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Alternate Title: “Ya, I know. Predictions aren’t exactly a novel concept when it comes to writing about baseball, but I gotta start back up with something.”

I feel like starting off with an explanation for why I haven’t written in so long isn’t going to do much. This blog has more resurrections than Rasputin and more insincere apologies and promises than a high school relationship. Sorry, but I’ve been busy. I have been working full time and playing in a working band (Johnny Soultrain, check us out if you’re in the Bay Area). Ryan got into and is now attending grad school to go along with working as well. So, this blog has laid dormant. But no longer!

A few weeks ago I got the email asking if I wanted to renew my hosting fee for this domain, and it planted the seed back in my head. Couple that with spring training baseball and preparing for my fantasy draft and the creative juices are flowing again. So, here we are.

I’m going to break this post apart into my by the numbers predictions as well as my choices for the playoffs and major award winners like I did last year. I’ll follow with some predictions for the year and some more “radical” ones as well, which will be linked here when they are posted.

These predictions won’t be the obvious predictions you’ll hear everyone making, or if they are they will be coupled with a not-so obvious follow up. I totally expect some of these to bite me, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see some of them come to pass. We’ll just have to let time be the judge. So with no further ado, here are my by the numbers predictions. Playoff teams are in bold.

 

Predictions for the 2015 Season

 

AL East

Baltimore Orioles 92-70

Toronto Blue Jays 91-71

Boston Red Sox 78-84

New York Yankees 78-84

Tampa Bay Rays 70-92

 

AL Central

Cleveland Indians 90-72

Kansas City Royals 85-77

Chicago White Sox 84-78

Detroit Tigers 80-82

Minnesota Twins 71-91

 

AL West

Seattle Mariners 95-67

Los Angeles Angels 89-73

Oakland Athletics 87-75

Houston Astros 79-83

Texas Rangers 70-92

 

NL East

Washington Nationals 99-63

Miami Marlins 85-77

New York Mets 83-79

Atlanta Braves 73-89

Philadelphia Phillies 69-92

 

NL Central

Pittsburg Pirates 94-72

St. Louis Cardinals 84-78

Milwaukee Brewers 83-79

Cincinnati Reds 82-80

Chicago Cubs 77-85

 

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers 97-65

San Diego Padres 82-80

San Francisco Giants 81-81

Colorado Rockies 79-83

Arizona Diamondbacks 77-85

 

Playoffs

 

Angels over Blue Jays. Marlins over Cardinals.

 

Orioles over Indians. Mariners over Angels. Dodgers over Pirates. Nationals over Marlins.

 

Mariners over Orioles. Nationals over Dodgers.

 

Mariners over Nationals in 6 games.

 

AL MVP: Mike Trout

NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton

 

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw

 

AL Rookie of the Year: Dalton Pompey

NL Rookie of the Year: Joc Pederson

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Tampa Bay

Might as well start off with a bang. Tampa Bay is my choice for division winner and for eventual World Series champion. “Pitching and defense” has become a bit of a trope at this point, but nobody does it better than the Rays and skipper Joe Madden is the best at using defensive switches and metrics to set his defense. Notable losses from the 2013 squad include Alex Torres, Fernando Rodney, Luke Scott, Kelly Johnson, and Jose Lobaton. Notable additions are David DeJesus, Grant Balfour, and Heath Bell.

Jake Odorizzi, the lesser known piece of the Wil Myers for James Shields trade, won the 5th starter spot in Spring Training. Look for him to shore up the backend of the best rotation in baseball while Alex Cobb breaks out into a true superstar in 2014. And that is without even mentioning David Price, who I expect to stay in Tampa Bay at least until the end of the season and is also my choice for AL Cy Young. Wil Myers is ready to take the next step after a solid freshman campaign and its time for Desmond Jennings to finally put it all together. Many of these players are young and relatively unproven, but if this team plays up to its potential, look out.

Baltimore

Baltimore was the hardest team for me to figure out going into this year. They lost Brian Roberts and Nate McLouth to Free Agency along with trading away their 40 save closer Jim Johnson to the A’s for once-prospect Jemile Weeks. They then stood pat for most of the offseason before making a flurry of moves late in Spring Training. Johan Santana looks like his days in the bigs are over, but Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez could have real impacts, unfortunately both are flawed players. Cruz will be a negative defensively, unless they utilize him as a full-time DH, left field could be an adventure. Jimenez has had stretches where he has been unhittable in his career, usually coming right before a contract. We’ll see if his new digs translate to his old successful ways, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Suk-min Yoon could be the steal of the season despite flying under the radar as Hyun-jin Ryu did in the 2012-2013 offseason.

This team has real stars in Chris Davis and Manny Machado. It has solid position players in J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters. But the rotation just won’t be able to keep up in the talented AL East. All-Star Chris Tillman’s 19-win season glosses over some problems with his underlying numbers, but he’s still the closest the team has to a number 1 starter. Marwin Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen should not be in the rotation of a team that is looking to win now. And that is what the Orioles need to do. Their team is not built for the future, its built for now, but it is still missing a few key pieces if they look to surprise the baseball world again with another playoff berth.

Boston

The first thing you might notice is that I did not pick the reigning World Series champions to repeat, or even reach the playoffs. Everything went right for the Boston Red Sox last year and they overcame a lot of underlying issues with their pitching and team as a whole and went on an incredible run in the postseason. However, this is not the same team from 2013, and there are real problems heading into the season. Notable losses from the offseason include Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia along with Ryan Dempster who decided to take a year off. Those losses have been replaced with some real question marks in the oft-injured Grady Sizemore, the untested Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., and the consistently mediocre A.J. Pierzynski. Look for Will Middlebrooks to settle into his role as starting third baseman after an up and down freshman campaign and have a moderate breakout. Unfortunately, this team has lost too many key players and is asking too much of its young players as they look to follow up on their 2013 world championship.

New York

This Yankee team looks remarkably different from the one that took the field in 2013, with a new starting position player at every position on the diamond in 2014. The loss of Robinson Cano obviously loomed over everything that occurred in the offseason, but the Yankees tried valiantly and expensively to mitigate his loss of production with the additions of veterans Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran along with Masahiro Tanaka the $155 million man. All of these players will contribute in 2014 and help the Yankees to field one of the most experienced and productive teams on the field in 2014, but there are real question marks in the rotation. CC Sabathia has declined for two years in a row now and the zip is off his fastball taking him down from an ace to a hittable middle of the rotation starter. Tanaka will be good, but fans should temper their expectations. The first year in America can be a rough one for players making the jump from Japan, and there is already a lot of wear on his arm from 7 years in the big leagues in Japan – don’t expect Darvish-like production. New York’s best pitcher last year was the ageless Hiroki Kuroda who had one of the best years of his career at 38. The question is how much longer the Yankees can expect him to hold up. At age 39, there may not be much left in the tank, and he will be asked to carry the load all season. Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda represent real upside at the back end of the rotation, and the way they pitch could dictate if the Yankees finish near the top or bottom of the AL East standings.

Toronto

Everything went wrong for the Blue Jays last year, with a majority of the players on the Jays’ roster succumbing to some form of injury or another. That being said, the 2014 Toronto team still has some work to do to contend in the deep AL East. Notable departures include Josh Johnson, Rajai Davis and J.P. Arencibia. Though Johnson never put it together in a Jays uniform, he represented the best chance this staff had for an anchor, and without him or a bounce back from R.A. Dickey, this staff will repeat as one of the worst in the majors. With the loss of Arencibia, the Jays looked to upgrade at the catcher position and did so with the addition of Diner Navarro. Navarro has yet to prove himself as a full-time backstop, but a 2013 slash line of .300/.365/.492 definitely turned some heads. The bat is there, but the defense remains a question, and Toronto is one of the hardest staffs to catch in the big leagues with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and junk-thrower Mark Buehrle. The lineup is one of the best in the bigs, and look for Colby Rasmus to finally break out this year, but the pitching remains a problem even with newcomer Drew Hutchinson making his way into the rotation full time.

It’s been an exciting offseason with star studded trades, record extensions and off-field drama, but the season has started and it’s time to get back down to business. We are already more than a week into the 2014 season and  I’m many days late and many dollars short at this point, I know. But I needed to get something posted to put my predictions out there. Playoff teams are in bold.

AL East

Tampa Bay
Baltimore
Boston
New York
Toronto

AL Central

Detroit
Cleveland

Kansas City
Chicago
Minnesota

AL West

Oakland
Los Angeles
Texas
Seattle
Houston

NL East

Washington
Atlanta
New York
Philadelphia
Miami

NL Central

St. Louis
Pittsburgh
Cincinnati
Milwaukee
Chicago

NL West

Los Angeles
San Francisco
Colorado
Arizona
San Diego

World Series: Tampa Bay over St. Louis

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Bryce Harper

AL Cy Young: David Price
NL Cy Young: Adam Wainwright

AL ROY: Jose Abreu
NL ROY: Billy Hamilton

Over the course of the week I’ll do a write up looking at each division and pick where I think the teams will finish, call out a few notable additions or subtractions from each team’s roster and pick a surprise breakout or slump performance.

AL East
AL Central
AL West

NL East
NL Central
NL West

So, nothing has happened in the past five months, right?

I’m sure our tens of readers have missed us, but unfortunately both Ryan and I got a little sidetracked with work and other things going on in our lives. The reason for restarting this is more to give myself an outlet than anything else, but if you want to come along for the ride, welcome.

We left off at the all-star break and we are now at the end of the season, the Red Sox beat the Cardinals in the World Series, and the hot stove is burning up. I will likely follow up with some pieces retrospectively looking at our previous fastball/changeup arguments and looking at which side was closer to the mark, but for now the reason that I wanted to start writing again is simple, I miss the promise and the possibility.

This past year in baseball showed that anything is possible in this game. The Red Sox were the worst team in 2012 and the best in 2013. The Giants won the World Series in 2012 but were mediocre for the entire year. Teams like the Marlins and Mets in “rebuilding” years still entertained with phenoms like Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey. And teams that spent big in the offseason such as the Nationals and Blue Jays put up mediocre seasons despite being “all-in.”

The offseason is the least interesting part of the year to most fans, but to a stathead like me, there is no better time to run wild with projections, hypotheticals and trade talk about how a team can improve, which moves are “good” or “bad” and how best to construct a roster for the short term and the long term.

There are plenty of places you can look to find analysis on whether the Yankees can succeed without Cano (they can) or the A’s can compete without greatly expanding payroll (they can) or the Dodgers can buy themselves a championship (they can’t), but I am hoping in subsequent pieces on this site to delve a little deeper into both the statistical and human side of this game and why we find it so compelling.

Baseball is a business, but in any business there are multiple reasons and motivations that any action is taken. A capitalist works to optimize profit, while a community bookstore might be interested in teaching kids the joy of reading. A sabermatrician is interested in optimizing wins, while a regular fan might just want to see their favorite player because he has a great nickname and his kid likes to dress up in a panda hat. This site is called Fastball/Changeup because it was started as a way for my friend and me to argue and discuss an issue from two different sides. In the past, you have seen both sides taken to an extreme for the case of argument and then been left to decide for yourself which side was more compelling. While it is easy to write from just one perspective, it doesn’t always tell the whole story. There are always multiple reasons and motivations in baseball and in life, and going forward I will do my best to analyze all of those reasons and find that middle ground here.

As some of you know, both Ryan and I studied politics at Cal and now work in it in different capacities. Politics and baseball are some of the most interesting things to us, and we have noticed many ways that the two tend to overlap. For this reason, I am starting a new running series entitled “Politics and Baseball” that will hopefully be as entertaining for you as it is for me. Future themes will involve the use of political sabermetrics, which is a term I’ve been playing around with in my head for a while, but for right now I am going to write about how trades and deals that are made throughout the year between baseball teams reflect the way that deals get done in Sacramento or Washington.

Trade Blocking

The NL West is all jammed up. All 5 teams are technically still in contention, with the Dodgers and Giants underperforming, the D Backs playing well, and the Padres and Rockies surprising some people.

NL West Standings

Because the standings are so tight, with the year half over, there is no clear “seller” or “buyer.” Everyone is still willing to make a deal that improves their team, and no team is looking to mortgage this season to start rebuilding for next year yet. So, with this backdrop, enter Ricky Nolasco. There are, of course, many pitchers that are rumored to be moving teams soon (Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles, Matt Garza, etc.), but Nolasco represents a special case in that his contract is up at the end of this year, the Marlins have no hope of contending this year, and the Marlins have come out and said whoever takes on the rest of Nolasco’s contract can get him first without giving up top-tier prospects.

All 5 of the contending NL West teams (except maybe Arizona) need starting pitching help right now. The Giants rotation is not as vaunted as it once was, the Dodgers entered the year with 8 starters but are down to 3 or 4 capable ones at this point, the Rockies staff is performing well, but they need some help on the backend with no true ace, and the Padres have had their share of injury troubles as well. For these reasons, everyone in the NL West seems to be in on Nolasco, but his salary is not low (half a season at $11.5 million) and that his contract expires at the end of year making him just a rental, meaning that a team has to make a conscious decision that they are going to try and contend for this year before making a move for him.

You’d be angry too if you had to pitch for the Marlins. Photo courtesy: blogs.sun-sentinel.com

This is where money comes in handy. As in politics, money cannot win you a race alone, but it certainly helps. The Dodgers seem to still have money to burn from their lucrative TV contract and Magic Johnson trust fund, meaning they find themselves at an advantageous position. Though the Dodgers are technically in last place, they are only 6.5 games back of first, and thanks to their extra cash supply, they can afford to make a move for Nolasco now, blocking the other teams in the West. Assuming Nolasco does well, the Dodgers can simultaneously help themselves and prevent a good player from winding up on a rival.

In California state politics, there is a June 30 filing deadline for all California legislative candidates. This deadline marks the first time that a candidate discloses how much money he/she has raised. Besides keeping them honest, it is there to show viability and give an idea of who the frontrunners in a race might be. By making a move for Nolasco now, the Dodgers can show viability that, despite their place in the standings, they are a contending team and one that intends to do everything possible to get to October. In the same way that a political candidate can dissuade other challengers from running by starting off strong with lots of donations and endorsements, so can the Dodgers dissuade some of the other teams in the West, such as the Padres and Rockies, from getting too confident in their current position and making moves that might improve their club before the deadline. Obviously, it will be tough to dissuade the Giants from contending in the same way that an incumbent who is down in the polls would still want to run for re-election. Still, wrapping up early endorsements from star players can definitely help improve your chances.

There is a lot of campaign left, and the race is still wide open, but whichever team makes the move for Nolasco the soonest gives themselves a huge advantage for the rest of the year. It is low-risk in that Nolasco is a proven innings eater and that the Marlins have said they won’t require big-name prospects in exchange. And more importantly, the longer Nolasco is on a team other than the Marlins, the more chances he has to help that club. He is wasting wins on the Marlins currently, and the sooner a team goes out and gets him, the sooner he becomes a productive member of that team and starts generating wins. This type of move should be made more often in the major leagues, but many teams are risk-adverse and like to wait until the trading deadline when they have a clearer picture. For just this reason, the Dodgers, or any other team in the West that is willing to take on his contract, can improve themselves now by trading for Nolasco. This will give the team that gets him the best chance of making the playoffs, while dissuading other candidates from running. Whichever team makes a conscious effort to improve themselves first puts themselves in the best position to contend in October. My bet is the team that goes out and gets Nolasco now will be the one you see in the playoffs come seasons end.

To our readers,

We wanted to start by apologizing on behalf of Fastball/Changeup for the lack of updates over the course of the last month or so. Ryan and Matt have both been going through changes in their lives including final exams, college graduation, the job hunt, and an increase in workload. That being said, the good news is that both of us have settled in and are getting a handle on our responsibilities and we plan on updating the site a lot more frequently in the near future.

Photo Credit: Slate

The Delay is over. Hope you’ve been keeping yourselves busy!

To come is a fb/cu on the umpire controversies and whether or not it is time for an expanded replay.

Also soon to come is a piece that Ryan has been working on about lineup order optimization and how stats and sabermetrics can contribute to overall runs scored.

If there are any other issues you are interested in us writing about, please leave them in the comments below!

Thank you for your patience and we look forward to posting a lot more frequently in the near future.

Sincerely,

Matt and Ryan

The issue of gay marriage is being debated yet again in the Supreme Court, and were a verdict to come out in favor of the institution, society would take another step forward towards acceptance. New polls show that a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage, but even as the concept of gay marriage gains momentum in society, the sporting world has fallen behind.

San Francisco 49ers safety Chris Culliver infamously tweeted his disgust towards the prospect of having a gay teammate during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. While he later apologized for his statement, that it was a player from a city as liberal as San Francisco  shows the disconnect between sports teams and the players who play for those teams. While the 49ers made an “It Gets Better” video last year, half of the players did not know that the anti-bullying message was targeted at LGBTQs and two of the four athletes who participated deny involvement. The ad has since been pulled.

While many athletes will not say it, Culliver is not alone in his feelings of discomfort towards the prospect of playing with a gay teammate. Even so, the NFL gets some credit as an alliance of athletes including NFL players Chris Kluwe, Scott Fujita, and Brendon Ayanbadejo filed a brief to the Supreme Court challenging California’s ban on same-sex marriage. On that brief were the names of 10 current NFL players as well as representatives from all other major sporting leagues in America, except one: Major League Baseball.

With the success of “42,” a biopic of the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in the MLB, the spotlight is on baseball to again be the catalyst for change in society. Robinson was a hero, and as the movie shows, nothing he did came easy. He was greeted in the big leagues with pitches thrown at his head, racism from opposing players as well as his own teammates, and fans that hurled all kinds of insults at him from the stands. But because of his struggle, Major League Baseball was able to integrate and society soon followed.

Photo credit: umw.edu

Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play major league baseball. Who will be the first openly gay player?

Fast forward over sixty years, and baseball has fallen behind. Number one WNBA draft pick Brittany Griner recently came out and went on to sign an endorsement deal with Nike, mixed martial arts fighter Fallon Fox recently came out as transgender, and former Celtics center Jason Collins revealed he was gay in a soon-to-be-released Sports Illustrated article. But while a few baseball players have come out after the fact, there has never been an openly gay player on a major league roster.

This isn’t to say there haven’t been developments in the baseball world. The MLB recently added a line on sexual orientation to the players’ anti-discrimination clauses. This clause may be necessary, as last year, former Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar was fined and suspended for three games when he played with a homophobic slur written in Spanish on his eye black. Many high profile players, including Tigers ace pitcher Justin Verlander have made comments saying they would welcome a gay teammate. However, these comments might have been prompted, since Verlander’s teammate Torii Hunter has said last year that playing with a gay teammate would make him “uncomfortable. The “uncomfortable” idea is thrown around a lot by players as an argument against their peers coming out, but not all players feel that way. Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy responded to the idea of discomfort from a gay teammate saying “If you’ve played this game for a number of years, you’ve probably had a few gay teammates, and have you been accosted in the shower yet? It’s probably not going to happen if someone comes out.”

The baseball world would appear to be split on the issue, echoing the societal feeling as well. What baseball needs is a gay Jackie Robinson. A player who is so good that he cannot be ignored, but so dynamic that no one would want to ignore him. The potential for revenue is huge, and any owner should jump at the opportunity and media buzz it would bring. Just as Jackie Robinson changed the way that society thought about race, so too can a gay player change the way that we think about sexual orientation. Baseball is the national pastime, and sports are great when they can bring people together. The question now is, who will step up to the plate?