SweetSpot: Miami Marlins

The best part about the first few days of spring training is that the players are feeling good, they're happy to be back on the baseball field, they're full of confidence and optimism and many of them are in the best shape of their lives. They also forget to turn the filter on, giving us some of the best quotes of the year. For example, take San Diego Padres outfielder Matt Kemp. MLB.com columnist Lyle Spencer writes:
"Who," (Kemp) said, "do you think has the best outfield in the game now?"

The visitor gave it some thought before nominating the American League champion Royals for defensive purposes and the Pirates or Marlins for all-around excellence.

Kemp shook his head. "No," he said firmly. "It's right here. Right here in San Diego. You can write it down -- and print it."


Now, Kemp could turn out to be correct. Certainly the combination of his offensive potential, plus that of Justin Upton and Wil Myers, is as good as any in the game. Here are the top teams in outfield production in 2014, ranked by wOBA (weighted on-base average):

1. Dodgers: .354
2. Pirates: .351
3. Marlins: .347
4. Rockies: .344
5. Blue Jays: .339

After that you had the Orioles, Nationals, Angels, Brewers and Tigers. The Dodgers have lost Kemp, replacing him with rookie Joc Pederson. The Pirates will have a full season from Gregory Polanco to go with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. The Marlins' trio of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich remains intact; the Rockies' numbers are boosted by Coors Field (they ranked 29th in road wOBA).

The Blue Jays had a productive outfield led by Jose Bautista, but lost Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus, and trade acquisition Michael Saunders just hurt his knee and is likely out until the All-Star break. The Orioles lost Nick Markakis and part-time outfielder Nelson Cruz.

So yes, maybe Kemp isn't being ridiculous. In 2014, he had a .362 wOBA and Upton had a .357 wOBA, both ranking in the top 30 in the majors (keep in mind that wOBA isn't park-adjusted). Myers was hurt but as a rookie in 2013 posted a .354 wOBA. So you're looking at three guys who all have the potential to be top-25 hitters in the majors.

Of course, hitting is only part of the equation. Defensively, the Upton-Myers-Kemp trio doesn't compare to the Pirates or the Marlins, even if you're optimistic about Myers' ability to play center and Kemp's ability to reverse his declining defensive metrics. Let's turn to FanGraphs for projected WAR. Here's where it ranks each of the Padres' outfield positions (factoring in some bench time after the projected playing time for the starters):

Left field: sixth in the majors
Center field: 21st
Right field: 16th

Does that look like the best outfield in the majors? Based on overall WAR projections, the top 10 outfields:

SportsNation

Which team has the best outfield in the majors?

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    9%
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    12%
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    23%
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    15%
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    41%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,737)

1. Angels, 13.4 (includes 1.4 WAR from Josh Hamilton)
2. Marlins, 12.0
3. Pirates, 10.7
4. Cardinals, 10.3
5. Red Sox, 9.7
(tie) Nationals, 9.7
(tie) Dodgers, 9.7
8. Royals, 9.1
9. Yankees, 8.7
10. Brewers, 8.2

The Padres come in 15th, at 7.1.

What do you think? Do the Padres have the best outfield in the game? I say no. I'd probably go Marlins, Pirates and Angels as my top three (even if Hamilton gets suspended, Matt Joyce would be fine in left field and maybe better). If Bryce Harper breaks out, then the Nationals would have a superstar outfielder to go with Jayson Werth and Denard Span and they could crack the top three as well. Same with the Brewers if Ryan Braun bounces back from two years of injuries.

Not the best outfield: Braves and Phillies.
After looking at which players not on a 40-man roster have been invited to spring training in the AL East, AL Central and AL West, it's time to move to the National League. Only a few of these guys will crack Opening Day rosters, but many will end up playing important roles at some point once the injuries start to pile up.

BravesAtlanta Braves

Considering that the Braves are in a state of transition, you might expect to see some interesting names here ... and you'd be right. Wandy Rodriguez made just six starts last year because of a knee injury -- and just 12 in 2013 thanks to some arm problems -- but his ERA was under 3.80 every season from 2008 through 2013. ... The Braves' outfield is kind of a mess, so Eric Young Jr., who led the NL in steals in 2013, has a chance to stick. ... Kelly Johnson is back where he started. He could win a backup job in the infield. ... Sugar Ray Marimon has to be singled out just for his name. He's a right-handed pitcher and that's his given name, not a nickname. ... Eric Stults hopes to be this year's Aaron Harang. ... Jose Veras moves on to his ninth team, always pitching just well enough to get a job somewhere. ... Chien-Ming Wang once won 19 games in back-to-back seasons with the Yankees, but that was a long time ago. ... Bet you didn't know Matt Capps was the winning pitcher in the 2010 All-Star Game. ... John Buck isn't on the 40-man roster, but A.J. Pierzynski is. At this point, you don't really want either guy to play too much.


MarlinsMiami Marlins

Reed Johnson is back after 201 plate appearances with the Marlins last year. But considering his .266 OBP, his days as a right-handed pinch hitter/backup outfielder may have expired. ... Outfielder Tyler Colvin has had spurts of production, but didn't hit last year with either the Giants or Triple-A Fresno. ... Scott Sizemore has seen his career ruined by knee injuries. ... Wait, the Tigers let Don Kelly get away? ... Jordany Valdespin split time between the Marlins and Triple-A last year and will probably do the same this year. ... Vin Mazzaro had a decent season in relief for the Pirates in 2013 but spent most of 2014 in Triple-A.


MetsNew York Mets

Not only did the Mets do very little this offseason after they signed Michael Cuddyer, they didn't even seem interested in bringing in non-roster guys. I guess they believe they already have enough depth on their 40-man roster and in the upper minors to not worry about bringing in some of those 4-A players. Scott Rice is left-handed and has made 105 appearances for the Mets over the past two seasons. ... Buddy Carlyle had a 1.45 ERA in 31 innings with the Mets, along with an impressive 28-5 strikeout-walk ratio. He was nonetheless booted off the 40-man roster after the season. ... Infielder Matt Reynolds hit .355 at Double-A and .333 at Triple-A. He's played shortstop and second but profiles best at second. There's not a ton of power here -- and everybody hits at Las Vegas -- but Reynolds looks like he could make the club as a utility guy or an early call-up and maybe even get some time at shortstop if Wilmer Flores struggles. ... Catcher Kevin Plawecki reached Triple-A in 2014 and will likely make his debut at some point and then push Travis d'Arnaud for a starting job in 2016.



PhilliesPhiladelphia Phillies

Jeff Francoeur wasn't even that good when he was good. ... Kevin Slowey spent time with the Marlins the past two seasons, and while he rarely walks anyone he got hit pretty hard. ... Former pitcher-turned-outfielder Brian Bogusevic was last in the majors in 2013. ... Infielder Chris Nelson has spent parts of the past five seasons in the majors but hasn't hit outside of one season in Colorado -- and even then he didn't really do that much, considering it was Colorado. ... Xavier Paul will battle Francoeur and Bogusevic for a potential roster spot. ... Jeanmar Gomez is the best bet to make the team. He had a 3.28 ERA the past two seasons with the Pirates. ... Catcher Koyie Hill has forged a career as a Triple-A insurance policy.


NationalsWashington Nationals

I can't see Dan Uggla actually making the team, but reports in the offseason said that he had played through an undiagnosed concussion in 2014. That doesn't explain the .179 average in 2013 and the defense that makes it difficult to play him no matter what he hits. ... Mike Carp got a World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2013, when he hit .296/.362/.523. But he fell to .175/.289/.230 last year. ... Ian Stewart was once rated the No. 4 prospect in the game, a burden he perhaps has never been able to escape. ... First baseman Kila Ka'aihue has long been a favorite of statheads for his ability to get on base in the minors. He has been in Japan the past two years. ... Second baseman Cutter Dykstra is the son of Lenny and fiancÚ of "Sopranos" actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler. He hit .274/.349/.391 at Double-A. ... Heath Bell dropped 40 pounds in the offseason in an attempt to better position himself for a bullpen job. Maybe he should have done that in 2013 or 2014, when he was making $9 million per season and pitching poorly. Really, he hasn't been effective since leaving the Padres after 2011, but the Nationals' pen may have an opening if he looks good in camp.

Pitchers hurt by new catchers

February, 18, 2015
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Here's a look at pitchers potentially helped by new catchers. Our Rockies blogger, Richard Bergstrom, points out that Colorado has signed Nick Hundley. Neither Wilin Rosario nor Michael McKenry graded out well in framing last year, but Hundley doesn't appear to be a superstar framer either: -0.6 runs below average in 2014 between the Padres and Orioles, -4.3 in 2013 and -9.3 in 2012. Yasmani Grandal, his teammate in San Diego, graded out much higher all three seasons. And Hundley doesn't have much of a bat, so I'm not sure he's anything more than a backup.

Anyway, here are some pitchers moving on to new catchers that you should consider:

Yovani Gallardo, Rangers: Aside from those coming back from injuries, no pitcher has more red flags this year than Gallardo. He moves from the NL to the deeper lineups of the AL; he moves to Texas, where the ball flies out to right field; his strikeout rates have declined each of the past two seasons; and now he goes from excellent pitch framer Jonathan Lucroy to Robinson Chirinos (doesn't rate well) and Carlos Corporan (has at least graded out above average the past two seasons).

Ervin Santana, Twins: He hasn't exactly hasn't received much help from his catchers the past few years. Salvador Perez, despite winning back to back Gold Gloves, hasn't graded out as a good pitch framer and the Braves' various catchers also rated out below average last year. Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki has consistently graded poorly according to StatCorner.com. So aside from moving back to the AL to a team with a poor defensive outfield, Santana's not going to get much help from his catcher.

Tyson Ross, Padres: Rene Rivera caught 26 of his 31 starts last year and Ross had a 2.62 ERA with Rivera catching. Derek Norris grades out at +5 runs over the past two seasons so he's OK at framing, but he did struggle throwing out base stealers last year (just 17 percent), and Ross doesn't hold runners well (he allowed 31 steals, third most in the majors).

Jarred Cosart, Marlins: Jarrod Saltalamacchia rated as StatCorner's worst pitch framer in 2014. What's interesting is that after coming over from the Astros midseason last year, the Jarred-Jarrod combo actually did well together with Cosart posting a 2.09 ERA in 51.2 innings. Cosart is a pitcher who has struggled with walks in the past; he relies more on a movement from his cut fastball than precise location. We'll see if they can repeat last year's success.

Edinson Volquez, Royals: He goes from good pitch framer Russell Martin to the not-as-good Perez. At least he replaces one great defensive outfield with another.

Garrett Richards, Angels: We've got a small sample size here so don't read too much into it, but Richards had a 1.25 ERA in nine games with Hank Conger catching and 3.46 in 17 games with Chris Iannetta. He'd be hard-pressed to repeat his 2014 performance anyway, but it won't help losing Conger.
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It's the second day of our pre-spring training power rankings. Did I mention that parity makes it really difficult to do these rankings with a high degree of confidence? I did? OK, let's move on and say this about this group of teams: All of these teams have playoff potential; I think they're all significantly stronger than Monday's six teams (Nos. 30-25). But all of them have what I believe will be a fatal flaw.

So read on, debate, argue and be glad you're not shoveling snow at the moment.

Team rankings: Nos. 30-25

Reds24. Cincinnati Reds

Big offseason moves: Acquired OF Marlon Byrd from the Phillies for RHP Ben Lively; traded RHP Mat Latos to the Marlins for RHP Anthony DeSclafani; traded RHP Alfredo Simon to the Tigers for SS Eugenio Suarez and RHP Jonathan Crawford; signed LHP Paul Maholm; signed RHP Burke Badenhop; signed C Devin Mesoraco to a four-year, $28 million extension.

Most intriguing player: Johnny Cueto had a monster 2014, going 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA while leading the National League in innings and strikeouts and the majors in lowest opponents' batting average. But the right-hander, 29 later this month, is a free agent after 2015 and if the Reds don't sign him he becomes possible trade bait during the season depending on the Reds' status in the pennant race.

Due for a better year: Jay Bruce had knee surgery in early May, returned less than three weeks later and proceeded to hit .217/.281/.373. His value declined from 4.9 WAR to minus-1.1 WAR. The knee was presumably a factor as his fly ball rate dropped 10 percent from the year before, resulting in a big power decline. But keep in mind that the 2013 WAR figure was a career high, propped up by a high defensive rating that he has otherwise not matched in recent seasons.

Due for a worse year: The Reds traded Simon, the converted reliever who had a big first half and made the All-Star team and then predictably declined in the second half. He would have been the easy choice here, but let's go with catcher Mesoraco, who had a breakout season as he slugged .534. The list of catchers who have had a season at the plate at his level is short and odds are we see some regression.

SportsNation

How many games do the Reds win?

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    18%
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    32%
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    28%
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    14%
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    8%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,961)

I'm just the messenger: It's easy to envision how the Reds climb back into the NL Central race: Bruce bounces back, Joey Votto stays healthy and returns to being one of baseball's premier hitters, Byrd adds better production to left field, Billy Hamilton improves at the plate, Cueto comes close to his 2014 numbers and Homer Bailey makes 34 starts instead of 23. That could all happen and maybe we see a fun season in Cincy as the Reds host the All-Star Game and then make it to the postseason. But that's a lot of ifs. For every guy who may improve, there's a Cueto, Mesoraco or Todd Frazier who may decline a bit. And while trading Simon was a good idea, you still have to replace the 15 wins and 196 innings he provided last season.

The final word: The Reds have two major issues: rotation depth and getting on base. Only the two biggest keys to winning baseball games. Outside of Votto, nobody on this team draws many walks; the Reds were 13th in the NL in walks and 14th in on-base percentage. Certainly, getting 150 games from Votto will help but they still have too many low-OBP guys such as Hamilton, Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart to run out a consistent offense. If Mesoraco and Frazier decline, the offense will still be one of the worst in the league. The rotation is now reliant on a comeback season from Tony Cingrani and a fifth starter to emerge from a group of mediocre candidates -- and that's aside from Cueto and Bailey both staying healthy.

Prediction: 75-87


White Sox23. Chicago White Sox

Big offseason moves: Acquired RHP Jeff Samardzija from the A's for IF Marcus Semien, C Josh Phegley and two others; signed OF Melky Cabrera; signed 1B/DH Adam LaRoche; signed RHP David Robertson; signed LHP Zach Duke; released OF Dayan Viciedo; signed 2B Gordon Beckham.

Most intriguing player: Jose Abreu exceeded expectations by hitting .317 with 36 home runs, leading the AL in slugging percentage and finishing fourth in the MVP voting. What will he do for an encore? The ZiPS projection has him at .292/.371/.544.

Due for a better year: Right fielder Avisail Garcia played just 46 games with the White Sox after he tore his labrum early in the season. I'm not sure he's much better than the .244/.305/.413 line from 2014, but he'll get a chance to play every day and, considering he doesn't turn 24 until June, is young enough to make a leap forward.

Due for a worse year: Abreu is an obvious candidate, especially after his power declined dramatically in the second half, but some of that was a fatigue factor in his first season in the majors. I wouldn't bet against him. LaRoche is coming off a good season with the Nationals, hitting 26 home runs and drawing 82 walks, but he's 35, moving to a new league and wasn't as good in 2013.

I'm just the messenger: I feel like I'm raining a bit on the parade here as the White Sox had an intriguing offseason in making five major acquisitions without giving up any significant contributors from the 2014 squad. They've fortified a shaky bullpen with Robertson and Duke, who changed his slot and had a big season with the Brewers. Samardzija gives them a strong 1-2-3 with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Still ... there are holes at catcher, third base, second base and the back of the rotation with John Danks and Hector Noesi; I see OBP issues in the lineup and rotation issues unless rookie Carlos Rodon, the third pick in last June's draft, is ready for a quick rise to the majors.

The final word: There are a lot of things to like here, especially if Sale can stay healthy and post another Cy Young-caliber season. Maybe somebody emerges from the second base candidates to have a good season. Maybe Tyler Flowers surprises and has a good season. Maybe Noesi puts everything together and wins 14 games. I'm taking the under .500 due to what I perceive as a lack of quality depth on the back end of the roster. But it wouldn't shock me if everything came together and the White Sox won 90 games.

Prediction: 77-85

Brewers22. Milwaukee Brewers

Big offseason moves: Traded RHP Yovani Gallardo to the Rangers for SS Luis Sardinas, RHP Corey Knebel and RHP Marcos Diplan; acquired 1B Adam Lind from the Blue Jays for RHP Marco Estrada; signed LHP Neal Cotts; lost LHP Zach Duke, RHP Francisco Rodriguez and 1B/3B Mark Reynolds to free agency; Bernie Brewer engaged in offseason fight with Los Angeles Kings mascot Bailey to see who could get the most Twitter followers. Yes, it was a slow offseason for the most part.

Most intriguing player: After battling a thumb injury in 2013 and 2014, plus a PED suspension in 2013, Ryan Braun had surgery in late September to help deaden the nerves around his thumb, which should help him grip the bat without pain. The Brewers are hopeful the surgery worked but until Braun starts playing every day in spring training, we won't know for sure.

Due for a better year: Besides Braun, shortstop Jean Segura has too much ability to hit .246/.289/.326 again, a line that included just 25 extra-base hits in 513 at-bats. If Segura doesn't return to his first-half form of 2013, Sardinas is a defensive whiz who could end up stealing playing time as the Brewers await for the arrival of top prospect Orlando Arcia.

Due for a worse year: If the Brewers had hung on to win the NL Central, Jonathan Lucroy may have won MVP honors. He finished fourth in the voting after hitting .301 with a league-leading 53 doubles, nearly as many walks as strikeouts, all while playing 153 games, 133 as the starting catcher. His OPS fell from .879 in the first half to .780, which you can credit to a hot first half or second-half fatigue. Either way, it's asking a lot for him to put up another 6.7-WAR season.

I'm just the messenger: The Brewers led the division for 150 days in 2014 before collapsing in September with a 9-17 record and finishing eight games behind the Cardinals. Overall, the Brewers faded to 29-37 in the second half primarily due to the cratering of the offense, which scored just 3.4 runs per game. But the Brewers addressed that in the offseason only by bringing in Lind, and will instead rely on Braun's comeback, Segura's improvement and Aramis Ramirez, who turns 37 in June.

The final word: The Brewers look like a classic .500 team to me -- no glaring holes but no outstanding strengths. Lucroy joined Carlos Gomez as a star and maybe Braun returns to being one, but the rotation clearly lacks a No. 1 or 2-type ace unless Mike Fiers can somehow replicate that 2.13 ERA he put up in 71 innings. Minus Gallardo there is now little depth behind No. 5 starter Jimmy Nelson and that's a concern. Like the Reds, it's easy to envision how things can go Milwaukee's way but I don't think the rotation is strong enough to get them into the postseason.

Prediction: 78-84



Yankees21. New York Yankees

Big offseason moves: Signed LHP Andrew Miller; re-signed free agent 3B Chase Headley and 2B/SS Stephen Drew; acquired SS Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks in a three-way trade for RHP Shane Greene; acquired RHP Nathan Eovaldi and 1B/OF Garrett Jones from the Marlins for IF Martin Prado and RHP David Phelps; acquired RHP David Carpenter from the Braves; acquired LHP Justin Wilson from the Pirates for C Francisco Cervelli; re-signed OF Chris Young; re-signed LHP Chris Capuano; lost RHPs David Robertson and Brandon McCarthy via free agency; traded RHP Shawn Kelley; RHP Hiroki Kuroda signed with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp; Derek Jeter retired; Alex Rodriguez was reinstated. Whew.

Most intriguing player: You won't hear me say too often that a relief pitcher is a team's most intriguing player, but I'm fascinated to see what happens with Dellin Betances in 2015. Major league hitters are the best in the world and he treated them like that Little Leaguer who is already shaving pitching against kids who haven't hit a growth spurt. Batters hit .149 against him and he struck out 135 in 90 innings. Does he take over from Robertson as closer and, maybe more important, does Joe Girardi run him out there for 90 innings again in an era when relievers usually top out around 70?

Due for a better year: Rodriguez? CC Sabathia? Carlos Beltran? Take your old, injured veteran and project better numbers. And then go buy a lottery ticket.

Due for a worse year: Did Miller turn the corner in 2014? After averaging 5.3 walks per nine innings over his career, he lowered that to 2.5 while striking out a dominant 14.9 per nine. The Yankees forked over a lot of money to get the big lefty and now he and Betances could make for the best one-two relief punch in the majors if Miller replicates his 2014 success.

SportsNation

Do the Yankees have their first losing record since 1992?

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    51%
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    49%

Discuss (Total votes: 23,123)

I'm just the messenger: Can the Yankees get 90 starts from Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda? Those three combined for just 41 last season, although Tanaka and Pineda pitched some sweet baseball when healthy. All are major health risks, of course, but keep this in mind as well: The Yankees are losing some quality starts from 2014. Kuroda, McCarthy, Greene and Phelps combined for 77 starts and a solid 3.68 ERA. Even if those guys stay healthy they may not be any better than that rate of production.

The final word: The Yankees have been outscored each of the past two years, although they managed to finish over .500 both seasons. While a lot of people are pointing to a healthier rotation and better seasons from some of the veterans as reasons the Yankees will contend this year, I turn that around and say: Who's a good bet to improve? The only thing I'm sure of is the Yankees will have better defense at shortstop. I'm taking the under .500 -- for the first time since 1992.

Prediction: 78-84


Marlins20. Miami Marlins

Big offseason moves: Signed Giancarlo Stanton to a $325 million extension that is heavily backloaded and allows Stanton to opt out after six seasons; acquired 3B Martin Prado and RHP David Phelps from the Yankees for RHP Nathan Eovaldi and 1B/OF Garrett Jones; acquired 2B Dee Gordon, RHP Dan Haren and SS Miguel Rojas from the Dodgers for LHP Andrew Heaney, RHP Chris Hatcher, 2B Enrique Hernandez and C Austin Barnes; acquired RHP Mat Latos from the Reds for RHP Anthony DeSclafani and C Chad Wallach; signed 1B Mike Morse; traded 3B Casey McGehee to the Giants for two minor leaguers; acquired RHP Aaron Crow from the Royals; signed OF Ichiro Suzuki.

Most intriguing player: Stanton. The contract. The power. The comeback from his late-season beaning.

Due for a better year: Christian Yelich. In 2014, he showed the ability to hit for average and take his walks. This year he adds some power.

Due for a worse year: Henderson Alvarez drives analysts crazy because he went 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA despite a strikeout rate that ranked 83rd among 88 qualified starters. Alvarez does get ground balls -- eighth in ground ball rate -- but he also held batters to a .209 average and just one home run with runners in scoring position. Here's betting that ERA climbs over 3.00.

SportsNation

Your prediction for the Marlins?

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    7%
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    25%
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    47%
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    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,712)

I'm just the messenger: The Marlins made a lot of moves and acquired some big names ... but did they really do anything but reshuffle the deck chairs? Gordon led the NL in steals and triples but also struggled to get on base in the second half. Haren has stated his preference to pitch for a California team and he hasn't had an ERA under 4.00 since 2011, so is he really an upgrade over Eovaldi? Latos had bone chips removed after 2013, had knee surgery in spring training, had a strained flexor mass in his elbow, eventually made 16 starts but his strikeout rate and velocity were down and then was scratched down the stretch with a bone bruise in his elbow. Going out on a limb, but he's not a good bet to give the Marlins 30 starts.

The final word: OK, I love the outfield: Stanton, Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. Stanton is the oldest of the trio at 25 and all three have All-Star potential. I love Jose Fernandez, but he's not going to be back until late June or so and we don't if he'll be back at full throttle. I think there's a good chance they get very little out of Latos and Haren. The middle infield defense is more flash than substance, at least according to the metrics. The depth is worrisome. Young teams can take big leaps in a hurry but I wonder if the Marlins need another year to consolidate the talent.

Prediction: 79-83


Rays19. Tampa Bay Rays

Big offseason moves: Lost manager Joe Maddon to the Cubs, named Kevin Cash manager; lost general manager Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers, promoted Matthew Silverman to president of baseball operations; traded 2B Ben Zobrist and SS Yunel Escobar to the A's for C/DH John Jaso, minor league SS Daniel Robertson and minor league OF Boog Powell; signed SS Asdrubal Cabrera; acquired OF Steven Souza, C Rene Rivera, RHP Burch Smith and 1B Jake Bauers in a three-way trade for OF Wil Myers, C Ryan Hanigan and two minor leaguers; acquired RHP Kevin Jepsen from the Angels for OF Matt Joyce; acquired RHP Greg Harris and RHP Jose Dominguez from the Dodgers for LHP Adam Liberatore and RHP Joel Peralta; did not get a new ballpark.

Most intriguing player: Drew Smyly came over from the Tigers in the David Price trade and posted a 1.70 ERA in seven starts, allowing just 25 hits in 47.2 innings. He's certainly not that good; that's Clayton Kershaw kind of good. But he did make one minor change after the trade: He threw more fastballs up in the zone. The Rays love high fastballs. So maybe there's something going on here. It certainly makes him intriguing.

Due for a better year: Evan Longoria. He hit .253/.320/.404. Steamer projects .256/.334/.446. ZiPS projects .255/.330/.441. So better. But not a whole lot, top-10 MVP kind of better.

Due for a worse year: Rivera was acquired from the Padres because the Rays emphasize pitch framing in their catchers (see Jose Molina) and Rivera is a very good framer. But he also hit well in 2014, which he had never done before on the major league level. Then again, he'd never played regularly in the majors before, so you never know.

I'm just the messenger: The Rays scored 88 fewer runs than in 2013 ... and traded away their two players with the highest OBPs, Zobrist and Joyce. So ... umm ... that's my message.

The final word: I'll be honest. I wanted to pick the Rays as my surprise team of 2015. Everyone is down on them after their first losing season since 2007. They'd won 90-plus games in five of the previous six seasons, traded David Price, lost Joe Maddon and their big addition on offense is a 26-year-old rookie outfielder (granted, Souza did have monster numbers in Triple-A). The reason I wanted to pick them is the rotation has huge, huge potential. We talked about Smyly. Alex Cobb is close to a No. 1 if he can pitch 200 innings. Chris Archer had a solid first full season and I love his arm. Jake Odorizzi had a 4.13 ERA as a rookie but showed potential with 174 K's in 167 innings. Maybe they get Matt Moore back at some point. So the rotation could be terrific. In the end, though, I'm going with the more boring prediction. I may be wrong.

Prediction: 79-83
In honor of Pete Carroll's decision in the Super Bowl -- you know the one, already cemented in history as the worst play call in Super Bowl history (although maybe it wasn't a horrible call) -- let's have a little fun with a list of the worst decisions in World Series history.

Dave Cameron reports that the Seahawks had an 88 percent chance of winning when facing second-and-goal from the 1-yard line. He tried to find a similar equivalent in baseball, although a similar scenario is difficult to match in baseball. Even a team with the tying run on third and winning run on second with no outs would have a win expectancy of only 71 percent, aside from the strengths of the hitters and pitchers involved.

We can increase the odds by instead focusing on the defensive team. When the Red Sox led the Mets 5-3 in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the 10th, their win expectancy was 99 percent -- maybe a little less if you factor in that Calvin Schiraldi was pitching. When Mariano Rivera took the mound in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 in 2001 with a 2-1 lead, the Yankees' win expectancy was 86 percent -- and a little higher with Rivera pitching.

Anyway, this list isn't based on mathematical probability but simply looks at some managerial decisions in key moments of the World Series that didn't work out.

1986, Game 6: Buckner stays in the game

Speaking of the Red Sox and Mets, John McNamara left in Bill Buckner in that fateful 10th inning even though he had used Dave Stapleton as a defensive substitute in all seven of Boston's previous postseason wins. Mookie Wilson's grounder went through Buckner's legs and the Mets won the game -- although keep in mind the Mets had already tied it before Buckner's error ... and the Red Sox still had a chance to win the series in Game 7.

1986, Game 7: Too much Schiraldi

Less remembered but worthy of its own criticism is McNamara's decision to bring in Schiraldi in the seventh inning of Game 7 with the score tied 3-3. Ray Knight, the first batter he faced, hit a go-ahead home run, and the next two batters singled and eventually scored. The Red Sox did have a thin bullpen that year, but Schiraldi was a rookie coming off a horrific loss in Game 6 who had also faced 16 batters in that game. Although there was a rainout between Games 6 and 7, he had probably thrown 60 to 70 pitches in Game 6. On the other hand, McNamara didn't have a lot of good choices after starter Bruce Hurst. Roger Clemens had started Game 6, and "Oil Can" Boyd, his No. 3 starter, wasn't exactly available since he was drunk and strung out on crack.

1925, Game 7: The Big Train goes the distance

Game 7 between the Senators and Pirates was played on a cold and rainy day in Pittsburgh, and it would grow colder and wetter as the game went along. Hall of Famer Walter Johnson started for Washington. He was 37 years old and on his last legs as a pitcher, but still had enough zip on his fastball to go 20-7 with a 3.07 ERA in the regular season. He already had won twice in the series, and Senators manager Bucky Harris was determined to ride his star. Washington scored four runs in the top of the first, but the Pirates chipped away, getting to within 4-3, then 6-4 and then tying the score at 6-6. Johnson stayed in the game, as the grounds crew spread sawdust on the mud-slick mound. The Senators took the lead in the eighth, but the Pirates scored three runs in the bottom of the inning -- all with two outs -- to win 9-7. Johnson went the distance and allowed 15 hits. Yes, it was Walter Johnson and his defense let him down with two errors, including a crucial one in the eighth. Still ... who gets left in to allow 15 hits in Game 7?

2003, Game 4: Where's Rivera?

The Yankees were a game up on the Marlins and had tied Game 4 on Ruben Sierra's two-run triple in the ninth inning with two outs. The game rolled along. Jose Contreras pitched the ninth and 10th innings for the Yankees. Jeff Weaver then pitched a scoreless 11th. Joe Torre sent him back out for the bottom of the 12th, but Weaver gave up a leadoff home run to Alex Gonzalez. The series was tied, and the Marlins took the next two games to upset the Yankees.

How do you lose a crucial game without using the best closer of all time? Torre said he couldn't use Rivera because it was a tie game on the road. "I had no options," he said. "People say bring in Mariano. I had no options. It was an extra-inning game on the road. There was never consideration of other options." By choosing to wait for a save situation and limit Rivera to one inning, however, Torre ignored what he had done throughout Rivera's postseason career, which was to often use him for more than one inning and, at times, in tie games. Rivera had pitched two innings the day before -- throwing 23 pitches -- but that shouldn't have been reason to use Weaver without first getting Rivera into the game.

2009, Game 4: Manuel sticks with Lidge

Closer Brad Lidge had been one of the heroes of the Phillies' 2008 World Series champions -- converting all 41 of his save chances in the regular season and all seven in the postseason. But 2009 was a nightmare season for Lidge: 0-8, 7.21 ERA, with a lot of hits, home runs and walks allowed. The Phillies were able to overcome his ineffectiveness to win 93 games, but manager Charlie Manuel stubbornly stuck with Lidge as his closer. You knew it would eventually blow up in a big way in the postseason, and it did in Game 4 when Lidge entered in a 4-4 tie in the ninth inning and coughed up three runs. The Yankees won the series in six games.

1958, Game 7: Frank Torre hits third

The Milwaukee Braves of the late '50s and early '60s were an enormously talented team. They won one World Series title in 1957 and reached Game 7 in 1958, but they should have dominated the National League for a longer stretch. Fred Haney managed the club from 1956 through 1959, and, in '58, he platooned Frank Torre (Joe's brother) with Joe Adcock at first base. Torre was a better glove and did hit .309 in 1958 that year, but he hit just six home runs in 372 at-bats. Eddie Mathews didn't have a great year in '58, hitting .251/.349/.458, but he did hit 31 home runs. And Wes Covington hit .330/.380/.622 in 324 plate appearances.

In Game 7, Haney hit Red Schoendienst (.313 OBP) leadoff, Bill Bruton (.336 OBP) second, Torre third, Henry Aaron cleanup, Covington fifth and Mathews sixth. Imagine if a manager rolled out a lineup like that today. In the first inning, after Schoendienst and Bruton reached on a single and a walk against a shaky Don Larsen, Haney had his No. 3 hitter ... bunt. You're not bunting there with Mathews or Covington. Mathews was later intentionally walked in the inning as Del Crandall left the bases loaded. Instead of playing for a big inning, the Braves scored just one run. The score was tied 2-2 in the eighth when the Yankees scored four runs with two outs.

2001, Game 5: Brenly turns to Kim ... again

After Byung-hyun Kim served up home runs to Tino Martinez and Derek Jeter in Game 4 -- throwing 61 pitches -- for some reason Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly thought it was a good idea to have him close out Game 5. I was in the auxiliary press box for that one and remember all the writers criticizing the move before seeing what happened next -- Scott Brosius hit the tying home run (and who can forget Kim crouched on the mound in despair) and the Yankees won in 12 innings. Brenly survived the blunder as the Diamondbacks won Games 6 and 7.

1947, Game 4: Almost a no-hitter

Yankees right-hander Bill Bevens threw hard, but he also had no idea where the ball was going. In Game 4 of the '47 World Series against Brooklyn, he took a 2-1 lead and a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth. But he'd also walked eight batters. He walked Carl Furillo with one out in the ninth, then pinch runner Al Gionfriddo stole second with two outs. Yankees manager Bucky Harris -- yes, the same guy from 1925 -- then ordered Pete Reiser intentionally walked, going against convention that you don't put the go-ahead run on base. Pinch hitter Cookie Lavagetto then hit a game-winning two-run double. That tied the series up at two games apiece, although Harris and the Yankees went on to win Game 7.

Those are just a few, and I didn't even get to Ron Washington's performance in the 2011 World Series (let alone some of the decisions from other rounds of the playoffs). Next time...
Jordan ZimmermanEvan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsJordan Zimmerman will be a free agent following the 2015 season. Will he end up on the trade block?
We’re a month away from the official start of spring training, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some unresolved issues and potential news items still out there in baseball land. Here are 30 things to keep an eye on:

1. Now that the Nationals have signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year contract, will the Nats look to trade impending free agent Jordan Zimmermann? A rotation of Scherzer, Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez certainly has the ability to be one of the best we’ve seen in recent years, and that doesn’t even include Tanner Roark, who quietly went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA last year.

2. If the Nationals do look to move Zimmermann (or Fister, also a free agent at season’s end), will they use that trade to help restock the farm system or acquire depth in the bullpen? The pen looks a little thin after they traded setup man extraordinaire Tyler Clippard and lost Rafael Soriano to free agency.

3. Where will James Shields go? The one difference-making free agent who is still unsigned, Shields reportedly turned down $110 million from a team he apparently didn’t want to play for. Or maybe that was just posturing to try to ramp up the offers.

4. Will the Marlins trade Dan Haren? The veteran right-hander, set to make $10 million, had threatened to retire if he wasn’t traded back to a California team. But the Dodgers just traded him to the Marlins and don’t have room in their rotation, and the Los Angels also added rotation depth in the offseason. The Dodgers gave the Marlins $10 million to offset Haren’s salary, which they keep even if Haren doesn’t play. It looks like the ball may be in Haren’s court, as you know Jeffrey Loria would be more than happy to keep the cash.

5. Is Billy Beane done wheeling and dealing? It’s been a whirlwind offseason for the Oakland A's general manager, who has traded away Josh Donaldson, Jeff Samardzija, Derek Norris, John Jaso and others, while acquiring Ben Zobrist, Brett Lawrie, Clippard and other young players and prospects. Yunel Escobar was even acquired from the Rays and quickly dealt to the Nationals for Clippard.

6. Are Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer done wheeling and dealing for the Cubs? They just picked up Dexter Fowler from the Astros, giving the club a more legitimate center fielder than converted infielder Arismendy Alcantara. With the addition of Fowler, the Cubs' lineup could look like this:

Fowler CF
Starlin Castro SS
Jorge Soler RF
Anthony Rizzo 1B
Kris Bryant 3B
Miguel Montero C
Chris Coghlan LF
Javier Baez 2B

That lineup has potential, and it's backed up with a rotation featuring Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks and Travis Wood. But with Fowler signed only through 2015, maybe the Cubs will make one more big move to draw closer on paper to the Cardinals and Pirates. Maybe Shields, to bolster the rotation even more?

[+] EnlargeJohnny Cueto
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJohnny Cueto was second in the National League in 2014 with a 2.25 ERA.
7. Will the Reds sign Johnny Cueto to a long-term contract? Cueto will be expensive to sign, and while he may not command Scherzer money due Cueto's injury history, he’s coming off a season that would have won the Cy Young Award in most years. The long-term commitments the Reds have already made to Joey Votto and Homer Bailey may mean that a third $100 million-plus player doesn’t fit into their budget.

8. Will the Reds sign Aroldis Chapman to a long-term contract? Like Cueto, Chapman is a free agent after 2015. The Reds are hosting the 2015 All-Star Game, so don’t expect them to trade either player -- at least until after the All-Star Game and only if the Reds are well out of the pennant race.

9. Are the Cardinals satisfied with their rotation? They had been rumored to be interested in signing Scherzer or maybe acquiring David Price from the Tigers, but Price is certainly unavailable now -- not that he was in the first place -- with Scherzer out of the Detroit picture. The Cardinals did sign Lance Lynn to a three-year extension. But the health concerns of Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia and the uncertainty of young arms such as Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzalez means the Cardinals have question marks within their depth.

10. Are the Braves really committed to keeping Craig Kimbrel? After trading away Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis, the Braves have all but admitted they’re building for 2017 when they open their new park. General manager John Hart insists the club can still compete in 2015, but the projection systems argue otherwise and say the Braves will be one of the worst teams in the majors. The smart move would be to cash in Kimbrel now.

11. Speaking of ... are the Tigers going to do anything about the bullpen?

12. Speaking of ... Francisco Rodriguez is still a free agent. And probably with good reason, considering he led all relievers in home runs allowed in 2014. Still, he posted a 3.04 ERA and recorded 44 saves for the Brewers, so some team may be willing to give him a shot at closing. Especially a team that had major issues up and down the bullpen last year, including in the postseason.

13. Will the Mets acquire a shortstop? I think we’re all a bit tired of this story by now. Mets fans seem to want a new shortstop. The New York media definitely believes the team needs a shortstop. Sandy Alderson would probably like a new shortstop. Troy Tulowitzki may want to become the new Mets shortstop. Meanwhile, the Wilpons are probably too busy watching old films of the Brooklyn Dodgers to care.

14. Will the Diamondbacks trade Mark Trumbo? This is probably more of a spring training decision, depending on whether Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas can handle third base. If he can’t, he'll move to left field and the D-backs have to shop Trumbo.

15. Will Dave Stewart give us more quotes about "real" baseball teams and those apparently fake teams that worry too much about analytics?

16. Will the Mariners acquire a right-handed bat? Right now, the M’s have Nelson Cruz penciled in at DH, Logan Morrison at first base, and a right-field platoon of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano (with lefty-swinging Dustin Ackley in left field). Jesus Montero is still around, but a right-handed bat who can play first base or DH against southpaws (with Cruz moving to the outfield) would create more balance in the lineup.

17. Will the Phillies release Ryan Howard? At this point, it’s probably best for all if Ruben Amaro just puts Howard on waivers. Nobody is going to trade for Howard, but that doesn’t mean you need to create a negative distraction by inviting him to spring training. It’s a sunk cost. Let it sink and see if any team wants to give Howard a shot to DH.

18. Who will be the first columnist to point out Howard’s RBI total from last year? Like, in a good way.

19. Will the Red Sox make a move for their rotation? While the Red Sox actually project to have a decent rotation, according to some projections, it’s also difficult to buy completely into Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Joe Kelly and Justin Masterson.

[+] EnlargeCole Hamels
AP Photo/Alex BrandonCole Hamels was in the top 10 in the National League last season in ERA (2.46) and strikeouts (198).
20. Will Cole Hamels be traded? Hamels may be worth more at the trade deadline than he is now, so don’t be surprised if Hamels is starting on Opening Day for the Phillies. But if he does get traded, the Red Sox and Padres still seem likely destinations; the Red Sox have a slew of prospects and the Padres have catching prospect Austin Hedges.

21. What’s going on with Dan Duquette? The only noise the Orioles’ president has made this offseason has been with the rumors that he’s leaving Baltimore to take over the presidency of the Blue Jays. If this was going to happen, it should have been resolved by now, as Duquette’s lack of activity in Baltimore could have the appearance of a conflict of interest.

22. Will the Orioles bring in a right fielder? Colby Rasmus is the best free agent out there and would be the easiest option, if inelegant. There are also unappealing trade options such as Andre Ethier or Carlos Quentin.

23. Which young star will get locked up by a long-term extension? Small-market teams have been able to remain competitive in recent years in part by signing their young stars to team-friendly extensions -- think Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh or Evan Longoria in Tampa Bay -- but as premium free agents continue to get $100-million plus contracts, there’s going to be less incentive for young players to potentially leave tens of millions on the table.

24. Where will the other free-agent relievers sign? Casey Janssen and Soriano are two relievers out there with closing experience. Soriano averaged 39 saves the past three seasons but lost his closer job with the Nationals late last season, while Janssen missed time with a back injury and saw his strikeout rate decline. Besides the Tigers, the Dodgers are seeking relief help.

25. Are the World Series champs done? The Giants just signed Norichika Aoki, although he and Gregor Blanco don’t make for a traditional platoon since both hit left-handed. They struck out on signing Jon Lester and Pablo Sandoval and trading for Justin Upton. The Giants could still be in on Shields, or could bring back Ryan Vogelsong for rotation depth.

26. Back to the Nationals: Could they trade shortstop Ian Desmond? It seems unlikely, but Desmond is a free agent after 2015 and reportedly turned down a $100 million extension. And the club did trade for Yunel Escobar, although moving him to shortstop would create a hole at second base. The team perhaps most desperate for a shortstop is the Mets, but they’re a division rival.

27. Arbitration tracker: Who’s left? While a lot of players have already signed, the most interesting remaining unsigned players are those who are still several years from free agency and who could potentially negotiate multiyear deals (similar to the one Lynn signed with the Cardinals). This group includes Josh Donaldson of the Blue Jays; Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford of the Giants; Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain of the Royals; Devin Mesoraco of the Reds; and Garrett Richards of the Angels.

28. What will happen with highly touted Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada? The 19-year-old switch-hitter is projected as a power-speed combo who will likely end up at second or third base. The Giants recently held a private workout with him, and the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Nationals and Marlins are among those teams reported to have strong interest and financial means. MLB has declared Moncada a free agent, but he needs to be cleared by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control before he’s eligible to sign.

29. Who will join Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs in guaranteeing his team will win a division title?

30. Who will be the first player to report early to spring training in the best shape of his life?



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.
The recent Hall of Fame elections serve two important purposes. One, it's a chance to recognize the superstars of the recent past and how many memories Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio provided us. But the elections also serve as a reminder to remember those underappreciated players of the past, those who deserved better support in Hall of Fame voting.

So here's my all-time all-underrated team. It skews toward more recent decades, but these are the decades that players have failed to fairly represent in Cooperstown.

C: Ted Simmons (1968-1988)
Stats: .285/.348/.437, 248 HR, 1,389 RBI, 2,472 H
Career WAR: 50.1
Higher WAR than ... Ernie Lombardi, Roy Campanella, Ray Schalk

The Hall of Fame voters and Veterans Committee has drawn its line at Simmons. He ranks 10th in WAR among catchers; seven of the guys ahead of him are Hall of Famers and the other two are Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza. Only Yogi Berra drove in more runs. Simmons was a big name when he played -- he was an eight-time All-Star -- but a couple of factors worked against his historical standing: Johnny Bench was his contemporary and Simmons loses that comparison; he wasn't regarded as a strong defensive catcher while active although his career caught stealing rate of 34 percent is actually league average.

Runner-up: Bill Freehan. Perennial All-Star for the Tigers in the '60s.

1B: John Olerud (1989-2005)
Stats: .295/.398/.465, 255 HR, 1,230 RBI, 2,239 H
Career WAR: 58.0
Higher WAR than ... Bill Terry, Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda

For all the talk this past week about Fred McGriff and Carlos Delgado, Olerud was a better all-around player than either of those two, at least according to the advanced metrics. But first basemen are judged by power, and Olerud's 20 home runs per season and 255 career home runs didn't match up to the power numbers some of his contemporaries in the steroids era put up.

He made up for that with consistently high on-base percentages (six times over .400) and excellent defense (Baseball-Reference has him with the third-most fielding runs ever at first base, behind only Albert Pujols and Keith Hernandez). Olerud also had two monster MVP-caliber seasons with the Blue Jays in 1993 when he hit .363 and won the batting title and with the Mets in 1998 when he hit .354.

Runner-up: Will Clark. He could have hung around a few more years to build a stronger Hall of Fame case -- he hit .319/.418/.546 in his final season -- but instead retired. Of course, he was a pretty big star while active. But, like Olerud, he got booted off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year.

2B: Lou Whitaker (1977-1995)
Stats: .276/.363/.426, 244 HR, 1,084 RBI, 2,369 H
Career WAR: 74.9
Higher WAR than ... Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio

Whitaker's one-and-done status on the Hall of Fame ballot was pretty surprising considering his career numbers are very similar to Sandberg's, his 1980s National League counterpart who was elected on his third try. Whitaker didn't hit quite as many home runs as Sandberg but had a higher on-base percentage and was no slouch on defense, winning three Gold Gloves.

Whitaker has the highest career WAR of any player not in the Hall of Fame who isn't still on the ballot, not yet eligible, didn't bet on baseball and didn't play in the 1800s. So why the lack of respect? Well, the things Whitaker did are those things that make most of these players underrated: He drew walks, he played good defense, he had medium-range power (although pretty good for a second baseman).

Sandberg, by comparison, was certainly flashier than Whitaker -- more home runs, more steals, a better defensive reputation. And to be fair, Sandberg at his peak was better than Whitaker at his peak. Whitaker then had some very strong seasons at the end of his career when he was used as a platoon player, but nobody realized how good he still was because (A) he was being platooned, which held down some of his counting numbers; (B) the Tigers were terrible by then; and (C) Alomar had arrived and was the widely acclaimed new best second baseman in baseball.

Whitaker has yet to appear on a Veterans Committee ballot. I suspect he'll remain a hard sell even then, since his consistent excellence is easy to overlook.

Runner-up: Bobby Grich. Put up excellent offensive numbers in the 1970s and early '80s -- walks, medium-range power -- when most middle infielders were inept at the plate. While not completely overlooked while active -- he made six All-Star teams and had two top-10 MVP finishes -- the fact that he didn't hit for a higher average in an era when that's what people paid attention to certainly made him underrated at the time.

3B: Graig Nettles (1967-1988)
Stats: .248/.329/.421, 390 HR, 1,314 RBI, 2,225 H
Career WAR: 68.0
Higher WAR than ... Home Run Baker, Pie Traynor, George Kell

As with Simmons, Nettles ranks 10th all time at his position in career WAR. Nettles was a superb defensive third baseman who played a long time and hit some home runs. Voters have always had trouble figuring out what to do with third basemen. Ron Santo had to get in the Hall of Fame through the back door. It will be interesting what happens with Adrian Beltre and Scott Rolen, both in the top 10 in career WAR among third basemen, when they become eligible.

Nettles never had a chance at the Hall of Fame. Brooks Robinson had already secured the legacy of best defensive third baseman of all time, so it didn't matter how good Nettles was. He was actually Robinson's equal as an offensive player, just with a different scope: more power but a lower average. I'm not sure I'd advocate Nettles as a Hall of Famer -- he'd have lined up behind Rolen, Beltre and maybe Ken Boyer -- but he certainly had some Hall of Fame-caliber seasons.

Runner-up: Boyer. He peaked at 25 percent on the BBWAA ballot. He was on the recent Veterans Committee ballot but received fewer than three of the 16 votes -- fewer than Jim Kaat or Maury Wills, even though Boyer was a better player than either one.

[+] EnlargeAlan Trammell
USA TODAY Sports Alan Trammell played 20 years in the majors and had a career .352 on base percentage.
SS: Alan Trammell (1977-1996)
Stats: .285/.352/.415, 185 HR, 1,003 RBI, 2,365 H
Career WAR: 70.4
Higher WAR than ... Barry Larkin, Joe Cronin, Luis Aparicio

Whitaker's long-time teammate is probably the stronger Hall of Fame candidate due to a higher peak level of play. I touched a bit on Trammell here. Trammell is eighth all time in WAR among shortstops, sandwiched between Derek Jeter and Larkin. The comparison to Larkin explains why Trammell is underrated: He had nearly exact career numbers but Larkin was elected to the Hall of Fame his third time on the ballot while Trammell has languished for 14 years. The weird thing is while Cal Ripken was certainly the star American League shortstop of the 1980s, it's not like Trammell wasn't recognized as one of the best players in the game at the time. But as soon as he retired, people forgot about him.

Runner-up: Arky Vaughan. He's actually in the Hall of Fame but this 1930s star remains one of the most unknown great players in the game's history.

LF: Jose Cruz Sr. (1970-1988)
Stats: .284/.354/.420, 165 HR, 1,077 RBI, 2,251 H
Career WAR: 54.2
Higher WAR than ... Ralph Kiner, Jim Rice, Lou Brock

Yes, Tim Raines could go here as well, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him finally get elected to Cooperstown in his final two years on the ballot. As for Cruz, it took a while for his career to get going -- he didn't have his breakout season until he was 28 -- but he was a tremendous player for a long time with the Astros. It was impossible to hit home runs in the Astrodome back then -- one year, Cruz hit 12 home runs on the road and none at home -- so Cruz didn't have big power numbers. But he hit .300 six times, drew walks and stole as many as 44 bases in a season (1977). He had three top-eight MVP votes, but if he'd come up in the 1990s instead of the '70s and played in a different park, he could have been a 3,000-hit guy.

Runner-up: Minnie Minoso. He should be in the Hall of Fame.

CF: Kenny Lofton (1991-2007)
Stats: .299/.372/.423, 622 SB, 1,528 R, 2,428 H
Career WAR: 68.2
Higher WAR than ... Duke Snider, Richie Ashburn, Kirby Puckett

Here's something that may shock you: Among players who played at least 50 percent of their career games in center field since 1901, Lofton ranks seventh in all-time WAR, behind only the legends -- Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr. and Joe DiMaggio. But he was one-and-done on the Hall of Fame ballot. I'd say that makes him underrated.

Runner-up: Bernie Williams? Hard for a Yankee to be underrated, but the crowded ballot bumped him off on his second try in 2013. Borderline Hall of Famer at best, but usually players on great teams have a better shot at getting elected.

RF: Dwight Evans (1972-1991)
Stats: .272/.370/.470, 385 HR, 1,384 RBI, 2,446 H
Career WAR: 66.9
Higher WAR than ... Andre Dawson, Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero

And certainly higher than Rice, his Red Sox teammate. He was better in his 30s than in his 20s and, like others here, was good at some of the unrecognized things like getting on base and drawing walks. He hit more home runs than Rice and his OBP is 18 points higher even though Rice hit .298 versus Evans' .272. Would love to see him get on a Veterans Committee ballot one of these years.

Runner-up: Bobby Bonds. Not as good as his son, Barry, and not quite a Hall of Famer, but his career WAR is in the top 20 all time among right fielders.

P: Kevin Brown (1986-2005)
Stats: 211-144, 3.28 ERA, 3,256 IP, 3,079 H, 2,397 SO
Career WAR: 68.5
Higher WAR than ... Jim Palmer, Carl Hubbell, John Smoltz

But he didn't spend three years as a closer! From 1996 through 2001, in the midst of the steroid era, Brown posted a 2.53 ERA. And he had a 2.39 ERA in 2003. And a 21-win season in 1992. He certainly deserved to get more of a hearing from the voters than one ballot.

Runner-up: Rick Reuschel. Played for a lot of bad and mediocre Cubs teams in the '70s, otherwise would have won more than 214 games.
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.

Defensive storylines of the offseason: NL

January, 8, 2015
Jan 8
10:15
AM ET
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.
The other night I was watching MLB Network's Hall of Fame discussion show when Marty Noble, longtime writer and columnist for Newsday and now a contributor to MLB.com, explained why his ballot this year would include only Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, saying something like, "You don't even have to think about those three or do any research. You just know they're Hall of Famers."

As it turns out, Noble has used this thought process before. Just last year, in voting for Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Jack Morris, he wrote, "The candidacies of Maddux and Glavine made this vote easy and enjoyable. No angst. They're automatic; there was no need for research or investigation. Morris never has approached automatic status, but he clearly deserves the benefit of the doubt."

You just know. Automatic.

OK. Can you tell the difference between these pitchers?

Pitcher A: 270-153, 3.68 ERA, 3,562.2 IP, 2,813 SO
Pitcher B: 216-146, 3.46 ERA, 3,261 IP, 3,116 SO
Pitcher C: 194-126, 3.46 ERA, 2,898.2 IP, 2,668 SO
Pitcher D: 213-155, 3.33 ERA, 3,473 IP, 3,084 SO
Pitcher E: 211-144, 3.28 ERA, 3,256.1 IP, 2,397 SO

Pretty hard to differentiate among the five, right? Pitcher A has the highest ERA but won the most games and pitched the most innings. Pitcher B has the same ERA as Pitcher C but won more games -- and also lost more games. Pitcher B has about the same win-loss record and innings pitched as Pitcher E but has more strikeouts while Pitcher E has the better ERA. Pitcher A won 57 more games than Pitcher D while losing only two fewer. Pitchers B, C, D and E all played on World Series winners while pitchers A, B and D were the best performers in the postseason -- although Pitcher C was 8-3 in the postseason. Pitchers C, D and E all won Cy Young Awards, but Pitcher B has the highest total of Cy Young award shares (percentage of points available). Whew.

Pitcher A is Mike Mussina. Pitcher B is Curt Schilling. Pitcher C is David Cone. Pitcher D is John Smoltz. Pitcher E is Kevin Brown. Cone and Brown combined to receive just 33 votes in their one year on the ballot, their Hall of Fame cases quickly dismissed. Mussina and Schilling both received less than 30 percent of the vote last year.

But Smoltz? According to this tabulation at Baseball Think Factory that tracks all public Hall of Fame votes, as of Friday morning, Smoltz's percentage stands at 89 percent, meaning he'll easily sail into Cooperstown in his first year on the ballot.

Apparently, Marty Noble isn't the only one who just knows Smoltz is a Hall of Famer.

Call me confused.

Now, I'm guessing the percentages listed at Baseball Think Factory are higher than what the actual vote totals will be; active members/beat writers of the Baseball Writers Association who publicly list their ballots tend to have more "yes" votes than the inactive members who haven't covered baseball in years. That page lists Schilling at 58 percent and Mussina at 44 percent, both players doubling their percentage from a year ago, which seems unlikely.

So why Smoltz instead of the others? In terms of career pitching wins above replacement via Baseball-Reference.com, Smoltz doesn't appear to be the best of this group:

Mussina: 82.7
Schilling: 80.7
Brown: 68.5
Smoltz: 66.5
Cone: 61.7

You can certainly boost Smoltz ahead of Brown based on Smoltz's postseason numbers, and I guess you can try to boost Smoltz ahead of Mussina based on the same logic (although Mussina was a solid postseason pitcher with a 3.42 ERA), but that doesn't work when comparing Smoltz to Schilling, considering they are two of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time. (Smoltz was 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA while Schilling was 11-2, 2.23 ERA. Schilling also won three World Series titles compared with just one for Smoltz.)

Now, I've left something out. Smoltz spent three years as a closer from 2002 to 2004, recording 144 saves (plus 10 more in 2001). Is that what's swaying voters? Ben Lindbergh of Grantland has an in-depth analysis of the Smoltz phenomenon and points out 14 of the 99 public ballots he had seen at the time of his article mentioned versatility as a reason they were voting for Smoltz.

Ben suggests this is a key factor for Smoltz's support:
The portrayal of Smoltz as a Swiss Army ace relies on shaky logic: Every elite starter has the ability to be a dominant closer, and Smoltz shouldn’t get extra credit for the fragility that temporarily forced his team to use him in a less valuable role. After all, Mussina wouldn’t be a better candidate if he’d taken a sabbatical from starting to pitch out of the bullpen for Baltimore.

While Schilling, Mussina, and Smoltz were all great starters, Smoltz’s story has a hook: As many voters mentioned, he did something unprecedented, becoming the first pitcher to win 200 games and save 150 more. And while he didn’t come close to the magic milestone of 300 wins, 200 plus 150 equals 350, which is greater than 300. That’s the kind of math that even the most WAR-averse voters don’t mind.


I don't know if that's what voters are doing, but if they are, they're certainly overrating the value of Smoltz's tenure in the bullpen. Just compare his three years in the bullpen with some other closers during those same seasons:

Eric Gagne: 13-7, 1.79 ERA, 152 saves (6 blown saves)
Smoltz: 3-5, 2.47 ERA, 144 saves (13)
Mariano Rivera: 10-8, 2.03 ERA, 121 saves (14)
Armando Benitez: 7-6, 2.19 ERA, 101 saves (16)
Jason Isringhausen: 7-5, 2.61 ERA, 101 saves (15)
Billy Wagner: 9-6, 2.19 ERA, 100 saves (13)
Keith Foulke: 16-8, 2.37 ERA, 86 saves (15)
Trevor Hoffman: 5-8, 2.49 ERA, 79 saves (7)
Francisco Cordero: 10-12, 2.39 ERA, 74 saves (17)

I'm not dismissing Smoltz's performance; he was arguably the second-best closer in that period behind Gagne. But you can see there are many other relievers who posted a similar stingy ERA. And those are just the years 2002-2004. You can find many other closers who had great three-year runs of dominance. It's just not a unique accomplishment.

I think there's something else going on, something more simplistic: I think voters are just overrating Smoltz. Think about it: The Braves won 14 consecutive division titles from 1991 to 2005, not counting the 1994 strike season. Smoltz was there the entire time. The Braves won before Maddux joined the team; they won after Glavine left the team. They won after both Glavine and Maddux had left. Meanwhile, Smoltz remained. (Of course, they also won in 2000 when Smoltz missed the entire season and 2001 when he pitched sparingly, but you get the point: Smoltz was always there.)

So that's what it became: Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux. The Big Three. Interchangeable to a degree. Plus, Smoltz was better than those two in the postseason, clouding the perception of how good he was in the regular season. Here's what I mean. These are the best regular-season performances by Braves pitchers during that 1991-2005 run:

1. Maddux, 1995: 9.7 WAR
2. Maddux, 1994: 8.5
3. Glavine, 1991: 8.5
4. Maddux, 1997: 7.8
5. Smoltz, 1996: 7.3
6. Maddux, 1996: 7.1
7. Maddux, 2000: 6.6
8. Maddux, 1998: 6.6
9. Kevin Millwood, 1999: 6.1
10. Glavine, 1998: 6.1
11. Glavine, 1996: 5.8
12. Maddux, 1993: 5.8
13. Glavine, 1997: 5.5
14. Smoltz, 1991: 5.4
15. Steve Avery, 1991: 5.2

Maddux has seven seasons in the top 15, Glavine four and Smoltz two. (Smoltz also had a 5.9-WAR season in 2006 after the title run came to an end.)

We can do a similar comparison with our group of five pitchers listed earlier. Here are all their seasons with a WAR of 5.0 or higher:

1. Schilling, 2001: 8.8
2. Schilling, 2002: 8.7
3. Brown, 1998: 8.6
4. Mussina, 1992: 8.2
5. Brown, 1996: 8.0
6. Schilling, 2004: 7.9
7. Smoltz, 1996: 7.3
8. Brown, 2000: 7.2
8. Cone, 1993: 7.2
10. Mussina, 2001: 7.1
11. Brown, 1997: 7.0
12. Cone, 1994: 6.8
12. Cone 1997: 6.8
14. Mussina, 2003: 6.6
15. Schilling, 1997: 6.3
16. Schilling, 1998: 6.2
16. Brown, 1999: 6.2
18. Mussina, 1995: 6.1
19. Schilling, 2003: 6.0
20. Schilling, 1992: 5.9
20. Smoltz, 2006: 5.9
22. Cone, 1988: 5.6
22. Mussina, 2000: 5.6
24. Schilling, 2006: 5.5
24. Mussina, 1997: 5.5
26. Mussina: 1994: 5.4
26. Smoltz, 1991: 5.4
28. Mussina, 2008: 5.2
29. Cone, 1991: 5.1
30. Mussina, 1998: 5.0
30. Mussina, 2006: 5.0

"Great" seasons is one way to evaluate Hall of Famers, and Smoltz just didn't have quite as many Cy Young-caliber seasons as the other pitchers. Now, some of this is hidden in the numbers, which is why his ERA is a little lower than Schilling's or Mussina's. Smoltz pitched in the National League and in more neutral parks, whereas Mussina spent his entire career in the American League in two good hitter's parks in Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium. Schilling pitched in better hitter's parks in Philadelphia (old Veterans Stadium) and Arizona.

Schilling is also hurt, I think, by some of the interruptions and timing in his career. He was a postseason hero for the Phillies in 1993 but missed time in 1994 and 1995. He struck out 300 batters in 1997 and 1998 but played on bad Phillies teams and was underrated at the time. He then missed some time in 1999. In 2001, 2002 and 2004 with the Diamondbacks and then the Red Sox he won 22, 23 and 21 games ... but finished second in the Cy Young voting each year. In 2003, however, he was injured again and went just 8-9 (although he pitched well). He was injured again in 2005 and pitched poorly before finishing off his career with a World Series win in 2007.

As Dan Szymborski wrote the other day on ESPN Insider,
ERA, while a better stat than pitcher wins, suffers a great deal in many cases when context is added. Schilling played almost entirely in a high-offense era and retired before that era ended. In the parks and leagues Schilling pitched in, a league-average ERA over his career would have been 4.39. Contrast that with a pitcher like Don Drysdale, who pitched a lot in Dodger Stadium in the 1960s, resulting in a 3.53 ERA being league-average over the course of his career. ERA+ compares ERA to league average and Schilling's 127 meets Hall of Fame standards -- the other pitchers with more than 3000 innings and an ERA+ between 125 and 129 are Schilling, four Hall of Famers (Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Stan Coveleski) and Kevin Brown.

So even if the seasons all end in September, Schilling would have a strong argument for Hall of Fame induction. However, the postseason is an important part of Schilling's career highlight, and for all the great tools we have to support arguments these days, sabermetrics hasn't done a whole lot with playoff performance. Yet the story of Schilling's career is woefully incomplete without it.


All this isn't meant to knock Smoltz. In my book, he is a deserving Hall of Famer. But Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina are more deserving. If I had to line them up, I'd go:

1. Schilling
2. Mussina
3. Smoltz
4. Brown
5. Cone

I'll be happy if Smoltz is on stage in July next to the Big Unit and Pedro. I'd just like to see Schilling and Mussina with him.


Picks to click: 2015 breakout hitters

December, 27, 2014
12/27/14
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Manny MachadoJonathan Ernst/Getty ImagesAfter two injury-abbreviated seasons, will Manny Machado break out big in 2015?


With 2015 around the corner, it’s easy to focus on what’s new -- new players on your teams, new rookies, new chances. But how about those guys who might be ready to ratchet up a whole new level of production? It is, as Mike Royko put it describing his joy on seeing Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston learn to lay off an outside breaking ball, part of what being a fan is all about, because you get to see someone already good enough to be one of the best players on the planet become greater still.

Diving into a list of guys who should break out in 2015, let’s set aside the rookies we know are going to make some noise. Yes, Kris Bryant, Joc Pederson, Byron Buxton, Jorge Soler, Rusney Castillo -- we all expect big things in what ought to be a bumper crop of first-year players, but let’s set them aside for a different conversation. Instead, think of this as yesterday’s top prospects coming into their own now that their new-guy hype has faded, while including ACTA's Bill James projections and what Steamer at FanGraphs suggest they’ll do in the season to come.

1. Manny Machado, Orioles: .747 career OPS | 2015 James .765, Steamer .758

Including Machado might seem like a bit of a gimme, considering he’s now headed into his fourth season in the majors and has only shown incremental progress, picking up a couple of points on OPS each year. But his first spin was an in-season call-up, his second featured a big second-half fade (.807 OPS before the break, .647 after) and a season-ending knee injury, and his third was slowed by his recovery (taking the field in May without spring training), then ended early by reinjuring his right knee. But for all that, the guy only just turned 22 last summer, and despite that stack of setbacks, he’s already been productive. The projections are modest, but overlook the backstory; with health and a clean start, this could be the first year of many when he cranks out 80 extra-base hits.

2. George Springer, Astros: .804 career OPS | 2015 James .854, Steamer .772

He’s sort of like putting one scoop of Bryce Harper or Yasiel Puig and one of teammate Chris Carter in the same sundae, because you get the athleticism and the power to pound a league-leading tally in homers -- and strike out 200 times -- all in one baseball helmet dish. The fulcrum that will propel his career one way or another is his mastery of the strike zone, because after a swinging strike clip that’s almost twice big-league average (31.9 to 16.3 percent) as a rookie, if he sorts out what he needs to lay off of, he could go from impressive to dominant in short order.

3. Eric Hosmer, Royals: .747 career OPS | 2015 James .773, Steamer .779

There’s a decent cadre of semidisappointing first basemen to choose from, guys you might be hoping might take a big, Anthony Rizzo-level step forward, as Rizzo did last year. Yonder Alonso might be too far along and need a change of venue, while Brandon Belt has the bat but may not be durable enough. Hosmer is the guy in this group who’s younger than Rizzo, just heading into his age-25 season and into the beginning of what you’d consider to be a normal peak range for a hitter. If Hosmer’s performance down the stretch and into the postseason (.841 OPS in September, .983 in October) while working with new hitting coach Dale Sveum is any indication, he might finally start delivering in kind on the huge expectations Royals fans have piled on him for the last four years.

4. Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers: .763 career OPS | 2015 James .809, Steamer .735

Between getting dealt by the Reds before reaching the homer haven they call home, missing most of 2013 with a 50-game PED suspension and a knee injury, and the general anonymity that gets slathered onto all Padres, Grandal has yet to live up to the prospect billing that made him a 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft. But he’s only just begun, hitting 15 homers last year, and has already delivered an .802 career OPS on the road. Now that he’s escaped from the bat-sapping effects of Petco Park and is headed to a friendlier power environment in Dodger Stadium and into his prime age-26 season, expect the Dodgers to come off well on their side of the Matt Kemp swap.

5. Oswaldo Arcia, Twins: .743 career OPS | 2015 James .844, Steamer .790

Did you know Arcia hit 20 homers in a partial season last year, as a 23-year-old? Or that Bill James also pegged him for 30 homers this season? Blame the flyover market, blame all the prospect maven attention getting lavished on names like Buxton or Sano (not that there’s anything wrong with that), or blame the Twins’ four-year run of losing seasons, but Arcia is going to be a big part of the reason why the Twins’ brief run of irrelevance ends soon. Add in an AL Central where nobody should be a slam-dunk pick to win 90 games, and Arcia will be the new star slugger on a surprise contender.

6. Travis d’Arnaud, Mets: .683 career OPS | 2015 James .805, Steamer .744

The Mets have been used as a punchline for so long that it’s worth remembering that some of their long-term moves are about to start delivering, starting with d’Arnaud behind the plate. Another example that youth will be served, d’Arnaud is also headed into the heart of a normal peak range with his age-26 season on tap. After settling in last year as the Mets’ regular backstop, he posted a .787 OPS in the second half despite playing with a bum elbow. Lucas Duda was last year’s breakout Met; d’Arnaud will be that guy in 2015.

SportsNation

Which hitter will have the biggest breakout in 2015?

  •  
    24%
  •  
    21%
  •  
    22%
  •  
    8%
  •  
    25%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,848)

7. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox: .662 career OPS | 2015 James .735, Steamer .732

No more distractions, he’s a shortstop and gets to settle in. Given that he’s already yesterday’s news while the focus switches to the excitement over adding Pablo Sandoval, Mookie Betts and Castillo to the everyday lineup, it’s going to be fun to watch as Bogaerts quietly clouts 50 extra-base hits and closes the book on last year’s front-office-driven mayhem. Last year, MLB shortstops averaged a .678 OPS, and only five shortstops (including new Sox left fielder Hanley Ramirez) posted a better OPS than Bogaerts’ projection. Skip any disappointment, his stardom begins now.

8. Marcell Ozuna, Marlins: .746 career OPS | 2015 James .804, Steamer .744

When I turned to resident projection expert Dan Szymborski for his thoughts, he tabbed Ozuna, and it’s easy to understand why. Despite essentially skipping past Double-A and Triple-A on his way to the majors in 2013, Ozuna has shown off solid growth in his first two big-league seasons, posting a .772 OPS last year while ripping 23 homers. Headed into his age-24 season, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him take a big step forward.

9. Avisail Garcia, White Sox: .722 career OPS | 2015 James .783, Steamer .743

Remember him, that top Tigers prospect of yesteryear flipped to the South Side before he’d even settled in? Well, after missing most of 2014 with a shoulder injury, he’s back, healthy and still shy of his 24th birthday. And he gets to call The Cell home? That’s Christmas 81 times a season if you’re a right-handed power prospect. Blasting past 20 homers (as James projects) in his first full season seems like a reasonable expectation; don’t be surprised if he blows by that by August.

10. Michael Saunders, Blue Jays: .685 career OPS | 2015 James .726, Steamer .748

Saunders escaped from Seattle this winter after suffering through a 74-point OPS differential in his career home/road split, although he did put up a career-best .791 OPS in 2014. Now that he’s finally out of Seattle, a Canadian headed to Canada’s team, topping that may be tough to reproduce, but he’s brought his strikeout rate down toward 20 percent while keeping his walks around 10 percent. Between the scarcity of offensive help on the market and the fact it only took fifth-starter type J.A. Happ to get him, Saunders could be one of the best pickups of the winter.

Honorable mention: Starling Marte, Pirates. I’ll admit, there’s a bit of fan reach on my part here, simply because Marte is one of my favorite guys to watch play. But only up to a point, because he delivered a huge second half (.975 OPS) when he was healthy. He’s another guy headed into his age-26 season, so take it as just my vibe that he’s got a single-season 30-10-20 line or better for doubles, triples and homers in him sometime in the very near future.


Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.
Some thoughts on recent transactions and other stuff ...
  • The Twins agreed with Phil Hughes on a three-year extension through 2019 even though he had two years remaining on his current contract. It's a little strange to extend a pitcher two full seasons before free agency but in this case I can understand the reasoning. Hughes came over from the Yankees and had the best season of his career, turning into a strike-throwing machine with just 16 walks in 32 starts and going 16-10 with a 3.52 ERA. If Hughes has that kind of season again, he gets a lot more expensive and probably just plays out his contract and hits free agency. So the Twins are betting that his 2014 season is for real and I like the bet, usual pitcher health risks notwithstanding. Hughes returned to throwing his cutter after essentially ditching it in 2012 and 2013. That seemed to help him generate more groundballs and helped cut his home run rate. Away from the short porch at Yankee Stadium, he pitched inside more often, with less fear about being burned by a cheap home run down the line.
  • Speaking of the Yankees, I love the acquisition of Nathan Eovaldi from the Marlins, a young right-hander with a big fastball who hasn't put everything together yet. He had a 4.37 ERA with the Marlins and led the National League in hits allowed, primarily because he tries to just blow fastballs past hitters -- but his fastball was too straight and too often thrown down the middle. The positives here are that throwing strikes wasn't a problem and he had the third-best fastball velocity among starters, behind only Yordano Ventura and Garrett Richards. He needs to improve his secondary stuff -- or trust it more -- and improve against left-handers, especially with that short porch out there, but it's a great upside play for the Yankees at the cost of a two-win player in Martin Prado. (The Yankees also got Garrett Jones in the trade and he should become a nice bench player for them, with David Phelps going to the Marlins.)
  • For the Marlins, it looked like Prado would bring a nice versatile addition to the club -- he can play third, second and outfield -- but they immediately traded away Casey McGehee to the Giants. With the Yankees picking up some of Prado's salary, this actually looks like a trade to trim some payroll as much anything. Minus McGehee and Jones, the Marlins are left with one of the worst benches in the league, have an injury-prone first baseman in Mike Morse and no backup outfielder even listed on their 40-man roster. The rotation would include injury risks Mat Latos, Dan Haren and Henderson Alvarez, aside from the rehabbing Jose Fernandez. There is reason to get excited about this club -- and Prado is an upgrade over McGehee -- but there's a good chance the lack of depth bites them big in the end.
  • As for McGehee going to the Giants, I guess he's better than Joaquin Arias, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Giants are looking for a new third baseman by the All-Star break. McGehee hit .287 in 2014 after returning from Japan, but hit just four home runs and grounded into 31 double plays. Ugh. He was terrible in the majors in 2011 and 2012. Not sure he's really going to help much and if he doesn't hit .287 again or regain some power, he's a zero on offense.
  • The Pirates were the surprise winners in the bidding for Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, who tore apart the Korean League with 40 home runs and a 1.198 OPS. They now have 30 days to sign him and reports are he's looking for a four-year, $20 million contract. Seems like a good risk for the Pirates. If their total investment is $25 million, even if he ends up being a good backup infielder it's not a waste of money and there's the chance they hit the lottery and have an above-average player. Most scouts project Kang as a second baseman, although the Pirates are set there with Neil Walker.
  • I told myself I was going to stay away from Hall of Fame stuff this year as we're really just beating the same drums as the past several years. But I know I can't help myself. One article I intend to write at some point is the similarity between Curt Schilling and John Smoltz. Schilling received just 29 percent of the vote last year, while many expect Smoltz to make it in on his first year on the ballot. I don't get the love for Smoltz over Schilling. Anyway, Matthew Pouliot has a take on those two (and Mike Mussina) at Hardball Talk.
  • Cole Hamels to the Padres? Why not. The Padres probably only have Justin Upton for one year. Matt Kemp's defense isn't going to get better and neither are his supposedly arthritic hips. Who knows if the arms of Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross will hold up. They may catch the Dodgers and Giants in slight transition years.
Jimmy RollinsMitchell Layton/Getty Images

It was quite the exciting winter meetings. A few thoughts on some of those recent transactions ...

1. Dodgers trade Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon, acquire Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins and Yasmani Grandal.

It's risky blowing up a 94-win team, and although trading Kemp certainly helps clear some of the logjam in the outfield and gives the Dodgers additional money to play with, this series of transactions doesn't have as much to do with improving clubhouse chemistry or making manager Don Mattingly's life any easier as it does with something far less complicated: improving the team's defense.

New team president Andrew Friedman came from Tampa Bay, where the Rays turned their franchise around in 2008 by improving the team's defense and emphasizing it ever since. General manager Farhan Zaidi came from Oakland, where the A's had also made defense a bigger priority in recent seasons.

The Dodgers arguably ended up improving their defense at five positions:

Shortstop: Rollins > Hanley Ramirez
Second base: Kendrick > Gordon
Center field: Pederson > Yasiel Puig
Right field: Puig > Kemp
Catcher: Grandal > A.J. Ellis

Look at the upgrades, based on 2014 defensive runs saved per 1,200 innings:

SS: +16 runs
2B: +11 runs
CF: Puig rated as average here; Pederson projects as average or slightly above.
RF: +10 runs
C: Friedman loves pitch framing, and Grandal rates very well here while Ellis rates as one of the worst in the majors. Grandal isn't a great overall defensive catcher -- he had trouble throwing out runners -- but you have to believe the Dodgers' internal metrics rate Grandal has a sizable upgrade.

Yes, the Dodgers have lost two guys from the middle of the order, but Rollins (17 home runs in 2014) could replace much of Ramirez's power, Pederson projects as a 20-homer guy if he plays every day, and Kendrick is an offensive upgrade over Gordon. The Dodgers also replaced two injury-prone players in Ramirez and Kemp.

Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke predictably ripped the Kemp trade, but when you view the big picture, it looks like a terrific series of moves to me (not even factoring in the Brandon McCarthy signing).

2. Padres acquire Kemp.

My friend Ted the Mariners fan emailed me after hearing about this trade, saying, "We couldn't beat this?"

It may look like a low return for Kemp, but Kemp's reputation exceeds his actual value by a large factor. You're not just trading for Kemp; you're also getting his contract. He's a 30-year-old outfielder who played below-average defense even in right field and had injury issues the past three seasons. FanGraphs valued him at just 4.6 WAR total over the past three seasons and just 1.8 in 2014 despite hitting .287/.346/.506. If Kemp can stay healthy and match his second-half production over the next several years, the Padres won't regret the deal. But Kemp isn't the superstar some fans think he is.

3. Tigers acquire Yoenis Cespedes and Alfredo Simon, trade away Rick Porcello and Eugenio Suarez.

Overall, I'd say the Tigers are just spinning their wheels in the mud so far if you factor in the loss of Torii Hunter and the assumed departure of Max Scherzer. (GM Dave Dombrowski said the club will no longer negotiate with Scherzer and agent Scott Boras.) Cespedes is certainly a defensive upgrade over Hunter, and if he can spike his OBP back over .300, the Tigers will certainly roll out what should be one of the better offenses in the league:

2B Ian Kinsler
RF J.D. Martinez
1B Miguel Cabrera
DH Victor Martinez
LF Cespedes
3B Nick Castellanos
C Alex Avila
CF Anthony Gose/Rajai Davis
SS Jose Iglesias

Even then, the lineup could have OBP issues once you get past Cabrera and Victor Martinez, especially if J.D. Martinez doesn't maintain his 2014 level of play.

I don't like the Simon trade, in which Detroit gave up Suarez for one year of a pitcher who has had half of a good season in the rotation ... and that half was fueled by a low BABIP. The downgrade from Porcello to Simon could be significant, and I think Suarez is going to be the better player than Iglesias.

4. Red Sox add Porcello, Justin Masterson and Wade Miley (trade pending) to the rotation.

Boston had better have good infield defense with this group. Throw in Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly and the Red Sox should have the staff that will throw the most ground balls in the majors, probably by a large margin. (Paul Swydan of FanGraphs has a piece on Boston's ground ball fetish.)

How good is it, however? The Steamer projection system actually projects Boston to have the sixth-best rotation in the majors via WAR -- but the fifth-worst ERA. Seems like there's a wide range of potential outcomes here based on those figures and some park adjustments going on that help those WAR numbers. Everyone seems to think the Red Sox will still make another move, either signing James Shields or trading for Cole Hamels. I'm not as sure about that. Considering the lack of top starters across the AL East, the Red Sox may just stick with this group, keep all those young starters they have and see if Henry Owens, Matt Barnes or Eduardo Rodriguez develop enough to help out later in the season.

5. Marlins acquire Gordon, Mat Latos and Dan Haren -- if he doesn't retire.

The Marlins' second basemen hit .236/.303/.334 in 2014, compared with Gordon's .289/.326/.378, so it looks like a small offensive upgrade, especially when you factor in Gordon's speed. But Gordon had just a .300 OBP in the second half (when he drew only four walks). He does, however, provide dynamic speed -- an element the Marlins lacked -- and if Gordon can learn to draw a few more walks, the top of the lineup has potential:

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Which moves from the winter meetings did you like best?

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,719)

2B Gordon
LF Christian Yelich
RF Giancarlo Stanton
3B Casey McGehee
CF Marcell Ozuna
1B To be acquired?
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
SS Adeiny Hechavarria

OK, the Marlins need a better cleanup hitter. Latos is a big gamble coming off a season during which his velocity declined nearly 2 mph as he battled bone chips in his elbow and eventually had surgery. A rotation of Latos, Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi, Jarred Cosart, Tom Koehler, Haren and eventually Jose Fernandez, who is expected to return at midseason, has potential -- especially if youngsters Eovaldi and Cosart develop consistency. But it could also feature a bunch of No. 4s. Call me lukewarm on the Marlins' moves so far.

6. Angels acquire Andrew Heaney for Kendrick.

It's hard to fault the Angels for making this move, in which they picked up Heaney and his potential, plus six years of team control for Kendrick, who hits free agency after the season. But losing Kendrick without a clear replacement on hand could be a huge blow. Kendrick was the club's second-most-valuable player last season behind Mike Trout. I'll be curious to see what happens at second base, as Josh Rutledge, acquired from the Rockies, projects as about a one-win player, if that. That's a four-win decline from what Kendrick provided in 2014, and if Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker regress, the Angels will face in a tough battle for the playoffs a year after racking up the most wins in the majors in 2014.

7. White Sox acquire Jeff Samardzija, sign David Robertson and Adam LaRoche.

You have to love the job Rick Hahn has done the past two offseasons, signing Jose Abreu and stealing Adam Eaton from the Diamondbacks last year, and now landing Samardzija, Robertson and LaRoche. I'd still pick the White Sox to finish fourth in the AL Central, but if they add another starter or outfielder it could be a great four-team race.

8. Cubs sign Jon Lester, trade for Miguel Montero.

Did you know Doug Fister has a lower career ERA (3.34) than Lester (3.58) and roughly the same postseason ERA (2.57 for Lester vs. 2.60 for Fister)?

9. Twins sign Ervin Santana.

Hey, he could be the new Ricky Nolasco! (Sorry, Twins fans.) OK, Santana is probably better than Nolasco, but $54 million seems like a lot for a guy who just posted a 3.95 ERA in the National League and whose best season of the past three came in Kansas City, where he played in a good pitcher's park in front of a terrific defense that complemented his fly ball tendencies.

10. Pirates re-sign Francisco Liriano.

At three years and $39 million, this was a good deal for Pittsburgh, which got a solid starter who didn't break the payroll. You always worry about his health and the potential that he'll lose his command at any time, but he's had two good seasons now -- and pitching coach Ray Searage seems to get the most out of his starters.

11. Cardinals sign Mark Reynolds.

St. Louis definitely needed a right-handed power bat, either to platoon with Matt Adams or to come off the bench. We saw the Giants' lefty relievers exploit the Cardinals in the NLCS. Reynolds can fill in at first and third, and for $2 million, he's an inexpensive pickup who could pay small dividends.

12. A's do a bunch of stuff.

More to come on this in a separate post later today.

13. Royals sign Kendrys Morales for two years, $17 million.

What?!?!?!?

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