Archive for February, 2014

Joe Kelly vs. Carlos Martinez

Leading up to Spring Training for the St. Louis Cardinals, there were plenty of articles written about the incredible starting pitching depth of the Cardinals. They had seven legitimate options for the rotation, and it wasn’t a stretch to say eight. While there was always going to be competition in the rotation, Jaime Garcia’s injury opens up a much more focused competition for the Cardinals’ 5th rotation spot. The four locks for the rotation are Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha. While another pitcher could join the discussion, the battle for the final spot is essentially between Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez. There really is no clear favorite, as Kelly is the incumbent, but Martinez carries much greater upside. The pitcher that fails to capture the 5th slot in the rotation will likely serve as a late-inning reliever for the Cardinals, which may influence the Cardinals’ decision.

Based off Joe Kelly’s impressive performance last season it would be easy to assume he is the favorite to be the 5th starter; however, his advanced metrics do not support his traditional statistics. While Kelly pitched to a 10-5 record with a 2.69 ERA, he had an FIP of 4.01 and an unsustainable 82.4 Left on Base % (LOB%). Joe Kelly also possesses a power sinker in the mid-90s, a plus change-up and solid-average curveball. Despite this power repertoire, Kelly has never struck out many batters, as he has a career K/9 of just 6.00. This is not overly concerning, but does leave Kelly vulnerable to high variability in performance, since he is so heavily dependent upon his defense.

I have, to this point, only pointed out Kelly’s weaknesses in order tamper expectations, but in reality, Kelly is a very talented starter. Kelly is a very strong groundball pitcher (career 51.4%), which has helped him limit his Hr/9 (career .78). To this point in his career, Kelly has done a great job of limiting runs, which is all that is really important. In 2013, Kelly allowed just 3.05 runs per 9 innings. The Cardinals certainly know the concerns with Kelly, but they are also aware of his upside. While Kelly is likely to serve as a late-inning option for the Cardinals if he is not named their 5th starter, he has not been as effective as a reliever. In an admittedly small sample of just 37 innings in 2013, Kelly carried a 3.65 ERA and an opponent’s slash line of .284/.342/.435 as a reliever.

Now looking at Carlos Martinez, it is clear that Martinez is the starter with much more upside, as he can consistently reach triple digits and strike out nearly 9 batters per 9 innings. In a tiny sample of 28 1/3 innings at the Big League level last year, Martinez pitched to a 5.08 ERA, but a much better 3.08 FIP. Most of those innings came in relief, as he made just one start in the Majors, but he was still very impressive. While Martinez’s ERA was high, he was hurt by a high BABIP of .345 and a low LOB% of just 64.9%. Despite carrying substantial upside, Martinez has never thrown more than 108 IP in a professional season, which raises concerns about his ability to handle a starter’s workload for a full season. Also, unlike Kelly, Martinez is likely to thrive in a late-inning relief role, as he carried a 2.33 FIP in 23 2/3 IP as a reliever. If the two pitchers have similar evaluations at the end of spring training, then I believe Martinez will be relegated to the bullpen where he can thrive and further develop as an MLB pitcher.

While it may seem that Kelly is the front-runner to be the Cardinals’ 5th starter, it is clear that each starter has plenty of positives and negatives. Kelly’s negative traits largely revolve around regression to the mean in many areas, such as LOB% and ERA. Whereas Martinez’s positives are very similar to his negatives, as there are many questions about how well he will do as a starter full time. It is always nice to dream on a player’s potential and stuff, he must also prove he can be effective in his role and Martinez has not yet done that. This will be a fun competition to watch in spring training. I believe Kelly will come out of spring training as the Cardinals’ 5th starter because he has proven he can perform as a starter, but also because he is not as strong a fit for the bullpen. If Martinez is not named the 5th starter, he can still be a lights out reliever, whereas, Kelly may not be as effective in such a role.

Jedd Gyorko: The Second Baseman With Power

When Robinson Cano signed his 10-year, $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners, it validated two things: (1) that the going rate for players who can consistently put up +5 WAR is at least $200 million, and (2) a second baseman who can hit like a first baseman is extremely valuable. There aren’t a lot of second baseman in the league who have the 30-homer, .500+ slugging percentage, and .316+ ISO, seasons that Cano does.

Second baseman aren’t considered to be players who have an excess of power. You can make an argument for guys like Ian Kinsler and Dan Uggla. However, neither is the player he used to be. Uggla is a shell of his former self, who can run into a dinger every now and then, but he’s not going to return to the power threat that he once was. While Kinsler has shown some above-average power for a second baseman, most of that power can be attributed to the friendly confines of  The Ballpark in Arlington. Kinsler’s power has also been waning over the past three years, as both his home run totals and slugging percentage have been in decline.

Kinsler’s Power Stats

2011: HR 32, SLG .477,  ISO .223

2012: HR 19, SLG .423, ISO .166

2013: HR 13, SLG .413,  ISO .136

Kinsler is obviously declining as a power threat, and the change from The Ballpark at Arlington to Comerica Park will probably not be kind to him, either. However, just because Kinsler is not hitting for above-average power doesn’t mean that he’s not a valuable second baseman. Kinsler can still hit for some power, and his glove is decent enough to make him one of the better second basemen in the game.

Uggla’s value is derived from his ability to draw walks and hit home runs. He has always had  trouble making contact, which in return drove down his OBP, making power the main reason he was good.

Uggla’s Power Stats

2011: HR 36, SLG .453, ISO .220

2012: HR 19, SLG .384, ISO .164

2013: HR 22, SLG .362, ISO .183

Like Kinsler, Uggla’s power has declined. However, this is to be expected given that he is 34 years old. What is more concerning is Uggla’s decline in slugging percentage, as he has had sub .400 slugging percentages for the past two years.  In both his 2012 and 2013 season, Uggla’s value derived solely from dingers. Uggla has  become a one-dimensional player when it comes to his bat.

Despite that two of the most powerful second basemen in baseball are declining in power, there remains hope in the form of the San Diego Padres’ new, young second baseman Jedd Gyorko.

Gyorko has the potential power of a first baseman. Last year, he hit 23 home runs, had a slugging percentage of .444, and ISO of .200. Considering that he was playing in Petco Park, which decreases homers by 13% for right-handers, his 2013 campaign was very impressive.

ZiPS and Steamer project Gyorko to hit between 20-25 homers next year, and to be somewhere between a +2.5 – 3.5 WAR player. Even if Gyorko’s 2014 campaign mirrors conservative projections, he is still going to be a top-10 second baseman.

Gyorko does comes with flaws. There are definitely some holes in his swing, which make him prone to strikeouts. He also is not going to have a high OBP. Gyorko is going to be a powerful bat with a decent glove, which recalls Uggla. Uggla has certainly had his struggles, and it’s not looking like he will turn things around. However, previously he was similar to what Gyorko appears to be: decent glove, above-average power.

Many of those who follow baseball — front offices, fans, certain baseball writers — seem to have profiles for positions. First basemen, third basemen and corner outfielders are thought of as powerful. Shortstops, center fielders  and second basemen are thought of as  having quick hands and being speedy. However, a player like Gyorko is valuable because he sets himself apart from the typical second baseman profile. Instead of being speedy and hitting for a high average, he’s powerful. Second basemen that hit like first baseman are rare, and that’s why Gyorko is a special player.

Beware the Brew Crew

The Milwaukee Brewers have had a really quiet off season. Just how quiet? They only signed two players to major league contracts. For a team that needed a lot of help, two major league signings doesn’t seem like a lot. However, they did get a lot of help this off season. The other teams in the NL Central have failed to make a splash big enough to make the central a three team race again, and this is a potential opening for the Brewers to move in.

The Brewers were, and are, not expected to make a playoffs appearance during the 2014 season, but is that really true? They could. They very well could, and here’s how:

First, the three other teams who made the playoffs last season have regressed. The Cincinnati Reds have not done anything to improve. They lost their, arguably, two most important players to free agency in Bronson Arroyo and Shin-Soo Choo. The two players combined for an even six wins above replacement. Their replacements (Billy Hamilton and Tony Cingrani) have a combined WAR of 2.9, a 3.1 difference! Albeit, the two players have not been major players in 2013 having spent most of the season in the minors, but that is more reason to be concerned. Who knows how two second year major leaguers with little experience under their belt will do to replace two All-Star caliber players. Will the loss of Choo and Arroyo hurt the Reds? Of course! And Hamilton and Cingrani may not be the best replacements for a team who won one of the NL Wild Card spots in 2013.

The other team who didn’t make moves AND who won the NL Wild Card series, the Pittsburgh Pirates, is in a tougher boat. They lost several key players in Marlon ByrdJustin Morneau, and A.J. Burnett and they replaced them with, well, nothing really. The only major league signing that the Buccos pulled off was for Edinson Volquez who had an absolutely atrocious season in 2013 and is the least likely replacement for an ace. Plus, first base and right field are still questions with no viable replacements at those positions. So does this mean that the Pirates will be out of the playoffs? I don’t think that the front office will go down without a fight. They want to appease their fan base and they still have many pieces in place to win over 80 games again, but unless they upgrade the rotation, first base, and left field, they are not going anywhere.

The final team and NL Central winners are perhaps in the best shape to make the playoffs again. The St. Louis Cardinals have done enough to maintain their dominance in the central. With Jhonny Peralta and Peter Bourjos in the fold including dominant young players such as Oscar Taveras and Michael Wacha, the Cards are looking like they will win another central title. But the Brewers might have something to say.

Other than the Cardinals, the Brewers have made the most important moves to improve their ballclub for 2014. They addressed all of their issues: The rotation, first base, and a left handed relief pitcher (according to ESPN). The rotation was fixed momentously with the addition of Matt Garza. Garza, one of the most sought after starters during free agency, will help to form a powerful front three rotation. With Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo leading the way and Marco Estrada and Tyler Thornburg rounding things out, the Brew Crew’s rotation is looking like it can compete with the best of them. Plus, the addition of Garza helps to address another issue. Will Smith, a lefty who was acquired in the Norichika Aoki trade, will move to the bullpen. Here, the Brewers are able to add to an already strong bullpen that features a strong back-end and now a stable and reliable left handed pitcher.

Although the Brewers never signed a first basemen to a major league deal, the ones that they were able to acquire will impact the ball club in many ways. Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay will help what was a weakness for the Crew last season. Their combination of power, defense, ability to platoon, and familiarity to the NL Central and other leagues will impact the Brewers as if they had signed a major league contract. Plus, the Brewers have many great players in place at other positions. Jean SeguraCarlos GomezJonathan Lucroy, and even Ryan Braun will make a formidable lineup while young players like Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett have shown that they can play at the major league level.

Overall, the Brewers are a much better team and are starting to look much better than the 2013 season. They have addressed all of their pieces while other teams in the NL Central have regressed. Although the Brew Crew may not make the playoffs, as many predict, they will cause havoc and surely improve from the 74-88 record they posted last season.

The Last Remaining Top Starting Pitcher

Ubaldo Jimenez: Check.

Suk-min Yoon: Check.

A.J. Burnett: Check.

Ervin Santana: Nope.

The first three names have all signed contracts within a week and a half, the last one has not. Ervin Santana, a top 50 free agent according to many, is still unsigned and, according to MLB Trade Rumors top 50 free agents list, the only starting pitcher unsigned. So what does that mean for Santana? Well, it means that he may garner a large contract with a large sum of money from a desperate team, or he’ll be robbed of what he’s actually worth. Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors predicted that Santana would receive a 75 million dollar contract over five years. Pretty good by any standards, but most likely not what he will get. Jimenez received 50 million while Matt Garza received 50 million as well only weeks ago, while Ricky Nolasco early on in the winter received a 49 million dollar contract. Of course, the annual average salary varies for each player, the highest guarantee salary is 25 million less than that predicted for Santana. So although he may still receive his projected 75 million, the likelihood of that happening looks slim. At this point in the stage, a four year deal seems logical, but I think with an annual salary of ~12 million, perhaps less. Although his career numbers and career in general don’t garner a salary like this, teams will match this price, or exceed it, in order to fill a hole.

The fact that Santana, and many other free agents, took so long to sign does not bode well with the player’s association and reflects negatively on the qualifying offer. The fact that a team is passing over a player with ties to a draft pick means A) that teams value their picks more so than ever and B) that the ability to win now is not as important as the future. Let me explain.

Option A makes sense. Many teams have depleted farm systems a la the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels, so restocking their farm system and building towards the future (whether that be future trades, future post season aspirations, etc) is a viable, and necessary, option for all teams whereas option B is only for a few teams. Not every team is in a position to win now, so signing a player tied to their draft picks would be a lose-lose, but then you have the other teams who can win, and can win now. The Yankees clearly have attested to this. They have signed players tied to draft picks and thus lost those picks, but they are in an excellent position to win now, and for the future. You see, since a team loses a draft pick, they are obligated, but not obliged, to sign players to long term deals in order to make the signing worth wile. The Seattle Mariners believe this as do the aforementioned Yankees.

Thus the qualifying offer, although in place to help players which it does, can hurt teams and players alike. Teams can’t make respectable offers to players without losing their draft picks, and if they do, they tend to offer the player more money than he is worth. While the players, on the other hand, receive large paydays and security for their families, they do have to wait for a team to take a chance on him, if they even want to and lose their draft pick. And Santana perfectly reflects this. The notion that a team in need of a player (the Toronto Blue Jays for example) is not willing to offer a worthwhile deal to a player because they need the picks, while the player has to hope that what he receives is a viable, and legitimate, contract.

In conclusion: I do not like the qualifying offer. It ruins a team’s ability to sign a free agent while at the same time makes a player less valuable since his is tied to a draft pick.

Justin Verlander: Ready to Regain Righteousness

So last year in my 10-Team, 35 man roster, dynasty fantasy baseball league, I found myself in need of some starting pitching after the first two months of the season. I was last in my league in quality starts, and near the bottom in ERA and WHIP. Manny Machado was my cornerstone 3rd baseman, and he was hitting a fiery .355 for the month of May. For how good he is, I did not believe he was a batting title contender, so was interested in seeing what I could get for him.

Enter Justin Verlander. The Tigers’ ace, (at the time) had a 1.83 ERA and was 3-2 in April, and had hit a rough spot in May where he surrendered 16 ER in 12.2 innings. After going 17-8 with 239 K’s in 2012, I felt like this was a great time to buy low on the guy, while selling high on Machado. So I traded the Orioles’ phenom for the Mr. Kate Upton. Well, safe to say, that WAS NOT the trade that ended up winning me the league. From the end of May forward, Verlander posted a 3.36 ERA for the remainder of the season and was walking batters like it was the cool thing to do, posting a 3.07 BB/9 (which is AWFUL for him). He ended the season with a 3.46 ERA and only 13 wins, which were his worst totals in those categories since 2008. This isn’t an argument against Machado’s lack of offensive ability, which I will discuss at a later date. Instead, I will be telling you why Verlander’s performance last season was a fluke, and he will regain his Cy Young form in 2014.

As pitchers age, they usually lose a little oomph on their fastball. People will probably look at Verlander and assume this is the reason why he was less effective in 2013.




Fastball Velocity (average)














Based on the table above, you can see how he has lost some velocity on his fastball. For more detail, follow this link to view his velocity charts for 2013 and compare it to his prior years. If you notice, in his first five starts of 2013, his fastball average was hovering around the 93 mph mark, well below his average of the last four years, 95.2 mph. In those first five starts, Verlander posted an ERA of 1.83, had a K/9 of 9.38, WHIP of 1.19, and held batters to a .242 average. Even with a fastball that seems to be slowing down, Verlander has still found a way to retire batters, and more importantly, still strike them out. So the argument that his fastball is becoming “too hittable” isn’t necessarily correct.

BABIP, for those of you who don’t know, is the percentage of time that if a batter makes contact with a ball and puts it in the field of play, it will go for a hit. Generally, the league average for hitters falls somewhere between .290-.310. But there are plenty of factors that can influence BABIP, such as a player’s skill, defense behind a pitcher, and our good friend LUCK. More on that in a moment, but first, let’s establish what factors influenced Verlander’s BABIP. From 2008-2012, Verlander had an average BABIP of .282, which is below the league’s average range of .290-.310. Based on this sample size, we can assume Verlander’s skill set is above the mean for pitcher. Secondly, Defense. According to, the Detroit Tigers ranked 12th out of 15 AL teams last year in errors and double plays. On a more optimistic note, they were 4th in fielding %. Those numbers indicate that they were a mediocre, at best, defensive team, which would cause Verlander’s BABIP to slightly increase toward the league mean. Lastly, we don’t have a way to measure luck, but Verlander’s 2013 BABIP was way above his recent average of .282, sitting at .316.

Point being, there were too many balls that were put in play that fell for hits considering all the conditions I stated above for Verlander.

It was not just his inflated BABIP that led to a down year in 2013 for Verlander. He posted a five-year high in BB/9, at 3.09. When you walk people and then give up hits, runners are bound to score. In 77.2 innings in June and July of last year he walked 33 batters. In the final 97.2 innings of last season and the playoffs, he only walked a combined 22 batters. He was able to regain his control in the second half that he had lost mid-way through 2013. I think the control he demonstrated toward the end of 2013 will carry over into 2014.

One more random stat to consider: Verlander’s IFH% (infield hit percentage) for his career sits at 5.9%. Last season, that stat jumped up to a recent high at 8.3%. Reasons for that stat being high could result from the inefficiencies of Miguel Cabrera at 3rd base, or inconsistent defense of Jhonny Peralta. The Tigers now have the more athletic Nick Castellanos at 3rd, and made a mid-season trade last year for Jose Iglesias. Both of those additions provide upgrades defensively for the Tigers compared to last year.

With everything that I’ve discussed, this guy is being way undervalued in fantasy drafts this year, going in the 5th or 6th rounds depending on the format. If you can grab him in the 4th over guys like Zach Greinke or Madison Bumgarner, I would do so. He still strikes people out at a high rate, posting 217 K’s last year. Also, don’t forget that he pitches for a team with one of the most potent offenses in the game. When Verlander’s BABIP regresses, his improved defense and control kicks in, he will regain his righteousness.

Jered Weaver vs. Edinson Volquez and Perception vs. Reality

At first, I thought of beginning this with a game of blind resume, but c’mon! You read the title! Not only did you read the title, when you did so you more than likely had one of two reactions. If you are a sabermetrics enthusiast, perhaps your first thought was of two relatively comparable pitchers in terms of effectiveness. If traditional statistics are more of your thing, or if you’re Jack Zduriencik, this comparison would seem highly ridiculous to you. However, are these two players, Weaver and Volquez, really all that different? Well, once you strip away all of the labels, preconceived notions, and flaw-laden statistics, the answer may just be that no, they aren’t.

Let me begin this by acknowledging that Jered Weaver is inarguably more accomplished than Edinson Volquez. His highs have been higher, and his lows not nearly as low. Player evaluation isn’t about the past, however, it’s about the future, and a closer look suggests that the future may in fact be brighter for Volquez than for Weaver. ERA may not be a completely useless statistic, after all, what is more important for a pitcher than avoiding the allowance of runs, but it certainly is no good at predicting future pitching success. So yes, while Weaver’s ERA of 3.27 suggests he is an ace, and Volquez’s mark of 5.71 suggests he shouldn’t even be in the league, xFIP, a stat far superior to ERA when it comes to forecasting what the future holds, tells an entirely different story. Believe it or not, despite the massive disparity in ERA, it was Volquez who possessed the stronger xFIP last season at 4.07 to Weaver’s 4.31. It is interesting that once the variable that is team defense is removed, the two pitchers now appear remarkably similar. Additionally, SIERA paints a similar picture. While Weaver’s number is slightly better in this case, 4.22 to 4.34, that difference is negligible in comparison to the difference in ERA.

Another signal that these two pitchers are not nearly as different as one might think is BABIP. It is worth nothing that Weaver has always sustained BABIP numbers well below average, for his career he sits at .271. Meanwhile, Volquez has consistently been above the league average at .306 for his career. However, one key sign suggests that both of these players could begin to see a reversal of fortune when it comes to balls hit in play. Last season, Edinson Volquez owned a line drive rate of 22.8%. While it is true that higher line drive rates might lead a pitcher to have a higher BABIP, Jered Weaver was less than one half of a percent better, at 22.4%. In all likelihood, Volquez’s BABIP of .325 from last season will not be quite as high this season, while Weaver’s mark of .268 may very well increase a bit.

Perhaps the single most concerning factor for Jered Weaver is his declining velocity. While Edinson Volquez is also experiencing a dip in his velocity, it is occurring at a glacial pace relative to Weaver. Since 2010, Weaver has seen his average fastball go from 89.9 MPH, not all that impressive to begin with, to 86.5 last season. That is a difference of 3.4 MPH, a frightening decline to say the least, especially for a player who is already struggling to strike out batters to begin with(6.82 K/9 last season.) Meanwhile, Volquez has only experienced a 1.1 MPH decline in that same timeframe, and last season threw his average fastball a staggering 6 MPH faster than Weaver did. It’s not as if Weaver is a decade older than Volquez either, as they are separated by less than a year. Edinson Volquez is aging better than Jered Weaver. It’s just that simple.

One final worrisome element of Jered Weaver’s game lies in his extreme fly-ball tendency, an issue that will only become worse given the aforementioned loss in velocity. Last season, he posted a FB% of 46.8, a higher percentage than fly ball artist Aaron Harang, who sat at 44.3%. As a general rule of thumb, when you’re surrendering more fly balls than Aaron Harang, you’re surrendering too many fly balls. By contrast, Edinson Volquez is extremely effective when it comes to keeping the ball out of the air and on the ground. Last season, he ranked 16th among qualified starters in terms of avoiding fly balls, achieving an excellent FB% of 29.6. You don’t need to be a mathematician to know that the difference between 46.8% and 29.6% is a significant one.

By no means was the purpose of this piece to disparage Jered Weaver, nor to pretend that Edinson Volquez is flawless. Simply, to point out an example of two players who have inexplicably gained reputations they do not deserve. Jered Weaver is a good major league pitcher, nothing more, and the numbers prove that to be so. Similarly, while Edinson Volquez may never be described as overly reliable or consistent, he is nowhere near the train wreck some like to make him out to be, regardless of whether his ERA says otherwise. His ERA is surface and his ERA is noise. His peripherals are substance, and they are what truly matter.

Five Reasons the 2014 Cardinals Could End Up Like the 2013 Nationals

Many expected the 2013 Nationals to roll through the National League East and contend for a World Series. Some even suggested they had potential to win 100 games.  The Nationals ended up winning 86 games and losing the division by ten games amidst injuries and poor production. The 2014 Cardinals begin Spring Training with similarly high expectations. They just won the Nationals League pennant and by most accounts, had a great off season. But just like the Nationals of last year, the Cardinals are not without their flaws and susceptibilities. I concede that the Cardinals are far more likely to have a great season than not. They are probably one of the five best teams in all of baseball. But for the fun of it, let’s consider the factors that could make 2014 a challenging year for Cardinals’ fans.

RISP regression

The Cardinals famously hit .330 with runners in scoring position (RISP) in 2013. It was the highest RISP average in baseball history topping the 2007 Tigers (.311). The Cardinals had a number of above average to excellent hitters, so we would expect them to hit well in these situations. But .330? When the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011, they led the league in hitting with RISP with a .290 average, 40 points off their 2013 mark. The 2012 team hit .264 with RISP. The Cardinals are likely to return to earth and hit somewhere between their 2011 and 2012 versions. This drop in hitting with RISP will probably reduce their run totals.

Matt Carpenter is how good, again?

I can’t believe my eyes every time I look. Matt Carpenter accumulated 7.0 WAR last year? I know he was good. I know he was VERY good. But is Matt Carpenter a superstar type player? He very well may be. We would be foolish to rule it out. But Carpenter may also turn out to be a 3-4 WAR player with one monster year. He was poor defensively in 2012 (-7.8 Def) but solid in 2013 (1.3 Def). We still don’t know what kind of defender he really is, and he is moving back to third base this year. Carpenter hits extremely well but .318/.392/.481 are difficult numbers to duplicate. The Cardinals probably aren’t counting on Carpenter to put up those numbers again, but they need to make up that lost WAR somewhere.

Young guys not ready

The Cardinals will likely give a large number of at bats to Kolten Wong and super prospect Oscar Taveras. By all accounts Taveras has star potential, but young players often struggle to adjust to the Major Leagues. Even Mike Trout struggled to a .220/.281/.390 in his first 135 plate appearances as a 19 year old. Taveras is a couple years older than Trout was at that point, but he is also replacing Carlos Beltran. Beltran is a poor defender at this point, but he still hit well in 2013 with a .296/.339/.491 slash line. Taveras may become a star one day, but in 2014, he may not be an upgrade over last season.

Kolten Wong has the inside track to play second base every day. He hit well in the minors but struggled mightily in his short stint in the big leagues. While we can’t make predictions based on 62 plate appearances, Wong did nothing to inspire confidence with a .153/.194/.169 slash line and 4.8% walk rate. He won’t be that bad, but the Cardinals must have some concerns about his ability to hit every day at the Major League level.

Old guys declining

Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday combined for 10.1 WAR in 2013. They will be 32 and 34 during the 2014 season, respectively. Neither player is ancient, but they are both due for some decline soon. Holliday has remained steady the last three years as a 4.5-5 WAR player. His defense has been poor the last two years and won’t get much better. He derives his value from his bat. In the last two years, Holliday’s ISO has dropped from .229 in 2011 to .190 in 2013. Holliday’s numbers may not fall off a cliff, but he certainly may regress some.

Molina had an excellent year in 2013. He recorded a career high .319 batting average. His defense is impeccable and probably better than we can quantify at this point. BUT, his batting average was a result of a career high .338 BABIP, 32 points higher than his previous high. His ISO also dropped from .186 in 2012, to .159 in 2013. Molina had an ISO of under .100 for four straight years from 2007-2010. As he gets older, his ISO could drop back into that range. Catcher is a tough defensive position and Molina’s offensive decline may be accelerated due to the strain of catching every day. Molina and Holliday will likely both be good players in 2014. However, producing over 10 WAR again will be difficult.

Good (but not great) pitching

This factor is the hardest one for me to see. The Cardinals certainly have plenty of talent. Nonetheless, Adam Wainwright turns 33 this season and had a career year in 2013, something he isn’t likely to replicate. Jaime Garcia is coming off shoulder surgery on his pitching arm. Michael Wacha was impressive in a small sample size, but he has started only 26 regular season games as a pro and 17 of those were in the minor leagues. The league hasn’t had time to adjust to Wacha yet. These factors could cause problems for the Cardinals pitching staff in 2014.


Are all these things likely to happen? No. But any combination between these things and bad injury luck could cause a fate similar to the 2013 Washington Nationals. The Nationals 2013 season proved once again that any team is vulnerable regardless of perceived talent and/or expectations. The Cardinals are no exception.

Why David Murphy is the Most Underrated Signing of the Offseason

On November 20th, the Cleveland Indians signed outfielder David Murphy to a 2 year/12 million dollar contract, hoping to see a bounce-back pair of seasons from him after an atrocious 2013. There is always risk involved when signing a player coming off of such a bad season, and it certainly doesn’t help that Murphy is on the wrong side of 30, but nonetheless, this was a wise allocation of resources by the Tribe.

After, for the most part, reaching base at a very solid clip in the years 2010-2012, posting OBPs of .358, .328, and .380, he plummeted to .282 in 2013. Additionally, he saw his wRC+ decrease from 129 in 2012 to a dreadful 73 in 2013. Suddenly, he was dangerously close to being nothing more than a replacement-level player, posting an unimpressive WAR of 0.4 despite playing 142 games. This sharp decline coming just one season after achieving a WAR of 3.9, suggesting he was closer to stardom than replacement level. How did this happen to Murphy? While it is difficult to quantify the effect of, as Murphy puts it, “Putting pressure on myself to step into a role and play a bigger part in the offense,” one thing is for sure: Murphy had horrendous luck in 2013. The sabermetrics community is becoming increasingly aware that BABIP involves many factors besides a player’s luck, so perhaps Murphy’s putrid .220 BABIP cannot simply be written off as nothing more than bad fortune. Then again, perhaps it can, as Murphy also posted a .295 xBABIP, suggesting that he made solid enough contact to achieve roughly a league average BABIP.

This is especially important considering that, even in a down 2013 for Murphy, he still did a stellar job of putting the ball in play with a K% of 12.4 compared to the league average of 18.5. This of course suggests that, given his propensity to put the ball in play, an increased BABIP would yield even more dramatic results than it would for most players. To put into context just how impressive that strikeout rate is, it is superior to that of both Miguel Cabrera (14.4%) and Mike Trout (19%). By no means does this make Murphy a better player than Trout or Cabrera, as Murphy is no superstar, but he sure does avoid strikeouts like one.

Not only does he put the ball in play, his power is not yet on the decline. While no one would describe David Murphy as a slugger, he’s no Ben Revere, either. For evidence of this, one need look no further than to his ISO, which has stood above what FanGraphs defines as the league average of .145 in all but one of his six full major league seasons. Obviously, he possesses a nice combination of good power and excellent contact skills. Furthermore, let’s say he posted a .295 BABIP to correlate with his xBABIP. As a result, his OBP would see an impressive uptick from .282 to a comparatively robust .332, just about in line with his career mark of.337. Or, in other words, only .007 points worse than Hunter Pence. Perception is a funny thing, isn’t it?

Certainly, we are talking about a player who will see a healthy progression in his offense from last season to this, but what about Murphy’s defense? Well, it turns out he is steady with the glove as well. While he has played most of his career in left field, all signs point to him spending most of this season in right field for the Indians. This should be no problem, as his UZR/150 in right field of 10.3 for his career is a clear indicator that he is more than capable of manning the position. In fact, that mark is actually greater than his UZR/150 in left field, 6.1. These numbers do not quite reflect defensive wizardry, but as seems to be the case with almost every element of Murphy’s game, paint a picture of a solid, reliable player.

Assuming Murphy experiences an offensive rebound of sorts, as the numbers suggest he should, and continues his well-above-average glove work, one could reasonably project him to be worth somewhere between two and three wins this upcoming season. Considering that the price of one WAR is thought to be somewhere in the six million dollar range, and that Murphy will receive a six million dollar annual salary in his two-year pact with the Tribe, he has a chance to be worth in excess of two times what he is being paid. Simply put, this addition was a savvy one by GM Chris Antonetti. There have been flashier signings this offseason, and hindsight is 20/20, but perhaps in the year 2020, when the Mariners are still on the hook for 96 million dollars worth of 37 year old, near replacement level Robinson Cano, they and heavy-spending teams like them might wish they had chosen the route the Indians did this winter. The bargain bin isn’t sexy, but it will undoubtedly prove to be a wise, cost-effective approach for the Indians in the case of Murphy.

AL vs. NL in Free Agency

Just by casually observing transactions over the past few years, any baseball fan would say that it really feels as if some of the top talent in the game has transferred from the NL to the AL, whether by trade or free agency. Ask any fan to name a player that has left the Senior Circuit for the Junior counterpart recently, and top superstar names immediately come to mind, most notably Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Now ask them to do the reverse, and it’s much trickier. Does Zack Greinke count, even though it’s been back and forth for him? There’s B.J. Upton, but how has he fared so far in the NL?

Let’s take a look at the free agents of this offseason to see if there’s anything that supports the idea that top talent is trending towards the AL. I took the list of all 96 major league contracts given out so far, not including players coming from Japan, and only grabbed contracts worth $5 million or more annually. After all, with all due respect, we’re looking at trends with top major league talent. That cuts the total to only 50 contracts. Here’s the breakdown.

31 originally from AL, 19 originally from NL

24 signed in AL, 26 signed in NL

10 re-signed with original team

So by quantity, National League teams actually signed more contracts that were worth at least $5 million annually this offseason. And the NL also managed to “steal” a net total of seven players away. In this regard, the offseason could be considered a victory for the Senior Circuit. But let’s look at quality now.


 Average Years

Average Dollars

Ended in AL




Ended in NL




From AL to NL




From NL to AL




There were only five players who transferred over from the NL to the AL, but those five earned contracts totaling $315 million, while the twelve that went from the AL to the NL received deals that only added to $274 million. Now, you could argue that American League didn’t really take Shin-Soo Choo away, but that it just reclaimed him after a one-year hiatus. But Brian McCann has been an NL-lifer up until 2014, and Carlos Beltran hasn’t played a game as a member of the AL in almost a decade. Even Ricky Nolasco, also a NL-lifer, was enticed over with a $49 million deal.

Curtis Granderson and Jhonny Peralta highlight the players moving in the other direction, and Granderson’s $60 million dollar deal also happens to represent the largest amount of money any NL team used in free agency this year. Think about that. The New York Mets gave out the largest contract to a free agent this offseason for National League teams, and there were four deals larger in the American League, two by the other team in that city.

Out of the top 14 largest contracts by total money, 11 came from an AL team. Keep in mind, all these numbers are fluid, with four big-name free agents still floating out in purgatory, but the idea remains the same. The number of free agents that sign into both leagues are roughly equal, but the American League is just handing over more money to more of the top players available. Also, if we factor in Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka, both of whom landed in the AL, the numbers would be even more skewed towards the Junior Circuit.

But maybe this was a one-year thing, a fluke. What about last offseason? Let’s do the same thing, with the same arbitrary $5 million annual salary cutoff.

There were a total of 41 contracts that met the cutoff. Here’s the breakdown.

28 originally from AL, 13 originally from NL

24 signed in AL, 17 signed in NL

13 re-signed with original team


 Average Years

Average Dollars

Total Dollars

Ended in AL





Ended in NL





From AL to NL





From NL to AL





In case any readers have forgotten, the big fish for the 2012-13 offseason were Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke, and BJ Upton. Interestingly, these numbers paint an entirely different picture, with more free agents ending up in the AL, but the quality lying in the NL. Now, the two contracts really doing the heavy lifting for the National League are Zack Greinke’s and BJ Upton’s, who both came over from the AL. While they respectively had deals worth $147 million and $75.25 million, the next closest guy was Edwin Jackson with his $52 million.

So it almost looks like the last two offseasons have been a wash. There was a more extreme split this year with the “steal” contracts, as the AL flat-out dominated. But the 2012-13 offseason did feature the  NL getting more involved and outbidding their AL counterparts, in quantity and quality.

Let’s go one more year back into memory lane just to settle this. Which league takes more players away with larger, more exorbitant contracts?

This is the 2011-12 free agent summary, with the same cutoff. There were a total of 28 contracts that met the requirements.

12 originally from AL, 16 originally from NL

10 signed in AL, 18 signed in NL

6 re-signed with original team


 Average Years

Average Dollars

Total Dollars

Ended in AL





Ended in NL





From AL to NL





From NL to AL





This is the Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder offseason, so the most noticeable numbers are all in that bottom row. It’s ridiculous; the four players who transferred from the NL to the AL (Pujols, Fielder, Hiroki Kuroda, Carlos Pena) had contracts that added up to just $250 thousand less than the 18 players who ended in the NL. The average dollars amount is ridiculous, although it is of course boosted by the two big fishes. I think it’s safe to say that the American League had the more lucrative offseason, although their National League colleagues might be chuckling at the Pujols and Fielder deals now. From the AL point of view, hey, there’s always the Jonathon Papelbon deal to laugh at.

So what can we conclude? The AL has crushed the NL in two of the last three offseasons, with the National League coming away with slightly better results in 2012-13. The Junior Circuit has also dominated in terms of luring away big names, as teams have been able to acquire Pujols, Fielder, Choo, McCann, Beltran, and Michael Bourn in recent years. The NL has grabbed Greinke, Upton, and Granderson, but that’s about it. Peralta and Michael Cuddyer are nice, but not close to the level of the other guys.

We can’t really fully confirm the AL has been more successful without going further back, but it’s safe to say the American League teams have been more aggressive over the last few years when targeting top free agents. However, something else that stood out is the number of free agents that are coming from each league. Add up the totals for the last three years, and there have been 71 from the AL and 48 from the NL. Remember these totals are only for free agents who signed contracts with at least an AAV of $5 million, but that’s a noticeable difference. Without looking at any references, I believe that’s due to National League teams locking up young talent sooner and more willingly than AL teams. This offseason alone, it seems the Atlanta Braves practically signed their entire organization to long-term deals. Homer Bailey just finished up an extension, and of course, we had Mr. Clayton Kershaw settle a deal with Los Angeles.

But that’s an article for another time.

2014 Cleveland Indians

Who can the Indians most rely on for a big hit?

The Indians were a very timely team last year and all of the players bought into Terry Francona’s style and unearthed the capacity of their talent. There are a lot of very good hitters on the Indians roster from Nick Swisher to David Murphy, but there needs to be that one guy in the lineup that the team can rely on for the big hit and that will lead the team throughout the season. There are really only two candidates for that spot — Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana. Both are young and play non-premium offensive positions at a premium level. Each have had their issues, but are All-Star performers.

Carlos Santana was a part of a great deal by the Indians in 2008 when the team was out of contention and the Dodgers thought that Casey Blake would be an answer at third base. Blake may have finished his career with the Dodgers and provided a bit of power and some stability at third for a bit, but the Indians have won that trade by a large margin. In nearly 500 games since 2010, only Joe Mauer and Buster Posey have a higher OPS+ than Carlos Santana’s 130. He is also very durable; since he became the starter full-time in 2011, he averages 151 games per year, a very impressive rate for a catcher.

He does not only play catcher also, as he has played first throughout his career and took grounders at third this offseason. The versatility of Santana is a very important thing for the Indians. Yan Gomes exhibited last year that he is a solid catcher and may get even more of an opportunity to catch this year and that might even make the case for Santana to be even better offensively. When you look at Santana’s statistics, that is true; as he has moved away from catcher, his statistics have become more impressive. Last year, he was 7th in the American League in OBP at .377 and has 20+ home run power. A hitter that does hit a lot of fly balls, Santana also has a very solid 13.3% HR/FB rate. Santana has always been a player on the precipice of breaking out and as Santana moves out of the catcher’s position, this may be the season where he moves from being a very good player to a serious MVP candidate. The lineup for the Indians could be very good for the Indians this year and Santana is a main reason.

Jason Kipnis has been a solid producer for the Indians since he was called up in July 2011. It is rare for a second baseman to have a slugging percentage in the .450s but that was what Kipnis acheived last year. When combined with his above average defense and 30 steal per year speed, there is not a question that he is the best player on the Indians. But is he a difference maker at the plate? The assortment of skills is great for the Indians and he gives a lot to the team in many different ways, but is he the player that is a difference maker at the plate. As analyzed with Santana, he is a force at the plate and a potential 30 home run hitter; Kipnis brings a different skill to the team. Kipnis is a more balanced hitter that generates more line drives and is statistically more clutch than Santana. He is a bit streaky though and does not hit for power like Santana; also, Kipnis will probably never be a .300 hitter. He is patient and does not strike out much which makes him very valuable.

Currently the Indians have Kipnis as the three hitter and that is a great spot for him. If Michael Bourn and Francisco Lindor — in the future — are on base in front of him, Kipnis may have an opportunity to be a 100 RBI guy even without the prototypical power. He is the most important hitter in the Indians lineup and may potentially be better than Santana.

When will the Indians get a front line starter?

The biggest question for the Indians is if they can win in the tough American League with a bunch of pretty good starters rather than a few elite starters. The easy answer is no. To look a bit deeper than that simple answer, you have to see if the number one starter for the Indians, Justin Masterson, really is worthy of being an “ace”.

Justin Masterson was a young, sturdy swingman for the Red Sox in the 2008 season and the beginning of the 2009 season before he was a part of the package that lured Victor Martinez to Boston. Since then, Masterson has become a 200 inning a year pitcher with a heavy, ground ball inducing fastball. On a team with a couple solid and stable pitchers, Justin Masterson would be a great innings eater in the middle of the rotation. Unfortunately for the Indians, he is the staff ace. Last year’s team may have had the right idea with having a couple middle rotation type guys added with Masterson in Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez to make a pretty good rotation, but neither of those players will be with the team in 2014.

Instead, he will be joined in the rotation with Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister, and Carlos Carrasco. There is a ton of upside there, but none of those pitchers have exhibited over any long stretch of time that that they are viable options for a playoff team. So the fate of the Indians lays in the hands of Justin Masterson to lead the rotation. Masterson was quite good last year before he got hurt, leading the American League in shutouts and accumulating more than a strikeout an inning. He was on the way to becoming a good pitcher and might still be. The only real glaring issue there is with Masterson is that the strikeout rate of 2013 is more similar to his numbers from when he was in the bullpen than when he was a starter in the past. Especially considering that the Indians just gave him $9.7 million in arbitration, it seems that the Indians were paying for the Masterson that they saw last year.

The better Masterson and the less volitile Masterson is one that has his strikeout rate near 7, works on getting his walks down, and induces ground balls. The infield defense for the Indians is good enough to turn the ground balls that Masterson creates into outs. This is how the Indians could get the most out of Masterson as well. If he presses for strikeouts, his pitch count will go up and he will not be as effective. The Indians may not be a playoff team with a Masterson led rotation, but this is the only option that they have right now.

The Indians had brought in Trevor Bauer in a trade with the Diamondbacks and saw progress from Danny Salazar at the end of the season. Each of those pitchers needs to compliment Masterson for the Indians to have any illusions of returning to the playoffs with the roster as currently constituted. The Indians may be making some moves in the near future, look at the fourth question, but at this point the rotation falls flat a bit.

How will the Indians reorganize their bullpen?

As alluded to in the previous answer, pitching is not a strong suit for the Indians, a problem that is not isolated to the starting rotation. The Indians have had a pretty solid bullpen over the past few years. Even if Chris Perez was inconsistent, he was still a viable option at closer and did get outs when it mattered. Vinnie Pestano was so solid in the eighth inning and was able to eliminate the major situations so there was little pressure when it came to Perez. Now Perez is gone after legal troubles were heaped on top of pitching problems. The Indians reworked their bullpen and it now comes downs to three pitchers to finish up the games- Cody Allen, Vinnie Pestano, and the newly acquired closer John Axford.

Cody Allen was a 23rd round pick out of High Point in 2011 and quickly began his assent through the Indians farm system, making it to Double-A Akron by the end of 2011 and the major league by July 2012. Allen has been the typical power pitcher in the big leagues, a lot of strikeouts combined with a bad walk rate. Allen is young and has been given ample opportunity by the Indians, so he may very well lower the walk rate, but there is a very alarming statistic that should temper expectations for the young fireballer. Over his 104 appearances in the major leagues, he has 24 shutdowns and 18 meltdowns, which, according to the analysis of shutdowns and meltdowns, makes him a below average reliever. That is something that needs fixing before the Indians move Allen into a more advanced role.

Vinnie Pestano is the most reliable arm in the Indians bullpen and probably should have been the Indians closer last year considering the issues that they had with Chris Perez. Over the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Pestano was one of the most shutdown relievers in baseball, frequently coming in during the more high leverage situations for the team and making sure that the Indians went into the ninth with the lead. That was not the case in 2013, as the Indians moved away from Pestano in the more pressure packed situations. In short analysis of his 2013 season, his walk rate spiked and ground ball outs turned into line drive hits and fly balls turned into home runs; these are not good trends and if they continue, Pestano may no longer be effective.

On the other hand, looking at the fact that he had every statistic trend in a negative way and lost velocity and command, it is actually pretty good that his ERA was only at 4.04 for the season. Pestano also revealed that he was injured for most of the 2013 season; this is not an excuse for his poor performance, but might be a reason to rationalize the drop off in ability. There is a strong case to be made for his rebound for the 2014 season and proper rehab may get him on the right track.

John Axford basically came out of nowhere to be the Brewers closer by the 2010 season and in 2011 had one of the best seasons for a closer in MLB history. His walk rate may have been a bit high, but other than that, the Brewers felt like they had a truly elite closer for the future. Since that point, Axford has since been traded to the Cardinals and is now trying to latch on to the Indians as the closer. There have been issues with his location of his fastball and that has led to a spike in his home run rate and his walk rate was awful in 2012.

In trying to fix his walk rate last year, Axford overcorrected himself; his pitches became more hittable and his strikeout rate lowered from the double digit rates of the past. For the 2014 season, the Indians need to hope that Axford can balance his velocity with control and work lower in the zone to remove the risk of the home run. Moving from Miller Park to Progressive Field may help, but the Indians must make sure that the erratic closer can right the ship. At the least, he is a pitcher that the Indians did not invest a lot of money in and has experience closing, something that the Indians needed.

In the end, the Indians bullpen is not that bad, but there is a lot of risk in the bullpen. Cody Allen may develop into a bullpen ace and there is every reason to believe that he will continue progress throughout the season. He should be the closer of the future for the Indians and, honestly, should be the closer for the Indians this year. John Axford and Vinnie Pestano are different stories and need to right the ship to be effective. Each has had there own issues and the Indians might have some issues finishing out games if the two cannot fix their respective issues. A particularly bad omen for the Indians is that within their top three bullpen arms, Allen and Axford were top 20 in the league in meltdowns and Pestano had a 8:6 shutdown to meltdown rate.

What are the Indians going to do with Asdrubal Cabrera?

Asdrubal Cabrera has been with the Indians for a while and has been a lynch pin towards a lot of success, but there is a high probability that his time with the Tribe is nearing an end. Since coming up with the Indians in 2007, Cabrera has been steady but never great. He has been an All-Star twice and won a Silver Slugger, but the Indians are not in a place where they need an inconsistent shortstop that makes $10 million a year. This is the classic argument of economics versus talent. Cabrera is just an average player and there have been many teams that have made inquiries, mainly the Cardinals last year, and the Indians would be smart to move him while he still has value. Given all of this, the obvious question is why have the Indians not traded Cabrera?

The most obvious reason that the Indians have not traded Cabrera is that they have not been able to capitalize on his value at the right time. In 2011, Cabrera was a 25 home run/17 steal player and the Indians extended him through the the 2014 season at $16.5 million, essentially paying him to be a very good, yet not great player. In both 2012 and 2013, Cabrera has had very incongruent seasons so the Indians have not really been able to see if they need to get rid of Cabrera or if he will be a key part of a winning tradition in Cleveland.

In fact, the Indians have really never known what they have in Cabrera. In the first three seasons of his career, Cabrera was a well above average fielder that did a very good job of getting on base and was smart on the basepaths. After cratering in 2010, Cabrera reemerged as a power hitting shortstop whose entire approach at the plate refocused to hitting the ball out of the ballpark. This was a good thing in the 2011, but his on base percentage has diminished to the point that it might be a good thing if he changes his approach at the plate. In short, the Indians do not know what they have in Cabrera so they have had a problem moving him. Considering that he is scheduled to be a free agent, they might have their hands tied.

The reason that the Indians should be ready to move on from Cabrera is super prospect Francisco Lindor. Almost nothing else needs to be said about Lindor than that as a 19 year old in High-A and Double-A last year, he had more walks than strikeouts; he also had a better walk to strikeout rate in his 22 games of Double-A than his 83 in High-A. Lindor is every bit of a star in the making for the Indians as an elite defender at an elite defensive position that will hit around .300 and steal upwards of 30 bases.

If the Indians were in the playoff hunt and looking to make a move to become stronger, it might not be a terrible move to put Lindor at shortstop and near the top of the lineup with Michael Bourn and trade away Cabrera. He is not a bad player, but, when combined with the fact that he is going to be a free agent at the end of the year, his value may be minimal. If they are able to trade him to a team in the playoff hunt that desperately needs a shortstop and has depth in pitching, the Indians would be wise to trade Cabrera. If the Indians are hanging around in the race and Lindor looks like he needs some polishing, it would not be wise to rush him to the big leagues; it will be his job in 2015 and there is no reason to rush him.

Why are the Indians going to win 84 games?

In 2013, the Indians were a team that was very good and took advantage of certain opportunities and down years from the Yankees and Rangers, sneaking into the playoffs as one of the wild card teams. Even though they lost to the Rays in the wild card game, there were some nice pieces there. This season, though, there are too many teams that improved while the Indians regressed a bit. The bullpen is reworked and it should be fine, but it is still going to be a question mark and the rotation is a mess right now as compared to the top line teams in the American League.

This team will be tough throughout the year but I see too many similarities to the Orioles, and not in good ways. This would be more of a top 15 team rather than a top 10 team and even though good baseball will be played in Cleveland this year, a repeat appearance in the playoffs might not be in the cards. There is promise for the future in the reworked Trevor Bauer and the slick Francisco Lindor being added to the team but for now, this is the third best team in the AL Central.