Tag Archives: Starlin Castro

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.

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

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!