Me, emailing my cousin in Cambridge about the Clay Buchholz trade last December:
I can’t help thinking of the worst case and not completely unlikely scenario: Clay Buchholz is the new Andrew Bynum. Well, OK, he’ll probably play more than zero games for the Phils, but, like, five is more than zero. Norm Charlton’s Phillies career (http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/charlno01.shtml) also comes to mind[.]
Deadspin, two days ago:
Phillies pitcher Clay Buchholz had surgery earlier this week to fix a torn flexor tendon in his right arm. His 4-to-6 months of recovery will keep him out for the rest of the season.
Buchholz, who the Phillies got from Boston in December for 24-year-old minor leaguer Josh Tobias, is in the last year of his contract. He will make $13.5 million this season for 7.1 innings pitched, 40 batters faced, and 10 earned runs allowed. Those will almost certainly be his final career numbers with the Phillies.
(And right, Mike Jackson.)
The usual goaltending-centric playoff preview which you now won’t get anywhere else, because goaltending has never been more meaningless in the NHL (unless it’s bad goaltending, in which case it’s only moderately meaningless, maybe).
Anaheim/Calgary: Two deep (the Ducks’ top two goal scorers were Rickard Rakell and Patrick Eaves?) and underrated (East Coast Bias) teams. The Flames have the better possession numbers and the better power play; the Ducks have home ice and better goaltending. Brian Elliott’s save percentage by month: .898, .869, .919, .892, .922, .936, .871 (3 games in April). Ducks in 7.
San Jose/Edmonton: Somehow the Sharks are underdogs despite not choking in last year’s playoffs and having the exact same record (one more OT loss) this year. Oh, and Couture and Thornton may be injured plus Connor McDavid (100 points for an Oilers team that scored 243 total goals, or 40.5 percent of his team’s goals (thanks, Friedge)) and Cam Talbot (a league-leading 73 games and 4294 minutes) are awesome whereas Martin Jones (.912) wasn’t so much, though he was second overall in total minutes. Oilers in 6.
Chicago/Nashville: Like the Hall-for-Larsson trade for the Oilers, Subban-for-Weber wasn’t the worst trade in team history for Montreal so far, although even in an off year Subban did have better possession numbers. More importantly for Nashville, Pekka Rinne was sort of good again (.918, up from .908 a year ago), but Crawford and Darling were better, which should be more than enough for a team that won at least one recent Cup courtesy of whatever remains from the 1990s of the Osgood exception (i.e. “whoever has the better goaltending matchup wins, unless it involves Detroit, who wins anyway”). Bonus fun fact: the last five Cup winners are now the three oldest teams in the NHL, with Chicago number one (28.258). Blackhawks in 6.
Minnesota/St. Louis: The Wild improved by 11 wins under Bruce Boudreau. The Blues went 22-8-2 under former Wild coach Mike Yeo. Both teams have mediocre possession numbers; the Wild are higher scoring (second in the NHL with 263 goals) but the Blues have the most explosive individual scorer (Tarasenko’s 39 goals were 11 more than any Wild player and his 286 shots were 75 more (both Eric Staal)). Both goalies have been worse in the playoffs than the regular season in small sample sizes so far as well, but I’ll take Devan Dubnyk (.923, 2.25) over Jake Allen (.915, 2.42). Wild in 6.
Washington/Toronto: This (courtesy of Sportsnet’s playoff preview series): Washington: 51.69 5on5 CF% (4th), .937 5on5 Sv% (1st), 9.34 5on5 Sh% (1st), 103.0 PDO (1st). And this: Washington: 23.3 PP% (3rd), 84.1 PK% (6th), 261 GF (3rd), 175 GA (1st). And by the way Braden Holtby (.925, 2.07, 9 shutouts, all better than 2016, when he won the Vezina) is sort of better than Fredrik Andersen, who wasn’t bad himself (.918, 4 shutouts). Leafs rookies scored the third-most points ever, even more impressive when you consider the top two teams had Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne and played in a higher octane NHL than ours (they faced Whaler and Nordique goalies multiple times a year!), but this matchup looks like Caps in 5.
Pittsburgh/Columbus: When John Tortorella wins his second Adams award this summer, Canucks fans will think of this. “Bob” may win a second Vezina as well (bizarrely, he never led the league in SV% or goals against average before 2017 despite winning the Vezina in 2013 (Craig Anderson, if you’re curious)), but the Osgood exception applies here too, and not because Bob’s playoffs have been poor (small sample size but .890, 3.49, no shutouts in 13 games vs. a career .920, 2.45, 19 shutouts in the regular season). Small-sample Matt Murray and post-redemption Marc-Andre Fleury aren’t bad, and Crosby-Malkin-Kessel-supporting cast have the scarier power play and experience. The Blue Jackets are the youngest team in the NHL. They’ll be back (unless they do some Jakub Voracek-Jeff Carter-Jack Johnson trade thing again), but Penguins in 7.
Montreal/NY Rangers: A year ago I would have picked the Rangers not entirely because of Lundquist (Montreal’s goalie is apparently pretty good too) but because the Rangers are still deep, well-coached, went to the Finals even more recently than Habs fans burned cars because you don’t lose first round Game 7s at home to teams that speak English, etc. and in fact a year ago I did pick the Rangers to beat the Penguins in the first round. That didn’t happen, and the Rangers’ terrible possession numbers from last year are still terrible (47.96 5on5 CF%, 26th), while the Habs’, like last year’s Penguins’, are much better (52.54 5on5 CF%, 3rd). Montreal in 5.
Boston/Ottawa: From Travis Yost’s Canadian teams-only playoff preview in TSN: Let’s remember that the above does not account for what should be a pretty serious goaltending advantage in Ottawa’s favour. How the mighty have fallen, Tuukka Rask (2.23, .915, 37 wins, 8 shutouts in 2017…which when I was young, –!!!, and this is the worst matchup for Boston, what?!). With all due respect to likely Masterton winner Craig Anderson (2.28, .926, 5 shutouts in only 40 games), not to mention perennial Norris trophy runnerup (hello Brent Burns) Erik Karlsson, Bruins in 5.
Anaheim/Edmonton: The team with Connor McDavid over the team without Connor McDavid. Oilers in 6.
Chicago/Minnesota: Blackhawks in 6.
Washington/Pittsburgh: Because Roberto Luongo and Vancouver beat the Blackhawks once too. Caps in 7.
Montreal/Boston: Les voitures, ils vont brûler! Bruins in 7.
Chicago/Edmonton: The team with Connor McDavid over the team that only has Kane, Toews, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook, and Crawford (and Panarin and Anisimov). Oilers in 6.
Washington/Boston: Caps in 5.
Stanley Cup Finals
Washington/Edmonton: The team without Connor McDavid. This time. Caps in 4.
The Mets’ Four Aces were down to one ace, one Noah Syndergaard, for most of 2016, with flashes of deGrom and Matz, a bad and then injured Matt Harvey, plus Bartolo Colon, Logan Verrett, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Gabriel Ynoa, Rafael Montero, and others, yes, others; Jon Niese who is still wearing a Pirates cap on his Baseball Reference page even started twice for the Mets last year. As a reward for his All-Star, top 10 Cy Young, top 20 MVP season during which he also led the league in both FIP (2.29, lower than his 2.60 ERA) and fewest HR/9 (0.5), which parenthetically suggests the Mets’ defense is terrible, Noah Syndergaard will be receiving a raise from $535,375 to $605,500, which is both more money than I will ever see in my lifetime and an amazing bargain for a team whose owner has his own New York Times search page with the phrase “Madoff suit” in parentheses. According to Spotrac, Syndergaard is the 117th highest paid starting pitcher in the majors and the 498th highest paid overall player in the majors, and his career earnings as a pitcher are comparable to those of Brewers Zach Davies and Jimmy Nelson, who do not have World Series appearances, top 10 Cy Young finishes, or scary Norse nicknames.
Of course, this is a result of the current CBA structure, in which teams can keep player salaries low based on service time, and service time is valued over performance, if not inversely to performance since veterans who eventually decline and lose value tend to be paid more than the value they generate for teams just as young players who have no bargaining power tend to generate more value for teams than their salaries. Cynically, it means that awesome young players need to receive well below market value for years until finally they reach the decline stage of their careers and can sign ridiculous free agent contracts that teams will regret and owners will wish they had amnesty clauses to try to remove (or maybe not; front offices aren’t as bad with terrible contracts these days because front offices aren’t as bad, period–there are only four teams to have lost 90 games or more in each of the past two years, and one of those teams is the Oakland A’s, who are still to some extent THOSE Oakland A’s). So other than flags flying forever and Mets fans becoming even more like whom you think of when you think of Mets fans, what would have happened if, sometime during the course of last season, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz had all suffered career-ending thoracic outlet/rotator cuff/Steve Blass Disease-type injuries and simultaneously decided to retire at the end of 2016? How would the Four Aces be remembered and, more cynically and more relevant here, how would that memory translate into financial terms?
By the numbers:
Total career earnings of the Four Aces, from Matt Harvey’s major league debut in 2012 through the end of 2016, excluding signing bonuses: $9,801,535
Total Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference): 34.0
Or if you prefer:
With signing bonuses included: $13,316,535
A win by most estimates is worth around $8 million on the open market, so the Four Aces collectively generated approximately 20 times as much value as they were actually paid.
To torment Mets fans more–or wait, this will actually torment Mets fans LESS (other than that the premise of this hypothetical is that the Four Aces are now Zero Aces, so hypothetical Mets fans are now Aceless)–how much value did the Dodgers receive just in 2016 from a dollar amount almost equal to the Mets’ 2012-2016 total investment in Harvey-Syndergaard-deGrom-Matz–namely, Old Friend Scott Kazmir, whom Mets, Dodgers, and Tampa Bay Rays fans (and maybe Angels fans, and A’s fans, and Indians fans, and Astros fans) recall well?
Scott Kazmir 2016 salary: $12,666,667
Scott Kazmir 2016 WAR: 0.2
Scott Kazmir 2016 $/WAR: $63,333,335
Yes, the Dodgers paid $63 million per the-win-he-didn’t-deliver for Scott Kazmir in 2016, meaning that they paid 8 times more per win than they should have on the open market for the benefits of Scott Kazmir, but which also means that Scott Kazmir was worth approximately as much in salary to the Dodgers for his 136 1/3 innings over 26 starts last year as the Four Aces collectively have been to the Mets through 2016 while providing less than 6 percent of the total value. Maybe it’s not so bad to be a Mets fan these days, but it sucks to be young and a Met.
Writer Friend Rob in Iowa beat me to my baseball picks this year, so he can be wrong before me for once.
OK to roll your eyes…
Maybe the most fun Division in the league. It’s possible there might not be a .500 team. Has that ever happened?
1. Miami (86) Outfield to die for. Moundsmen rise in Fernandez tribute.
2. Atlanta (80) New ball park give them ten more wins.
3. Washington (79) Player disgruntledness and injury take a toll. Maybe Harper not the answer- ship to San Fran.
4. Philly (72) 30th place last year in so many hitting categories…Finally, the Ruf years are over (God forbid he turns into Duke Snider II)…2 years away.
5. Mets (70) Beginning ’16, a staff for the ages…decimated with injury to include bad backs in the infield. Really sad.
1. Cubs (91) Maybe the only 90 plus team in the league. Ross/Fowler exit will detract…Gotta like how the aces endure…love Schwarber.
2. Pittsburgh (84) Wha happened in ’16? It’s still all there. It’s not too late
3. St Louis (84) Fowler, how could you. Piscotty likely MVP. Molina statue suggested atop the Arch. Vets everywhere. Kinda surprised they packed off Hazelbaker (great name). He looked like the real deal to me. They might win the World Series…if given the chance.
4. Brewers (80) Wanted to pick them 2nd…but Braun’s an ass. Send him to San Fran…maybe a surprise contend follows.
5. Reds (68) Homer B. still on the payroll but they lack a spark somehow…playing out a season with “no direction home.”
It’ll be a Division contention for the history books. Four teams battling thru Sep. The sticks vs the moundsmen stats.
1. Colorado (85) Young arms need to fall into place…become a ‘road’ team… score score score. It’s all there…all good.
2. Dodgers (84) Pederson and Seager the real deal…Puig at 27 with Trout talent needs to finally dedicate
3. San Fran (83) Harper, Braun, Encarnacion (at first – Belt to left)…get somebody to boost the offense. An oft injured Pence protecting Posey won’t be enough. Bats win.
4. Arizona (82) Still worry over the Greinke deal…ship him if someone’s willing to overspend…just 69 wins in 16 – so underachieving.
5. Padres (60) The quicksand quick fix years ago still an ongoing suck. Someday
1. Yankees (88) Breath of fresh air in the lineup…maybe even likable…if the young arms have success look out…don’t forget how close they got in 16…vets, new faces, and a great manager = ?
2. Red Sox (87) Set for the World Series right now…with Sale, what can stop them?…there are no holes other than Ortiz…maybe the intangibles…maybe the Ortiz hole is pretty big.
3. Tampa (82) Only if they win every one-run game…Love Longoria…always overrate the Rays.
4. Baltimore (82) Wieters is gone…a Davis at .280 plus would help…Bullpen needs to repeat…hard to predict, I’m putting them in the middle.
5. Toronto (72) It’s over…murderer’s row is gone…Donaldson will be pitched around like no other…like Texas and Pitt…all there…so close…shame really. Toronto is why I’m so glad KC and the Cubs hold the trophy…oftentimes you only get one of two shots, then the long wait for another generation (see Phillies).
Becoming a weak Division allowing Cleveland to repeat.. maybe the only plus .500 team.
1. Cleveland (90) Can they pull a Royal Blue? I kinda hope so…hard to believe Napoli cut out…makes no sense, but their injured (Brantley etc) are back and like the Yanks, they got the skipper…bet the farm they remake the playoffs. Encarnacion the final nail. (just found out).
2. Twins (80) Mauer, Dozier and a lotta hope.
3. Kansas City 79 All the Cub boosters only have to look here…Ventura death…tough deal. Takes years to build a WS club and it’s amazing how quickly the wins go south. Orlando needs huge numbers…Soler (from the Cubs) is a real gamble and not a good one.
4. Detroit (78) Still lots of big names but it’s over. There will be streaks…both good and bad.
5. White Sox (72) Supposedly the best ‘farm’ in MLB…Robertson is gonna get a lot of work…Triple A for now but a plan is in place. White Sox and Phills in the 2020 World Series.
1. Seattle (91) Cruz is 37 Cano 35, Hernandez 31…Quoting Tracy Chapman…”if not now, then when.” Huge trade with Arizona for 200 hit Segura maybe the last ingredient.
2. Astros (90) McCann and Reddick team with the rooks and rocket back to the playoffs…Springer possible MVP…this is a very very good team…no excuses
3. Rangers (84) Everything went right last year.
4. Angels (78) Everyone wants Trout in the playoffs, but how? This is a tough Division up front and asking Maybin to stay healthy is like asking Riley to stop rolling in the dirt. Puj is approaching some huge stats. The numbers will be down but I hope a healthful year for him.
5. Oakland (72) If he ships Davis who will be surprised. Another Triple A outfit. I’ll be cheering them on. Phils and A’s in the 2020 series
Astros vs Red Sox = Astros vs Yanks = Yankees
Cleveland vs Seattle = Cleveland
Yankees vs Cleveland = Yankees
Pittsburgh vs Dodgers = Pittsburgh vs Colorado = Colorado
Cubs vs Miami = Cubs
Colorado vs Cubs = Colorado
Yankees vs Colorado = COLORADO
…And they are dancing in Denver
My picks, with a response to Writer Friend Rob:
It’s possible there might not be a .500 team. Has that ever happened?
The 1973 NL East (best known locally as the year AFTER Steve Carlton won 27 for the team that won 59), won by the 82-79 Mets (1.5 games ahead of the 81-81 Cardinals), and the 2006 NL Central, won by the 83-78 Cardinals who then won the World Series (of course, I was rooting for Detroit), are the closest two I can think of–unless you count the 1994 AL West, won by the 52-62 Texas Rangers if it was won by anyone, which, they’re celebrating in Montreal, right? Flags fly forever.
Bottoms up: I will enjoy watching the Phillies this year: Crawford will be up, Nola seems healthy and along with Eickhoff-Hellickson-Buchholz-Velasquez (yeah, Buchholz is their #4, I think, which is either too low or too high–probably the latter, but whatever, he could be good if he’s not baseball for “Andrew Bynum” and he’s healthy now, whatever that’s worth), oh and also the fact that Ruf, Dom Brown, and Kyle Kendrick are gone, and Ryan Howard is in Middle Earth for now, until someone needs a DH, a hitting coach, or a broadcaster to replace Matt Stairs who replaced Jamie Moyer, or something. But I won’t confuse them with being a “Good Team.” Remember that according to Baseball Prospectus’s 2016 adjusted standings, which I’m obsessed with, by third order winning percentage (what their record should have been based on their underlying numbers and quality of opponents–i.e. minus “luck”), the Phillies were 10 wins better last year than they ACTUALLY were; only Texas and Kansas City were luckier. Which means the Phillies could be better this year (Buchholz, Saunders, more debatably Howie Kendrick, and a much better bullpen with Neshek and Benoit) and still be worse. But they’ll be watchable. Enough on the Phils; the two contenders in this division are the Nationals and Mets. The Nationals were somewhat unlucky last year, Harper dropped off, they were a run (well, two runs if you count the winning run) away from the NLCS anyway, and added Eaton, Lind, and Wieters in the offseason. They’ll be back, unless more than one of Scherzer-Strasburg-Roark-Ross-Gonzalez misses major time (or maybe the somewhat no-name bullpen implodes, but bullpens are bullpens–would you rather pay Mike Dunn 3 years/$18M?). Speaking of missing major time, the Mets, who were probably better last year than they should have been, and could be even better this year if Syndergaard-deGrom-Matz-Harvey are healthy, but will they be, and even if they are, the Mets’ top position players in 2016 were Cespedes, Neil Walker (.476 slugging), and Asdrubal Cabrera (.474). Odds that even two of them will be as good? If everyone’s healthy, the Mets could win 90. 84 may be more realistic. I had no idea Emilio Bonifacio played for Atlanta. 80 wins sounds about right. The Marlins rotation according to their team website is Chen-Volquez-Conley-Koehler-Strailey(-Locke-Urena-Nicolino). Whoa, that’s Orioles territory, with a somewhat worse bullpen. Also, complete this number: 123, 116, 145, 74, 119, ___? It’s the number of games played by Giancarlo Stanton since 2012. I would say 135 and I’m an optimist, which also means I would say 77 wins for Miami.
The Cardinals are my sleeper team for 2017, although they’re not really a sleeper since I think they’re a consensus pick to be better and probably a playoff team. Even with Reyes out for the season, and even though I think Wainwright may implode this year, the rest of the rotation is Martinez-Leake-Lynn-Wacha plus Luke Weaver, the bullpen is deep, the bench is deeper now with Fowler in center, and for what seems like a veteran team, they’re the 11th youngest team in MLB (Cardinals magic!). I would still pick the Cubs, who believe it or not were the second-UNLUCKIEST team according to the adjusted standings–they “should have been” 113-49 last year based on their underlying numbers and quality of opponents and only went 103-59 (only Tampa Bay was unluckier). The opposite of the Phillies, the Cubs could decline and still be better. I don’t think they will, if only because almost everyone was healthy last year, some offensive depth (Soler) was traded away for pitching (Wade Davis, who wasn’t healthy for some of last year), and it’s true that Maddon may be a terrific manager, but isn’t a terrific tactical manager. But if the toughest opposition is managed by Mike Matheny? Cubs Win, at least in the regular season. As far as the Pirates, I expect Andrew McCutchen to be somewhat better than he was in 2016, Josh Bell could be decent, the Nova deal will help, and Polanco or Marte will be the team’s best player, but Pittsburgh may still end up with 82-84 wins, which means third in this division and probably no better than the Mets or Giants (or Arizona or Colorado, maybe). Everyone seems to love Keon Broxton and Eric Thames so I guess the Brewers will be the most exciting team I won’t be able to watch. According to their team website, their rotation is projected to be Guerra (that’s Junior, not Javy)-Davies-Nelson-Peralta-Garza. I remember Garza from the 2008 World Series and I have heard of Wily Peralta. The Reds remind me of when the Reds were bad in the early 80s. In 1982 they went 61-101 with Dave Concepcion AND Johnny Bench (who were both 34, which is about 53 in catcher years) AND Tom Seaver (who was 37). Greg Harris also pitched for that team (the one who was a Phillie, not the other one). Neither the 1982 Reds nor the 2017 Reds had Brandon Phillips on their opening day roster (probably, although we have time).
My other sleeper team this year, whom I do not expect to make the playoffs by any means but only in the sense that I think the consensus is that they are far worse than they actually are, is the Diamondbacks. Dave Stewart (the man who thought Shelby Miller was worth Dansby Swanson PLUS, or maybe he didn’t, or his gut didn’t) is gone, A.J. Pollock (who was an All-Star worth 7.4 Wins Above Replacement in 2015–to compare, Kris Bryant was worth 7.7 WAR last year) is healthy, the rotation is Greinke (top 10 Cy Young candidate 2013-2015, 1.66 ERA in 2015)-Ray-Taijuan Walker-Corbin-Shelby Miller (who was not worth Dansby Swanson nor is he now, but was an All-Star with a 3.02 ERA the prior year and is realistically a 180-200 inning, 3.80 to 4.00 ERA pitcher in Chase Field, I think). Oh, and Paul Goldschmidt. There are weaknesses (bullpen–yes, Fernando Rodney is still a closer, catcher–yes, Jeff Mathis is still a starting catcher), and the Dodgers and Giants are better, and Colorado could be better, but 80-82 wins is possible. Along with the Cubs, the Dodgers are the best current and future team in the NL and with Turner, Jansen, and Hill all returning, I think there’s even more distance between them and the Giants; I don’t like the Logan Forsythe trade since I think De Leon can pitch somewhere sooner rather than later, but I understand why they made it and I guess Forsythe was the best available option (Cesar Hernandez?). It’s an odd-numbered year, but I’m down on the Giants only to the extent that I don’t think they’re any better than a year ago whereas the Dodgers are. I like Matt Moore, but he really replaced Jake Peavy last year and will replace Matt Cain if Cain is any worse this year. Melancon is decent until proven otherwise, but he really just reshuffles the bullpen and Romo is now a Dodger. As far as the Rockies, I’m beginning to see the light and I like the Greg Holland move but the Ian Desmond and Mike Dunn signings don’t help them. I agree with Joe Sheehan (subscription newsletter so no link):
Buying from the middle of the free-agent market is death, and since the Mike Hampton/Denny Neagle gambit blew up on them in 2001, that’s where the Rockies have lived. Jason Marquis and Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau and Mark Reynolds. What the Rockies need, though, is an impact hitter. They had an impact-hitter position open, and they chose to fill it with a league-average shortstop…[T]he Rockies would be better off with Encarnacion and fill-in-the-blank min-salary Dunn replacement than they will be with Desmond and Dunn.
It doesn’t hurt them to the extent that they’re bad signings and not bad trades, so the Rockies still have what looks like a halfway decent rotation (Betts-Chatwood-Gray-Anderson-Marquez, according to the depth chart), plus Arenado, Story, LeMahieu (whose name I cannot hear without thinking of BARTON FINK), Gonzalez, Wolters, overall maybe enough to win 80 for the first time since 2010 (83-79). Note: I honestly thought the Rockies were a .500 team last year. They SEEMED like a .500 team last year. But they were 75-87, which actually WAS their best record since 2010 (and of course in 2009, they were 92-70 and finished second–they still have never won their division, nor have the Marlins for that matter). So maybe one of these years, but they’re definitely in the wrong division with the Dodgers, and for the moment the Giants, and I think for this year the Diamondbacks too.
Writer Friend Rob dropped me a note between my NL and AL picks:
Must admit, your NL picks play close to the vest. They all make stat sense until the elbows and knees start to ache.
Wieters to the Nationals. If you recall, Harper was burning up the League early on…then came that Cub series when Maddon elected to walk him 90 % of the time…and Zimmerman failed to deliver each and every time and they both got spooked for quite a spell…Maddon was an ass but I kinda blame Dusty for not simply switching Harper and Murphy and putting an end to that shit. All’s fair in love and baseball but anyone who thinks that Maddon is nothing more than a fun grandpa is not seeing the complete picture. Anyway, Wieters will be a big plus.
I actually went thru three baseball spring mags and it’s weird but none of them, in evaluating the Rocks, wrote anything with regard to LeMahieu. I mean, what do you have to do…win 2 batting titles?
I wouldn’t call Morneau middle market…but it’s amazing how his career spins round and round. That beaning was baseball at its worst.
My AL picks plus response #2 to Writer Friend Rob:
I honestly thought Justin Morneau retired a year or two ago. I’m stunned to see he was with the White Sox with an OPS+ of 100 (exactly average) in 2016. In fact, he hasn’t been below average since 2011, when he only played 69 games. If he’s still a free agent in mid-March, I have even less doubt that Ryan Howard is the Lakewood BlueClaws’ next hitting coach.
As far as my NL picks, I hope I’m wrong, and not only because I picked the Phils last (which is never a bad thing, because they won’t contend regardless, and if they’re awful and never sell out, I can at least get seats regularly (by “seats” I mean “$17 standing room tickets, unless it’s bobblehead or fireworks night or they play the Red Sox or Yankees and it’s $20 or they play the Marlins and it’s $14”)) but because I want to be wrong. I want to see the two best teams in the World Series because that makes it the most watchable, but I want the two best teams to be the Rockies and Rangers, or the Padres and A’s, because that makes it the least expected. (If the Padres and A’s are the two best teams, what has to happen to everyone else, but more so, what has to happen to them? Everyone else has to be worse, but more so, they have to be better.) True, I would rather it be the Phillies–but I’m not that wild, delusional, and unrealistic. More rationally: Padres in 2017!
Turning to the AL: the consensus (from what I’ve read and a podcast or two at least) is that there are six outstanding teams in baseball who are each the odds-on favorite to win their division (six outstanding teams in six different divisions, conveniently): Washington, the Cubs, and the Dodgers in the NL and the Red Sox, Indians, and Astros in the AL. I went with the consensus picks in the NL, with the only possible doubt being Washington (if the Mets pitchers are healthy–Wheeler pitched an inning yesterday and didn’t reinjure anything!–which I wouldn’t bet on), and maybe Cardinals magic in the playoffs, but as far as the regular season the consensus looks good to me. In the AL, I’m less willing, in two cases anyway.
Look familiar? The Red Sox are the one AL consensus pick that I don’t disagree with. Even when Price was more of a question mark (which terrified me to the extent that I thought Kyle Kendrick would be in the rotation, but he wouldn’t have been, and sorry, Mariners fans, but Roenis Elias IS less terrifying than Kyle Kendrick), and even without Ortiz, this team is deep. Without Price, a top 3 of Sale-Porcello-Rodriguez (who could break out at 24) or possibly Steven Wright still has a minimum of two aces, Benintendi is in left for a full season, Sandoval appears to be capable of lateral movement this season, and the Red Sox have the resources to upgrade Mitch Moreland (or just move Hanley Ramirez to first, DH Sandoval, and start Holt at third). More importantly, Boston looks like the only team in this division that can win 90+. The Blue Jays replaced Edwin Encarnacion with Kendrys Morales, who is the same age and worse. The rest of the team is back and I wouldn’t expect much decline, but for an 89 win wild-card team last year, 86-88 wins might not be enough. (Per Baseball Prospectus, Toronto’s adjusted win total last season was 94. Of course, Boston’s was 103.) The Yankees seem like they have enough rookies or sophomores to either surprise or implode (see Judge, Bird, Sanchez, and I guess Severino counts if you write off 2016) but they also have Matt Holliday and Chris Carter and more of Aroldis Chapman. 85 wins that don’t necessarily look anything like last year’s 84 wins sounds about right and I might actually take the over. Tampa Bay is a good dark horse pick because the rotation (Archer-Odorizzi-Cobb-Snell) now has Jose De Leon from the Dodgers (I will always think of him first) and because of Longoria (.521 slugging last year, his highest since 2012, and a top 20 MVP finish–who knew?) and because of Kiermaier’s defense, and also because by adjusted wins they were a .500 team last year (winning only 68, the Rays were officially the unluckiest team in MLB). But Logan Morrison (.733 OPS, 101 OPS+ in 2016–almost exactly his career numbers) is their starting first baseman–maybe an upgrade on James Loney, definitely a better option than Ryan Howard, but. The Red Sox could afford Logan Morrison as a first baseman. The Rays, with an outfield of Rasmus-Kiermaier-Souza, Wilson Ramos (currently injured) at catcher, and Corey Dickerson at DH, needs offense at first. 80-84 wins is possible. I don’t think the Orioles are a bad team–probably even less so than a year ago when I also picked them last–and dumping Yovani Gallardo for Seth Smith was a nice move, but they won 89 (adjusted win total of 85) a year ago with Trumbo hitting 47 homers and a healthy Chris Tillman and Zach Britton allowing 7 runs (4 earned) all season. Even with a potential MVP season from Manny Machado, Baltimore can drop off just enough to 77-79 wins which in this division means last place.
Don’t you normally pick Detroit and I pick Cleveland? My concern with Cleveland–and I love the Encarnacion signing for them–really comes down to some expected World Series dropoff (Ramirez, Naquin) and injuries (Kipnis and the ongoing Michael Brantley concerns at the moment but also just the challenge of remaining healthy enough to repeat) and luck (NOT a Cleveland- or Wahoo-specific curse; they were a “true” 90 win team last year who won 94 and it wouldn’t take much for 4 wins to become 4 losses this year). It’s mostly the “it’s tough to repeat” thing. Ironically, I’m picking Detroit, who, although a “true” 86 win team last year that actually won 86 games, are supposed to be the team where Verlander can’t repeat his best season since 2012, Fulmer (last year: 2.11 ERA, 8.5 K/9 pre-All Star Break vs. 3.94 ERA, 6.6 K/9 post-All Star Break) might suffer the sophomore jinx, Nick Castellanos and J.D. Martinez could drop off. I’m guessing that they won’t (that much, well maybe Fulmer might), that Justin Upton (who had a career-worst season at 28 after an All-Star 2015, with the caveat that he was an All-Star in 2015 because he was a Padre and they needed one) will be better, Jordan Zimmermann (if he’s healthy? maybe?) will be somewhat better, Daniel Norris could be awesome, and enough will go right with the Tigers for the 88-89 wins it will take to win the Central by a game or two over the Indians. Of the bottom three, the Royals are probably the only “win-now” type team and even they just traded a veteran All-Star closer for a 25 year old outfielder who struck out in 25% of his plate appearances last season (Jon Lester as a pitcher struck out 25% of opposing batters last season–or, if you prefer, Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez only struck out 16% of opposing batters last season–which is probably a bad example, because he was terrible at this). The Royals have enough of the core of their World Series team even without Wade Davis and I like the offseason moves (Nate Karns, Brandon Moss, and arguably even Davis for Soler given the ages and contracts and odds of Kansas City winning in 2017 even with Davis) individually but the rotation (RIP Yordano Ventura) and yes, the once notorious (in a good way) Royals bullpen could be unwatchable, and 81 wins would be optimistic. Which means given my picks that I can at least imagine a world in which the Twins finish .500, which I probably shouldn’t–they lost 103 games last year, and even though they were a “true” 94 loss team last year, those extra wins need to come from somewhere. To the extent that I’m optimistic about the Twins, it’s because of Sano (who is more the 149 OPS+ player he was at 22 than the 110 OPS+ player he was last season, if he’s not exactly David Ortiz) and Buxton (who is 23 and led all AL CF in range factor last season and slugged .653 in September/October) and Vargas (who is 25 and slugged .500 last season and will be their DH this season) and Berrios (5.4 walks per 9 in the majors last season but 2.5 walks vs. 10 strikeouts per 9 at AAA) who may be in the rotation if not on opening day then eventually, plus Dozier and Mauer are still around. The Twins are nowhere near contention but should be better than the White Sox, who were a 78 win team last season WITH Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. Both trades however they actually work out were terrific moves for Rick Hahn, but moves that won’t help the team much if at all in 2017. Omar Narvaez is their starting catcher and I have never heard of him despite the fact he had 101 at-bats last year, which is actually 102 fewer than Justin Morneau.
Los Angeles Angels
I know, you were expecting me to pick Seattle, and I was tempted, especially since I also told you I’m less willing to go with the “Astros are one of the six best teams in baseball” consensus pick here, but I think Houston is nonetheless the most likely team to win a close AL West. The Astros are Carlos Correa (the other AL MVP pick who isn’t Trout, Betts, Machado, Lindor, or Donaldson), Jose Altuve (or him too I guess), and enough other young players with enough upside that they could win 95. Where I’m not necessarily as optimistic is the rotation (Keuchel’s dropoff last year–although his underlying numbers were better than his ERA, he wasn’t nearly as good as his Cy Young year and only really had a one-year track record as an ace before that–plus I can’t tell McHugh from McCullers, which is probably only a result of the fact that I never watch Astros games, but also their 4th starter is Charlie Morton, who was a Phillie for 17 innings last season) and the downside (young players who will underperform and Carlos Beltran who will suddenly turn 40 and not hit). But overall I think they have enough depth, now with Aoki, Reddick, and McCann as starters, a bullpen with outrageous strikeout rates, and also a winnable division without a Cubs or Red Sox level rival. Seattle was actually the AL West team with the most adjusted wins last year; according to run differential and quality of opponents, the “true standings” were:
Of course, Texas ended up with 95 wins and won the division by nine games over the Mariners–which doesn’t mean they will be as lucky in 2016, but also doesn’t mean they won’t repeat either. Darvish (22 games last season) is healthy, Profar (286 AB last season) may finally have a home (in LF, but whatever), and Lucroy will be around for a full season. But the bullpen will be without Jake Diekman for a few months, the rotation is shaky after Darvish-Hamels (Cashner and Ross were only a good thing with the Padres for a season or two), and although the Rangers will contend, without further improvements I think they will fall a game or two back of Houston. The Angels should be better; Maybin and Espinosa will help (yes, Espinosa’s horrible .206/.306/.378, 81 OPS+, was worth almost a full win better than the Angels’ Giavotella/Pennington platoon), Revere is useful as a backup, and a healthy Garrett Richards (6 games, 34 innings in 2016) is worth a few wins on his own. The Angels are probably not contenders, and are arguably worse than every West team except the A’s, but on the other hand Mike Trout. Seattle is more or less the same team I picked to win the division last year, now with Yovani Gallardo! Also with Drew Smyly, who helps, and Jarrod Dyson and Jean Segura and Marc “Copy and Paste” Rzepczynski and actually enough other new players that it’s odd that Mariners are the same team because half the roster is different, but overall they still look like the 84-86 win team that they were last season, which means that they will contend. As far as Oakland, I had heard of more A’s than I was expecting, although I didn’t know many of them were currently A’s: Trevor Plouffe (I remember him as a Twin), Khris Davis (I thought he was a Brewer again, or something), Matt Joyce (I knew he was with Tampa for years and remember him as a Tiger before that), Santiago Casilla (Giants, though he was previously an A). It’s like reading the Chunichi Dragons yearbook and recognizing Elvis Araujo. 70 wins would represent a one-game improvement from 2016. I’m an optimist.
Wild card: St. Louis over San Francisco
NLDS: St. Louis over Chicago (Cardinals magic! Small sample size! Arrieta and Lackey get torched! Fowler bats .666! or something–), Dodgers over Washington
NLCS: St. Louis over Dodgers (alas, Kershaw)
Wild card: Cleveland over Texas (2015 imploding defense flashback, though no late-inning homers from Rajai Davis, who is now an Oakland A)
ALDS: Boston over Cleveland (OK, not the best matchup for the Sox, but I have them winning the AL, so I guess this means I have them beating the Indians), Houston over Detroit (would anyone outside of Houston, Detroit, and baseball junkies like us honestly watch this matchup? I’m thinking Rob Manfred might change the rules retroactively so that one of these teams would have to face the Red Sox regardless of seedings and the other would have to face, like, the Yankees, whether or not they make the playoffs–does the constitutional prohibition on ex post facto laws apply to baseball–or would this be a bill of attainder–or both?)
ALCS: Boston over Houston (the 1986 World Series, if Mike Scott had pitched in the hypothetical NLCS Game 7?)
St. Louis over Boston (2013 (and 2004) in reverse! Baseball’s Best Team From St. Louis!)
With the Detroit Red Wings currently 10 points out of the last wild card spot with 20 games left in the regular season, the longest playoff streak in North American professional sports (16 current members of the Red Wings roster weren’t even BORN the last time Detroit missed the playoffs) will move from the NHL’s 25 seasons to the NBA’s 20 seasons: the San Antonio Spurs, at 47-13, could officially make it as soon as tonight with a home win against the Timberwolves.
The weird thing for the NBA is who’s next. The rest of the top five, in descending order? Atlanta (9), Memphis (6), the Clippers (5), and the Warriors and Houston (tied at 4). The Hawks missed the playoffs every year from 2000 through 2007. The Grizzlies never made the playoffs across two countries from 1996 until 2003. We forget now, but the Warriors were worse for even longer, missing the playoffs (beginning in the Latrell Sprewell-Tim Hardaway years) for more than a decade, from 1995-2006 and then again from 2008-2012. The Rockets have been better (thanks mostly to Hakeem Olajuwon, Yao Ming, and now James Harden), but still missed the playoffs from 2000-2003 and from 2010-2012. And the Clippers? Right. To recap, from 1977-2011, the Clippers only MADE the playoffs 4 times.
We tend to think of the NBA as the league with the least parity. Which isn’t wrong–since 1980, only 11 teams have won a title, only four of those 11 have won only one title, and two of those four will likely meet in the finals this season. And yet.