Tag Archives: Michael Brantley

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.

Cleveland Indians 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 Indians. For several years Terry Francona’s boys have been striving to bring relevance back to Cleveland. Could this be the season they finally do it?


Projected Lineup: CF Michael Bourn, SS Jose Ramirez, LF Michael Brantley, 1B Carlos Santana, RF Brandon Moss*, C Yan Gomes, 2B Jason Kipnis, DH Nick Swisher, 3B Lonnie Chisenhall

Projected Rotation: RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Carlos Carrasco, RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Danny Salazar, LHP T.J. House

* new additions

The Indians achieved great individual success in 2014, with Corey Kluber winning the AL Cy Young award, and Michael Brantley finishing 3rd in MVP voting. However, it didn’t translate to team success, as the Indians stumbled to a third-place finish in the AL Central.

This season, they hope to improve on last year’s performance with more or less the same exact team. Sounds a bit like trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole, but the Indians believe they have some cause for optimism.

It starts with the emergence of Brantley, the Indians’ rising star. He enjoyed a breakout year last year in which he put up 20 homers and 45 doubles. The doubles are important, because they indicate there might be even more untapped power in Brantley’s bat. Watch out for when some of those gap shots turn into over-the-fence shots this season.

In addition, the Indians need more production from Jason Kipnis. This is a guy who got MVP votes two seasons ago, when he swatted 17 homers to go with an .818 OPS. But last year he took a major step backward—he managed only six homers for the year, and his OPS dropped to .640.

A dream scenario for the Tribe is for Kipnis to return to his 2013 form, and be consistent enough that they can slot him at the top of the batting order. Currently, the top two spots in the lineup are occupied by Michael Bourn and Jose Ramirez, who have tons of speed, but neither of whom walk enough to be a real on-base threat. The pair combined for just 48 total walks last season, whereas when Kipnis is good, he can easily put up 70-plus.

Another guy the Indians are hoping lands on the right side of the hot-cold spectrum this year is Carlos Santana. If you look at his stats last year as a whole, they’re underwhelming: an MLB-leading 113 walks, but just a .231 batting average to go with it.

But this is where splits make things interesting. Let’s divide the season into thirds:

April/May: .159/.327/.301, 6 HR

June/July: .310/.415/.603, 14 HR

August/September: .225/.356/.382, 7 HR

As you can see, last summer Santana was pretty much the best player in the game. What’s more—his two-month hot streak was accompanied by a very reasonable .336 BABIP, indicating that it wasn’t due to an inordinate amount of luck. To put it very simply, he just started hitting the ball more effectively.

So who knows what the cause might’ve been for Santana’s huge swing in performance—the warmer weather, the end of the Indians’ experimenting with him playing third base, LeBron announcing his return to Cleveland—all we know is it happened, and the fact is that Santana can play at that level. That means there’s a very real possibility of him staying that hot for an entire season.

On the pitching side of things, the Tribe saw inspiring performances from Corey Kluber, who was exceptional the whole year but especially after the All-Star Break, when he posted a 1.73 ERA, and Carlos Carrasco, who finished the year with a 1.30 ERA in his final ten starts. Needless to say, the Indians’ rotation is constructed far better than that last sentence was.

However, the rotation did take a blow when it was announced that the newly-signed Gavin Floyd will be out indefinitely due to a stress fracture in his elbow. Now it’ll be up to the in-house guys to fill the void. T.J. House, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer certainly have the talent, but it’ll be up to them to put it together and be consistent for a full season, something none of them have been able to do yet at the major league level.

The Indians have some young talent that will surprise many people this season. However, without any major upgrades from last year’s team, don’t expect any surprises when it comes to them contending. A middle-of-the-pack finish in the strong AL Central is pretty much a guarantee.

Projected Finish: 80-82, Fourth place in AL Central

Positional Rankings 2015

Every year, I like to do an MLB-wide player ranking by position. It’s a ranking of what I expect each player’s total contributions to his team to be 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 2015. 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 Andrelton Simmons, 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 Simmons to other shortstops.

Comments are welcome, of course – just keep in mind that there is a fair amount of speculation included in the following rankings. The best players of 2014 won’t be the same as the best players of 2015, because that isn’t how baseball works.

Onward!

We’ll start with the top five catchers in 2015:

  1. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
  2. Salvador Perez, Royals
  3. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
  4. Devin Mesoraco, Reds
  5. Buster Posey, Giants

Now, I don’t know much about catching at the major league level. But I do value defensive skills here more than at any other position, because at catcher is where I believe it’s most critical. Game-calling and overall leadership also come into play here. Salvador Perez is not the best-hitting catcher in baseball, far from it. But he’s one of the best damn team leaders I’ve ever seen.

Honorable mention: Yan Gomes, Matt Wieters, Russell Martin

Top five first basemen in 2015:

  1. Jose Abreu, White Sox
  2. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  3. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
  4. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
  5. Joey Votto, Reds

I just hope that last year was an anomaly, that Joey Votto isn’t actually breaking down. Because he’s one of the best players in the game when he’s healthy. The top four should speak for themselves, but I expect both Abreu and Rizzo to continue to climb into the echelons of baseball’s elite players.

Honorable mention: Freddie Freeman, Eric Hosmer, Adrian Gonzalez

Top five second basemen in 2015:

  1. Robinson Cano, Mariners
  2. Jose Altuve, Astros
  3. Kolten Wong, Cardinals
  4. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
  5. Brian Dozier, Twins

Jose Altuve could eclipse Cano this season if he repeats last year’s performance. And that’s a very lofty statement because Cano is baseball royalty. Kolten Wong is an emerging star of whose 12 home runs in 2014, 11 came after July 1st. Dozier gets the nod over the Tigers’ Ian Kinsler and others because I believe he could be an elite defender, something which up to now has only shown up in flashes.

Honorable Mention: Ian Kinsler, Daniel Murphy, Jason Kipnis

Top five shortstops in 2015:

  1. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
  2. Andrelton Simmons, Braves
  3. Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals
  4. Starlin Castro, Cubs
  5. Alexei Ramirez, White Sox

Despite Tulo’s history of injuries, it isn’t even close. I’d take 100 games from him over 162 from any other shortstop in baseball. Castro was an easy pick, if you recall he’s still just 24 years old. Alexei gets the nod due to consistency and defense, over guys like the Nats’ Ian Desmond, who didn’t quite make the cut because his numbers have been on the decline since 2012.

Honorable Mention: Ian Desmond, Jose Reyes

Top five third basemen in 2015:

  1. Anthony Rendon, Nationals
  2. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
  3. Kyle Seager, Mariners
  4. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
  5. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals

Anthony Rendon figures to own the top spot on this list for many years to come. Even if he can’t replicate his offensive numbers from last year, he still has the defensive skill to be number one. You’ll notice an absence of Josh Donaldson – while one of the best players in MLB the past two seasons, I figure I’m with Billy Beane in thinking that he’s peaked.

Honorable Mention: Josh Donaldson, Brett Lawrie, Kris Bryant

Top five left fielders in 2015:

  1. Alex Gordon, Royals
  2. Jayson Werth, Nationals
  3. Michael Brantley, Indians
  4. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox
  5. Starling Marte, Pirates

I’m not quite sold on Michael Brantley yet – if this were last year’s rankings, he’d be at the top of the list, but I want to see him repeat that performance and prove it wasn’t just an extended hot streak. Hanley Ramirez is another potentially controversial pick, since he hasn’t played an inning in left field yet, but I think he’ll surprise some people, and actually end up being an above average defender.

Honorable Mention: Christian Yelich, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton

Top five center fielders in 2015:

  1. Mike Trout, Angels
  2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
  3. Carlos Gomez, Brewers
  4. Lorenzo Cain, Royals
  5. Adam Jones, Orioles

There shouldn’t be any surprises here — except how on earth a .300 hitter with elite speed and defense could end up ranking 4th! It turns out center field is a pretty stacked position in MLB, as you can clearly see.

Honorable Mention: Billy Hamilton, Juan Lagares, Marcell Ozuna

Top five right fielders in 2015:

  1. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
  2. Jason Heyward, Cardinals
  3. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
  4. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
  5. Kole Calhoun, Angels

Yes, I’m a believer in Carlos Gonzalez. He’s one of the best all-around players in the game when he’s healthy, so I wish him and Rockies a good tentacle-free year. Kole Calhoun is the surprise here – he’s my breakout star for the coming season, I expect him to get his walk rate up while maintaining the power stroke he found last year that went somewhat under-the-radar. He should make the All-Star team in 2015.

Honorable Mention: Bryce Harper, Hunter Pence, Yasiel Puig

Top five starting pitchers in 2015:

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  2. Chris Sale, White Sox
  3. Yu Darvish, Rangers
  4. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
  5. Felix Hernandez, Mariners

Felix Hernandez doesn’t quite rank as high as he would have with last year’s numbers, only because I don’t know when he’ll be hitting that decline all too common with pitchers around his age. Also, just do me a favor and take a minute to look up how good a season Chris Sale had last year – if he continues pitching the way he’s been, a Cy Young should happen for him sooner rather than later.

Honorable Mention: Corey Kluber, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann

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

  1. Aroldis Chapman, Reds
  2. Greg Holland, Royals
  3. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
  4. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
  5. Dellin Betances, Yankees

So there you have it. These rankings might provide a sort of preview to how I believe the divisions will shake out in baseball this year. Those posts are soon to come. In the meantime, enjoy these and keep in mind that nothing makes me happier than people who argue with me on twitter!