SweetSpot: Ryan Braun

What's wrong with Ryan Braun?

September, 4, 2014
From Buster Olney's blog today:
Some evaluators have been stunned in recent weeks by how much Ryan Braun has struggled against fastballs. "Even in situations when he knows it's coming -- everybody knows it's coming -- he can't get to it," one scout said. "It's incredible."

Justin Havens of ESPN Stats & Info looked at the recent data, and the numbers reflect what the scouts are seeing:

A) Through Aug. 12, 38 of his 82 strikeouts (46 percent) have come via the fastball. In the past three weeks, a full two-thirds have come against fastballs (12 of 18).
B) Braun hit .311 against fastballs on the outer half through Aug. 12, and has hit just .083 against those pitches since (one hit in 12 at-bats, with seven strikeouts).
C) Braun has hit .213 against all pitches 93-plus mph in the second half, compared to .295 in the first half.

I know what you're thinking: Steroids! Or lack of them. After all, this is two straight seasons now where Braun's numbers have dipped below his career norms and he's only 30. I have my doubts that's the case. Remember, after testing positive for PEDs in the 2011 postseason, Braun led the National League with 41 home runs in 2012. Yes, that doesn't really tell us whether he was taking anything or not taking anything or simply eating a lot of spinach, but he hasn't tested positive again.

Braun's struggles in recent weeks are probably related to the nerve issue in his thumb, apparently the same injury that bothered him last year. "It is ongoing," manager Ron Roenicke told MLB.com on Tuesday. "There's times when he feels really good. You can tell it in batting practice, then he usually takes it into ballgames. But there's times where it's just sore and the swings aren't what he's used to."

Aside from the thumb injury, there are some other concerns with Braun's production. His chase rate on pitches out of the strike zone is 39 percent, 11 percent higher than last year and well above his career norms of around 31 percent. As a result, his walk rate is his lowest since 2008, down more than 4 percent from last year. Braun has never been the most patient of hitters; you'd think the thumb injury would perhaps create more discipline but instead it seems to have created more of a free-swinger. Of course, some hitters start expanding the strike zone as their bat speed declines, "cheating" on fastballs (see Albert Pujols). Again, however, is the bat slow because of the injury or his age?

Pitchers, of course, have been quick to adapt. Braun is seeing more fastballs in general and more inside pitches. And as Justin and Buster's scout pointed out, he's not hitting that inside heat.

As for the steroids, when Braun does hit a fly ball, he still has the power. Check his percentage of fly balls that have resulted in home runs through the years:

2014: 18.0 percent
2013: 17.6 percent
2012: 22.2 percent
2011: 18.9 percent
2010: 14.1 percent

He's just hitting a lot of fewer fly balls, 7 percent fewer than his career average. For now, I'm chalking this up to the thumb injury. (Here's a more in-depth look at how the nerve issue could be affecting Braun's hitting from Stuart Wallace of Beyond the Box Score.)

As for the Brewers, with Braun struggling and Carlos Gomez out another week or so, it's getting desperate in Milwaukee. They've lost eight in a row and are suddenly three games back of the Cardinals.
So last night, the Brewers and Diamondbacks played a fun game, a mini-potboiler that would make John le Carré pleased if he were a baseball fan.

Brewers starter Kyle Lohse hit two batters, including Arizona shortstop Chris Owings in the back of the neck in the sixth inning. You can see from Lohse's reaction that it was clearly unintentional, just a pitch that got away.

Of course, Kirk Gibson's Diamondbacks had to push back. This is what Gibson and GM-in-firing Kevin Towers have stressed to their team. Remember the Yasiel Puig nonsense last year when the D-backs threw at his head? And remember Towers' comments last October when he said, talking about the Diamondbacks need to pitch inside more, "But I think come spring training, it will be duly noted that it's going to be an eye for an eye and we're going to protect one another." Towers would later amend his statement to say he meant, "I'm not saying hit players on purpose. I'm saying if our hitters are being made uncomfortable at the plate, we need to be the same way; we need to make the opposing hitters uncomfortable at the plate and pitch in with purpose and take that inner third away."

OK. So Lohse hit Owings. The next inning, trailing 4-3, the Brewers had runners at second and third with one out, Ryan Braun at the plate. The D-backs have a little history with Braun. The Brewers beat them in the 2011 Division Series -- that was when Braun failed a drug test and Gibson had expressed his disgust with Braun last season. The Diamondbacks, understandably, don't like Braun. Their managers doesn't like him. The message was clear: You can see catcher Miguel Montero ordering the knockdown pitch. Evan Marshall hit Braun on the rear end and got tossed, leaving to a standing ovation from the fans and high-fives in the dugout.

That's gritty baseball. That's eye-for-an-eye baseball. That's the kind of baseball that Gibson and Towers seem to demand. New chief baseball operator Tony La Russa also wasn't known to back down from throwing at opponents.

It's a knotty issue, this whole "You hit our guy, we hit your guy" thing. People in the game like to say to let the players sort it out. Even Braun said, "We know the way the game works. I wasn't surprised I got hit; I was surprised I got hit in that situation and circumstances, with the go-ahead run at second base and the tying run at third base, and they were ahead."

But is it the way game has to work? How far does it go?

The last time we left it up to the players to police the game we ended up with players sticking needles in their butts in bathroom stalls and an entire era of the game stained. Leaving it to the players is fine until somebody gets permanently injured with a retaliatory pitch to the head. (At least Marshall didn't throw his purpose pitch up there.)

Brad Ziegler came on to face Jonathan Lucroy, who slugged a grand slam to center field. That's how retaliate. Beat your opponent.

"I think the at-bat Luc had was probably the best at-bat I've ever seen," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "After they smoke our guy ... first pitch [Lucroy] sees, he hits a grand slam. There's just no way an at-bat can get bigger than that."

I guess if there's a bottom line here it's this:

Brewers: 43-29
Diamondbacks: 30-44

Pitching inside doesn't appear to be making the Diamondbacks better.

Brewers' fixes to Ryan Braun's absence

May, 3, 2014
After a week of keeping Ryan Braun on the shelf, the Brewers finally accepted the inevitable by moving their star slugger to the DL with a strained oblique. Retroactive as it might be, we’ll see if he’s back by May 12. As Stephania Bell noted when Chris Davis went down with a strained oblique, the average recovery time for a position player is just short of four weeks. Even with a week already done, absent any updates, it won't be surprising to see Braun miss another three.

Which is a problem, of course, because unlike last year when Braun could readily accept his suspension for PED use and miss a lot of time, this year the Brewers are a strong enough club to be talking postseason potential after getting off to a 21-9 start. In the lineup, Braun has been a major component of that initial success, along with mercurial center-field star Carlos Gomez. Beyond an honorable mention to Jonathan Lucroy, the Gomez-Braun tandem comprises almost the full extent of the Brewers’ bragging rights on offense.

[+] EnlargeRyan Braun
Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesRyan Braun's oblique injury means that he won't be high-fiving anybody for a while yet.
The real key to this team’s success has been its pitching, having gotten a league-best 24 quality starts in 30 turns. Closer Francisco Rodriguez hasn’t allowed a run or blown a save yet. Along with Tyler Thornburg and lefties Zach Duke and Will Smith, the Brewers’ back-end relief quartet has allowed just four runs in 57 ⅓ innings, a 0.63 ERA. All of these things are going to come to an end, barring a full-fledged return to 1968 or the Deadball Era. Nobody is going to get quality starts 80 percent of the time. K-Rod will allow a run. Or two. And that’s when Milwaukee will need its offense to pick things up, if not sooner.

Where will the runs come from? In the short term, with Braun gone from the lineup, the Brewers need to start seeing production from several lineup slots generating little offense so far, but they especially need to get some slugging from traditional power positions in the corners. Guys such as third baseman Aramis Ramirez and left fielder Khris Davis are off to slow starts, but both should deliver this season: A healthy Ramirez is usually good for 25 bombs, while ESPN Insider’s Dan Szymborski projected Davis to slug .450.

The first-base platoon of Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay is far from anyone’s ideal, and it’s delivering about what you would expect: Overbay gets on base a little, Reynolds has popped a half-dozen homers, and they’ve combined for a .707 OPS, more than 100 points below the NL average at first base (.819). Maybe they pick things up, more likely not; they were a cheap place-holding solution from the outset, and with prospect Hunter Morris at Triple-A Nashville and former Cal State-Fullerton closer/DH Nick Ramirez off to a good start at first base in Double-A Huntsville, the farm system might provide in-season upgrades.

But the other thing to ponder is what the Brewers do with the at-bats made available by Braun’s absence. Logan Schafer or Caleb Gindl are not answers, they’re filler, and the Brewers need more than that. One short-term solution that might be worth checking out is Rickie Weeks. Never an asset on defense at second base, Weeks is another example of a player who has struggled to stay healthy while living up to the demands of playing one of the game’s toughest positions every day. Last year, Weeks lost a third of the season to a hamstring injury, his third career stint on the 60-day DL.

But it wasn’t so very long ago that Weeks’ bat belonged in the lineup every day, mashing 70 home runs with a .791 OPS in 2010-12 before last year’s injury-shortened campaign. This year, Weeks has gotten little playing time now that he’s being platooned with Scooter Gennett at the keystone. If Weeks becomes the latest former injury-prone second-base starter to become healthier moving into a multipositional rover’s role -- a la Tony Phillips (on the high end) or Jerry Hairston Jr. -- that would be a useful thing to help paper over multiweek absences like these. It would also be a way to see if Weeks will be worth keeping in 2015, since he’s already unlikely to see that year’s contract option vest through playing time after riding pine for much of the last month.

Can Weeks play a good right field? Maybe, maybe not. But since most right fielders only make two plays per game, and today's age of strikeouts makes defense less important than ever, it's worth the Brewers' while to use those four at-bats per game in the next few weeks to see what Weeks has left.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.

A scary moment for Jean Segura

April, 27, 2014

In his third season with the team, Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Jean Segura is batting only .239/.272/.330/.601 with one home run and five RBIs in 21 games, but manager Ron Roenicke penciled him into the 2-hole for Saturday night's game -- up from the eighth spot the previous night, in which he finished 0-for-3 with a walk in Milwaukee’s 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs. This was a move that Segura was probably very excited about. It was his chance to bat second for the league-leading Brewers in their game against division rival Chicago, but little did Segura know, he wouldn’t even make it to the on-deck circle.

After starter Marco Estrada set the Cubs down in order in the top of the first inning and before Segura could even walk up the dugout steps for his first at-bat of the game, teammate and lightning rod for controversy Ryan Braun was warming up for his at-bat by standing at the top of those same steps. Braun’s warm-up routine involves swinging his bat wildly around his head and behind his body, and this is apparently something that Braun does all the time. But what he didn’t realize was that poor Segura hadn’t even made it out of the dugout yet.

While Braun was waving the bat behind his body, he whacked an unsuspecting Segura in the face. Segura immediately fell like a ton of bricks to the dugout floor and had to be picked up and assisted into the Brewers’ clubhouse. Roenicke had to quickly substitute Jeff Bianchi into the lineup for the wounded Segura, but it worked out well for the Brewers because Bianchi went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.

Segura emerged from the bat smash with a laceration on his face big enough to require a plastic surgeon’s help in repairing it, but he also did not exhibit any concussion symptoms nor were there any broken bones around his eye. While his face might be a bit swollen for the next couple of days, it also doesn’t look like Segura will have to be put on the disabled list because of the freak injury.

The Brewers and Segura are extremely fortunate that the injury didn’t turn out to be a lot worse.

As for Braun, he also ended up exiting Saturday night's game after the eighth inning with what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports is a right intercostal strain. The team claims Braun aggravated it during batting practice before the game and that the pain became worse after his last throw in from right field before his seventh-inning bunt single.

Braun told reporters, "I do my warm-ups every game, so I’m actually surprised something doesn’t happen like that more often."

Now that this incident occurred, maybe Braun will move his warm-ups to a new spot.

Stacey Gotsulias writes for It’s About the Money, a blog on the New York Yankees. You can follow her on Twitter.
1. I wrote about the Brewers-Pirates brawl here. While the brawl was certainly interesting, the biggest takeaway from the weekend has to be Ryan Braun's two home runs off Jason Grilli in the ninth -- one to win the game on Saturday, one to tie it on Sunday. It's only eight innings, but Grilli has yet to match last year's dominance, so something to watch.

2. The Oakland A's continue to impress and have the majors' biggest run differential at +32. Jesse Chavez, who replaced Jarrod Parker in the rotation when Parker went down in spring training, had his fourth straight solid start in Sunday's 4-1 win over the Astros and has allowed six runs in 26 innings with a 28/5 strikeout/walk ratio. Chavez pitches up in the strike zone with his 90-93 mph fastball but his cutter has developed into a nice weapon. What's interesting about it is that he locates on the outside part of the plate to left-handers and to right-handers. He's actually thrown it more than his four-seamer and while two of the three home runs he's allowed came off the cutter, batters are hitting .209 off it. He mixes in a curveball and changeup, making him four-pitch starter with good command. You have to like what he's done.

3. After a slow start, Josh Donaldson is also heating up. Over his past 12 games he's hitting .345 with four home runs, seven doubles and 12 RBIs and looking like the guy who finished fourth in the AL MVP voting last season. The A's have yet to play a team currently over .500, so this week's three-game series against the Rangers will be a good test.

4. Should the Braves be a little worried about Craig Kimbrel? He actually got pulled from Saturday's relief appearance -- his first outing in a week after resting a sore shoulder -- after giving up three hits, a walk and two runs. Jordan Walden had to come on to get the final out for the save. Kimbrel then wasn't used in Sunday's 14-inning loss to the Mets.

5. Dee Gordon continues to do good things for the Dodgers, hitting .367/.409/.483 with 10 steals in 11 attempts. Going back to last August, when he was recalled from Triple-A, Gordon is hitting .363 in 99 plate appearances. Still a sample size, but it's not like he has no track record of hitting. He's a career .301 hitter in the minors and hit .304 in 56 games as a rookie in 2011. Yes, he has no power, but if he can hit close to .300 and draw a few walks, he's going to steal a lot of bases and score runs in front of the big boys.

6. Giancarlo Stanton beat the Mariners with a walk-off grand slam on Friday, giving him six home runs and an MLB-leading 26 RBIs. The Stanton Fear Factor came into play in a big way on Sunday. The Mariners led 2-1 in the eighth. One out, runner on second, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon elects to intentionally walk Stanton, putting the go-ahead on base. I get it: Stanton has delivered some big hits. But he also has four times as many strikeouts as home runs. What is more likely to happen there? You cannot put the go-ahead on base there. If he beats you, he beats you, but giving the opponent a free runner often leads to bad things. A walk, fielder's choice and sacrifice fly gave the Marlins the win as Stanton came around to score. Great player, bad managing.

7. Robinson Cano is not driving the ball at all. He's hitting .268/.321/.352 with three doubles and one home run, his one home run coming in Texas when he did manage to sort of one-arm the ball just over the fence in right. Cano had hit 40-plus doubles the past five seasons, so the lack of extra-base hits is as concerning as the lack of home runs. Again, just 18 games, and he had an April like this in 2012 when he hit .267 with one home run and four RBIs, but he's part of the reason the Mariners have looked awful since that 3-0 start.

8. The Tigers won 2-1 on Sunday, in part because Ian Kinsler created a run all by himself with the help of some sloppy Angels defense. The Angels were credited (discredited?) with three errors on the play. By the way, Kinsler has played well so far, hitting .317/.353/.476. Miguel Cabrera, however, has yet to get untracked, hitting .220 with one home run.

9. Big win for the Nationals on Sunday, ralling from a 2-0 deficit against the Cardinals with two runs in the seventh and the winning run in the ninth. Danny Espinosa played a key role in both rallies, driving in a run in the seventh and single to start the winning rally. I criticized the Nationals on Thursday after a sloppy 8-0 loss to the Cardinals, but they managed a little redemption with wins on Friday and Sunday, sandwiched around Bryce Harper getting benched on Saturday for not running out a groundball.

10. Finally, Brewers backup catcher Martin Maldonado had a busy weekend. On Sunday, he was heavily involved in the brawl, sucker-punching Travis Snider. On Friday, he pulled a Roy Hobbs and literally knocked the cover off the ball. Poor Pedro Alvarez; he's led the majors in errors the past two seasons and had to try and throw that thing to first base. It was ruled an infield hit.
The National League Central was shaping up as a season-long bloodbath, and now we have some bad blood as well between the Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates to spice things up. I suppose there will be those out there decrying the decline of civilization and need for severe punishment after the two clubs brawled in the top of the third inning of Sunday's game, but this is part of baseball: Tempers flare, players lose their cool and sometimes benches clear.

Fighting used to be a much larger part of baseball. The '86 Mets had four on-field brawls, including this infamous fight between Ray Knight and Eric Davis of the Reds, as Knight dropped his glove and went to his best Marquess of Queensberry impersonation for hardly any reason at all. The closest Cal Ripken came to missing a game during his consecutive games streak came the day after this Mariners-Orioles brawl. If you were fan during the 1970s, '80s and into the '90s, you can easily recount a big brawl involving your favorite team.

Things have toned down the past 15 years as punishments for brawls became more severe. But fights have also decreased as salaries have increased; with more money comes the expectation of a certain level of professional civility (and more to lose if you get injured) -- fewer brawls, fewer managers throwing fits like a 3-year-old child and more respect for your opponent.

That’s what made this brawl interesting. It didn’t result from the usual issue of pitching inside or hitting a batter or Brian McCann getting upset, but from Carlos Gomez hitting a triple. It all began when Gomez hit a two-out fly ball to center, flipped his bat and admired his own awesomeness, which he has been known to do -- except the ball didn’t clear the fence, rebounded past Andrew McCutchen and Gomez didn’t turn on the jet skis until he rounded first base. Given Gomez’s blazing speed, he may have been able to turn the hit into an inside-the-park home run he had ran hard out of the batter’s box.

Pitcher Gerrit Cole, backing up third on the play, obviously chirped a little something to Gomez and Gomez went a little Ray Knight, swinging his batting helmet at one point. The benches cleared and the players weren’t wishing each other a Happy Easter. In the middle of the scuffle, Brewers backup catcher Martin Maldonado cold-cocked Pirates outfielder Travis Snider with a solid right to the head.

So, the ramifications? The umpires will file an initial incident report to MLB senior vice president of standards and on-field operations Joe Garagiola Jr., who will review the report and video and make a recommendation to Joe Torre and the suspensions should be issued in a couple days.

Gomez and Snider (who came off the bench) were ejected from the game and face likely suspensions. Gomez’s reputation -- he got into two incidents with the Braves last season -- probably won’t help here, and swinging equipment is almost surely an automatic suspension. Maldonado may draw the longest suspension for his punch.

Look, while a little bad blood is a good thing for us fans, this is clearly an incident in which Gomez should have remained cool (Cole admitted he let his emotions get the best of him, telling Gomez not to watch the ball if he's going to hit triples). Gomez did showboat, which I don't really mind as long as the ball actually clears the fence, and potentially cost his a team a run (the Brewers didn’t score that inning).

You can argue Cole could have handled things differently as well, like buzzing Gomez the next time he was up if he didn’t like the preening at home plate, but that’s a potentially more dangerous situation than saying some heated words as you walk back to the pitcher’s mound.

Oh, there was still a game to be played and the Brewers got the final word in what turned into a 14-inning marathon. While the discussion will be about the brawl, the most important aspect of the game is that the Pittsburgh bullpen blew another late lead. Jason Grilli blew the save in the ninth when Ryan Braun homered with one out to tie it up. This came a night after Braun belted a two-run homer off Grilli in the ninth to give the Brewers an 8-7 win. Khris Davis eventually homered off Jeanmar Gomez in the 14th and Francisco Rodriguez locked down his seventh save.

The Brewers have an MLB-best 14-5 record and a big part of that is they’ve cleaned up on the Pirates with a 6-1 record. The Pirates, now 8-11, didn’t lose many of these games last year -- they were 80-4 when leading entering the ninth inning -- and now have to be concerned about their closer bouncing back from back-to-back blown saves as they play the Reds and Cardinals this week.

Eric and myself talk about the underrated Carlos Gomez and the Brewers' hot start.
1. Back in spring training, Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish admitted he was working on a few minor tweaks on his mechanics in an attempt to avoid a recurrence of the nerve problem in his lower back and buttocks area that arose last September. Whether that had anything to do with the stiff neck that had sidelined him since March 16 and forced him to miss his Opening Day assignment remains unknown, considering the dubious nature of the original rationale for the neck issue ("I slept on it wrong," Darvish said).

In the end, he missed just one start, which was still enough of a setback to put Rangers fans in a minor state of panic considering the opening week rotation was already without Derek Holland and Matt Harrison.

Darvish returned Sunday after not having pitched in three weeks and looked a lot like the guy many predicted will win the Cy Young Award, undoubtedly calming at least a few nerves in the Rangers fan base and front office. He pitched seven innings of no-run baseball in a 3-0 win over the Rays, an efficient 89-pitch effort that included just one walk. He threw 65 of his 89 pitches for strikes and held the Rays to an 0-for-10 mark with runners in scoring position.

He wasn't necessarily overpowering, averaging 91.7 mph on his fastball while maxing out at 95.1 mph, but maybe this is the new, strike-throwing Darvish, one looking to be a little more economical in his pitch counts to avoid walks and pitch consistently deeper into games.

"It seems like they are very aggressive, so I tried not to overthrow and be very careful with my command," Darvish said. "That was the key to my success. I was aggressive throwing strikes. I felt like I was pitching in spring training or any other game. I didn't feel anything unusual."

While Darvish recorded just six strikeouts, he showed what makes him so tough to hit -- the six K's came on two fastballs, two curveballs, a slider and a changeup to Wil Myers. It's that changeup that could be a new weapon for him: He threw 90 changeups all of last year, recording just four strikeouts. Just what batters want to hear, knowing it's hard enough already with two strikes gearing up for a curveball or slider.

The Rangers' rotation remains a little unsettled -- Colby Lewis may be close to returning and they may use six starters this week. The good news is the Rangers are 3-3 despite the makeshift rotation and having hit just one home run. They play the Red Sox and Astros this week but will need the rotation to come together sooner rather than later as they play the Mariners seven times and the A's six before the end of the month.

Darvish joked that he'd pitch great every time if he had three weeks between starts. The Rangers are hoping he'll pitch great every fifth day.

2. The most impressive result of the weekend was the Brewers going into Boston and sweeping the Red Sox by scores of 6-2, 7-6 (in 11 innings) and 4-0 on Sunday. The Red Sox were swept just once all last season -- in a three-game series in Texas -- and shut out just three times at Fenway Park in the regular season.

Yovani Gallardo struck out only three in 6 2/3 innings but issued no walks and got 11 ground balls outs compared to four in the air. He hasn't allowed a run in his first two starts. Gallardo struggled last year and while his velocity isn't up from last year at least he's throwing strikes early on.

[+] EnlargeRobinson Cano
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCano seems to be embracing his role as a leader in Seattle.
The bad news for the Brewers, of course, is Ryan Braun's thumb injury, which he now says hasn't completely healed from last year when the injury sapped his power and eventually forced him to the disabled list (before his suspension). He had two singles on Sunday to raise his average to .150 but he doesn't have an extra-base hit in (the small sample size of) 21 plate appearances. Remember, when Braun was putting up monster numbers in 2012 the Brewers led the National League in runs scored. If they're going to contend for a playoff spot, they better hope this thumb issue doesn't linger.

3. I watched a lot of Mariners this week and there were a lot of positives to draw upon as they went 4-2 on the road: Two dominant starts from Felix Hernandez, one from James Paxton, good hitting from Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley. Robinson Cano hit a quiet .391/.500/.478 as he's still looking for his first home run. He has drawn three intentional walks already as the Angels and A's elected to go after Smoak.

All three walks came in conventional IBB situations: Two outs, runners on second or second and third. Smoak went 1-for-3 with a bases-clearing double. Still, for now, it appears opponents will avoid Cano whenever possible. The biggest positive with Cano may have been his hustle double on Sunday when he singled to center and took advantage of Coco Crisp jogging after the ball. That's a Cano that New York writers like to say doesn't exist. It's one play, but perhaps a sign that Cano will embrace being a leader on the Mariners.

4. Mark Trumbo homered for the fourth straight game Sunday in the Diamondbacks' 5-3 win over the Rockies, just their second victory in nine games as they currently sit with the majors' worst record. Even though Trumbo has five home runs and 13 RBIs and Paul Goldschmidt is mashing, the Arizona offense has mostly struggled, averaging fewer than four runs per game.

The Rockies intentionally walked Trumbo with a runner on third base and one out on Sunday to pitch to Miguel Montero, who promptly grounded into a double play against Brett Anderson. Montero's OPS fell from .820 and .829 in 2011 and 2012 to .662 in 2013. He and Gerardo Parra are the only regular lefties in the D-backs' lineup, and they need the old Montero not the 2013 version.

5. I watched the last few innings of Chris Tillman's gem to beat the Tigers, and he looked really good, allowing one run again as he did in his Opening Day start. He couldn't quite finish it off, getting one out in the ninth before being pulled for Tommy Hunter, but he challenged the Tigers -- 74 of his 113 pitches were fastballs -- and did a good job of moving the fastball around against left-handed batters (he pitches mostly to the outside corner with the fastball against righties).

Without sounding overdramatic here, it was a big win for the Orioles as 2-4 just sounds a lot better than 1-5. The Orioles have one of the toughest April schedules in the majors as just six of their first 27 games are against teams that finished under .500 last year and those six are against Toronto, no pushover, so they need to make sure they don't get buried before May.

6. This wasn't from Sunday, but I hope you didn't miss Giancarlo Stanton's mammoth home run on Friday off Eric Stults. The ESPN Home Run Tracker estimated the moon shot at 484 feet, 31 feet longer than the second-longest home run so far. The longest home run last year was Evan Gattis' 486-foot blast for the Braves on Sept. 8 off Cole Hamels.

The Marlins lost on Sunday, but they're off to a 5-2 start. Stanton is hitting .345/.406/.655, and for all those fears that he wouldn't get pitched to, he hasn't drawn an intentional walk

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesDerek Jeter is now No. 8 on the all-time hits list, but the Yanks need power.
7. Derek Jeter passed Paul Molitor for the eighth place on the all-time hits list. In many ways, the two are identical matches as hitters, with short, compact swings and both loved to go to the opposite field. Jeter has a career line of .312/.381/.446 with 256 home runs while Molitor hit .306/.369/.448 with 234 home runs. Molitor's adjusted OPS is slightly higher, at 122 versus Jeter's 117. Molitor struck out 10.2 percent of the time against a league average of 14.7 percent during his career; Jeter has fanned 14.7 percent of the time against a league average of 17.4 percent.

Jeter has his most hits off Tim Wakefield (36) and among pitchers he faced at least 40 times, has the highest average against Bruce Chen (.429). (He also hit an impressive .413 against Johan Santana. Molitor got 33 hits off both Jack Morris and Roger Clemens (and hit above .300 against both) and killed Erik Hanson (.482) and Walt Terrell (.477).

8. The Yankees have one home run in six games, hit by Brett Gardner on Sunday's win over the Blue Jays. Could power actually be an issue for the Yankees? Mark Teixeira landed on the DL over the weekend, which means they're really going to have to rely on 38-year-old Alfonso Soriano and 37-year-old Carlos Beltran for some pop. Leading the team in extra-base hits? Yangervis Solarte. Of course.

9. B.J. Upton: Hey, at least he didn't strike out in Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Nationals. But he did go 0-for-4 and is off to a .120/.120/.140 start with 11 strikeouts in 25 plate appearances. So far, Fredi Gonzalez has hit him second in all six games. It's way too early to panic, but tell that to Braves fans.

10. Speaking of worrying, should the Angels be worried about Jered Weaver? In two starts, batters are slugging .600 against him and the Astros pounded four home runs off him on Sunday. The four home runs came on four different pitches: Jason Castro off a 3-1 changeup, Matt Dominguez off a 3-2 slider, Jesus Guzman on an 0-1 fastball and Alex Presley on an 0-1 curveball. His fastball velocity, such as it is, has averaged 86.0 mph, about the same as last year's 86.5.

As with all these first-week results, don't overreact, but if Weaver isn't a strong rotation anchor, the Angels are in trouble. They're 2-4, hoping to avoid the terrible April starts of the past two seasons.
There's nothing quite like Opening Day. As Pete Rose once said, "It's like Christmas except warmer." It's a reminder that for perhaps inexplicable reasons we still love this crazy game, that we're ready to devote way too many hours over the next seven months to watching games that will enthrall us and disgust us but bring us together. We'll laugh, we'll cry, we'll shout -- and that's just within one Starlin Castro at-bat. It's Opening Day. Enjoy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what the players should have done back in 1995 or 1998 or 2001: Police themselves.

The new agreement between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association creates even harsher penalties for those players who violate the Joint Drug Program: A first suspension increases from 50 games to 80 and a second one from 100 to 162. A third positive still results in permanent suspension. Further, if you're suspended during the season you're ineligible to play in the postseason, even if your suspension has elapsed.

By agreeing to the rules and these expanded penalties, the players have made it even more clear that they want the game cleaned up and kept clean. No more Ryan Brauns, no more Jhonny Peraltas and definitely no more Alex Rodriguezes (one A-Rod is undoubtedly enough). In theory, tougher penalties will curb PED usage, although that's purely speculative; we don't really know how many players are using now and how many are getting away with it. In a recent ESPN The Magazine survey of major leaguers, one player suggested PED use is next to zero while another estimated 20 percent of players are still using. So even the players aren't exactly sure what's going on, let alone how many players are currently skirting the drug tests.
[+] EnlargeRyan Braun
Courtesy is Jerry CrasnickExpanded PED penalties for all players might be Ryan Braun's less happy legacy.

Why the urgency for players to want changes? There was a lot of negative reaction from players when Peralta, coming off a PED suspension with the Tigers, signed a four-year, $53 million contract with the Cardinals this offseason. What penalty did Peralta pay? He missed 50 games, but he still played in the postseason with Detroit and then got a fat contract from the Cardinals.

Of course, these new rules won't necessarily change that potential outcome, although there is now greater risk for those teams who sign a player who has previously been suspended.

Aside from the lengths of the suspensions, modifications include more in-season random urine collections (from 1,400 to 3,200) in addition to the 1,200 mandatory collections from players on the 40-man major league roster during spring training and 1,200 more during the season. In theory, this will make it more difficult to beat the drug testers. More testing means that, during the season, anybody using will be rolling the dice because they're at that much more risk of being caught. There will also be more blood tests for human growth hormone. The two sides also agreed to add DHEA -- an endogenous steroid hormone found in supplements and widely available -- to the list of banned substances, although with less stringent penalties (follow-up testing for a first violation, 25-game suspension for a second violation, 80 games for a third and permanent suspension for a fourth).

Some will argue the new rules still aren't tough enough; some will argue they're too harsh, especially if a player tests positive for inadvertently using a product with a banned substance (there are allowances for that if a player can prove it was accidental). Some will argue this all just a big waste of time since PEDs don't really help all that much anyway.

The one thing the new modifications don't account for is the high percentage of MLB players allowed to use ADHD medication. Last season, 119 players were granted therapeutic use exemptions (or TUE) for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and allowed to use medication that basically acts as a stimulant. Stimulants are banned in the JDE if you're not granted a TUE. That 119 total was approximately 14 percent of the players on Opening Day rosters or disabled lists. The percentage of adults ages 18 to 44 with ADHD is estimated at 4.4 percent, so it seems fairly clear that MLB players are abusing this loophole.

In the end, the players wanted a cleaner game and they're the ones who have made this happen. Bud Selig will surely claim this as another check mark on his legacy list but we know he slept on this issue for at least a decade.

If you want to credit anyone, give credit to Tony Clark, the new head of the MLBPA, for his being willing to modify the current agreement. You can call this another win for the owners but I call it a win for the players.

Eric Karabell and myself discuss the top 10 right fielders in the BBTN100. Let's just say this is probably the most loaded position in the majors. Also, I have a debate with Christina Kahrl: Who would you prefer as a franchise player, Giancarlo Stanton or Yasiel Puig?

Over/under: Ryan Braun's home runs

February, 21, 2014
Since Ryan Braun was in the news yesterday, reporting to Brewers camp and facing the onslaught of questions while not saying a whole lot, let's do him today.


Over or under on Ryan Braun hitting 32.5 home runs?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,972)

How many home runs will he hit?

Do you think he was a product of PEDs? Do you think the effects of sports drugs are overstated? When did he use them and how often?

Braun hit 33 home runs in 2011, 41 in 2012 and nine last year in 61 games, when he played through a thumb injury that affected his swing and eventually put him on the DL before his suspension. (In changing his swing, Braun hit a much higher percentage of groundballs in 2013 than in previous seasons.)

The projection systems range from 25 home runs to 33, with ZiPS being the most optimistic. I'm more in line with ZiPS, so let's set the over/under at 32.5 home runs.
Ryan Braun has served his punishment. He's spoken to his teammates. He's apologized, maybe not with the words we wanted and details of drugs ingested or injected, but he has apologized. Reporting to camp on Thursday he met the media throng wearing a gray Brewers T-shirt and said, again, that "I made a mistake." What, you were expecting him to produce his personal diary? Sept. 4, 2011: Took the special red pill again tonight. Hit a home run off Wandy Rodriguez. Crushed it. Will maybe take the pill again tomorrow.

"I took responsibility for the mistake that I made and for me my focus is on this year and moving forward and learning a new position and getting ready for the season," Braun said (or deflected). "The best answer I can give you is I made a mistake," he said. "I've said multiple times that I wish I had the ability to go back and change things, do things differently. Unfortunately, I don't have that opportunity. I embrace the challenge that lies ahead. I know it won't be easy but I intend to do everything in my power to continue to be the best person and player I can be."

You know what? I'm fine with Braun not divulging anything else or wiping away tears in a heartfelt, emotional purging. Braun is under no obligation to spill all the details of what did and when he did it. Just because he's a public figure doesn't mean he's required to say what we want him to say.

So it's time to move on and let the guy do his job. Let him play baseball.

My prediction: Braun will again be one of the best players in the sport, the player who won the NL MVP Award in 2011 and finished second in the voting in 2012. Pencil in a .300 average, 30 home runs and a lot more runs scored for his Milwaukee Brewers.

Critics will point out that he hit just nine home runs in the 61 games he played last season, well below the rate of the 41 he hit in 2012 or 33 in 2011. But remember that he played through a thumb injury for several weeks before finally going on the disabled list in June. That injury was painful enough that he tweaked his swing to reduce the strain on his right hand. So, no, his lack of power wasn't because he was off the juice.

How much do the Brewers believe in Braun? He's still the face of the franchise and they've smartly included him in their local TV commercials. And why not? I expect Brewers fans have forgiven their All-Star outfielder -- Braun will move from left to right field this season -- and will have no issues spending their hard-earned cash to watch him play.

Yes, there will be pressure on Braun, to "prove" that he wasn't great because of PEDs, to perform to the levels the Brewers expect for the $10 million they're paying him this season and more than $100 million left on his contract.

He'll be fine. Once he steps between the lines there is no media firing questions at him. He just gets to play the game he's played since he was a kid.

Key position switches for 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NL's defensive winter moves

December, 29, 2013
Today, Buster Olney rated the top defensive teams in the majors. We thought we would take the time to look at the offseasons for each team from a defensive perspective. Here’s our National League look:

NL East
Braves: The big change for Atlanta will be dealing with the departure of Brian McCann, whose strike-stealing skills will be hard to replace. Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird will try. Gattis may be better than you think (3 Defensive Runs Saved in 2013). By our tally (and that of StatCorner’s publicly available data), he ranked among the best in the majors at getting pitches in the strike zone to be called strikes.

Marlins: The Miami infield rated as average last season, but it has a new -- and potentially worse -- look in 2014, with shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria as the lone holdover. The Marlins will try Garrett Jones (and his negative-22 career Runs Saved) at first base, Rafael Furcal at second base (last played there for two innings in 2004) and Casey McGehee at third (bad numbers there in 2009 and 2010, but average in 2011). They’ll also have Jarrod Saltalamacchia catching; he typically rates bottom of the pack when it comes to defensive metrics.

Mets: The big story for the Mets will likely be how three center fielders coalesce in the outfield. If it works, the Mets could have the best ground-covering combo in the league. The likely alignment will be Curtis Granderson in left, Juan Lagares in center and Chris Young in right, though Young could shift to center (with Granderson moving to right and Eric Young to left) if Lagares’ offense isn’t to the Mets liking.

Nationals: Washington hasn't done anything to tinker with its primary starting unit. Arguably the biggest worry will be making sure Bryce Harper doesn’t overhustle his way into any walls as he did last season. The other thing that will be intriguing will be how new acquisition Doug Fister fares with a better infield defense behind him than he had in Detroit the past couple of seasons. Some think that could bode really well.

Phillies: Many scoffed at the Marlon Byrd contract, but he represents a huge defensive upgrade for the Phillies in right field. The transition from John Mayberry Jr., Delmon Young, Darin Ruf and Laynce Nix to Byrd represents a swing of 31 Runs Saved (the four combined for negative-19 Runs Saved; Byrd rated among the best with 12).

The Phillies still have a lot of defensive issues, though. First baseman Ryan Howard has minimal range. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins may still pass the eye test but has rated poorly three years running (negative-30 Runs Saved in that span). Their third-base combo rated almost as badly as right field. And primary center fielder Ben Revere had all sorts of issues with balls hit over his head last season. There is a lot of potential trouble brewing for 2014.

NL Central
Brewers: Ryan Braun will not just be returning from a performance-enhancing drug suspension. He’ll also be playing a new position, right field, as the Brewers announced their intention to shift him from left field. Braun has 23 Runs Saved over the past four seasons, but the deterrent value of his throwing arm, which is minimal to below average, will now be a bigger factor. He’ll have to be pretty good all-around to match what the team got from Norichika Aoki & Co. (combined 13 Defensive Runs Saved).

Cardinals: St. Louis ranked second to last in the NL in Defensive Runs Saved last season and had only one position that rated above the major league average. That shouldn’t happen again.

The Cardinals have moved Matt Carpenter from second to his natural spot at third, where he should be an upgrade over David Freese. Freese was traded to the Angels for Peter Bourjos, who, if his hamstrings are healthy, could be a 20-plus run improvement over Jon Jay in center field. Another great glove in Mark Ellis signed to share second base with Kolten Wong, which will be an improvement over Carpenter. And Jhonny Peralta probably is no worse than on par defensively with the man he’ll replace at short, Pete Kozma. In sum, the Cardinals could be the most-improved defensive team from last season to this season.

Cubs: The Cubs aren’t vastly different from what they were at the end of last season, at least not yet. Their outfield defense needed an upgrade, and the one thing they’ve done to that end is obtain Justin Ruggiano. He has fared both well and poorly in center field in the past. Ruggiano may get a full-time shot to see what he can do in 2014.

Pirates: Pittsburgh liked Russell Martin so much it brought in a defensive standout to back him up in Chris Stewart. Stewart excels in all areas and could invert what the team got in 2013 from its backup catchers (negative-6 Runs Saved). The Pirates were also smart about keeping Clint Barmes around on a low-salary deal. He’s no Andrelton Simmons, but he rates among the best defensive shortstops in the league.

Reds: Cincinnati will give Billy Hamilton every chance to be the every-day center fielder in 2014. He rates as “fine,” which will be a major upgrade from the struggles of Shin-Soo Choo, who was forced to play out of position last season. The Reds will also fully take the training wheels off Devin Mesoraco with outstanding defender Ryan Hanigan having been traded to the Rays. Keep an eye on that one. The security of having Hanigan could be a big loss on the defensive side.

NL West
Diamondbacks: Mark Trumbo shifted back and forth between first base and the outfield with the Angels, but he should be the full-time left fielder in 2014 for a team that had four players with 25 or more starts at the position last season. Trumbo showed he could handle left in a stint there with the Halos two seasons ago (a better fit there than in right). My guess is the Diamondbacks will play him deep and concede some singles to limit the number of times he’ll have to retreat to chase a potential extra-base hit.

Dodgers: Yasiel Puig posted a terrific defensive rating in his initial stint in the big leagues (10 Runs Saved), but one concern the Dodgers will have was visible in the NL Championship Series -- how Puig does at limiting his mistakes.

Puig ranked 20th in innings played in right field last season but had the seventh-most Defensive Misplays & Errors (22) based on Baseball Info Solutions’ video review. Over 162 games, that might not affect his overall rating, but that sort of thing could play a large role in swinging a couple of important games one way or the other.

The loss of Mark Ellis could also be big, though the jury is out until we see how Alexander Guerrero handles second base.

Giants: San Francisco cast its lot with a pair of outfielders who will look a bit awkward in the corners, with Mike Morse in left and Hunter Pence in right. This could be a problem if the pitching staff is fly ball inclined. Pence is at negative-16 Runs Saved over the past two seasons. Morse fits best as a DH, and his value will be in whether he can drive in more runs than he lets in. Whoever the Giants' center fielder is this season will have his work cut out for him.

Padres: San Diego will look to run Seth Smith, whom it got from the Athletics for Luke Gregerson, in right field. This could be a little dicey. Smith has negative-13 Runs Saved in the equivalent of about a season’s worth of games there. Expect Chris Denorfia (21 career Runs Saved in right) to remain as a valuable fourth outfielder, late-game replacement.

Rockies: The big defensive-themed news for the Rockies this offseason was their decision to commit to Gold Glove left fielder Carlos Gonzalez as a full-timer in center after trading Dexter Fowler. So long as he’s not the Gonzalez of 2012, who looked a little heavy and finished with negative-13 Runs Saved, that should work out all right.

Colorado does have a lot of flexibility in its outfield with Brandon Barnes and Drew Stubbs coming off the bench for now. Either could come in as a late-game replacement for Michael Cuddyer if needed, and we wouldn’t be surprised if either got some significant playing time in left field too.