged differently.) I also included each player's career WAR, the difference between WAR and WAA, and then the percentage of each player's career value that could labeled "peak" value.


(In some ways, this is similar to Jay Jaffe's JAWS system, which combines two aspects of a player's career to arrive at a JAWS score: his best seven seasons and his career value.)

Anyway, what can we learn from this chart? The biggest compiler here is Craig Biggio, with only 44 percent of his career value coming from wins above average. Mussina did have a lot of "non-peak" value, but his career wins above average still ranks in the top 10. In fact, he should be viewed as less of a compiler than John Smoltz, who may get elected this year while Mussina struggles to get even one-third of the votes.

McGriff, on the other hand, rates low across the board, both in wins above average and percentage peak value. McGriff's proponents like to argue that he hit 493 home runs and did it clean. That's the difficult part of judging this era if you're going to factor in PEDs: Do you give McGriff extra credit because there are no steroid rumors attached to him, and thus he compares favorably to Hall of Famers like Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey?

The player perhaps most helped by this method is Larry Walker, which makes sense. He had a relatively short career, in part due to myriad injuries, but his career WAR is high, with 66 percent of that value coming from wins above average. I'm still skeptical about Walker due to the short career and the Coors Field boost. Yes, WAR makes park adjustments, but I don't believe it accurately accounts for how much a good hitter is boosted by playing in Coors. Edgar Martinez may have hit .400 if he'd played there.

So if I had a ballot, which 10 guys would I vote for? I would vote for PED guys and I'd vote for my top 10 players, regardless of trying to rig the ballot to help certain players: Bonds, Clemens, Johnson, Pedro, Bagwell, Schilling, Piazza, Mussina, Trammell, Edgar.

Others I'd classify as Hall of Famers: Smoltz, Biggio, Raines, McGwire.

On the fence: Kent, Walker, Sheffield, Sosa, McGriff.

Not a Hall of Famer: Delgado, Smith.

The best games of the 2014 season

December, 18, 2014
12/18/14
8:00
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MLB Network Radio has a fan vote going on to select the top five games of 2014, with the winning games re-aired during the holiday season. Some of the choices are more about the individual performance involved -- Lonnie Chisenhall's nine-RBI game, for example, or Clayton Kershaw no-hitter/near-perfect game -- and four are games from the postseason.

Of those four, it's pretty clear to me which was the best game of the year: Kansas City's 9-8 win over Oakland in the wild-card game, as the Royals rallied from a 7-3 deficit and won 9-8 in 12 innings with two runs in the bottom of the 12th. It had everything you want from a great game: Comebacks, great plays, clutch hits, controversial managerial moves and postseason pressure.

After the game, I wrote that it was arguably the fifth-most exciting postseason game ever played, using a metric called Win Probability Added (via Baseball-Reference.com).

Using WPA skews towards higher-scoring games or big comebacks, especially late in games. Still, we can use the method to determine which team had the most exciting victory in the 2014 regular season. The top five:

5. Boston Red Sox, Sept. 5 versus Blue Jays: 1.116 WPA

The Red Sox scored three times in the bottom of the eighth to tie it up 6-6, but the Jays scored twice in the top of the 10th for an 8-6 lead. Boston then scored three runs off Toronto closer Casey Janssen, with Yoenis Cespedes singling in the winning run.

4. Cleveland Indians, May 21 versus Tigers: 1.127 WPA

A wild back-and-forth game, David Murphy tied it 9-9 with a two-run, one-out homer off Joe Nathan in the ninth. The Tigers scored on Alex Avila's homer in the top of the 13th but the Indians scored twice to win 11-10 -- the winning run scoring on Al Alburquerque's bases-loaded balk with two outs.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks, June 4 versus Rockies: 1.139 WPA

The final score was 16-8 but the Rockies led 8-5 entering the eighth. Arizona then scored six runs in the eighth and five more in the ninth. Paul Goldschmidt's bases-clearing double in the eighth was the go-ahead hit.

2. Minnesota Twins, April 3 versus White Sox: 1.174 WPA

This was Minnesota's first win of the season; it was pretty much downhill from here. Minnesota led 5-1, the White Sox took an 8-5 lead but Minnesota scored twice in the top of the seventh to make it 8-7. Both teams scored a run in the eighth and then the Twins scored twice in the ninth with two outs, Oswaldo Arcia's triple plating the go-ahead run.

1. Colorado Rockies, May 3 versus Mets: 1.366 WPA

Our second Coors Field game. The Mets led 6-0 early on before the Rockies scored eight runs in the fifth. The Mets tied it, the Rockies took a lead, the Mets tied it again and then took a 10-9 lead in the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, Charlie Culberson hit a pinch-hit two-run homer for the dramatic walk-off.

It wasn't a great season for the Rockies or Culberson (who hit .195 with three home runs), but they'll always have May 3, 2014.



Looking for a Christmas gift for the baseball fan in your life? Or maybe a little something for yourself? I recommend "The Bill James Handbook" from Baseball Info Solutions (available here).

Yes, you can get all the basic stats you need and many more at sites like Baseball-Reference.com, but sometimes it's much easier to flip through a book than to type in "Adeiny Hechavarria" or "Jarrod Saltalamacchia." Plus, the book includes much more than a player's basic year-by-year stats. It's loaded with fun stuff like Bill James' starting pitching rankings for each month (Clayton Kershaw started the season at No. 1 and remained there all season), average velocity through the years for pitchers, individual and team baserunning data, pitchers' repertoires, manager tendencies, leaderboards, left/right data, 2015 projections, Bill James specialties like Win Shares and his Hall of Fame monitor, and much more.

Here are 10 random things I learned from flipping through the book:

1. The Kansas City Royals were only the 10th-best baserunning team in the majors.

BIS uses extra bases taken (such as first to third on a single), outs made while advancing, times doubled off, double plays grounded into and stolen base gain to arrive at an overall "net gain" of bases. The Nationals were No. 1 at +113 while the Royals were +52. Kansas City did rank No. 1 in stolen base gain at +81, but were -29 on the bases otherwise, thanks in large part to Billy Butler. At -31 bases, he ranked tied with Alex Avila as the worst baserunner in the majors. (Butler went first to third on a single once all season.) The best? Ben Revere of the Phillies had a net gain of +54, followed by Leonys Martin of the Rangers at +42.

2. Two starting pitchers didn't allow a single stolen base: Hisashi Iwakuma and Doug Fister.

Baserunners were 0-for-8 stealing Iwakuma and just 0-for-1 against Fister. Scott Feldman of the Astros allowed the most stolen bases with 35. He allowed 30 the year before when he was with the Cubs and Orioles, so it wasn't just an Astros catchers couldn't throw out runners type of deal.

3. There were 33 home run robberies in 2014.

Jay Bruce and J.D. Martinez each had two. Johnny Cueto and Bartolo Colon both benefited from two robberies. And poor Rene Rivera was the only hitter to lose two would-be home runs.

4. Brock Holt led the American League with a .349 average in "close and late" situations.

And Munenori Kawasaki was second at .346.


5. Josh Tomlin had the AL's best start of the year.

Against Seattle on June 28, the Cleveland right-hander allowed one hit with 11 K's and no walks for a Game Score of 96. Clayton Kershaw's 15-strikeout no-hitter scored 102 (the second-best nine-inning Game Score ever, behind Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout one-hitter).

6. Nathan Eovaldi led the NL in hits allowed .. and percentage of pitches in the strike zone.

Related? Perhaps.

7. Nolan Arenado hit 18 home runs -- 16 at home.

That's certainly one of the biggest home/road splits I've ever seen.

8. The Nationals went 15-4 against the Mets.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers did the same against the Diamondbacks, for the most wins one team had over another.

9. Giancarlo Stanton is projected to hit 40 home runs.

Jose Abreu is projected to lead the AL with 38 ... along with George Springer.

10. Terry Francona led the majors in intentional walks that backfired.

BIS kept track of all intentional walks and labeled them as good and not good, with the "not goods" further broken down into "bombs" -- when multiple runs scored after the IW. Francona led the majors with 51 intentional walks, 22 not goods and 13 bombs. Compare that to Ned Yost, who issued just 14 intentional walks.

Anyway, that's the kind of fun stuff you can find in the book. Check it out.
Randy JohnsonRich Pilling/Getty ImagesRandy Johnson should be a unanimous selection in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Hall of Fame season is kind of like Christmas season: It brings gifts and memories but also a lot of acrimony and stress, and it lasts way too long. Hall of Fame ballots were mailed out Monday to eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which means the next six weeks will feature many Hall of Fame columns, debates, analyses and other assorted name-calling and belligerence.

Here are 10 main questions of conversation this Hall of Fame season:

1. Who are the new names on the ballot?

Last year's star-studded ballot that featured the election of first-timers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas is followed by another long list of intriguing newcomers: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Delgado are the top names.

2. How many of those guys get in?

Johnson should be a unanimous selection with his 303 career wins, five Cy Young Awards, four ERA titles, nine strikeout titles and six 300-strikeout seasons, but 16 of the 571 voters last year failed to vote for Maddux, so Johnson likely awaits the same slight and will get 95-plus percent of the vote but not 100 percent.

Martinez would certainly appear to be a lock to get the required 75 percent, but Hall voters tend to emphasize wins at the expense of everything else for starting pitchers and Martinez has just 219, so you never know. The BBWAA hasn't elected a starter with that few wins since Don Drysdale, who had 209, in 1984. Still, with the second-best winning percentage since 1900 of any pitcher with at least 150 wins (behind only Whitey Ford), three Cy Young Awards, five ERA titles and the best adjusted ERA for any starting pitcher in history, Pedro should cruise to Cooperstown at well above the 75 percent line. Really, like the Unit, there is no reason not to vote for him.

Smoltz has a little more complicated case and may suffer in comparison to being on the same ballot with Johnson and Martinez. While Pedro was 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA, Smoltz was 213-155 with a 3.33 ERA. He did pick up 154 saves while serving as a closer for three-plus seasons and maybe that will resonate with voters. Smoltz also has a great postseason record -- 15-4, 2.67 ERA -- but similar postseason dominance didn't help Curt Schilling last year when he received just 29 percent of the votes. I believe Smoltz does much better than that, but I don't see why Schilling -- 216-146, 3.46 in his career with 79.9 WAR compared to Smoltz's 69.5 -- would receive just 29 percent and Smoltz 75 percent.

Sheffield, with the PED allegations, has no chance despite 509 career home runs and over 1,600 RBIs and runs. Delgado put up big numbers in an era when a lot of guys were putting up big numbers, and his 473 career home runs with 1,512 RBIs may not be enough to even keep him on the ballot (you need to receive 5 percent to remain on).

3. Does Craig Biggio get in this year?

He fell just two votes short last year on his second time on the ballot, so you have to think at least two voters will add him, assuming some of the holdovers don't change their minds. Biggio's Hall of Fame case is kind of ironic in that he was probably one of the more underrated players in the league while active. He finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting three times (10th, fifth, fourth), but the same writers who once dismissed him as an MVP candidate will now be putting him in the Hall of Fame. He's a deserving candidate, but if he hadn't played that final season when he was terrible and cleared 3,000 career hits, you wonder if he'd be even this close. Voters love their round numbers.

4. What's the new 10-year rule?

Candidates will now be allowed to remain on the ballot for only 10 years instead of 15. Three current candidates -- Don Mattingly (in his 15th season), Alan Trammell (14th) and Lee Smith (13th) were allowed to remain on the ballot.

For the first time, the names of all voters will also be made public, although neither the Hall of Fame nor BBWAA will not reveal an individual's ballot.

5. Who will be most affected by this?

Well, all the steroids guys, obviously. Mark McGwire, for example, is on the ballot for his ninth year, not enough time in case voter attitudes toward PEDs starts reversing course. Aside from that group, Tim Raines is on the ballot for the eighth year. He received 46 percent of the vote last year; that was actually a drop from the 52 percent he had in 2013. Historically, nearly every player who received 50 percent of the vote from the BBWAA eventually got elected, but now Raines has just three years left and was affected by the crowded ballot last year.

6. But the ballot is still crowded, right?

Yep. Remember, voters are allowed to vote for up to 10 players -- although most ballots don't get to 10, so the "crowded" ballot is somewhat of an overrated issue. Still, it's there, and several players saw their vote totals decrease last year. Anyway, I would argue there are as many as 22 or 23 players who have some semblance of a Hall of Fame case based on historical precedent. In order of career Baseball-Reference WAR: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Trammell, Smoltz, Raines, Edgar Martinez, Biggio, McGwire, Sheffield, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Delgado, Lee Smith. Plus arguably Nomar Garciaparra and Mattingly, who had high peak levels of performance but short careers.

Anyway, those who believe in a big ballot will once again have to make some tough choices on whom to leave off.

7. For which players is this an important year?

Raines needs a big increase this year, but it's starting to look slim for him. That makes Bagwell and Piazza two of the more interesting names. Piazza was at 62 percent last year on his second year, a 4.4 percent increase from 2013. If he sees another vote increase, we can assume he's on his way to election; but if he holds at the same percentage, we can probably assume there are enough voters who put him in the PED category and are thus keeping him permanently under that 75 percent threshold. Similar issue with Bagwell; he was 54 percent last year, actually down from 59.6 percent in 2013. If he gets back up over 60 percent, he may be back on a Cooperstown trek.

8. Hey, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling look like pretty good candidates.

That's not a question, but, yes, yes they are. Mussina (270 wins, 82.6 WAR) and Schilling are overwhelmingly qualified by Hall of Fame standards, even by BBWAA-only standards, especially when factoring in Schilling's postseason success. That both received fewer than 30 percent of the vote in their first year on the ballot was a little shocking and definitely disappointing.

9. What about the steroids guys?

No changes -- or progress, if you prefer -- here. Clemens (35.4 percent) and Bonds (34.7 percent) both received fewer votes than the year before. Rafael Palmeiro already fell off the ballot, and I suspect Sosa (7.2 percent) falls off this time.

10. What about Jack Morris?

Mercifully, Morris is no longer on the ballot so we don't have to spend all December arguing his case yet again. His candidacy goes over to the Expansion Era committee, which will next vote in 2016. I suspect Morris gets in then.

End-of-season Haiku for every team

November, 7, 2014
11/07/14
10:35
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Congrats to the Giants on their World Series victory. Let's look back at the year on the diamond for all 30 teams, in regular season win total order, through traditional Japanese verse:

ANGELS
Trout league's best player?
Shoemaker pleasant surprise
Yet steamrolled by Royals

ORIOLES
Stoic Showalter
Lost Manny, Matt, Chris but still
Ran away with East

NATIONALS
Fateful decision
In playoffs shouldn't dampen
League's best rotation

DODGERS
The Bison is back
But Clayton couldn't kill Cards
Donnie gets last chance?

CARDINALS
Death of Taveras
Casts pall on terrific year
Still class of Central

TIGERS
Flammable bullpen
Undermined starting pitching
Now replace V-Mart

ROYALS
Who needs walks, homers?
An "abundance" of bunting
Outfield defense ... whoa!

ATHLETICS
Cespedes got dealt
Team's offense dried up with it
Beane's "stuff" didn’t work

GIANTS
Three titles -- five years
Bumgarner otherworldly
Can they keep Panda?

PIRATES
Burning Cole last game
Trying for division tie
Might have cost Play-In

MARINERS
Cano did his thing
Felix, Hisashi duo
Not quite good enough

INDIANS
Kluber conquered all
But rest of staff slogged through year
Michael Brantley ... star!

YANKEES
Jeter’s farewell tour
Now A-Rod longest-tenured
Not your dad's Yankees

BLUE JAYS
All five starters had
Double-digit wins, but four
Had ten-plus losses

BREWERS
Led till late August
Won nine all of September
Lucroy's framing tops

BRAVES
Shutout 16 times
NL's next to last runs scored
Let's just watch Kimbrel

METS
DeGrom great story
Wheeler looked good, stayed healthy
Harvey's back, Big 3!

PADRES
Last in all slash stats
No-hit by Timmy ... again
Front office rebuilt

MARLINS
Stayed competitive
Despite losing Fernandez
Can they sign Stanton?

RAYS
Friedman, Maddon gone
Price dealt for cheaper prospects
Has their window closed?

REDS
Votto hardly seen
But Mesoraco burst out
Cueto stayed healthy

WHITE SOX
Abreu? Real deal
Chris Sale's elbow still attached?
Thank you, Konerko!

CUBS
Top prospects galore
Renteria won't see them
Maddon works magic?

PHILLIES
Vets went untraded
Amaro kept job somehow
Get used to last place

RED SOX
Bradley, Bogaerts ... meh
Buckholz saw ERA triple
Lester will be missed

ASTROS
Altuve a star
If only they could have signed
1st rounder Aiken

TWINS
Hughes K'd 1-8-6
Is that allowed on their staff?
Mauer's bat slumping

RANGERS
Pro-Obamacare
Given multitude of hurts
Washington bowed out

ROCKIES
League-worst ERA
Tulo missed 70 games
Fast start, then crash, burn

DIAMONDBACKS
Gibson, Towers done
Can Hale, Stewart make team rise
Like a phoenix? Eh!

Diane Firstman runs the Value Over Replacement Grit blog and is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.
Here's the first part of our ranking of each team's worst position in 2014. We conclude with our final 15 teams and positions that might be looking to upgrade during the offseason.

16. Minnesota Twins LF/RF: 2.6 wins below average

Yes, Byron Buxton can't get here soon enough, although he'll eventually slot into center field, not a corner. Twins left fielders ranked 21st in wOBA -- they hit .238/.331/.332 -- but were dragged down by an MLB-worst minus-25 defensive runs saved. That shouldn't be a surprise as 11 different players got time out there with lead-footed Jason Kubel and Josh Willingham getting the most innings. Oswaldo Arcia got 399 PAs in right field; and while the Twins collectively ranked 15th among right fielders in wOBA, they also ranked worst in the majors in defensive runs saved, at minus-23. Arcia was minus-10 in his time there, while Chris Colabello and Chris Parmelee, in about half the playing time, were a combined minus-12. Twins pitchers weren't getting a lot of help from their outfield’s corners.

Fix for 2015: Minnesota can't continue to give so many innings to converted first basemen and DHs. Arcia will be the regular right fielder, but left and center are still wide open. Danny Santana finished the year in center, and he's a natural shortstop ... and Eduardo Escobar was OK there in 2014. Anyway, Jordan Schafer and Aaron Hicks are on the 40-man roster but aren't good starting options. Maybe Hicks gets one more chance to prove himself.

17. New York Yankees SS: 2.5 wins below average

Yes, that 2.5 ranked worst in the majors. It was time.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Elsa/Getty ImagesGreat career. But a not-so-great 2014 season. The numbers don't lie.

Fix for 2015: Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela are on the 40-man roster; but Ryan can't hit and Pirela, .305/.351/.441 in Triple-A, didn't play much shortstop (eight games) at Scranton. So the replacement could come from the free agent ranks: Hanley Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Stephen Drew or Jed Lowrie. Drew hit .162 after missing the first two-plus months last year but is the best defensively and could probably be had on a one-year deal.

18. Kansas City Royals DH: 2.5 wins below average

The Royals declined the $12.5 million option on Billy Butler, who hit .271/.323/.379 as his power numbers continued to drop (nine home runs).

Fix for 2015: They'll probably try to bring Butler back, but on more team-friendly terms. A guy like Rickie Weeks may make sense as well, as he can hit lefties while also providing insurance at second base. Guys like Nelson Cruz and Victor Martinez are likely out of the Royals' price range.

19. Seattle Mariners DH: 2.4 wins below average

Seattle DHs hit a pathetic .189/.266/.302. In 2012, they hit .214/.286/.311. In 2011, they hit .225/.316/.333. In 2010, they hit .195/.270/.342. So, umm ... it's been an ongoing problem.

Fix for 2015: Is there a more perfect free-agent fit than Victor Martinez going to the Mariners? Otherwise, there's Cruz, another try with Kendrys Morales, a return of Mike Morse (the Mariners do need a right-handed batter) or finding a first baseman and moving Logan Morrison here.

20. Pittsburgh Pirates 1B: 2.4 wins below average

Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez formed an ineffective platoon. Davis at least had a decent .341 OBP; but overall, the Pirates' first sackers hit .226 with 17 home runs and below-average defense.

Fix for 2015: With supersub Josh Harrison emerging in 2014, the Pirates could give him the full-time job at third base and slide Pedro Alvarez over to first.

21. Arizona Diamondbacks 2B: 2.2 wins below average

Aaron Hill's OPS dropped 164 points from 2013. The Diamondbacks would probably like to trade him, but he's making $12 million each of the next two seasons.

Fix for 2015: Hill likely returns for his age-33 season. Or the D-backs give the job to one of the young shortstops, Chris Owings or Didi Gregorius. More likely, it's Hill at second with GM Dave Stewart looking to trade one of the shortstops for pitching or outfield help.

[+] EnlargeMorse
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsMichael Morse had some big postseason hits. Too bad he had to play the outfield some.
22. San Francisco Giants LF: 2.0 wins below average

This is a reflection of Mike Morse's statue-caliber defense, as Giants left fielders hit a respectable .257/.327/.440.

Fix for 2015: Morse is a free agent after signing a one-year, $6 million deal. He did slug .511 against lefties, and that right-handed bat was a nice fit lower in the order. Gregor Blanco is still around as a fourth outfielder and defensive caddy, or they could go the all-defense route with Blanco and Juan Perez and Travis Ishikawa filling in.


23. Los Angeles Angels 3B: 1.9 wins below average

David Freese had a tough year, as Angels third basemen ranked 24th in the majors in wOBA and 29th in defensive runs saved.

Fix for 2015: Freese still has one more season before free agency, so the job is his, with Gordon Beckham around as the backup.

24. Milwaukee Brewers SS: 1.7 wins below average

Who is the real Jean Segura?

First half, 2013: .325/.363/.487
Second half, 2013: .241/.268/.315
First half, 2014: .232/.266/.315
Second half, 2014: .271/.330/.345

Fix for 2015: Hope Segura is at least the player of the second half of 2015 and closer to the All-Star of the first half of 2013.

25. New York Mets C: 1.5 wins below average

Mets fans are probably shocked that left field, right field or shortstop didn't show up here. But while those positions were also all below-average, catcher was the worst. Mets catchers hit .226 with a sub-.300 OBP, but a big liability was Travis d'Arnaud's defense, which Baseball Info Solutions rated as the worst in the majors (minus-15 defensive runs saved).

Fix for 2015: D'Arnaud had a nice second half at the plate (.265/.313/.474) but threw out just 19 percent of base-stealers and led the NL with 12 passed balls. He does rate better on pitch framing. Anyway, he's the catcher, so the Mets will undoubtedly be looking to upgrade left field (.219/.306/.308) and shortstop.

26. Oakland Athletics 2B: 1.4 wins below average

Eric Sogard got the most time here with Nick Punto and Alberto Callaspo filling in. They ranked 29th in the majors in wOBA.

Fix for 2015: The A's have a bigger hole to worry about at shortstop with Lowrie a free agent, so they may be forced to go again with Sogard and Punto, who at least provide solid-average defense.

27. Washington Nationals 2B: 1.2 wins below average

Danny Espinosa didn't hit. Then Asdrubal Cabrera came over, but his defensive metrics were terrible. The ranking would be even lower if Anthony Rendon hadn't played 28 games here.

[+] EnlargeAsdrubal Cabrera
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesAsdrubal Cabrera joined the Nats at the trading deadline, but he didn't solve their defensive problems at second base.

Fix for 2015: With Ryan Zimmerman presumably moving over to first base to replace free agent Adam LaRoche and Rendon slotting in at third, where he's a plus defender, the Nationals could: (A) give Espinosa one more chance; (B) find a better contact guy; or (C) try to trade a pitcher for a second baseman. (One rumor you'll see is Howie Kendrick, who has one year until free agency.) Personally, I'd try to keep the pitching depth, especially with Jordan Zimmermann a free agent after 2015. If Espinosa doesn't do the job, you can always look for a trade deadline replacement.


28. Baltimore Orioles 2B: 0.9 wins below average

There were a lot of black holes at second on offense across the majors in 2014. The Orioles (primarily, rookie Jonathan Schoop) hit .216 here with an awful .259 OBP.

Fix for 2015: Schoop has power (16 home runs), his defense was outstanding (he has a shortstop's arm) and he was rushed a bit to the majors. He might never give you the good plate discipline, but the O's can live with 20-homer power and Gold Glove-caliber defense if he boosts that OBP a bit.

29. Colorado Rockies 2B: 0.9 wins below average

As bad as the Rockies were, it's surprising their biggest position weakness didn't rate worse. DJ LeMahieu is one of the worst hitters in the majors -- his park-adjusted RC+ ranked 143rd out of 146 regulars -- but was a deserving winner of the Gold Glove.

Fix for 2015: Considering his defense, LeMahieu will be back as the Rockies try to plug holes on their pitching staff. On the other hand, they need to realize his empty .267 average is of little value in Coors Field.


30. Toronto Blue Jays C: 0.6 wins below average

Congrats, Blue Jays fans: You had the best worst position in the majors! This was actually a big upgrade from 2013, when J.P. Arencibia led the Jays to 2.6 wins below average at catcher. Blue Jays catchers ranked 19th in wOBA with average-ish defense.

Fix for 2015: Dioner Navarro and Josh Thole will return.

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