Tag Archives: Jake Arrieta

2016 Season Preview: Division Winners

Ah, Spring. There’s something special in the air this time of year. It’s that deceivingly warm April sunshine—pleasant for now, but you know better than to not pack a jacket. It’s the freshly-mowed grass that just smells like hope. Hope for a new baseball season, a fresh start, and for the 29 teams that aren’t defending World Series champions, hope that maybe, just maybe, this could be the year.

But the most beautiful thing about this time of year are the picks. It’s preseason prediction week, and this is when the claws come out. Everyone’s got an opinion about which teams will over- or under-perform this year, and thanks to the wonder of the internet, we get to read every last one of them.

As you read about the teams which I expect to excel in 2016, please note that my picks are probably wrong—just like yours, as well as the rest of the predictions out there. Let’s face it: no one can ever predict this sport. An unexpected contender will emerge from obscurity and make the playoffs. Expected 100-win teams will plummet, and start eyeing next year’s early draft picks. The real beauty is in the unknown, and that’s why we watch.

National League Wildcard: Diamondbacks over Cardinals

The Diamondbacks are the tailgating drivers in the rearview mirrors of the usual NL West contenders—obnoxious, and closer than they appear.

A somewhat under-the-radar breakout season by A.J. Pollock last year should’ve removed any doubts about these guys being for real, as he and perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt look to terrorize the league all the way to a playoff spot. New additions Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller give them a very formidable rotation—don’t be surprised if the D’backs hang around for a while this Postseason.

The Cardinals find a way every year. They’ll withstand the departures of Jason Heyward and John Lackey with the help of a new infusion of youth—Kolten Wong, Carlos Martínez and Randal Grichuk are now the core of this team, and will be for several years to come.

With the veteran guidance of Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, count on the Redbirds to be around come October, but they’ll need some luck if they want to advance.

American League Wildcard: Rays over Royals

The Rays finished a distant fourth in the AL East last year, but in a division that is pretty much up for grabs, they have a good shot.

They’re built on the defensive wizardry of Kevin Kiermaier, and a very strong pitching staff whose 3.74 ERA ranked fourth in the AL last year. Keep an eye out for the long-awaited return of pitcher Matt Moore, and a potential breakout season for fellow lefty Drew “seriously, that’s all we got for David Price?” Smyly, who since joining the Rays in Mid-2014 has quietly posted a sub-1.00 WHIP in 114.1 innings.

The defending champion Royals will be tough to oust in the Postseason, but I’ll take Rays ace Chris Archer any day in a winner-take-all Wildcard match.

National League Division Series: Nationals over Diamondbacks

There’s no reason to think the Nationals, who were NL East favorites across the board a year ago, should be any less so in 2016.

When ace Max Scherzer is on his game, he’s the most unhittable pitcher in baseball. Anthony Rendon will be looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2015, and his .412 spring batting average is an indication that he’s planning on starting the new season strong.

New manager Dusty Baker is a proven winner in October, and he should be able to guide his new club to a first-round Postseason series victory.

National League Division Series: Giants over Cubs

The Giants’ mix of established veterans, boosted by the signing of free agent pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, will make them a very well-balanced team.

People know about Buster Posey, but the real MVP of this ball club might be Joe Panik. With only 42 strikeouts last season, his ability to put the ball in play is the key to the Giants’ offense.

The Cubs put the nation on notice last year that these kids are truly ready for the big stage, with an NLCS appearance that capped a very successful season. Despite the playoff run being cut short, that experience will only make them more of a force.

Expect Kris Bryant to build on his Rookie of the Year campaign, and for Jake Arrieta to silence the critics by showing that last year’s Cy Young season was no fluke.

The Giants are the favorites in this series, because the Cubs’ youth has been shown to be volatile in the Postseason. But a Bumgarner/Arrieta matchup in Game 1 will be one for the ages.

American League Division Series: Indians over Rays

The Indians finished 2015 just a game above .500, but that doesn’t tell the whole story: they ended the season on a 32-21 run, much of which was keyed by the performance of rookie shortstop Francisco Lindor, who was called up midseason. Now, with Lindor leading the charge, the Indians are one of the strongest teams in the league, both offensively and defensively. Jason Kipnis, who also started to find his groove in the middle of last season, will also be a major contributor, along with Michael Brantley, who will be on the Disabled List to start the season, but should return in early May.

On the pitching side, don’t count out Carlos Carrasco for Cy Young consideration, whose 10.6 K/9 last year ranked third in the American League.

This will be an excellent series if you like good defense, but the Indians are just a bit more of a well-rounded ball club.

American League Division Series: Rangers over Yankees

The Rangers won the AL West last year thanks in part to the midseason acquisition of Cole Hamels, who solidified the rotation, the main weak spot of the team. Now he’s back for another year, and Yu Darvish, who should still be considered one of the best strikeout pitchers in the game, will rejoin the rotation this summer.

If their offense, which was never a problem, can hold up, the Rangers will have a very formidable Postseason squad.

The Yankees squeezed a lot of value out of aging veterans last year, and you have to wonder how much they realistically have left.

But what they’re expected to lose from the old guys, they’ll make up for with young talent. 22-year-old Luis Severino will be one of the kids on whom the Yankees pin their playoff hopes. 27-year-old Michael Pineda should be hitting his prime years, and, one would hope, his full potential. And maybe, just maybe, a change of scenery is all Starlin Castro (still just 26!) needed to regain his All-Star form.

National League Championship Series: Giants over Nationals

The Giants get to face their old manager, and the Nats get to face their old center fielder. I foresee a well-fought series in a rematch of the 2014 NLDS, but the Giants have been here before, and will prevail.

American League Championship Series: Indians over Rangers

The Indians have the edge in terms of pitching and defense, which is what wins in October.

World Series: Indians over Giants

A rematch of the 1954 Series, which the Indians are probably still sore about losing?

Juan Uribe trying to win his third ring with as many different teams?

Carlos Santana playing the National Anthem AND playing in the game? (Okay, it’s two different guys, but still)

This series will have it all, and will probably go the full seven games. I’m giving it to the Indians, who deserve to see an end to that nagging championship drought.

My only question is whether they’ll bring back Coach Lou Brown for an on-field ceremony—or hell, even let him manage the series. It’s what the world needs.

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.

Chicago Cubs 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 Cubs, whose many years of rebuilding are close to coming to fruition. The signing of free agent Jon Lester to a $155 million contract was their announcement to the world that this is the year they’ll be competing.


Projected Lineup: CF Dexter Fowler*, 2B Arismendy Alcantara, RF Jorge Soler, 1B Anthony Rizzo, SS Starlin Castro, 3B Kris Bryant, C Miguel Montero*, LF Matt Szczur

Projected Rotation: LHP Jon Lester*, RHP Jake Arrieta, RHP Jason Hammel*, RHP Kyle Hendricks, LHP Travis Wood

* new additions

There’s a different feeling in Chicago this year, even before any wins or losses are tallied.

All the stars seem to be aligned to indicate that a new era has begun: A new manager in Joe Maddon, a new ace starter in Jon Lester, and the ever-enduring prophecy on the back of everyone’s mind: The proclamation in Back to the Future, Part II that 2015 will be the year that the Cubs finally win the World Series.

Joe Maddon will be the most important factor in the prophecy being realized. He’s the type of manager the Cubs need right now. He likes to tinker. He won’t bat a struggling Javier Baez in the 2-hole every day. He won’t be afraid to bench Starlin Castro for his mental lapses on defense.

So why shouldn’t this be the Cubs’ year?

Let’s take a look at all the traditional attributes of a World Series-caliber team, and you tell me if the Cubs don’t fit the bill.

Young hitters on the cusp of breakout seasons: check.

If baseball crowned a champion based only on potential, the Cubs would be running away with the title. The Cubs are saturated with young talent, and if even one or two of these guys perform to the level at which they’re capable, that’ll go a long way towards igniting the offense.

Keep in mind that the Cubs have already enjoyed a breakout season from young Anthony Rizzo, who clubbed 32 home runs and finished third in the National League with a .913 OPS last season.

Rizzo is their star hitter, and the rest of the offense is structured around him. This is important, because it means they don’t need to put pressure on the other young guys to carry the offense, but rather to be Rizzo’s supporting cast. Much like the movie Grease, in which Frenchy, Jan and Marty Maraschino were all members of the “Pink Ladies”, but Rizzo was the ringleader who called all the shots.

So from whom can we expect to see a breakout year in 2015? Keep an eye on Jorge Soler, the 23-year-old outfielder from Cuba who enjoyed a short stint with the Cubs last year, but still has his rookie status intact. His power is well chronicled, and while home runs will be a big part of his game, he’s a more dynamic hitter than he gets credit for. He displays patience at the plate, which will be a huge weapon for him once he’s able to harness it fully. Soler reached base at a .383 clip throughout his minor league career, and if he could approach that mark in the majors, it would really help stabilize what has chronically been a very free-swinging lineup.

He also has a cannon for an arm, which has inspired comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero. So just take a second and imagine a 23-year-old Vladdy hitting in the middle of this Cubs lineup. Scared yet?

Kris Bryant is another young hitter who appears ready to terrorize big league pitching. After leading the minor leagues with 43 home runs a year ago, he reported to Major League Spring Training and picked up right where he left off, hitting for an otherworldly 1.652 OPS and easily leading the Cactus League with nine home runs. There is literally nothing else Bryant can do to prove he’s ready for the show.

Bryant will start the year in Triple-A, but the Cubs will likely call him up to the majors within the first month of the season. And once he’s up, he won’t be going back down.

Frontline starters: check.

We know about Jon Lester. But what went slightly under the radar last season was the emergence of Jake Arrieta. A once-prized pitching prospect with the Orioles, he finally figured something out last year, posting a 2.53 ERA with a 0.99 WHIP.

There are reasons to believe his breakout was not a fluke: most notably, he learned to pitch for the ground ball last season. A seemingly simple thing, but you have to realize that a few extra ground balls can drastically reduce the number of homers and extra base hits a pitcher gives up. Arrieta’s home run percentage was a mere 0.8% last year, down from his career rate of 2.5%. Extra base hits? Down to 4.7%, from a career mark of 7.3%.

Arrieta also recently decided he’s Mariano Rivera, and started using the cutter as his primary pitch. This enables him to pitch away from right-handed hitters, further reducing the amount of hard contact against him. The effect of this shows up in his splits: righties managed just a .520 OPS against him last season.

Shutdown bullpen: check.

Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon. None of these guys are household names, but soon this trio will be as well known as the legendary Royals’ troupe of Herrera/Davis/Holland. R-S-R will be the new H-D-H. And who knows—maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll get to see the two trios go toe to toe with each other in this year’s World Series.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Cubs certainly could make the playoffs, but it’ll be a trek to get there. The trials of the season can get to a lot of young players, and these kids need to prove they can make it for the long haul.

I’m a believer though.

Projected Finish: 94-68, First place in NL Central, World Series Champions