Wednesday, September 14, 2022

We’ve Entered 2022 Awards Season

With the 2022 Major League Baseball regular season coming to a close, it’s the time of the year when IBWAA members are sent out ballots to cast their selections for awards. While the year didn’t start on time, having the full 162 game schedule following the lockout was a treat, and we’ve been given a ton of great performances.

You can look back to my preseason predictions if you’d like, they were made at the end of March. In turning in my ballot recently, here’s what my selections looked like.

 

American League MVP: Shohei Ohtani (Runner Up: Aaron Judge)

National League MVP: Paul Goldschmidt (Runner Up: Nolan Arenado)

 

American League Cy Young: Justin Verlander (Runner Up: Dylan Cease)

National League Cy Young: Sandy Alcantara (Runner Up: Carlos Rodon)

 

American League Rookie of the Year: Julio Rodriguez (Runner Up: Adley Rutschman)

National League Rookie of the Year: Spencer Strider (Runner Up: Michael Harris II)

 

American League Manager of the Year: Brandon Hyde (Runner Up: Dusty Baker)

National League Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter (Runner Up: Rob Thomson)

 

American League Reliever of the Year: Jhoan Duran (Runner Up: Emmanuel Clase)

National League Reliever of the Year: Edwin Diaz (Runner Up: Ryan Helsley)

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

2022 Award Winners and World Series Victors

 

Now just a week from Opening Day most Major League Baseball clubs have their 40 man rosters set and are working through their final cuts before kicking off the regular season. Although we don’t have Opening Day on its original scheduled time, a full 162-game season following the lockout is as good as it gets.

The Atlanta Braves are looking to repeat as World Series Champions, but they will be doing so with some new faces after letting franchise favorite Freddie Freeman walk. The American League will certainly be out to recapture the trophy, and there’s a ton of new talent being thrust into the highest level.

You can look back at my 2021 picks here. A dark horse MVP candidate wound up taking the crown, and it was good to see Bryce Harper pick up his second iteration of that award. Here’s what I have for 2022.

MVP: American League – Luis Robert (Dark Horse Byron Buxton) National League – Juan Soto (Dark Horse Manny Machado)

Maybe Robert is a post-hype type player, but he’s far too much of an afterthought with just two seasons in the big leagues. Robert played just 68 games last year for the White Sox, but the 24-year-old posted a .946 OPS. He has the complete package of speed, power, and athleticism to make an impact all over the diamond. The strikeout rates are still ugly, but he makes enough hard hit contact to generate a strong average. Chicago should again be good, and that puts him in a good spot. 

Byron Buxton is going to be healthy this year if I have to manifest it into existence. Should that happen, he’ll find himself squarely in the conversation. He began 2021 on a ridiculous pace and was only overshadowed by Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Betting on himself in his new extension, that paying off early would be nice to see.

On the National League side it really feels like the MVP is Juan Soto’s to lose. He’s an otherworldly talent that hits for average and power while having a great eye. I don’t think the Nationals are going to be very good this season, but if Nelson Cruz has any positive impact on the youngster allowing him to take his game up a notch, that’s pretty scary. It’d also be somewhat of a nice development to see Manny Machado step up in a big way for the Padres with Fernando Tatis Jr. out to start the season. He’s been close to an MVP award previously, and maybe this winds up being the year.

Cy Young: American League – Shohei Ohtani (Dark Horse Luis Severino) National League – Max Scherzer (Dark Horse Logan Webb)

If there’s a way to follow up an MVP award after putting up the best individual season baseball has ever seen, Shohei Ohtani could grab a Cy Young as an encore. The greatest thing working against him will always be the amount of starts he makes. That said, another year of learning the league, I think this could be his true breakout on the mound. Another step forward and he’ll be in the conversation with Gerrit Cole as the best pitcher in the American League. Speaking of Cole, his teammate Luis Severino looked to have elite stuff prior to dealing with injuries since 2019. If he’s at all healthy, I wouldn’t be shocked to see that play again.

Max Scherzer jumps teams within the division, but now he’s in a place that’s willing to spend big. Paired with Jacob deGrom, the Mets have the best one-two punch in baseball. New York should be a very good team, and those two arms are going to do the heavy lifting. It’s been a few years since Scherzer won a Cy Young, and maybe he tired a bit in the postseason last year, but I think he shows well for his new club. 

San Francisco Giants star Logan Webb is an intriguing choice here. He’s not far down the list of odds, but may be somewhat of an afterthought. The Giants probably won’t be as good this season, but Webb could take another step forward as he cements himself as a legitimate ace. His FIP was sub 3.00 last season and the strikeout numbers are there. It wouldn’t shock me if he puts up a head-turning performance.

Rookie of the Year: American League – Bobby Witt Jr. (Dark Horse Julio Rodriguez) National League – Hunter Greene (Dark Horse Max Meyer)

It’s hard to go against the Royals superstar prospect Bobby Witt Jr. He’s going to make the Opening Day roster and looks like someone that should be an impact player from day one. Kansas City won’t be good, but they shouldn’t be terrible either. The highlight reel play on both sides of the ball are impressive, and he should be fun to watch from within the division. Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez may also be in the conversation, but that will largely depend on how much runway he’s given this season.

Once considered among the best draft prospects ever, Hunter Greene’s debut should finally come in 2022. The Reds rotation has arms that need to still be moved, but Greene should see plenty of action for a team that’s clearly not trying. His stuff is going to play, and the triple-digit fastball is going to be fun to watch. If the Marlins promote Max Meyer with any amount of longevity destined for this season, he too could be in the running.

Postseason:

American League – Blue Jays, White Sox, Astros, Red Sox, Rays, Twins

National League – Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Mets, Padres, Phillies

ALCS – Blue Jays over Rays

NLCS – Phillies over Braves

World Series – Phillies over Blue Jays

Toronto had a stellar offseason adding Kevin Gausman and Matt Chapman. Already having a strong rotation and top talents like Jose Berrios and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., it’s hard not to see them as the juggernaut in a competitive American League East. They picked up depth talents as well, and we’re already trending towards being among the best teams in baseball. I’d be far from surprised if they finish with the best record in the American League.

On the other side, I think the Phillies give themselves a nice chance to play spoiler as somewhat of an underdog. The Braves and Mets are seen as the best in the division, but Philadelphia shouldn’t be far behind. Castellanos and Schwarber are two big bats, and the addition of the designated hitter hides the latter from playing the field. Bryce Harper is still the reigning MVP winner, and adding what they did to a formerly bad bullpen should help a lot.

We’re so close to regular season action in a season that should bring the return of normalcy. It’s time to settle in for the fun.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

2022 AL Central Division Projection

We are less than two weeks away from the 2022 Major League Baseball regular season. The free agent frenzy was every bit the excitement we had hoped for following the lockout and teams are largely complete at this point. The American League Central Division had just one Postseason participant, but the hope would be for two with the field expanding to 12 teams.

The Chicago White Sox return as the division winners and will look to carry that crown for a second season. While there’s no juggernaut here, it should be expected that there’s no cellar dweller either.

Here’s how I see the division shaking out with PECOTA projections in parentheses.

Chicago White Sox 89-73 (91-71)

Chicago really didn’t do a whole lot this winter, but they also really didn’t need to. Having Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez for a full season will represent the greatest benefit they could gain from the offseason. Kendall Graveman makes an already good bullpen better, and Joe Kelly only enhances that. They should still have a very strong lineup, and the hope would be continued dominance from the rotation. There’s no doubt that they are the favorites here.

Minnesota Twins 85-77 (86-76)

If there’s a team that could go up or down more than almost any other in baseball it could be Minnesota. Byron Buxton is a superstar, and now he has a partner in Carlos Correa. How much resurgence could Gary Sanchez or Gio Ursehla find in their new home? Sonny Gray is a dependable arm, but from there it’s questionable veterans and untested rookies. If things go bad, it will likely be because the arms simply weren’t enough. This could be a very good team, a mediocre team, or a relatively bad team virtually all tied to what happens on the mound.

Detroit Tigers 77-85 (67-95)

Javier Baez’s deal with Detroit surprised many because of the assumed tie between Carlos Correa and A.J. Hinch. Baez has plenty of flaws but some of them are a bit overstated. He gives a winning presence to a team on the cusp. Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson should be in the lineup soon, and Akil Baddoo turned out to be a bad man last year. I don’t know how well they’ll pitch, but acquiring Eduardo Rodriguez was a smart move.

Kansas City Royals 75-87 (70-92)

Prospects are the name of the game for the Royals. Bobby Witt Jr. looks like a superstar as does both M.J. Melendez and Nick Pratto. Salvador Perez put up insane numbers a season ago and will look to replicate that performance. Pitching is questionable here too, and I’m not sure Zack Greinke has much left in the tank. The bullpen is uninspiring, and there’s plenty of lineup holes. They’re getting better, but not there yet.

Cleveland Guardians 73-89 (77-85)

You don’t have to look much further than the newly named Guardians to find the Central’s most rudderless team. The farm system isn’t elite, but the Major League roster is also barren. Jose Ramirez is amazing, and a healthy Shane Bieber is lights out, but beyond that there’s very little to like here. A lot of post-hype prospects and guys that have ceilings they never got close to touching reside on this roster. Alongside their lack of spending this offseason, deciding not to blow it up was a weird path forward.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

How Can You be Romantic About Baseball?

Right now Major League Baseball may be as low as it’s ever been. Back during the 1994 and 1995 strike I was just five years old, way too young to be bothered by what was taking place. At this point in my life, it’s anything but. After Rob Manfred’s address yesterday I could produce nothing more than apathy.

The Minnesota Twins have long been my favorite team. Major League Baseball has been among my most invested interests for the majority of my life. Because of just thirty owners and their puppet, Opening Day is cancelled with no end in sight. As Manfred stepped up to the podium, made that announcement while laughing, and then suggesting it was a both sides issue (hint: it’s not) emptiness set in.

Manfred has done very little to distance himself from the notion that he’s an awful commissioner. Obviously, he’s in a position to represent the interests of the owners, but each opportunity for him to provide a galvanizing rallying cry or momentum, he chomps on his own foot. Manfred comes across like a sleazy businessman with little desire to actually enjoy the sport he oversees. There isn’t a jovial attitude and there’s certainly nothing redeeming about him in connecting with the fans.

For months those connected to the league have attempted spewing a stance that players are needed to move things forward. Despite delays, lack of negotiating, and bad faith bargaining, it’s consistently been a blame game from the league with the only intention being the greatest win. Instead, we the fans, now all lose.

Opening Day is supposed to be a highlight of Spring. We get through the final days of winter with baseball action in Arizona or Florida. It’s the eight month calendar that creates drama on a daily basis through the lens of a wonderful sport. Not only do we not have that calendar to look forward to at this point, but we also have no clue when Rob Manfred and the league will work towards getting things back on track.

I’ll rebound from this; it’s necessary for the union to remain steadfast for change. Baseball will return, maybe in June, or maybe next year, but it will return. I’ll continue to write and enjoy the sport from afar. Right now though, it all feels a bit empty and hollow with one man and one group so carelessly and ruthlessly denying us normalcy on the diamond. Most times it’s hard not to be romantic about baseball, but right now is not most times.

Monday, December 20, 2021

2022 Minnesota Twins Top 15 Prospects

While we have no baseball right now because of the league locking out its players, there’s still minor league prospects to dream on. 2021 provided us a full season of minor league action and the Twins saw a ton of movement from their biggest names.

It was certainly tough to see the injuries mount this season, but that can likely be tied to the non-traditional 2020 and having to get back into a demanding flow. The last update to the top 15 in this space came in June, prior to the Major League Baseball draft, so now feels like a good time to refresh the list. 

Previous rankings can be found below. Let’s get into it:

15. Cole Sands RHP

Sliding Sands back a spot here has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with additions before him. He posted a 2.46 ERA in 80.1 IP all at the Double-A level in 2021. The strikeouts are there and while the walk rate was up, he still worked around damage. Some time on the IL wasn’t a great thing, but he could be an option for Minnesota soon.

14. Matt Wallner OF

I’m pretty bullish on Wallner being a better version of Brent Rooker. His .854 OPS at High-A was a professional best this season, and he raked for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League. He has massive arm strength and should be fine in a corner spot. He’s going to hit for power, and I think the on-base abilities are there too.

13. Noah Miller INF

Taken 36th overall by the Twins, Miller’s brother Owen is a big leaguer. Noah is expected to be a better all-around prospect and has plenty of speed on his own. I think he’s got a pretty good shot to stick in the middle of the infield, and it’ll be exciting to see him on the field in 2022.

12. Blayne Enlow RHP

Throwing just 14.2 innings this year, Enlow was put on the shelf early and then underwent Tommy John surgery. He was added to the 40-man roster protecting him from a Rule 5 selection. He’s still one of my favorite breakout prospects, but he won’t be healthy to start 2022.

11. Josh Winder RHP

After dominating Double-A, Winder earned a pretty quick promotion to Triple-A. He was just ok in his four starts at St. Paul, but there’s no reason to believe this isn’t a talented arm. He’s consistently had strong strikeout stuff and avoided free passes. Winder was bit most by the longball for the Saints. He did experience a trip to the IL but should be healthy coming into 2022.

10. Keoni Cavaco INF

In 60 games for Low-A Fort Myers Cavaco did little to impress. That said, he’s still just 20 years old and it was great to see him advance beyond the complex league. He’s still filling out form a body standpoint, and 2022 will be an important year for his development.

9. Chase Petty RHP

Selected as the 26th overall pick in the 2021 Major League Baseball draft, Petty was seen as a great value selection given his ability to reach triple-digits on the mound. He’s still got a good amount of refinement to undergo, but this is a great arm for Minnesota to mold.

8. Matt Canterino RHP

Spending a good amount of time on the IL this year, Canterino certainly wanted to get in more than 23 innings. The work he did do was dominant, however. A 0.78 ERA and 45/4 K/BB is plenty indicative of him needing the challenge of at least Double-A to start 2022.

7. Simeon Woods-Richardson RHP

One piece of the return for Jose Berrios, Woods-Richardson pitched just eight innings for the Twins at Double-A. After playing with Team USA in the Olympics, he needed a good amount of time to ramp back up. The strikeout numbers are exciting, but he does have command issues to work through. Still, this is a top-100 prospect that should be fun to watch in 2022.

6. Jhoan Duran RHP

After being among the best Twins pitching prospects coming into 2021, Duran took a slight step backwards. He was injured for a good part of the season and contributed just 16 innings. The high strikeouts were combined with too many walks. The velocity is certainly there, but he could wind up being a reliever too. 2022 will be a big season for him.

5. Joe Ryan RHP

Acquired in exchange for Nelson Cruz, Ryan wound up being among the best things to happen for the Twins last season. After pitching for Team USA, Ryan made five starts at the big league level. His 3.43 FIP was better than the 4.05 ERA, but a 30/5 K/BB is beyond impressive for a guy who doesn’t have dominant velocity. How Ryan adapts to more tape on him in year two is going to be intriguing.

4. Jose Miranda IF

No player in the Twins system had a better year than Miranda. He tallied a .973 OPS across Double and Triple-A while blast 30 homers. He played all over the infield and it’s clear the bat is ready for his next challenge. I’m not sure where he fits for Minnesota yet, and it may not be Opening Day, but he’s coming and soon.

3. Jordan Balazovic RHP

Starting 20 games for Double-A Wichita, Balazovic turned in 3.62 ERA with a 9.5 K/9. He looked every bit the pat of an ace at times while going through growing pains as well. He’ll need a clean bill of health and complete season in 2022, but he’s very close.

2. Austin Martin SS/OF

The headlining return for Jose Berrios, Martin is a very similar player to Minnesota’s top prospect Royce Lewis. Playing shortstop but potentially an outfielder, Martin owned a .779 OPS at Double-A Wichita. He hasn’t really hit for any power, but that should come. The athleticism is strong, and the speed is there as well.

1. Royce Lewis SS/OF

Putting him back on top of the prospect rankings, Lewis missed all of 2021 with a torn ACL. He’ll return to the field healthy in 2022 and looking to distance himself from a 2019 that left production to be desired. Lewis’ bat has flashed plenty, and he’s looked comfortable at both short and in the outfield. A quick rise to the big leagues may be in the cards.

Monday, December 13, 2021

2021 IBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot


While having until January to cast my annual IBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot, I decided to get it in before the holidays this year. Once again, the IBWAA is not part of the Official BBWAA vote to enshrine players in Cooperstown but with a large voting body this is a fun process to partake in each season.

The IBWAA selection process allows for 12 candidates to be voted. My previous ballots can be found here:

2018
2019
2020

I didn’t hit the 12 max but did decide to open up my restrictions a bit. I’ve never been a “Small Hall” type but keeping out those on the border doesn’t make much sense to me considering there’s always going to be more worthy players.

After Larry Walker and Derek Jeter were inducted last cycle, I have just three holdovers this time with seven new candidates. Let’s get into it:

Alex Rodriguez 113.7 fWAR

Arguably one of the best to ever play the game, Rodriguez rubbed plenty the wrong way, but his numbers are otherworldly. I’m still mad he missed 700 homers by just four, but the career .930 OPS is beyond impressive. Rodriguez also racked up three MVP awards and was a 14-time All-Star. He’s remade his image a bit after his playing career while being an analyst, but regardless of what you think about him, the talent was something that doesn’t come around often.

Curt Schilling: 79.7 fWAR

Bloody sock nonsense aside, Schilling is a three time Cy Young runner-up, and six-time All Star. He struck out 3,116 batters in his career and owns a 3.46 ERA while totaling more than 200 wins. Three World Series rings, an MVP, and a 2.23 postseason ERA do him favors as well. Since voting for him last year, Schilling has made plenty of splashes in the media. He's not well liked off the field, but the character clause is among the most dated pieces of inclusion into the Hall of Fame. On baseball merit alone, he's worthy of the nod.

Scott Rolen 70.1 fWAR

Vastly underappreciated, Rolen started as a Rookie of the Year winner, and went on to tally eight Gold Glove awards. He was a seven time All Star and among the best to ever field the Hot Corner. With an .855 career OPS, his bat more than does enough to supplement what was an exceptional defensive career.

Andruw Jones 67.1 fWAR

Jones's 17 year career is often going to be questioned as he held on for five uninspiring seasons to closer out his time as a big leaguer. That aside, the 10 year stretch from 199-2007 was one for the ages. With 10 Gold Glove's and five All Star appearances, he was easily among the greatest in the game for a decade.

Manny Ramirez 66.3 fWAR

In 2002 Manny Ramirez picked up his only batting title with a .349 average. He’s a career .312 hitter and has a .996 OPS. He’s a member of the 500 home run club with 555 and picked up MVP votes in nine-straight seasons. Ramirez won nine Silver Slugger’s and was a part of two World Series championship teams. One of the best pure hitters to ever step on the diamond, Ramirez is worthy of induction.

Gary Sheffield 62.1 fWAR

Sheffield grabbed his batting title with the San Diego Padres in 1992 with a .330 tally. His .907 OPS is borderline for induction, but the 509 career home runs is enough to get it done for me. Sheffield picked up nine All-Star appearances and won the Silver Slugger five times. He was part of the 1997 Florida Marlins World Series team and was consistently a middle-of-the-order hitter.

Sammy Sosa 60.1 fWAR

Giving baseball one of the best home run chases in history, Sammy Sosa tangled with Mark McGwire during the amazing 1998 season. Sosa won his MVP that season hitting 66 homers and finished his career with 609. Sosa’s .878 career OPS isn’t all that special, but I can’t continue to ignore the career home run tally.

David Ortiz 51.0 fWAR

It took a while for the Hall of Fame to make room for designated hitters, but David Ortiz is among the best of them. He’s been both an ALCS and World Series MVP while picking up three rings. His career 541 home runs is beyond impressive, and the fact that he finished his career at 40 with a 1.021 OPS continues to be among the best seasons ever.

Billy Wagner 24.0 fWAR

Relievers are very under-represented in the Hall of Fame and Billy Wagner is another good one to get in. His career 2.31 ERA is impressive, and the 11.9 K/9 was ahead of his time. Saves are an overrated metric, but Wagner has 422 of them. A seven-time All-Star, put him in.

Joe Nathan 19.5 fWAR

Not far off from the man above him, Nathan falls into the category of relievers needing to make their way to Cooperstown. He posted 377 saves and owned a 2.87 ERA. Nathan’s K/9 of 9.5 wasn’t spectacular, but he was named to six All-Star games of his own.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Bundy Signing Isn’t from the Same Old Twins


Right before the final bell on the Major League Baseball offseason rang before Rob Manfred locked out the players, Minnesota got a deal done. The Twins signed former first round pick Dylan Bundy to a one-year deal worth $4 million. No, it’s not cut from the “same ole’ Twins” cloth.

Take a quick glance at Bundy’s 2021 numbers and it looks like a scrap heap pickup. He had an ERA north of 6.00 and a FIP that suggests he was equally as bad. The strikeouts dipped, the walks rose, and he gave up two homers for every nine innings he pitched. That’s not good. Now, take another look.

In the truncated 2020 season Bundy finished 9th in the American League Cy Young voting. He posted a 3.29 ERA and an even better 2.95 FIP. His 9.9 strikeout rate was a career high, and his 2.3 BB/9 was a career low. At 27 years old he posted the best season of his career. Now, where does the truth lie?

Probably somewhere in the middle. Prior to 2020, Bundy owned a 4.69 ERA while striking out just shy of one batter per inning. He gives up a decent number of dingers but has largely put the injuries that plagued him as a prospect behind him. That is, until this season. Bundy threw just 90.2 IP for the Angels in 2021 and was one of the many pitchers that saw dips in spin rate following the sticky substance ban.

So, what do we make of all this?

Firstly, regarding the sticky substances, it’s hard to draw too many conclusions. Players were forced to adapt on the fly with no warning. This is on top of having a ball that was already being manipulated by the league itself. With more runway this offseason to work through things, we could expect to see a greater ability of adaptation. The hope would be consistency from the implement centered in the game, and we’ll have a greater opportunity for a base level of results.

Secondly, regarding the injury issues, it’s fair to wonder what the impact of a shortened 2020 and competitive changes in 2021 had on his body. Baseball players are characters of habit and routine, throwing that off can have substantial ripple effects and I believe we saw that to a larger extent on the minor league side this season.

But why isn’t Bundy just another cheap pickup you ask?

Look at the upside here. Last season the Twins gave $8 million to a 38-year-old J.A. Happ who was very likely on the tail end of his career. He’d posted sub 4.00 ERA’s but had very little upside and plenty of room to go bottoms up. They gave $2 million to Matt Shoemaker who had been solid when healthy, but rarely was able to stay on the field. Again, that’s a decent amount of chance to count on in the rotation for Opening Day.

With Bundy, he has both youth and ceiling on his side while not coming close to breaking the bank. Of course this signing on its own is not worthy of praise should the Twins do nothing else, but if they execute on acquiring two more arms above this ability level, it’s a threesome they can rely on. Last season the starting staff needed top three arms or better. Instead the front office acquired two guys to mop up innings as fourth and fifth placeholders.

Should the Twins fail to execute in allocating the funds they could’ve dispersed to Jose Berrios as a rotation centerpiece, then they need to be held accountable for it. Right now though, Bundy represents a solid floor for what can be hoped to be the start of something more (once the lockout ceases, of course).