Tag Archives: Clayton Kershaw

2016 MLB Positional Rankings

Each year, I like to do an MLB-wide player ranking by position. It’s a breakdown of what I expect to be each player’s total contribution to his team in the coming season. It takes into account offense, defense, baserunning—the overall game. For the sabermetrically-inclined, I suppose you could say this is how I expect the players to rank in total WAR for 2016. The only reason they’re grouped by position is that they’re easier to compare that way. For instance, I couldn’t definitively say who was better between Giancarlo Stanton and Addison Russell, because I wouldn’t know how to quantify the importance of position, and the defense-for-offense tradeoff. But I can compare Stanton to other outfielders, and Russell to other shortstops.

Comments are welcome, of course, but please keep in mind that there is a fair amount of speculation included in the following rankings. The best players of 2015 won’t be the same as the best players of 2016, because that isn’t how baseball works.

We’ll start with the top five catchers in 2016:

  1. Buster Posey, Giants
  2. Salvador Pérez, Royals
  3. Matt Wieters, Orioles
  4. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
  5. Francisco Cervelli, Pirates

Posey is the indisputable favorite here. His 6.1 bWAR last year was far and away the best of any full-time catcher in the majors. He put up his usual strong offensive numbers, while putting the world on notice to his improving defensive skills: he was recognized as a Gold Glove finalist for the first time in his career. But Wieters is the one to watch. After being limited to just 101 games over the past two seasons due to Tommy John surgery, he accepted the Orioles’ one-year qualifying offer in a bid to re-establish his value as an elite backstop. If he comes back strong with 20-homer power and his usual cannon of an arm, expect to hear his name a lot this year.

Honorable mention: Russell Martin, Travis d’Arnaud, Brian McCann

Top five first basemen in 2016:

  1. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
  2. Joey Votto, Reds
  3. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  4. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
  5. Chris Davis, Orioles

As ridiculous of a notion as it is that Paul Goldschmidt might still be underrated, that’s exactly the case. At least the league recognizes he’s the greatest hitter in the game right now: pitchers showed him respect last season to the tune of 29 intentional walks. Add his Gold Glove defense to that, and you can understand why he’ll be at the top of the MVP discussion for many years to come.

Honorable mention: Eric Hosmer, Freddie Freeman, Jose Abreu

Top five second basemen in 2016:

  1. José Altuve, Astros
  2. Jason Kipnis, Indians
  3. Dee Gordon, Marlins
  4. Robinson Canó, Mariners
  5. Kolten Wong, Cardinals

Jason Kipnis started to find his way in 2015, batting .318/.391/.481 from May 1st on. One hopes, as the Indians certainly do, that this is the true player that had been touted so highly since his days as a top prospect. But José Altuve still claims the top spot on this list, because he’s firmly established himself as one of the top hitters in the game. He’s virtually a lock for 200 hits, and he even started to find some power last season with 15 long balls. Expect this level of production to continue, as the 25-year old is just now entering his prime.

Honorable Mention: Joe Panik, Ben Zobrist, Logan Forsythe

Top five shortstops in 2016:

  1. Carlos Correa, Astros
  2. Francisco Lindor, Indians
  3. Addison Russell, Cubs
  4. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
  5. Brandon Crawford, Giants

An impressive field of youngsters highlights this list, most notably Carlos Correa, who hasn’t even played a full season in the big leagues, yet should still be considered one of the best players in the game right now. With 22 homers in his rookie campaign, his bat is exceptionally mature for a 21-year old. Fellow second-year player Addison Russell, whose defensive game is up there with the best in baseball, should also be fun to watch, as he’s set to assume the shortstop role for a full season with the Cubs.

Honorable Mention: Troy Tulowitzki, Ketel Marté, Andrelton Simmons

Top five third basemen in 2016:

  1. Manny Machado, Orioles
  2. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
  3. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
  4. Kris Bryant, Cubs
  5. Jung Ho Kang, Pirates

Manny Machado’s power production exploded in 2015, with 35 home runs, blowing past his previous career high mark of 14. He’s also the only player in baseball to have played all 162 games last season, putting to rest any concerns about him being injury-prone. At this rate, the 23-year old should continue to mash, as well as provide wizard-like glovework for years to come.

Honorable Mention: Matt Duffy, Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltré

Top five left fielders in 2016:

  1. Michael Brantley, Indians
  2. Miguel Sano, Twins
  3. Starling Marté, Pirates
  4. Justin Upton, Tigers
  5. David Peralta, Diamondbacks

Michael Brantley has somewhat quietly been one of the best-hitting outfielders in baseball the past two seasons, with a combined slash line of .319/.382/.494 over that time. As the Indians’ middle-of-the-order hitter, Brantley stands to see even more opportunities as his young teammates mature. Miguel Sano is a guy to watch, as his offensive production should be impressive—but I’d be concerned with how well his defense will hold up in left field.

Honorable Mention: Alex Gordon, Kyle Schwarber, Kevin Pillar

Top five center fielders in 2016:

  1. Mike Trout, Angels
  2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
  3. A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks
  4. Jason Heyward, Cubs
  5. Lorenzo Cain, Royals

No surprise as to who’s number one on this list. The less familiar names include A.J. Pollock, who should be recognized as a perennial MVP candidate after last year’s breakout season. Look for him to build on that 20-homer, 7.4 bWAR campaign. Jason Heyward has been one of the best defensive outfielders for years, but will the move from right to center help—or hurt—his outlook? I’m expecting a few growing pains.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Kiermaier, Carlos Gómez, Byron Buxton

Top five right fielders in 2016:

  1. Bryce Harper, Nationals
  2. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
  3. José Bautista, Blue Jays
  4. Kole Calhoun, Angels
  5. Carlos González, Rockies

I still don’t think we’ve seen peak Giancarlo Stanton. If he can play a full season and stay healthy, there’s no reason he couldn’t put up numbers similar to Bryce Harper’s last year. The two of them should really be viewed as equals, but Harper gets the #1 spot since he’s the reigning MVP. Also, I’m obligated to remind you that Carlos González is still only 30 years old and coming off a 40-homer season.

Honorable Mention: Curtis Granderson, J.D. Martinez, Yasiel Puig

Top five starting pitchers in 2016:

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  2. Chris Archer, Rays
  3. Jake Arrieta, Cubs
  4. Chris Sale, White Sox
  5. Max Scherzer, Nationals

Clayton Kershaw is simply superhuman. With a career-high 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings last year, he’s more unhittable than ever before. Arrieta is the reigning Cy Young winner, but he’ll need to establish himself even more if he has thoughts of dethroning the king. Chris Archer’s strikeout rate has improved each of the last three seasons, and he’s just entering his prime years. Also, look for a bounce-back year from Chris Sale. His 3.41 ERA and .324 BABIP last year were hugely out of character, so expect him to settle back down near his career norms.

Honorable Mention: Zack Greinke, Dallas Keuchel, David Price, José Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Madison Bumgarner, Masahiro Tanaka

Relief pitchers are always a crap shoot, but I’ll take a shot at it:

  1. Aroldis Chapman, Yankees
  2. Jeurys Familia, Mets
  3. Wade Davis, Royals
  4. Ken Giles, Astros
  5. Zach Britton, Orioles

Not much of an explanation needed here. If you can throw 103, you can have the top spot on this list. I’m excited to see the evolution of Ken Giles, but there may be a learning curve as he gets used to his new home ballpark in Houston. Zach Britton is, for the second year running, the best closer no one’s talking about.

Los Angeles Dodgers 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Dodgers, who hired a bunch of trigger-happy GM’s last November, which led to a historic winter of wheeling and dealing. Such a major overhaul seems counter-intuitive for a team coming off a 94-win season, but some experts say that this year’s Dodgers team looks to be the strongest they’ve had in years.

Projected Lineup: SS Jimmy Rollins*, RF Yasiel Puig, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B Howie Kendrick*, LF Carl Crawford, C Yasmani Grandal*, CF Joc Pederson, 3B Justin Turner

Projected Rotation: LHP Clayton Kershaw, RHP Zack Greinke, LHP Hyun-jin Ryu, RHP Brandon McCarthy*, LHP Brett Anderson*

* new additions

The Dodgers failed once again last year in their quest for the elusive pennant they’ve been seeking, a drought that is getting pretty impressive. It isn’t in Cubs territory yet, but for the highest-spending team in baseball, a drought like that can’t be ignored.

In fact, the Giants fan in me wants to just turn this post into a list of things that have happened since the Dodgers last won a pennant. Things like Taylor Swift being born, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, or Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” topping the Billboard Charts.

But alas, the objective sportswriter in me says I should at least attempt to honestly evaluate this team. I’ve got to get rid of that guy.

The Dodgers enter 2015 with the same core group, headlined by the consensus greatest pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers simply don’t lose when Kershaw is on the mound: the team’s record in his last 21 starts is an astonishing 20-1. Although, to be fair, it’s hard to lose when your pitcher literally gives up no runs. Anyone familiar with the basic rules of baseball will tell you that.

So that leaves it to numbers 2-5 in the rotation to try and cobble together enough wins to back Kershaw. Seems like an easy enough feat when you’ve got Zack Greinke around, the greatest human pitcher on the team, and Hyun-jin Ryu, one of the most unfairly overshadowed pitchers ever.

Yes, Hyun-jin Ryu. Calling this guy a #3 starter is akin to referring to “Human Nature” as the third-best song on Thriller. You wouldn’t be wrong, but at a certain point things transcend the notions of “better” or “worse” and you shouldn’t be ranking them.

Ryu could win the Cy Young this year, and none of you should be surprised when it happens. He had an up-and-down 2014, partly due to injuries, with a 3.38 ERA—decent, but worse than his career mark. But if you look between the numbers, last year was actually Ryu’s best season in the majors by a lot of measures. His strikeout rate and walk rate were career bests. His inflated ERA last season was due to a couple isolated blowups (which pretty closely corresponded to games in which he got hurt), but when healthy, he pitched at an elite level.

What does this mean for the coming season? I believe Ryu is the linchpin. We know that Kershaw and Greinke will be awesome, but it’s the 20+ quality starts the Dodgers could potentially get from Ryu that will be the difference between the playoffs or another disappointing end to the season.

Offensively, the Dodgers have lost some power, and look to be more of a station-to-station team this year. Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez are gone, so the Dodgers will need multiple people to step up if they want to come close to matching last year’s level of production.

Howie Kendrick should prove to be a valuable addition. He posted a career-high .347 OBP last year, and the Dodgers will rely on him as one of their middle-of-the-order hitters to help offset the losses of Kemp and Ramirez.

Also keep an eye on rookie Joc Pederson, who is coming off a 30-30 season in Triple-A for which he was named the Pacific Coast League MVP. If he hits well enough to stay in the lineup, he’ll be a 10-15 homer guy and a threat on the basepaths. And that’s not to mention the value he’ll provide on defense, where he’ll be the first actual center fielder the Dodgers have had since Steve Finley’s NL West farewell tour.

And don’t overlook Scott Van Slyke, who will split time at all three outfield spots. His slash line of .297/.386/.524 in 2014 made the decision easier for the Dodgers to trade Matt Kemp. Van Slyke has yet to perform to his full potential, and maybe what he needs is an everyday role in order to do that. The Dodgers should be willing to give him a shot.

Overall, if the pitching holds tight, the Dodgers will be worse than a year ago, but not much worse. I predict a first-place finish in this weak division, but they’ll need some real luck to advance in October.

Projected Finish: 91-71, First place in NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers 2014 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in the National League. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Dodgers, the NL West’s defending champions, and not by a small margin. But you’ve got to wonder if they’ll get complacent after such a successful year.

Projected Lineup: LF Carl Crawford, RF Yasiel Puig, SS Hanley Ramirez, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, CF Matt Kemp, 3B Juan Uribe, C A.J. Ellis, 2B Dee Gordon

The Dodgers had an almost uncharacteristically quiet offseason. Yasiel Puig’s shorts may have made more news this winter than the team did.

After missing out on any big-name targets such as Masahiro Tanaka, the Dodgers opted instead to focus internally and sign ace Clayton Kershaw to a record-setting new contract extension. They also re-inked a few guys who were critical down the stretch last year—third baseman Juan Uribe and set-up man Brian Wilson. But what you didn’t hear about were the guys they let go: Mark Ellis, Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston – four veterans who were strong clubhouse influences.

By now, faithful reader, you’re starting to see where I’m going with this. “Okay, Woods,” I’m sure you all are saying, “Surely you couldn’t be arguing that Dodgers will fall out of contention because they lost these four old guys, could you?”

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m arguing.

To get a good idea of the chemistry they’ve lost, you simply have to look at the players remaining in the clubhouse, consider all the raucous personalities and clashing egos, and tell me that it sounds like a suitable place to, say, settle down in a quiet room and watch video to try and work out a kink in your swing.

You’ve got Puig, who parties at the Playboy mansion with Snoop Dogg. Hanley Ramirez, the flamboyant superstar who wears more bling than 2 Chainz. Then you throw into the mix an Andre Ethier who’s frustrated with his lack of playing time, and you’ve got a slightly more dysfunctional environment than that of “The Real World: Ex-plosion,” which actually is as bad as it sounds.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t party. I’m saying that balance is key, and what the Dodgers have is a star-studded cast that’s simply too big to be cohesive.

Pitching-wise, the Dodgers should be solid, but the problem is that they were so good last year that they’re almost certainly due for a regression. Clayton Kershaw, fresh off his second Cy Young Award, has solidified his spot as the best pitcher in the game. But how do you improve on the video game-like numbers he posted last year? A 1.83 ERA isn’t even human. So unless a report surfaces that says Kershaw is actually an alien (entirely possible), I expect him to come slightly back down to Earth.

Zack Greinke will be hard-pressed to repeat a performance that most stat guys will tell you was aided by a fair amount of luck. All of Greinke’s peripheral numbers indicate that the baseball gods were simply on his side last year: a low home run/flyball rate (5.7%), a career low BABIP (.284) and a high strand rate (80.8%).

None of this is to say that these guys won’t still put up exceptional seasons. But you can’t deny the warning signs are there.

Projected Finish: 79-83, Third place in NL West